Tag Archives: Theology

Thirteen and Counting…

On March 15, 2011 our little contribution to theological chaos will be 13 years old and the last 5 of those years we have made an intentional choice to conduct worship outside.

It was this choice that has moved us from a “gay-centric” church to a church which lives on the edge with all those who find themselves there as well. Of course the population of those who live on the edge of society has far more folks than LGBTQIA folks; yet, it has been interesting that even though we no longer see ourselves as a “gay church” the community label has stuck.

As we literally have become a “Church without walls”, this has been met with smiles, rolling of eyes and about 95% of the time an exclamation of “REALLY?” This is usually followed by, “What do you do when it rains?”

So a while back when I got a call from one of my friends that I have not seen for a long time, you can just imagine the conversation.

Stacy, who is a very conservative Christian, was concerned about my state of mind. She has never liked the fact I was gay and has spent the last 30 years or so praying God would turn me into a butch straight man. Right, like that was going to happen!

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

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

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

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

After I hung up I wondered how many other people think I (we) are insane. Maybe that is why growth has been a little slow. Yet this is a group of people with real guts to worship in a public park. I say this because:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have rules for dress.

Rules for who is and isn’t a member.

Rules for who can be in the building and when.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is pretty hard to worship God when you are upset about what happened at a trustees meeting and you find yourself sitting somewhere other then that special pew by the favorite stained glass window.

Maybe we have lost our minds but God’s actual house is pretty neat to worship in.

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

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

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

In God’s house passers-by stop for a moment to say hello, meet the pets or wait until a prayer is finished.

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

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

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

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

In God’s house we have given the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the most unique and beautiful people of God’s creation, who have taught us far more about unconditional love then we would have ever experienced inside.

Then of course there are the people who make this all work. These are the people who have made a choice to step outside the politically correct and trappings of tradition. For when one is outside, it not only means you are literally without walls, but it also reminds us our faith calls us to be without walls as well. One can actually see life as it is.

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

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

We have people who, week after week, bring food for those who had none.

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

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

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

We have a few people who walk 2.5 miles to church each and every Sunday regardless of weather.

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

These folks are all heroes because in a world where recognition, wealth, power and control mean everything, it means nothing to them. One’s sexual orientation (straight, gay or somewhere in between), gender identity, race, immigration status, socio-economic standing, a particular gender or faith walk have all taken a back seat to the practice of the Gospel. Except for here most of you will never hear of them in the media or in the power places of the community.

I thank God for these faithful people of God who over the course of 13 years and especially in the last 5 years, have “walked the talk”:

Braden, Allen, Robbin, Rev. Jarrod and Erin, Kim and Sharon, Gareth, Carmen,
Maru, Lance, Monica, Corey, Vicar Alyce, Teresa, Ann Marie, Estelle and Erin,
Christopher, Maura (Spike), Richard, William, Caroline Ray, Rev. Judy, Nancy, Bob, Clinton, Phyllis, Susan, Jeff, Father Warren, Charles, James, Bill, Charles, Wolf, Jennifer, Enrique, Zan and Elizabeth, Bill, Aaron, Tom, Rev. Candace, Rev. Guy Kent
Rev. James Brewer-Calvert, Dixon, Marie, Jenny, David, Dwight, Stanley, Chuck, Darlene, Billy, and many more whose names have faded in this writers feeble mind.

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/.

It’s the Little Things

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

This year has been full of challenges; very difficult times, full of loss and with more to come … Despite all odds if we are to find peace we cannot and must not look back, but rather continue to move forward.

As I write this blog this evening all across our nation people are caught up in a war of words and ideology. It feels like we are stalled and a fierce fight is going on to push us back to the “good old days”, whatever that was or is.

Folks on both sides of the various debates will tell you they are fighting for the very soul of America. Some have such a heighten passion for their side of the argument they are willing to kill another to make the point. Still others will offer their life as a sacrifice to prove their point.

All across our world these debates are raging and sometimes resulting in historic change and at other times resulting in mayhem and death.

No one person or institution is immune from the cultural earthquakes shaking us to our very foundations of life and faith.

Mainline traditional churches are in crisis mode as they loose more and more members.

Church’s big and small suddenly have found their buildings being foreclosed on. I think I read somewhere that there are 113 churches facing foreclosure in the Atlanta metro area.

The split among churches over sexual orientation, gender identity and their role is society is as great as the split of 1064.

To stave off the impending loses of both people and revenues leaders of some churches have resorted to turning worship time into productions befitting of a “Broadway play” leaving far behind the “gospel” purpose of their existence.

In our LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer or Questioning, Inter-sexed and Allies) community as the movement for our acceptance and all the rights and privileges which goes with it moves into it’s 43rd year the divisions and debates are as bad as it is every where else.

We too have people maneuvering for power and control of the movement not caring how many people they have to step on in their climb to the top.

We have our share of those who will cry out that one group or another is too male, too female, is too white, too black, too racist or privileged.

We have too many in our community whose mantra is “thank God I am not like them”

North Avenue in Atlanta is still an invisible fence that too few from one side or the other will not cross to do the work of the community. The areas around this invisible fence are war zones of drugs, prostitution, the homeless and property values.

We have those in our community who are young and new to the movement and think us older folks are too slow or have become apart of the establishment and are starting to push.

Sadly we also have our share of folks who have “made it”, feel safe in who they are and have left the reservation and don’t give a crap about those left behind.

Somewhere in all this arguing, positioning, name-calling and temper tantrums it seems we as a whole have stopped listening to each other. We talk past one another, and rather than acknowledging the person and what they are saying most of our response begin the word “but”.

We have forgotten it is the little things that count. It is the little things we do for and with each other that will ultimately make the difference in all our lives.

Let me tell you the story of two people who are living examples of what I mean. Their names have been changed.

This is the story of Thaddeus and Sophia. Thaddeus is a black mid forties straight alcoholic male and is homeless.

Sophia is a 50 something male to female trans person and very active in the community and has had to fight for acceptance at every turn.

Thaddeus started coming to church services in the park about three and half years ago and I dare say there was not more than a handful of services he attended in which he wasn’t well past the legal limit of alcohol consumption.

Thaddeus originally showed up each week to get something to eat and a bus pass or money for this or that. Eventually as he got to know folks he started coming earlier and staying for the entire service. He knew a lot of the folks who attended were gay but that didn’t bother him as he loudly announced on several occasions, because he knew he was straight.

