Monthly Archives: June 2014

Preaching Good News as the Great Perhaps

I have read a LOT of articles about the actions of the recent Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly.  I have read a lot, I have seen even more posted.  I hit my limit last night; I’m not clicking on them anymore.  (So yes, if I were you I would not be reading this right now.)  I made that call last night and thought to myself, “back to preaching the Good News!”

…And then I stopped short.  Because that wasn’t at all fair.

What I love about my church is that we are willing to speak out loud what we believe.  We are willing to imagine that the gospel does in fact meddle with our lives and views, be they social, political, or theological.  And we are willing to be wrong.

I love that and I have to recognize that for a great many people preaching the Good News is EXACTLY what the General Assembly was, is, and will be doing.  We are preaching liberation from injustice, and seeking to offer blessings and forgiveness and dialogue towards a worldview more God-open to the many ways God is at work.  Many would view this work as evangelism: preaching the good news of the Gospel which embraces those who have been marginalized and oppressed.

But…

Many others hear that news as bad.  Many hear it as a departure from the established patterns.  Many hear it as an affront to their faith, their politics, their attempts to love their neighbors – our neighbors.

And you know what?  That has always been true of Good News.  It sounds so easy.  Oh – preach good news.  Okay, I got that.  But it’s hardly so easy.  The Pharisees were an incredibly faithful group of people.  They helped sustain Jewish faith for centuries of tough times.  They had good news.  But they differed with Jesus about what that is, or how we live that Good News.  The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in his faith (for he was a Jew too) isn’t because one of them was unfaithful and the other was faithful, the conflict was about two radically faithful people with a different understanding of what is good, or how to live that good.

And the issues compound.  Paul preaches to Philemon that he cannot own a Christian slave and so he must free Onesimus.  Is that Good News?  I bet it was to Onesimus… not so much to Philemon.  And Paul isn’t very gentle with him; in fact he is rhetorically manipulative.

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love… 14b in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced… 21Confident of your obedience… 22One thing more—prepare a guest room for me.

I love that last part… oh yah, and I’m coming to check on you too.  Paul gets what Paul wants.  But this dilemma doesn’t just involve Paul or Jesus, the cases abound.  Look at the Biblical mandate for Jubilee.  Jubilee is radically good news to the dispossessed who will get their lands back, but not so much the people who have accumulated those lands and slaves and worth… by the work of my hands and intellect and good management I obtained these lands and now I just have to give them back???  Is Jubilee good news to most of us in Presbyterian Church which, while not exclusively so, tends to be privileged and wealthy?

There is a struggle with this word good.  Part of why I am always hesitant to use it for God (read that here).  Good news rocks the boat.  Good news unsettles established tradition.  Good News breaks the rod of the oppressor, the yoke we carry, but also the structure and institutions we are invested and empowered by.  This is hardly Good News for all people.

Did the General Assembly do Good News work this week?  Will time tell us that we were out in front on justice, or off the path?  I do not know.  I have my passionate thoughts on the subject but that wasn’t was this line of thought is about.  What this is about is recognizing that our call to preach Good News is rarely comfortable, and if it feels comfortable to you (or me) – we are probably doing it wrong.  It wasn’t comfortable to Jesus.  It wasn’t comfortable to God.  It wasn’t comfortable to Paul.  It wasn’t ever meant to be comfortable… it was meant to liberate us from the structures that comfort some at the expense of others.  Maybe we acted rightly.  Maybe we acted errantly.  What I am grateful for is a church that is willing to be wrong.  I am grateful for a church that will to go on record for justice at the risk of its own life.  I am grateful for willingness to stand in the tradition of prophets, apostles, and reformers.  And I am grateful for the humility to understand that we will yet need reform.

