I now really understand “writer’s cramp” or writer’s block. I am sure some of you have noticed this blog has been pretty dry over the last couple of weeks.
It is not like there is not plenty for me to write about, bitch about or for that matter celebrate. Yet, according to one of my friends this is something that happens to all blogger’s and really good writers, so I guess I find myself in good company.
I think another reason for my block is that I am extremely nervous and excited about a meeting a pastor colleague and I are hosting tomorrow. This meeting is about bringing some fire to a vision I have had of the church for almost the entire time I have been in ministry, probably as far back as when I first felt called to follow this one called Jesus.
As long as I can remember these words of scripture have rested in my soul:
These were and are the passages that drive me, haunt me and really define who and what I am as a pastor.
I say drive me because to me they seem to be the core of what a follower of Jesus strives to be about.
I say they define me because despite falling far short I really try to live my life by what these passages proclaim. For me this is not a head thing but a matter of my heart, the depths of my soul.
I say they haunt me because the church I grew up in and the church universal today seems to have forgotten these passages and lives out an existence that is more about exclusion than inclusion, more about money and prestige rather then simple service, more about moral enforcement and judgment rather than sharing and proclaiming grace, more about dogma and creeds rather than openness and an intentional inclusive community.
Because of the afore mentioned the church universal is no longer safe, no longer a place of peace, no longer a place of refuge from the terrors of the world. Hell it is not even a refuge from the terrors brought about by so-called Christian leaders. So I am haunted…what would God have me to do? How does one little gay pastor push the church universal back to its roots, back to a time when God, not rules were the order of the day?
Frankly, I was pretty content to try to do that with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. We are a church “without walls”. Every day of our existence we try to “walk the talk” and some days we do better then others. Those scriptures I mentioned are apart of our core beliefs, they in fact drive our church.
Yet I have been restless, frustrated and disappointed as we fall short of the need of the larger community.
This was made so clear to me several months back when I was at a meeting with a group of clergy who had receive a large sum of money to used to feed the hungry.
Now folks we are a good hour into the meeting debating the rules for this food distribution. Rules for how to fill out the paper work, which people get the food, how much and how many times a month. There was even discussion, no actually an argument over how much info to keep on file and not mess with people’s privacy.
To this point I had been very quiet and trying to devise an excuse to leave, when one of the pastor’s asked me what I thought. I said they probably did not want to hear what I was thinking, but I was encouraged to share.
So I told them I was thinking about the story of Jesus when he fed the 5,000. Of course all these pastors started nodding their heads in agreement. However, I was stuck on the differences of that story and what was being discussed. See I wondered who of the disciples went through the crowd that day and had the folks fill out the paper work? Which of disciples did the assessments of who was in real need? Was there somebody who determined if the folks who got the food were just going from rabbi to rabbi to eat each day?
As you might imagine my questions were not well received and I have not been invited back to any more meetings.
My next few prayer times with God were screaming sessions.
“Is this really all there is? Is this the kind of ministry you want? Damn you…give me something…give some sign I am not an idiot…tell me some how these scriptures are really central…damn it do something!”
Then Lance from our church introduced me to Rev. Jarrod Cochran, a straight evangelical Christian who had a vision and was trying to get a movement started.
A movement of “Progressive Christians”, A Mustard Seed Revolution of Grace, Love, Mercy, and Inclusion…” On his website he explained is efforts.
“The Progressive Christian Movement seeks to unite followers of Jesus and reclaim our hijacked faith. This movement is one fueled by love, the message of grace, and the desire to leave no one on the outside looking in. This movement is looking for speakers, ministers, writers, activists, singers, dancers, painters,
to join in this revolution of grace. The world needs you. We need you. Jesus needs you. Won’t you join us?”
His website included the following ideals:
· Jesus’ central message is about radical inclusion, thus we welcome anyone to participate in our fellowship without judgment or forcing them to conform to our “likeness” or affirm our creeds in order to be accepted. We invited and offer all a place at the table – no exceptions.
· Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. Faith is about the search for understanding, the raising of important questions, the open honesty of having doubt, and the realization that no one has it all completely right nor does any human hold all the answers. We seek to follow the advice found in 1st Thessalonians 5:21, which is to “seek truth out in all things and hold firmly onto that which is good.”
· Religious absolutes of dogma, legalism, and strict doctrine become stumbling blocks and “litmus tests” for who is “in” and who is “out” of the circle of God’s grace. These false tests that Jesus never required get in the way of truly following Jesus and his teachings.
· Following Jesus is counter-cultural, radical, and disrupts the status quo. The good news of the gospel is intentional in its inclusion of those who are traditionally marginalized and refused by Mainline Christianity.
· The words of Jesus found in the gospels are to be the focus for any disciple of him. We submit the rest of Scripture to the position of “sacred commentary.”
· Recognition and affirmation of the differing belief systems of others, whose faiths offer a way into relationship with God and call upon them to further God’s love and grace on the earth, is crucial. Jesus revealed this path in the acts and works of the Gospel According to Matthew, chapters 5-7; and demonstrated this inclusion on many occasions – including in his witnessing and affirmation of the Samaritan woman, whose culture and people were looked down upon for worshipping God in a different way (the Gospel According to John 4:1-42). As Jesus taught and revealed through example, any “spiritual” or “non-spiritual” person adhering to this way of life are indeed furthering the Reign of God and God’s message of radical love and inclusion here on earth. As Jesus said, “Anyone who is for us cannot be against us” (the Gospel According to Mark 9:39-41).
· Creating fellowships and communities that are dedicated to lifting up, affirming, and equipping one another for the work the Spirit of God has called us to in Micah 6:8: active peacemaking, striving for justice and equality of all people and nations, loving those who are labeled by our government, society, and – at times – ourselves, as “enemies,” caring for God’s creation, and bringing hope to the poor and poverty-stricken.
· God created humans with a brain capable of discovery and reason. God does not require us to “check our brains at the door,” along with our coat and hat in order to be a part of the faith. Faith and Science are not in conflict; they are in harmony. The Bible is not a Science textbook and should never be taken as such. We affirm that if God is truth, then any discovery we make about ourselves, our origins, or the way the universe was created has come from God and should not be viewed as heresy.
· The Church is not simply a four-walled institution, but a ministry without walls that surrounds and encompasses everything and everywhere we go. Our brothers and sisters are not only those who label themselves as “Christian,” but are everyone we meet. Ministers and adherents of the PCM recognize that their ministry does not begin only when they are behind a pulpit or that their witness is only conveyed through spoken word; but their ministry extends to all places and their witness is conveyed by their actions.
Praise to God, I am not alone! There might be a way for the church universal to live out those scriptures! There might be a way to make the church safe again, a way to recapture the mission of God’s church.
So tomorrow Rev. Jarrod and I have invited 30 clergy persons to a meeting to see if others see what we see. Ten have committed to be there and the rest who can’t make it want to be kept in the loop.
Maybe there is something to this. Maybe God is still calling. Maybe we are still listening. Maybe the commission given to Isaiah will be born yet again:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
The whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send I!”
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.