He did however; have a tough time wrapping his mind around the “whole changing bodies thing”. He was just as pronounced in that little gem as he was about being straight.

Sophia who generally had a low tolerance for people who were critical of the trans community for some odd reason always took Thaddeus as he was, giving him a hug and conversation of one sort or another every week he and she were there.

Over the years Sophia and the rest of us learned of Thaddeus plight, how he ended up homeless, his fear of the “DT’s”, his distrust and real fear of doctors and his very uneasy relationship with APD. He was a marked man and APD would and did stop him often. In fact many times when he wasn’t at church he was in jail on one charge or another, all misdemeanors.

Along this journey with Thaddeus, I noticed Sophia never criticized or ignore him. In fact she was one of the first in the group to “acknowledge” his story, his life and challenges.

As you might imagine this confused the hell out of Thaddeus. At one point he came to me and asked if she was single and I told him no she had a girlfriend. He seemed to be greatly relieved…anyway I digress.

One Sunday he shows up to service with a beat up bicycle and most of us in all honesty were wondering when APD was going to show up and arrest him for having a stolen bike.

During prayer time he asked for prayers to find a way to get the brakes on the bike fixed.

Before I could finish my thought of Thaddeus wrapped around some tree, Sophia said she would fix his brakes.

You have never seen separation anxiety at it’s worst until you have an intoxicated person ask for help to get the only thing they own in the world fixed and it dawns on them you are going to take it away for a while…Oh my God we had some drama that day. Suffice to say we got Thaddeus calmed down and Sophia took the bike to her home.

It was then that one of those “little things” happened. Sophia had planned to take the brakes off a bike she had in storage. This was a brand new 10-speed bike that she had bought sometime back but for various reasons had never used or ridden.

One the way to the storage area it hit her. Why tear apart a perfectly good bike?

2 Sundays later Sophia presented Thaddeus with a brand new ten-speed bike. His face lit up like a kid at Christmas time.

That happened 4 months ago. The same week he got the bike Thaddeus found his way to an AA meeting, within 2 weeks of that he had gotten a medical doctor’s appointment, gotten referred to a therapist and did what he swore he would never do and found a shelter in which he could stay for as long as it takes to get his feet firmly on the ground.

Sophia, in this one little thing convinced a broken man he counted, he was worthy and his life was important.

The story isn’t over; this isn’t a fairy tale ending. Thaddeus has a long way to go for full recovery. There will be challenges and trials, but they will be different now because one person did the little thing that shouted for all to hear; “You count!”

We all would be well served if we took notice here. This is a story of one straight man and one trans women. This is about as polar opposites as it gets. This is a story of one looking for a reason to live and one looking to live in acceptance.

Last Sunday Thaddeus said during prayer time, “I praise God for this church, I would not be alive if not for this church.” That was the theologically correct way to say, Thank you Sophia. I am alive because of you doing this little thing.

You see it is our story too…for it is the little things that really count. It is the little things we do for and with each other that will make the difference in those big things, which occupy the headlines today.

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/.

THREE VISITORS FROM GOD Part 3

This is part 3 of the story of 3 men who came into the midst of Gentle Spirit Christian Church who as it turns out were simply visitors sent to teach this congregation and I dare say me, some basic lessons of theology, life and the practice thereof.

Those lessons in the order of each man’s story: 1) “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”. 2) Crazy, Wild and Independent is cool with God” 3) despite anger and severe pain you can love and serve God.

I am sharing these stories in 3 parts first because the total blog would be too long and second because I think each visit needs to stand on it’s own and cause us to ponder one story at a time.

So today the final chapter and as the reader can tell from the dates of this 3 part blog, this was by far the hardest to write.

The difficulty did not come on my ability to tell Father Warren’s story, but rather the fear of being honest about what his visit was about.

You see Father Warren B. Taylor while having a pastor’s heart and an incredible understanding of deep theological truths, was in his time with us difficult at best and down right heart breaking in his worst of times.

When he was at his best, when he could step outside of his challenges he could hear and recognize how God was working with the church and the community in a profound and clear way. Yet most of that ended up being clouded and fog covered in the agony of a deep continuing anger, betrayal and severe physical pain.

As a church community today Father Warren’s imprint is all over the congregation…we are outside and a “church without walls” because of prophecy God laid in his heart.

We have a ton of pictures that have so eloquently caught our ministry in the making, because he had a gift of snapping the shutter button at the exact moment, which would make the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” a working art form.

There was no man on the face of the earth that loved his little girl more then Father Warren. She was the one lone shining bright light in his life and we have the pictures that give testimony to this fact. “Bug” was many times all the reason he needed to get through a day where his physical pain was so bad he could not find the strength to get out of bed. No one was prouder of her achievements regardless if was school, sports or taking a swim in the neighbor’s pool.

His love for preparing food for those around him gave him great affirmation and for good reason…he was a wonderful cook.

When it came to the beauty and practice of the Roman Catholic liturgy, there has been no one I have ever met for which the beauty, the simplicity and way of expressing the Gospel in liturgy was understood so deeply and practiced so eloquently.

So RBS what is so difficult in this? Stop writing here and we have a story about a true man of God, a man who lived out what he believed and died much too young.

I suppose this would make for a nice eulogy and I think I expressed most of those things at the memorial we did…over his loud and strenuous objections coming forth from the heavens. Father Warren had often told me after his death he wanted nothing done, “cremate me, give the ashes to Bug and be done with it.”

This is why there is more to tell…and in it’s telling we discover the reason for his visit and maybe why his visit and lesson for all of us is more important and urgent then the other 2.

When Father Warren was found dead on the floor of his bathroom…to the medical examiner based on Father Warren’s medical history, it looked like a heart attack. The autopsy and toxicology tests would later bear this opinion out. Father Warren B. Taylor age 45 died due to a massive and severe heart attack.

Simple, yes; physically accurate, yes; but the full truth, no. You see the full truth is this was a suicide.

Remember, I shared he had a deep understanding of the Roman Catholic Catechism…well let us take a look at a few lines of the catechism.

“2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.”

So swallowing a bunch of pills, putting a gun to his head or hanging was not an option for him. So if one chooses to stop taking their heart medication, pushes oneself beyond their physical limits, refuses to go and see a doctor and then keeps their anger at unhealthy levels the heart sooner or later will give out.

