Tag Archives: Christmas/Easter

Where Christ Belongs

Rather than “putting Christ back in Christmas”, I’d settle for putting Christ back in Christians.

The above is a variation on a statement I saw on Facebook that really spoke to me — and apparently to more than a few of my Facebook friends, because my reposting of it went “viral” — at least as much as you could use that term to describe the reaction to something I’ve posted there.

This is in comparison to what I normally post on Facebook, which generally doesn’t raise eyebrows because it’s either “For The Day’s Journey”, my daily posting of a thought-provoking or at least inspirational quote from someone more eloquent (and renowned) than me, or “Welcome to the New Week”, my weekly Bible verse — or maybe just a rundown of the night’s dinner menu courtesy of my husband, who rules our kitchen and swears to me that it’s more than just where the coffee pot lives.

But back to that Paul-viral Facebook post. Had I struck a nerve? Had I tapped into a vein of social sentiment? Had I accessed the zeitgeist? I think so. I think a lot of people — not just my Facebook friends — are tired of the hypocrisy of “traditional”, conservative, “evangelical” Christianity.

I think people are tired of opening their Facebook feed to see what their friends are up to and instead slipping on the social media equivalent of a floor smeared with equine fecal matter in the form of such heartwarming fare as proclamations by none other than Roy Moore, Alabama’s self-proclaimed defender of the 10 Commandments, who pompously claims to have God’s ear when it comes to what is wrong with America — and who, despite losing his Senate race, still got 48 percent of the vote despite being generally a horse’s ass and specifically accused of (basically) pedophilia.

I think people are tired of seeing evidence all around them that their fellow man continues to act in such a short-sighted and self-absorbed fashion when confronted with situations where our instruction from God is actually, I believe, rather clear: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Here in Atlanta, just in time for Christmas, we’re ignoring that instruction as it concerns our homeless brothers and sisters. Here in Atlanta, we live in a city where the establishment fought shamelessly for the better part of a decade to shut down the city’s largest homeless shelter — which just happened to be situated on some seriously prime real estate.

Here in Atlanta, there was apparently no plan being made during that decade-long fight to account for how the 700-800 people the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter was serving daily might survive with some semblance of human dignity.

Did I mention that every other shelter in town is already full?

But instead of focusing on how to get homeless people off the streets as winter approaches, your local government has determined that the best thing they can do for the homeless right now is to keep you from offering them food.

Yup.

There’s apparently a local ordinance that prohibits the distribution of food in an organized way to, basically, strangers. And your local law enforcement is now hellbent on enforcing it.

Here’s what it says, according to a pamphlet that’s been proffered to yours truly on the streets of Atlanta by well-meaning law enforcement personnel (prefaced by a mealy-mouthed preamble in said pamphlet):

We sincerely thank you for your interest in serving Atlanta’s people in need. As providers of services to these groups 24/7, year-round, we are committed to helping them in ways that lead to changed lives and lasting self-sufficiency.

In our experience, the best way to assist people in need is through places with sanitary kitchens, safe shelter, and services that help them address their problems and move forward in their lives. By contrast, feeding and donating to people on our streets is not a long-term solution.

… Public Safety’s goal is to increase police visibility and improve the quality of life within the City of Atlanta’s Government District. This will be accomplished through the Enforcement of City Ordinances and State laws and Partners for Home and Atlanta Continuum of Care to address the homelessness…

Did you know a Permit is required?

(Fulton County) Sec. 34-152. – Permit requirements

(a) Permit required. A valid permit issued by the board of health shall be required prior to operation of a food service establishment. Such permit shall be obtained in compliance with the rules and regulations of the State of Georgia governing food service, GA. Comp. R. & Regs. 290-5-14

(b) Rule 511-6-1-.08 Special Food Service Operations

Rather than feeding or donating to individuals on Atlanta’s streets, please consider directing your generosity to one of the great organizations working tirelessly to improve the lives of people in need in our communities

The arrogance continues with a list of 10 organizations that the pamphlet recommends should be the real focus of our energy, we who so inadequately seek to serve the homeless. And let me be clear: I am not disparaging the groups themselves — which are for the most part reputable, worthy and doing good in the community. Rather, I’m pointing up the city’s sleight of hand in making it seem that these 10 points of light are adequately filling the gap in homeless services left wide open by the closing of Peachtree-Pine.

But that isn’t even remotely true, and here’s why:

  • Most of these organizations close by 5pm. There are a couple that are open until 8:45pm and one that is 24 hours — but this last one serves homeless youth only.
  • There are no purely family shelters.
  • None of them provides ongoing meals.
  • These organizations are spread out all over the city… making it extremely difficult for their clientele to access the services they do provide.
  • Many organizations have a cutoff as to how many clients they can service at a time. People can find themselves waiting in long lines for hours or more and still not making the cut.
  • None of these organizations is willing to work with transgender folks.
  • Many of these organizations require a tuberculosis test before one can get housing or services.

So please tell me how, in all that is holy, are these people who are without resources or transportation, who are hungry, who can also be dealing with addiction or mental illness or disability — how are they supposed to access what the mealy-mouthed pamphlet blithely refers to as a continuum of care? How long should they wait? How far should they walk? And let’s be honest: Whose way should they stay out of?

And I’m so not done here. Because on top of all of this is the criminalization of homelessness. Here’s how it starts: In the state of Georgia, you cannot get a driver’s license or state ID without a birth certificate, Social Security card and two pieces of mail sent to your residence.

Yes, you read that correctly: Two pieces of mail to your residence. Good luck, homeless people!