Yesterday I learned a phrase for the first time, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” (attributed with some dispute to the last will of writer François Rabelais.)  I think there is something very reformed about this.  I think as we preach good news we are always (as those who see through a glass dimly) at best those who are seeking something of a great perhaps.  Those willing to dare that we might just be approximating God’s will and God’s good news for the world.  But are also doing so through human understanding, with limited language, social baggage, and our interpretational lenses seeing and hearing what we want to see and hear.  We dare to act, because otherwise what good are we?  We act with humility, because we know we have erred and will err again. We seek a great perhaps endeavoring to be Good News.

So… preach the Good News?  I’m trying.  You are trying.  We are trying together – thanks be to God.

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Why Rainbowing the Presby Seal Works for Me

Anytime Facebook gets momentum on profile pictures being changed for advocacy reasons it creates tension.  Last time I experienced this with the red equal signs for marriage equality and I, after a FB exchange, blogged about why I did it, here.

Yesterday, again with marriage equality, the denomination in which I serve – The Presbyterian Church (USA) – made way for marriage equality through two efforts: one immediately allowing pastors to use discretion and perform same-gender marriages, and the other a constitutional change to the definition of marriage affirming its traditional understanding as between a man and woman but also changing to two persons to recognize a larger understanding of marital covenants. Then a lot of Presbys took FB profile pics by storm changing our seal to some version of rainbow.

Image

(Image compliments of Adam Walker Cleaveland here)

Today I heard (indirectly, but I heed her voice) from another person who didn’t appreciate the “rainbowing” of the PC(USA) seal which she felt sent signals we weren’t meant to send.  I respect her views, she is one of the most passionate disciples I’ve ever met and I really wish I could move her to my current church because I miss her presence and her wrestling with God’s word.  And her views are shared by many.  She spoke respectfully and gave voice to frustration – thank you for that.  I should be held accountable, its why I do church – affirmation and accountability. So I am grateful for the opportunity to again be reflective about my choices.  Everyone recognizes that not all of us celebrated this change.  Is it crass to celebrate when that causes further pain?  What about those who have been oppressed and chased from the church by our silence or outright denial of their committed relationships, can we not be happy for them, with them?  How can we give voice to pain, celebrate joy, and still struggle to live together with common cause in Christ?

It isn’t easy.  We are still figuring that out.  But because I think I should have to stand up for why I choose to be “seen” in support of marriage equality and not just do “picture advocacy” here is my response about why I rainbow sealed:

I appreciate your thoughtful reflection. I think your reflection speaks for a lot of people, and it needs to be said. I do not wish to debate the right and wrongness of it – God knows how often I’ve been wrong. But I do wish to speak for myself of why I have a rainbow seal

I see the rainbow seal as appropriate precisely because I am pro gay. Because called to love my neighbor, the stranger, the alien, and the outcast, I am pro humanity. I am pro people who have been denied love and care, particularly by the church. I’m pro being in a church that is trying to cease to be an oppressive force which it has been (and always will be because we see through a glass dimly). I am pro people in their diverse particularity. If you cannot be pro black, pro woman, or pro gay. I do not think you can say you are pro human. Being pro human without supporting people in their particularness is generic and – I’d say – meaningless.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” God loves people in their particularity, this is incarnational theology, and I endeavor to do the same, something at which I do fail, but today I celebrate with a strong sense that the church in which I serve has opened its arms a little wider and loves a little deeper. And when I walk in the Boise Pride parade tomorrow I will do so proud of our church for its stance.

So yes, for today and tomorrow my seal will be rainbow. It could be, and should be all colors and no color and whatever it takes to remind us that God is God of all people, of many covenants, of steadfast love and faithfulness who tends to hang out with the people forced to the margins by the dominant narratives of our corporate life but endeavors to gather us all in celebrating our uniqueness while creating a wholeness and unity in an Acts 2 kind of outpouring of the Spirit. Today’s rainbow may feel like the scandal of particularity (ala Israel itself) to you, and that should be – because that is the way of our God who lifts up those who need lifting, and at one time or another that is all of us.