Father Warren had been telling us for a long time he wanted to die, he had nothing to live for and well despite his willingness to answer God’s call…God didn’t much care for him either.

Suicide happens in a variety of ways. We are all to familiar with the methods people use to take themselves out of this world when they see no hope, no future, no reason for continuing.

However, this was a lesson in what a childhood of severe physical abuse, a lifetime of betrayed trusts, an adulthood spent in the bowls of deep and unresolved anger coupled with the lack of ability to forgive will take a person too.

I think it is the inability to forgive, which causes all the other mention things to burn hotly and without quenching in our inner being. I think there is an inability to forgive because we are not really taught how to forgive or what the consequences of not practicing the art of forgiveness will lead too.

We live in a world where revenge, getting even and ‘justified hate” are the norm and not the exception. Sadly Warren was caught in this trap. With every “Jesus teaching” about forgiveness, unconditional love and sacrifice Warren had a “but”, a reason it didn’t apply to him.

Warren grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive family, his father an unrelenting alcoholic and his mother was unable to protect Warren from the abuse. When Warren’s sexual orientation came to light what little family cohesiveness there was broke. Warren would now face the world on his own trying to everyone that he was worthy.

As time past he pushed his pain deep into his soul by no longer paying attention to himself and turning his attention to trying to help others. Unfortunately this would begin to take a physical toll on his body and on his emotional well-being.

The disconnect from his family coupled with his desire to be something better would not allow him to seek help because in his words, “I had to prove I was good enough.”

With each failed relationship and with no support, no trust things continued to break down. He developed a neuropathy that caused him to almost be wheel chair bound, and have limited use of his hands.

In addition with each failed relationship regardless of straight or gay his level of trust sank and depression set in. The kind of depression that is mind numbing and life altering. At this point even if he had a job with health insurance I am pretty sure he would not have gone for counseling because “they are all quacks.”

When his last real relationship broke up, he lost his part-time job, so he had zero income and he was on the verge of being homeless. This coupled with the fight with Social Security to gain “disability” and get back the money he had paid into it all his life so he could get proper medical care and have the opportunity for some independence left him bitter, hopeless and really angry with God.

Then his mother died and he held his father responsible for her death, telling me, “He would never forgive him.”

Even when a member of the congregation stepped forward and took him in with no income and no expectations could he see God at work.

In scripture Paul talks about our faith being refined by fire, i.e. the challenges of life that make us stronger in the faith. However, I would suggest when this fire is fueled by our anger, disappointments and our perceived betrayals, it is no longer a refining fire but one of destruction.

In the end it consumed Father Warren.

Yet, his visit to our congregation was an incredible time of learning, loving acceptance and courageous steps in faith. We now know how critical it is to resolve our anger and find the avenues of grace and forgiveness. We know too God can and does work through all of the crap to bring about justice and mercy.

Father Warren was a complicated man. He was a man of integrity and faith, a man with a deep sense of right and wrong. He was driven and I believe with all my heart did the best he could with his understanding of his faith and his love of “the church”.

Today, he is no longer in pain, no longer fighting to prove his worth, and now knows for certain God loves him and was him through it all.

I pray Father Warren knows now we loved him with all our hearts, we had a deep and abiding respect for knowledge and theological skills. That he is deeply missed, that worship and fellowship time are not quite the same…we miss the stories and the jokes and the lessons.

Yet, most of all I pray he knows his challenges to this congregation to move outside the walls of traditional church, to “walk our talk”, to get past being so “gay centric” are being met with vigor and great success. This is a better ministry; I am a better pastor because of Father Warren B. Taylor choosing to be in our midst for a visit.

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/.

Growl, Grumble and Complain

The One who is to be obeyed was in church a few weeks back and heard me preach about the Prodigal Son. She said that this message was perfect for this issue of “Whosoever” since the theme would be dealing with those times God appears silent. Of course, I don’t think from a relationship standpoint God is ever silent when it comes to dealing with us. I think it has more to do with whether we are paying attention or not. I also believe it also has a lot to do with how we view God and how God deals with us. Which is why I really love this story Jesus told… as it relates so well to the GLBT community and our adversaries from the legalist side of Christianity.

“And he said, a certain man had two sons: 12And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me that part of your property which will be mine. And he made division of his goods between them. 13And not long after, the younger son got together everything which was his and took a journey into a far-away country, and there all his money went in foolish living. 14And when everything was gone, there was no food to be had in that country, and he was in need. 15And he went and put himself into the hands of one of the people of that country, and he sent him into his fields to give the pigs their food. 16And so great was his need that he would have been glad to take the pigs’ food, and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to his senses, he said, What numbers of my father’s servants have bread enough, and more, while I am near to death here through need of food! 18I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have done wrong, against heaven and in your eyes: 19I am no longer good enough to be named your son: make me like one of your servants.

20And he got up and went to his father. But while he was still far away, his father saw him and was moved with pity for him and went quickly and took him in his arms and gave him a kiss. 21And his son said to him, Father, I have done wrong, against heaven and in your eyes: I am no longer good enough to be named your son. 22But the father said to his servants, Get out the first robe quickly, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet: 23And get the fat young ox and put it to death, and let us have a feast, and be glad. 24For this, my son, who was dead, is living again; he had gone away from me, and has come back. And they were full of joy. 25Now the older son was in the field: and when he came near the house, the sounds of music and dancing came to his ears. 26And he sent for one of the servants, questioning him about what it might be. 27And he said to him, Your brother has come; and your father has had the young ox put to death because he has come back safely. 28But he was angry and would not go in; and his father came out and made a request to him to come in. 29But he made answer and said to his father, See, all these years I have been your servant, doing your orders in everything: and you never gave me even a young goat so that I might have a feast with my friends: 30But when this your son came, who has been wasting your property with bad women, you put to death the fat young ox for him. 31And he said to him, Son, you are with me at all times, and all I have is yours. 32But it was right to be glad and to have a feast; for this your brother, who was dead, is living again; he had gone away and has come back.” (Luke 15:11-32)

This story was given by Jesus to help the listeners get an idea of what God was all about in relation to God’s people. Here is the loving and caring father image. These two sons are very representative of our world today when we speak of the GLBT community and those who would do us harm.