Plus it doesn’t take longer than a couple of weeks for a newly homeless person to have lost whatever they might have been carrying all this documentation in to a beat cop who confiscated it, a fellow traveler who stole it — or simply to “the shuffle” of constantly being on the move and eventually losing track of almost anything.

The last time I went to renew my driver’s license, I had to mail $50 to New Jersey to get my birth certificate. How many homeless people can manage that?

Anyway, the next step in the criminalization of homelessness is that once you’ve pretty much lost the ability to prove who you are, you’re eventually going to find yourself arrested for loitering, trespassing, shoplifting, vagrancy, public urination, public intoxication, indecent exposure or any number of other petty crimes that happen along the way when you’re just trying to survive on the streets.

The result being that the city’s jails double as unofficial homeless shelters. So one of the badges that goes along with being homeless is the Unemployability badge, because you now have a criminal record thanks to your inability to find a place to live, stay out of the way, prove who you are or pay a bond or a fine.

And of course, the only thing the average homeless person is actually guilty of is generally addiction, mental health issues, or a disability of some kind. They end up on the streets because they can’t get the help they need.

Or they can’t find work that pays a living wage — a situation that’s happening in my own household, where my 62-year-old husband, a proud Army veteran who has worked in the computing field for the better part of four decades suddenly finds himself laid off and interviewing for a job at Wal-Mart that pays $9 an hour with no benefits. Which adds up to $360 a week, with no health insurance, before the Federal government takes their pound of flesh.

So let’s just say that when I contemplate what it must be like for someone to slide into homelessness, I can empathize from a very real place right now.

In conclusion, this Christmas, could we try to take seriously what our faith teaches?

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17-18)

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Humanity will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my God! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)

To solve this challenge, we as a people of faith need to start practicing what we say we believe. We need to get to the root of what causes homelessness and do as scripture teaches us. These folks are not numbers or statistics… they are God’s children, and we will answer for what we do for and with these precious creations of God. So tonight, tomorrow morning and in the days ahead let us set aside the soundbite-friendly distractions of sideshows such as “putting Christ back in Christmas” and instead fight for something that has the potential for lasting impact.

Let’s put Christ back into what it means to be Christian.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Why Easter is Actually the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This photo, from a throwback gallery the AJC posted this week, is so great on so many levels. It’s from an age before social media, before everyday internet access — a time when the means for communicating were much simpler, and sometimes bolder. And seeing this image during Eastertide makes even more sense to me.

Yup, it’s still Easter(tide). As in literally, on the liturgical calendar. And even though that season does have a beginning and an end, we should carry a shard of it with us all year long, because the point of Easter should be the point of our daily lives all year: Without forgiveness, there is no resurrection.

Looking at this image, I’m reminded of MLK’s unswerving commitment to nonviolence, which was rooted in his faith. I’m reminded of Mandela’s refusal to rip apart South Africa’s white-dominated rugby culture in the days after apartheid. I’m reminded of all the gay people who attend the legally sanctioned weddings of friends and family knowing they don’t have the same standing in the eyes of their government.

These things happen because people are able to see beyond themselves. They do it because they love and forgive. The photo above is a bittersweet symbol of a time when a despised minority would extend a hand outward and, more often than now, wouldn’t find a hand reaching back.

Love and forgive. It doesn’t get any simpler — or any better — than that.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

A Lenten Execution Flies in the Face of Everything Calvary Was About

With the scheduled — and now postponed — executions of Kelly Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell in the headlines this Lenten season, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people who support state-sponsored killing are participating in the ages-old Christian ritual of “giving up something for Lent” that amounts to forgoing sweets, or fast food, or caramel-flavored lattes.

I wonder this because that Lenten practice, while well-intentioned, is supposed to feel like a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be part of a time when we renew our focus on God. So the irony of the state executing people during Lent doesn’t escape me; in fact, it haunts me. It haunts me because the end of Lent is Easter, which includes Good Friday, a solemn observance of the day Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice — indeed, at the hands of the state — in order to wash away our sins.

One way of looking at Calvary is that in its own way, it should have been the last state-sponsored execution. Ever. So every time we allow the state to execute someone in our names, we make a mockery of that. We set aside the Good News for the Old Testament of laws that Jesus told us he came to fulfill. And then he gave us a new command: Love one another.

But that new command doesn’t mean much if we can’t apply it in the most trying circumstances. Not executing a convicted killer is just such a circumstance. We should try it sometime, and there’s no better time than Lent.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

“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?

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

The Fraud Called Christmas

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 is because I believe December 25th is one of the biggest frauds every pulled on humanity.

Those who are pastors know that what I am suggesting is very true. Y’all went to seminary and know saying Jesus was born on December 25th is like saying there is a real living breathing Santa Claus. This fraudulent claim has made our jobs and life during this time of the year a living nightmare of endless days of no sleep and one crisis on top of another.

For the Christmas season, which begins long before the 1st Sunday in Advent, actually right after Halloween we are subjected to 12 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 pointed in the direction of a cute little baby in 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 every day 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. Oh wait I forgot 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 where 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!”

Now for those readers who have at this point decided I am some sort of Scrooge or Grinch that stole Christmas be patient and keep reading.

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 33 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 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 most 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 being 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 Christ.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

The Small Surrenders That Lead to the Ultimate Freedom

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

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

LENT

 

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

-Thomas Merton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

HAPPY HOLY DAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here to Order

Sincerely,
Donald E. Wildmon, Chairman
American Family Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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