In the deep and wise words of Bob the Tomato, “Remember kids, God made you special and God loves you very much.”

——UPDATE, only one hour later 🙂

I didn’t get this in oiginally and wanted to do so but I’m not a really a disciplined and polished writer, I’m just jotting down my thoughts and reactions so let me get this in now.  On the question of the rainbow.  I never knew the genesis of the rainbow in support of LGBTQ neighbors until today (or I don’t recall knowing this) when I read this article from Slate.  However, I have always thought of the rainbow in terms of the rainbow covenant which is God’s reminder to God’s self not to destroy again.  It is a deeply theological affirmation of all life, and of love for God’s creation.  Under the rainbow we are reminded that God holds life sacred – our lives, all lives.  I think that works for me too.

Working Together for Peace?

This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith.  Today’s installment:

“To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace”

Doesn’t that sound so nice?  It’s almost like the combination of a group project in school with the wishes of the stereotypical Miss USA, “I wish for world peace.”

But when the rubber meets the road we struggle to play well with each other, and peace isn’t any easier.  What is peace?  What gets us toward peace?  And what do we do when two or more groups are at odds with each other cannot agree on who gets peace and at whose expense?

These are timely questions as right now the 221st General Assembly is happening in Detroit as the Presbyterian Church (USA) discerns matters of policy and polity.  The elected commissioners are quite literally trying to work together for justice, freedom, and peace.  But there are some very challenging questions before them: particularly the matters of the definition of marriage and justice for same gender peoples who have been denied the right to marry, and in the matter of potential divestment of three companies deemed to be have no interest in being in dialogue with us about their continued profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel.

On both these subjects we have strong disagreements about what is justice and what is peace.  We struggle with freedom in the midst of unity, and how to work together with such strongly held and opposing views.

And then I went today to my preachers bible study where we read about Hagar having a covenant from God (Genesis 21) to be God’s people also: none of us has unique status in the eyes of God, or maybe it’s that we aren’t uniquely chosen by virtue of the fact that we all are uniquely chosen.  So how do we check our privilege at the door?  A question made harder by the fact that most of us get defensive at the suggestion that we even have privilege.  And how do we help our neighbors check their privilege at the door… particularly when that is an offensive enterprise.

Then Jesus walked in for the Gospel text in Matthew and announced that he comes not to bring peace but a sword… to set us against each other… and that to gain our life we must lose it. (Matthew 10)

How do we work together for justice, freedom, and peace?

I don’t know… but I have some ideas.

We have to let go of our life.  We have to let go of our self-interest both as individuals and as corporate entities.  We have to let go of the idea that we should secure our safety and well-being at the expense of others.

We have to be humble.  We need (I think I heard this somewhere) to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves… and vice-versa.  And… we have to have the humility to imagine that we are at least as wrong in some of our ideas as the people we disagree with.  No-one is really setting out to be mean.  No-one is seeking the badwill of all other people.  Our disagreements are heated exactly because we each think we are seeking what is good and right.  For a moment… let’s imagine that about half of what we think is wrong, and about half of what “the other” is saying is right.

We have to be willing to be offensive.  This is hard because I don’t think that means offending people for the sake of it.  We ought not to SEEK to be offensive, but we cannot be afraid of it either.  Seeking peace as a ‘not rocking the boat’ is not in fact peace, it is asking those who are not currently protected by the dominant narrative to be quiet so we can pretend that all is well.

We have to trust each other.  We have to trust each other enough to stick in relationship long enough to get past the offense, the defensiveness, and the monologue-slinging to actually listen, hear, and relate to each other… for it is only if we can stay in conversation this long that we begin to actually do the work together towards peace part.

We have to admit that we won’t succeed.  We are seeing through a glass dimly.  We all are.  We will not achieve peace, or perfect justice, or grant pure freedom to all people.  We just won’t.  These are guiding lights – like the North Star.  We pursue them, not in the idea that we are capable of reaching them, but in the hope that we move ever towards them… and that in our fractious discernment and yearning for goodness the Spirit of the Lord is actually present.