We in the GLBT community can certainly relate to the younger brother…can we not? Living at home and over the years; beginning to figure out that we are different, that we are not fitting into the scheme of things. Recognizing the values we are being taught somehow does not apply in the same way to us. Recognizing that we can’t talk about it at home because it would cause such an up roar that we would have to leave or be thrown out. Recognizing the standards that are being set before us for success and a good place in society are only a fantasy we will never achieve. Ah…. yes we of the GLBT community have indeed stood where this younger brother stood. We stand where this younger brother did recognizing we would never be acceptable to our Family or God for that matter.

So we begin to visualize what it would be like in a world where we are not held accountable because of who we are. We start to dream of having a life free from the burden of feeling like our love is an abomination to our Father. We look out into the world and dream of another place; where we can be who we want to be, do as we wish and go where we want to go. So we go to our family and claim what is ours and set off on our own. We are excited by the anticipation of a new city, new people, and new adventures. So we slip off into the night…maybe leaving a note, maybe having one last fight about how we are grown up and can fend for ourselves. We might even have that last angry prayer with God where we say, “if we are going to hell then we will enjoy life and all that it has to offer first.” The church and all it hypocrisy now has no meaning for us, they don’t want us and we don’t need them. We will do it on our own, on our own terms.

Like the younger brother in Jesus’ story we arrive at that far away destination…we are free, at last we are free from all that entangled us at home. We dream of getting a great job. We see the great celebration of life…the nightlife, the bars, the groups, the clubs. We see ourselves finding great prestige and wealth. We vision great romance and untold happiness.

Yet, wait…what is this? The only job we can find is for minimum wage and the cost of housing is far from our means. The night life is filled with danger…temptation…drugs, alcohol, robbery, smoked filled bars and police hassles for hanging around all the wrong places. The idea of prestige and wealth has become only a distant memory of what we thought we could do. Our romance is filled with fake numbers, lies, abusive sex, phone sex, cyber sex, bath houses, moving from one relationship to the next growing more bitter with each change of partner. We find ourselves not being able to maintain any kind of meaningful relationship, we are afraid.

Suddenly, it occurs to us that we are not free but rather in deep agony. We are alone.

What friends we have made are dying or moving away. We are alone.

We lose the only decent job we had because they “don’t like faggots here.” We are alone.

No way to pay the rent we borrow money or maybe even sell ourselves, or worse yet start selling things that will cause us to end up in a far worse situation then the street. We are alone and afraid.

It occurs to us God seems far away and angry with us. If we could just tell God we were sorry, if God would just help us….but we are apart of the hated GLBT community and God will never accept us back, much less help us…..Didn’t the church say to us; “You have no place in the Kingdom!”

In the story as Jesus is telling it, the younger brother decides to go back home because even the slaves were better off then he was. Please remember Jesus is telling us this story to give us a picture of what God is like, how God reacts to God’s people. It is not about any more of a dramatic change than the younger brother deciding to come home. If you will, come back to God. Remember the first time you thought about going to a Gay church or a Gay friendly church. Remember how you weren’t sure if this was right… you weren’t sure you were good enough? Look we had kicked God out of our lives quite praying…stopped loving. “The church was right all along….look at my life now.” But you see here is the most important piece in this story… while still a long ways off the father ran to greet and embrace his son.

Jesus is saying to us the time away makes no difference, the wild and crazy times do not count, nor the empty pockets. What matters is that we are coming home. God has been watching for us and to assure us we are welcome comes to us while we are still yet a long ways off….Yes, we may be afraid, we may be weary, we may be heavy burdened, but God comes to us and calls for a celebration. Your sexuality has not removed you from God! The day we walked into that Gay friendly or Gay church we have come home and the celebration begins. We were once lost but are now found.

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 Prayer for Christian Unity

This week many of us of the Christian Faith are participating in a week of prayer for unity in faith. Rev. Paul Graetz of First MCC offered this invitation:

“Today is the first day of the week of prayer for Christian Unity. I encourage you to remember to pray for unity among the over 3,300 different denominations of Christianity. Jesus gave us the example as he prayed…”Make us one”. Remember we can have different approaches…but we cannot be at war with each other.”

Let us join in these prayers offered…God Bless, Pastor Paul
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January 18-25, 2010
First MCC of Atlanta

There are over 3,300 different Christian Churches in the world today. Each one taking on a unique perspective of the life and teachings of Jesus, the Christ. This week we invite you to pray for unity within the Christian community so the message of Christ might be truly revealed.

Let the prayers of these spiritual leaders be a guide over this eight day journey of prayer for Christian Unity.

January 18, Day One:
Almighty God, I come to you today with thanksgiving for my life. I know that through Jesus Christ you have taught me to be grateful for all that is. I surrender this day onto you. I ask for blessings to carrying me through the day. I ask that you would use me and direct my life in service to all mankind. Lead me in the directions of perfect love and allow me to let this love move through me to others to create unity. I pray to know your divine will for my life. I ask the Holy Spirit to go before me to make the way clear, and to guide and protect me, as I blindly step into the future trusting that you are with me and knowing that all is well. Thank you, in Jesus name I pray.

Rev. Dr. Joyce Rennolds
Joyce Rennolds is known internationally as a “Motivator of One or a Thousand” and a dynamic speaker at churches domestically and internationally. Reverend Dr. Rennolds has been on the ‘100s List of Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Women’ since 2000. You can hear her at First MCC Saturday Feb. 27, 2010 in a morning workshop.

January 19, Day Two:
“Heavenly Creator, who has created each of us, help us to remember that is important for us to focus on the ways that we “miss the mark” as we strive to be better Christians. It is all to easy and common for us to focus on how others miss that mark There is far more that unites us in Christ than divides us if our energies are devoted to searching for those things that unite rather than divide. In our effort toward Christian unity it is more important for us to listen to the voices of others than to raise our own. Help us each to maintain that perspective. In doing so, we can reach more unity than we can imagine.” Amen.

Rev. Chip Carson
Staff Pastor First MCC
In my years as Chaplain of AID Atlanta I remember the insight one day that changed my outreach to those Christians who equated AIDS with God’s judgment on homosexuals and IV drug abusers. It was the realization that it was not my job to make them accept me in my perspective unconditionally, but for me to accept them in their perspective unconditionally. I learned that just as Christ accepted (and accepts) others where they were (and are) but never left (leaves) them where they were (are) found, so can I. I fail at this regularly, but, since that day, I never cease trying.

January 20, Day Three:
Eternal God of the Universe, like Israel, we hear and understand that YOU are One, and because You are One, we too, are already one. Help us to embrace our union with you and with one another. With our sisters and brothers of African descent, may we embody Umoja, the spirit of unity that runs through all that You have created.
Oh God, grant that our differences will no longer divide us, but make us interesting to each other, instead. May we accept the diversity that You sustain as evidence of pleasure in variety. Remind us daily that You have made all humanity of one blood and that you have used one Redeemer to save the whole world.
Thank You, loving Creator, for making us one and for giving us to each other as companions along this journey called life. In all your holy names we pray, Amen!

Rev. Carolyn J. Mobley
First MCC of Atlanta, Evangelist
Carolyn Mobley and her partner Adrian Bowie serve as Church Evangelists for First MCC and have a Ministry of Inspiration in song and spoken word.

January 21, Day Four:
We humbly beg you O God to mercifully to look upon your people as we suffer from division, strife and denominationalism. We bring you great concerns for our troubled faith in a world where what divides us is more apparent then what unites us. We come to you today O God seeking your help, your wisdom, your courage to take away the controversial teachings of arrogance, divisions and hatreds which have taken over our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; reunite us in bonds of love; and work through our differences to accomplish Your purposes on earth.

Help us here and now to remember your requirement for a people of faith is to be about doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with you. Help us to recognize this can only be accomplished by being united rather then divided. As you O God love each of us unconditionally in our great diversity, may we in that diversity be united in providing the same unconditionally love to one another. This day we claim and proclaim our unity as your people and as your creation in the name of Jesus the Christ Amen!

Rev. Paul M. Turner
Sr. Pastor Gentle Spirit Christian Church
Gentle Spirit Christian Church is an Independent, affirming and progressive congregation. This is Atlanta’s innovative church without walls meeting each Sunday outdoors in Candler Park.

January 22, Day Five:
Holy One, We give you thanks for your spirit that binds together all living things. In this week of unity, we are powerfully aware of how you love and connect us even when we resist and build barriers.
Raise up in all our churches such a fierce and tender love for one another that we will seek to shatter all prejudice, misunderstanding, and division. Make your church into a sign of living hope for all people, a place where love is embodied, justice is practiced, and hospitality is honored.
Where your church is in error, reform it. Where it is right, confirm it, and where it struggles, support it. Into the hands of Jesus, we commend all our hopes and dreams, our challenges and our possibilities, trusting that his grace will make us into an army of lovers that cannot fail. Amen.

Rev. Bradley Schmeling
St. John’s Lutheran Church of Atlanta
Bradley Schmeling is the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Atlanta, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Rev. Bradley was a guest speaker at First MCC for Gay Pride in 2007 telling of his struggle as an out Gay Minister in the Lutheran Church.

January 23, Day Six:
God of Many Names, we ask that you pour out upon your children your gifts of love, peace and harmony. While we proclaim to love you, we often fail to love and respect each other. While we seek to praise you, we often fail to honor each other. While we yearn to be like you, we often fail to see you in each other.
Help us, O God, to live the prayers we pray, to manifest your love in each encounter and to never stop seeking your guidance. Heal us, hold us, set us free, but never let us go. Unite us O God so that your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen

Rev. Franc Perry
First MCC Church Evangelist
Rev. Franc Perry is one of First MCC’s Church Evangelists and is also nominated to be one of New York’s first out Gay African American judges.

January 24, Day Seven:
Lord, you prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are” (John 17:11b). Lord, Your desire, Your plan is for all of Your people to be of one mind and one heart. We ask you to make us one. Give us a heart to love one another and to work with one another so that your church, your daughters and sons, can become the answer to our prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Help us to become a people who will demonstrate Your Love to one another, our city, our community, our nation, and our world. Father, make us, as many members and multiple fellowships, into one instrument that will bring You greater honor and draw people to Your Great Love and Glory. We ask all of this in the Precious and Mighty Name of Jesus Christ.

Pastors Randy and Johnny Layton-Morgan New Covenant Church New Covenant Church of Atlanta (often known as “Saved and Gay”) started on July 23, 2000 as a LGBT affirming, Charismatic-Pentecostal congregation with a focus on the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.

January 25, Day Eight:
Lord Jesus, We know you prayed and hoped that all your followers would be united as you and God are united. You even said this is how the world would know that you had spoken the truth. Instead, we have divided, warred in your name and sacrificed that unity for our petty and arrogant insistence that everyone must love and follow you exactly as we do.

Give us hearts big enough to embrace unity without uniformity and diversity without division. Help us to accept and respect that there are many ways to love and serve you in this world. Grant that we who call ourselves by your name may repent of the arrogance that prevents us from living in unity and celebrate that though we are many, we are one.

We pray in your name, and for the sake of all that is holy. Amen

Reverend Elder Ken Martin
Rev. Martin is the Metropolitan Community Church Elder for Region 1 and portions of region 2. He is the Elder in care for First MCC of Atlanta and our MCC GA, AL, TN cluster of churches. His home is Austin, Texas.

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/.

THREE VISITORS FROM GOD Part 2

This is part 2 of the story of 3 men who came into the midst of Gentle Spirit Christian Church who as it turns out were simply visitors sent to teach this congregation and I dare say me, some basic lessons of theology, life and the practice thereof.

Those lessons in the order of each man’s story: 1) “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”. 2) Crazy, Wild and Independent is cool with God” 3) despite anger and severe pain you can love and serve God.

I am sharing these stories in 3 parts first because the total blog would be too long and second because I think each visit needs to stand on it’s own and cause us to ponder one story at a time.

Part 1 was about our beloved Charles Harris, Today, Deacon Corey Matthew Hoblit and part 3, the Reverend Warren B. Taylor.

I first heard about Corey from a staff member of mine who had known Corey for sometime. At the time Corey was in a local county jail for some infraction of the law he had yet again managed to run afoul of. The staff member’s description of Corey talked mostly of a troubled childhood, in and out of trouble with the law constantly, an inability to stay away from drugs, a rebellious and dark spirit, a lack of respect for authority of any type, and one who did not have much use for the church.

My staff person asked me if I would go visit Corey in jail because he thought Corey might be able to relate to me. I wasn’t sure if it was meant as a compliment or if he thought Corey and I had something in common. Either way I was not excited about making the visit. I saw it, as a waste time and gas since Corey wasn’t asking to see a pastor and I did not want to spend a jail visit hearing how it was not his fault and he should not be in prison.