“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage… to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”

Thanks be to God.

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This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here

  • In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
  • To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
  • To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
  • To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
  • To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: see below
  • In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
  • To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
  • Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Celebrate Life; Celebrate Each other – a Pentecost sermon

This is a shorter version (you are welcome) of a sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho on Pentecost Sunday.  June 8, 2014.  It was preached from the text of Acts 2:1-21.

The Apostles post-resurrection are a fairly reluctant group.  They keep hiding out.  They keep sending motions back to committee.  They aren’t ready to do the whole ‘go and be my witnesses to all the world’ thing.  That is… until the matter gets taken out of their hands.  The Holy Spirit literally swoops onto the scene from stage up-above and gets them going.  A violent wind… as tongues of fire… speaking and hearing in all manner of languages and breaking down all kinds of barriers.

The crowd becomes confused how this group of people could be doing all of this – this group of nobodies from Galilee… this is hardly a group of people expected to be so worldly, educated, and articulate.  It’s like they’re a bunch of people from Idaho.  And yet here they are showing off a flare for the dramatic with worldly inclusivity (old and young, slave and free, men and women, heavens and earth are all wrapped up in this spiritual awakening).  The presumption of some in the crowds is that they must be drunk, a move that is natural because we have a tendency to meet the miraculous or mysterious with disbelief and mockery whether its unexpected healing or Jesus’ head on a piece of toast.

This is a rousing call by the Spirit of the Lord to celebrate all people, to bring down all walls and all divides both real and tangible, and those deeply rooted in the coding of our hearts and minds.

This is a rousing call to celebrate life.

I have had a tough transition from May to June.  It isn’t unique to me or this month in particular, I’m in one of those kind of times – but so are many people, and many more than that who have had far worse. But here I am.

We went into this month with challenging family medical issues.  Surgeries.   Complications. Insurance battles.  Add to that our own church community has had three members die in the last two weeks, and then over the weekend, I lost a good friend. My across the street neighbor growing up – Mike.  Mike was also the younger brother of my best friend for life, and the two of them became like my brothers as I grew up with only sisters. He had overcome his own childhood disease and illness and become a fine young man, teacher, coach, husband, and father of twin one year old girls.  And then in one fell sweep a massive and unexpected stroke took him from us.

So all of this is going on for me and in the midst of that Caroline and I had planned a night out for a late celebration of our anniversary.  My middle sister and brother-in-law are in town so like it or not they got the kids for a night and we booked a hotel… a mile down the road.  We went out to dinner and our conversation was mostly about my younger sister still in the hospital for a third straight week, and about Mike.  After dinner I took a break to call my Dad to check in on my sister and what the new plan is (we get a new plan several times a day).  We hung up and then Caroline and I went on a late evening sunset walk along the Boise river and my dad texted me one final thought:

“Celebrate life, celebrate each other.”

There is fragility to life.  And that fragility can make us scared, cynical, fearful.  That fragility can make us despair.  And we can respond to the fragility of life by doing everything in our power to secure safety.  We can try to build the thickest walls, and have the strongest guards.  We learn to doubt, we do not trust, we disbelieve good news.  We can obsess about death…

Or… we could choose to celebrate life.

Celebrating life doesn’t deny death; it isn’t a denial of the suffering and the agony.  But we do not let them rule us either.  Celebrating life is an intentional choice in spite of fear, anxiety, and doubt.  It is courage.  It is a bold choice to limit the sway and power of death.  Because as victims we can allow tragedy more power than it’s due.  We allow it to kill not once, but twice.  First it kills a beloved reality – be that a loved one or something about our life we cherish.  Then it kills our spirit… our hope…. our ability to celebrate life.  And we live in fear.  To live “with fear” is probably unavoidable but to be ruled by fear is the second death, the death we perpetrate on ourselves.