When I arrived and saw Corey for the first time my insides shuddered, I wasn’t comfortable with the feeling I had of seeing God’s special child locked up. Don’t ask me to explain that last except to say what I felt, was deep in my soul. You know that quiet voice, which tells you what is about to happen, is going to be a work of God so pay attention.

Corey was full of defiance coming to that visiting area, his eyes bright but inquisitive, his walk and body posture screamed, “and who the hell are you and just what is it you want”.

We sat down in the visiting area with me one side of the glass and he on the other. I picked up the phone piece said hello and introduced my self. His response? “You’re that preacher Steve sent to save me, well it ain’t gonna happen.” “There is notin you can do for me and I don’t want you to try!”

Yea, we were off to a great start and yea I knew I didn’t want to be here. However, I did try to explain I wasn’t there to save him and while he was in jail other than visiting him there wasn’t much I could do for him anyway. I also went to say I didn’t care why he was there and was more concerned about how he was being treated since he was openly gay or at least Bi. His face softens and he almost whispered, “You’re a minister and you don’t care if I am gay, damn? I looked him in the eye and said, “Why should I, I am and have been with my partner for 20 plus years.” That was all it took…we began a conversation that lasted for 2 hours. Here is some of what he shared:

I was 7’ish when my Mom would take me to the “Kingdom Hall” in Marietta. I never really paid much attention; it was a napping time for me. Amazingly I did understand some of the stuff I heard.

It was during my teens and the abusive days of hell at home I would go to a Southern Baptist church in Powder Springs. I only went to get away from home. I was accepted for who I was except they didn’t have a clue as to how bad a child I was and treated me with kindness I never experienced at home. But, I had a secret and screw their kindness I would hold my breath…cause I just knew they were going to cut off my hands, pluck out my eyes and send me straight to hell when they really got to know me.

Like a dog who has been chained to a tree all it’s life, when I finally became an older teen, I knew that I knew it all…so I stopped listening to folks and rebelled. This of course brought the long arm of the law into my life, but I didn’t care cause everybody lied and had secrets too. At one point I got locked up in the juvie hall and in order to avoid lock downs would go to church. I always loved God and saw being with God better then here…but this church group did a pretty good job of beating me up with the bible and God’s wrath…I was an awful person wicked, evil and nasty and of course I had a secret.

I knew my faith was good, despite the guilt I could really move mountains with my child like faith. I would have dreams that came 100% true. It seemed God was right beside me no matter what. So this was when I decided my bisexuality was an infirmity from the devil and a possession of demons. My heart didn’t really believe that and for some reason they (church) couldn’t quite convince and beat that into me…call it me being hard headed or my stubborn ass self, but honestly if God was with me why was I bad. A voice in the back of my head kept saying, “your still going to hell for your sexuality.”

I have been in and out of jail at least 60 different times, each time while I was in coming back to God only to slide away when I got out. So I am pretty sure there is not much you, the church or anyone else can do for me or with me.

I tried to explain God didn’t make a mistake in creating him, his sexuality was fine and if he would give God a chance that good would come out of all this. Today, I really believe that was the Holy Spirit talking because…

I left the jail with the promise of a return visit, but with a heart broken at the incredible pain this young man was in, and a mind which said he was really lost, he was doomed to a life of drugs and prison. Even worse there was nothing we could do for someone so far gone, so lost, so lacking in any direction at all.

A couple of weeks went by and I get a letter which by the return address one could tell it was from a prisoner. The opening line of the letter read like this:

“I just would like to thank you for the visit, that was the first time someone listen to me talk for so long and didn’t tell me I was a jerk or that I was getting what I deserved. I am confused as to when I would be seeing you again? You said you would come back for a visit and bring a Bible…but hey if you don’t come back it is OK, I understand…you are really not any different then the others. You are busy with people that really matter.”

In my study just to the left of my desk on the wall is an old painting of Jesus rescuing the lost sheep. It was if that picture screamed at me:

“If I got time for you, then you have time for him, no one is too lost!”

I went back to the jail the next day with my study bible from collage days in hand as my apology for not keeping my word.

When Corey got out of jail it was not long before he showed up at church, he was staying with a person from the church and looking for a job.

For a guy that had so much against him, he was also a gifted and talented man. He could adapt to situations quickly, was a quick learn and for the most part was comfortable with the congregation and felt at home because no one seem to care about where he had come from or why…they knew his heart and seemed to accept him for that.

He was a blessing to the church, he was young, wild, irreverent and full of life and wildly curious about serving God. He kept all of us on our toes and most of the time a smile on our faces.

We learned Corey had a special gift of being able to relate to people on the edge and fringes of life. This gift showed brightest in the volunteer work he did for “Habitat for Humanity”. He also gave time to the “Hallthorn Behavioral School” where he work with the mentally challenged, did field trips to the “Tommy Nobus Center”. He did the “Breast Cancer Walk” and worked with the “Orphan Foundation of America”

When he finally got a job at the “Smyrna Thrift” store he would clock in 1 minute late so he would be docked 15 mins of paid time of which went to the “Paralyzed Veterans”.

His last job was at Starbucks and while he was a challenge for management his co-workers loved and supported him unconditionally.

Corey was a jack-of-all-trades. At various times he served his community and congregation by cooking, doing repair work, yard work, antique refurbishing, woodworking, electrical work, small engine repair, cleaning, making small jewelry items and last but not least computer repair and computer building. All the work he did with computers was self taught and learned.

When another member of the church had a need for help and a roommate he moved in and within a short period of time had found a best friend, sister and companion for the good and bad times. They were inseparable. They shared a love for one another that was not only unconditional but also able to withstand each other’s flaws that would have sent most other people in opposite directions in anger and disappointment.

There was no person or animal that was out of Corey’s reach, or was too much trouble to help or didn’t deserve his attention.

One night when Corey had gone out “dumpstering” (this is another blog story all by itself), he came across a kitten that had been dumped. Actually not just dumped but buried alive up to it’s neck and left to die. He dug that cute little solid black kitty out, brought it home and nursed it back to health. “Mayfield” became his buddy and companion on Corey’s nightly bike rides through the neighborhood. No, not in a crate or basket but sitting proudly on his shoulder enjoying the view and the man who had saved a precious life.

Another night Corey found an under-age run-away in the neighborhood and went above and beyond what most folks would do to get this child help and support.

His love for God and his understanding of Jesus Christ as his Savior brought him to the point of asking to be baptized and shortly afterwards entering Deacon training for the church.

In the time he was in training he developed and implanted a fund raising function for the church called the “Live-Tithe”. He used his dumpstering skills to find one person’s junk and make it another person’s treasure buy setting up an E-bay account and auctioning off the products.

Yet, the real story here is not all the good that he did but rather his love for God and desire to experience the full love of God trumped all of his short comings, all his challenges, all the dark self destructive behaviors.

Despite crack having a hold of him, despite a wild and independent streak which caused him untold grief and despite those moments of darkness where there was no one who could reach him; he with God holding him, walking and running with him brought him what is described in Acts 6:1-8

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Stephen Seized
8Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

He made sure of his ability to get to God, he built a sanctuary in the back yard of the house where he lived…his roommates were married there. He built an alter in his bedroom where everyday depressed or not took “Holy Communion”.

Towards the end of his visit with us, he came to me and said he had found that special person who he knew would make him happy. This person made him feel alive and gave him reason to get up in the morning, a reason to look forward to each new day!

Yet, he was concerned for 3 reasons, one this person was his former music teacher from grade school and there was a significant age difference, what would people think? 2nd, it was a women and would I be supportive of that? Third he was afraid of blowing it.

We both had a good laugh over his first two concerns when I replied,

“When the hell did you start caring about what people think…and of course I understand that God doesn’t give a damn about the gender of the one whom you fall in love with, so why would I?”

When he brought her to church the first time, when she met his roommates, his first two concerns vanished in an instant. She was beautiful in looks and in spirit and the effect she had on Corey was evident…this was God’s gift to the two them that said loudly yes there is someone “special” for everyone if you just step away from yourself and let God work.

As to his third concern only time would have answered that question. Time that Corey didn’t have. When Corey died suddenly at the end of September we all were left to wonder why? How could this happen? Why now just when for the first time in his life he was on top of the world, so ready and so willing to move ahead.

I am not even going to pretend to have the answers to those questions. I dare say anyone who would attempt to answer those questions on the pretense of making us all feel better is a fool. We will all know those answers in time but the time is not now.

However, what I do know is God taught our congregation and myself some very important lessons.

1. The story of King David is alive and well in today’s world.
2. There is nothing too wild in a person’s life to choose to give up on them.
3. Crazy is in the mind of the beholder and is every bit as important to a full and faithful life as what some call sane!
4. An independent life opens far more doors and opportunities to learn then it stops.

Yes, heaven gained an angel. Yes, we lost a son, a friend, a brother, an uncle, a lover, and a servant of God.

Yet, in that loss I would be re-missed if I didn’t point out, in our loss we gained a hero…a hero that shows us once again nothing is impossible with God and in today’s world that is a message we need to hold onto.

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/.

THREE VISITORS FROM GOD Part 1

I am going to tell you the story of 3 men who came into the midst of Gentle Spirit Christian Church who as it turns out were simply visitors sent to teach this congregation and I dare say me, some basic lessons of theology, life and the practice thereof.

Those lessons in the order of each man’s story: 1) “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”. 2) Crazy, Wild and Independent is cool with God” 3) Despite anger and severe pain you can love and serve God.

I will share these stories in 3 parts first because the total blog would be too long and second because I think each visit needs to stand on it’s own and cause us to ponder one story at a time.

Today, Charles Harris, Wednesday, Corey Matthew Hoblit and Saturday, the Reverend Warren B. Taylor.

Charles showed up at Candler Park as we were setting up for Sunday morning worship. He was cold, he was hungry and as it turned out homeless. He wanted to sample some of the sandwiches that would be served at the potluck picnic after worship.

Someone told him he was welcome to eat with the rest of us but he would have to wait till after service. His response? “I suppose I can endure the sermon.”

The sermon that day centered around the story of the “Prodigal son” and the climax of the story being the son returning home and God running to meet him and not caring about the confession of wrong doing, but calling for a celebration because the son had chosen to be in relationship with the Father. (Luke 15:11-24)

After service was over I went over to Charles, introduced myself and thanked him for staying for service. He said he enjoyed the service all the folks were cool. The sermon had done something to him and depending where he was he would come back the next week. What happen next would change his life and ours.

I asked him where he was staying. He pointed in a direction pass the golf course next to the park and in what appeared to be deep in the woods. “Pastor, I stay under a bridge.” “I got this problem…you see, ‘rock’ cost me my home, my family and job.” “I stay there cause the police don’t come back there and it is out of the weather.” “I got my ID stolen and I don’t have the money to replace it and nobody wants to talk to you without ID, so I am just trying to stay out of the way and get some food now and again.” “People are scared of me cause I don’t look so good and they think I’ll hurt them so they call the police if I try to get a little job here or there and now the ‘rock’ just gets me through the night, it’s not hard to find and others just share their stash.”

I stood in amazement at his honesty and directness. I asked him if he wanted something better, if he wanted to be off the street. He nodded. DUH! Of course he wanted something better! I felt so damn stupid and helpless because I also knew without ID and a crack problem there was going to be little the church could do.

He wasn’t gonna back to the big shelter in town because that’s where he got beat up and had his things stolen. We had given him a meal and would give him more if he came back…so…

Wanting to get out of the conversation, I said to him, “Charles, as long as you are using we can’t get you into a shelter that can really help you with getting permanent housing and a job.” We need to know you are serious about us helping, so tell you what; Come back next week having not used for the week and I will get you off the street.” “You gotta decide if you want to be the son from today’s message.”

Charles thank me for listening to him and thank us for the food and told us he would see us next week as he was scooping up the last of the sandwiches.

A member of the pastoral staff looked at me at said, “you sure didn’t try very hard to help.” I defensively said, “What are we suppose to do? He is using crack, by this time next week he will be somewhere else or in jail.”

Well the long and short of it was the next week came and who showed up for service? Yup, Charles, and he seemed to be in a good mood saying he wanted to “just praise God today”.

We got to Prayer and Praise time and Charles raised his hand to share praise. “I want to praise God cause today I am seven days clean and I know God just wants me to be with him.”

I sat there and listen to Charles talk about how the folks here in the park helped him make the choice to “come home” and how he “praised God cause the Pastor was gonna get me a place to live”.

Needless to say, I was now making a call on my cell phone to see if I could get Charles an interview at the “Clifton Sanctuary”. I explained the whole story to them and they agreed to meet him on Monday. By Monday evening Charles was a resident of the Clifton shelter and their program.

Within 3 weeks of getting into the shelter Charles had a job and had found a permanent place to live. Every Sunday for the next 52 weeks Charles was in church every Sunday without fail and come prayer and praise time would praise God for whatever number of weeks it was of his sobriety. He would tell everybody and anybody who would listen that knowing God loved him unconditionally was a break through. Knowing that God wanted to be in relationship with him was enough to stay sober, to keep working, to keep praising God.

He would explain he had been to church before but always came away with the feeling he wasn’t good enough. In order to be good enough he had to change who he was to what they thought he should be, confess how bad he is and follow the church rules or it wasn’t a real change.

He talked about how one church he went to wouldn’t give him “Holy Communion” because he was not legally married to the girl he was living with and because he had a drinking problem.

If you got into a deep conversation with him he would bring up a this quote from scripture:

“The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him.”

Now he didn’t always quote it exact but he always made the point, “My life changed with those words saying God wanted me and I didn’t have to confess anything!”

Charles died this past spring. He was 47 years old and the years of drug and alcohol abuse took its lethal toll on his body.

Charles did not pass out of our lives here on earth before he taught us that what redeems us, what saves us, what strengthens us and what sustains us is the relationships we build and accept. It is about not letting life get in the way of our relationship with God and each other. The first and most important step for a people of faith is desire to be in relationship with God and by virtue of this relationship with each other.

It is with this desire in place the President of the United States seems to gets it:

“Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

There is no building of anything if there are no relationships first…there are no relationships that will last if they are preoccupied with the past.

I thank God for this prophet, this man of God sent our way to remind us each and everyday “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”.

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 Choice that Looked Hard But is Actually the Easiest Decision We’ve Ever Made

In writing this blog I have attempted to not re-run a previous blog. However, with this said I (we) have gotten a boatload of questions concerning our church making an intentional choice to be outside.

Most of the questions are heart felt around weather issues, while others are digging deep to see if in fact we have lost our minds. There have been a couple of comments which have point blank stated we were never going to grow and they were waiting to hear of our demise.

Since, I seem to have more followers of this blog and readers in general I thought it was time to answer these questions again…so without further delay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have rules for dress.

Rules for who is and isn’t a member.

Rules for who can be in the building and when.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In God’s house we have given the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the most unique and beautiful people of God’s creation, who have taught us far more about unconditional love then we would have ever experianced inside.

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

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/.

Sociological Phenomenon: “25 Random Things”

The newest facebook pass around is “25 Random Things” about a person that we wouldn’t know otherwise. After the person lists the 25 things we probably didn’t want or need to know anyway…they “tag” 25 people, who are suppose to do their list. So as you can imagine this has taken on a growth rate faster then the deadliest form cancer we know of. In the last 4 days I have been “tagged” 12 times.

A friend of mine noted today on facebook, this has become some kind of social phenomena. He wrote in his notes,

“Not only am I getting repeatedly tagged in the 25 Random Things meme (which is only fair, since I tagged 25 people when I wrote my own list), I’m now starting to see news stories about 25 Random Things. It looks like those of us who have succumbed to this online diversion are now part of a bona fide sociological phenomenon. Or maybe it’s just a slow news week.

Google “Facebook 25 Random Things” and click on News, and you’ll get 159 news stories, as of this writing.”

Now I have not googled the 159 news stories, so what I am about to do has probably already been done. However, this latest fad of the Internet has reminded me of why I really hate these kinds of things. Everything from sending out false and scary e-mails about any number of things (so many of these in fact we have websites to tell what is true and what is bogus), to sending out sappy alleged true stories to break your heart… to playing on peoples instinct to pry into somebody else’s business and then believe we actual know something about that person.

So I am going to give everyone who reads this “25 Random Reasons” why it is a waste of time to tag me with this stuff or send me stuff to pass on to 25 people in the next 15 minutes for good fortune to come my way. Oh yea, before anyone comments that I am being a spoiled sport, please know this is meant with tongue firmly planted in cheek, with an occasional dose of “reverendbitch, sir” truth. Without further delay, my 25 random reasons for not playing tag:

25. In the time it takes to do the list I could play 2 playstation NHL hockey games.

24. In the time it takes to do the list I could play with my two dogs that have not seen me all day.

23. In the time it takes to do the list I could have been outside talking to my neighbor and finding out about things around the neighborhood that matter.

22. In the time it takes to do the list I could have called and chatted with my Mom.

21. In the time it takes to do the list I could have had an instant message chat with my nephew and my niece.

20. In the time it takes to do the list I could have cleaned my bird cages and fed them.

19. In the time it takes to do the list I could have made love to my husband.

18. In the time it takes to do the list I could have attempted to pay bills.

17. In the time it takes to do the list I could have the dishes washed and put away.

16. In the time it takes to do the list I could actually exercise.

15. In the time it takes to do the list I could wash my truck.

14. In the time it takes to do the list I could get caught up on real e-mail.

13. In the time it takes to do the list I could read something that actually matters. Also, if this is the 5th list you read today…you have already stopped reading.

12. In the time it takes to do the list I could write a sermon or two.

11. In the time it takes to do the list I could write a blog that is more meaningful then this one.

10. In the time it takes to do the list I could talk or chat with 5 people in the flesh that would just astound me with their wealth of knowledge and talents.

9. In the time it takes to do the list I could do 2 hospital visits.

8. In the time it takes to do the list I could make a dent in the stack of reading for my job that has stacked up.

7. In the time it takes to do the list I could spend quality time with someone I love.

6. In the time it takes to do the list, I already know if someone wants me to know something they will tell me when we get together.

5. In the time it takes to do the list, I already know if I want to know something about someone…I will ask when we are together.

4. In the time it takes to do the list I know that if you work out the math this is going to take more time responding and reading then anyone really has time for.

3. In the time it takes to do the list I could do some volunteer work in the community.

2. In the time it takes to do the list I could have taken a nap.

And number 1…. in the time it takes to do the list I can think of 25 random chapters to write in the book that will be coming out about this new “sociological phenomenon”

And NO you do not have to send this to 25 people.

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/.

Rev. Guy Kent Interview for the Questing Parson Blog

I am so thrilled to announce that my interview with my good friend Rev. Guy Kent will be the inaugural video interview for his Questing Parson blog.

Here’s a link to view the interview either in its entirety or in four segments.

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/.