What I believe attracts me to the poetry of the Psalms or to African American spirituals is the very resistance to this second death.  They do not give in to despair.  Certainly they speak of suffering, loss, and struggle.  They wrestle with the “how long, O Lord” of injustice.  But there is a hope that is transcendent to their current misery.  In the midst of pain they do not allow hope to die as well.  The cling to, they proclaim, they celebrate hope.  We may die, but will never cease to celebrate life.

Celebrate life, celebrate each other.

In the wake of Jesus’ death he knew his followers would struggle with this kind of celebration – resurrection or not.  He knew that despair was a difficult enemy to keep at bay.  And so he promised them that one would come who was life itself.  That the Holy Spirit would come to them as a comforter, as an advocate, as a mighty wind that was the very breath of divine life and that it would sweep them up in empowering celebration of life.

And – ready or not – they are now caught up in a bubbling over of the cup of life, an ascendant celebration of life and each other whose tenor was so lively and audacious that the crowds think it must be drunken revelry.  And Peter says no this isn’t the foolishness of alcoholic public indecency in some kind of avoidance of the world.  Oh its drunkenness he says. Its foolishness for sure.  It’s even a dance of public indecency.  But the only thing they are drunk on is life, and it’s the foolishness of hope that will not give in to death, and a celebratory dance of each other – of all life.

Celebrate life; celebrate each other.  Amen.

We need more Presbyterian footprints and fewer monuments

Good thoughts – what does it mean to have a Presbyterian presence in a particular neighborhood and is that synonymous with a church building? It also gets us (not explicitly but still gets us) to the question where we are challenged to be concerned with the presence of the community of God rather than concern about “Presbyterian” at all.

Edward says...

The Holy Spirit has this way of…well…surprising me.  Last Sunday Andrew referenced a favorite quote from William Faulkner about the difference between a footprint and a monument.

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Hearing Stories: Silenced Voices and Add the Words

“to hear the voices of peoples long silenced”

This blog post is part of a continuing series on the Holy Spirit section of the Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but also connects with a larger justice issue in my home state of Idaho (and throughout all our communities around the world).  I am grateful for Ty Carson’s willingness to add a “silenced voice” to this post.  Ty’s full story is heart breaking; Ty’s courage is inspiring.

“to hear the voices of peoples long silenced”

This line tugs at my heart.  Power pervades our lives.  The power of government, power of privilege, power of personality, power of physical presence, power of role and status… so many power dynamics.  All of these power dynamics silence people who lack that power, sometimes very intentionally, sometimes without thought, and sometimes entirely unintended.  And yet the silence is still forced, the hurt is real, injustice is still done.  We ignore power dynamics to our detriment, but even more so the detriment of those silenced and cast aside.  When we ignore those voices we become complicit in the hurt… we join the ranks of perpetrators.

Just as we unmask idols; we must hear the silenced, we must unmute their voices and open our ears and hearts to their pain.

Hearing the voices of people’s long silence has long been our calling – prophets speak on behalf of “the widows and orphans,” and God pays particular attention to how we treat “the least of these.” And yet the Church can struggle with its own power problems… and cause much hurt.  Think of all those the Church, intentionally and unintentionally silence out of fear or control or to for our comfort’s sake.  We silence prophets as well as Israel ever did.  We must listen to the voices we have cast aside.  We must set aside our defensive responses to truly hear those voices, and not just listen to them.  And we must strengthen them and lift up the voices that society casts aside.  We do not simply hear them for changes in our hearts – but we hear them and lift them up for the transformation of our communal heart.  We are in the business of building up people… all people.  This is the heart of “good news” in Jesus Christ, and the love of God which casts out all fear.

And there are so many silenced voices

  • People who don’t think like us, people with different truths.  Conversation across faith beliefs, and political ideology grows harder every year as we choose to listen to only those who will reinforce our own truth.
  • Minority populations in faith, culture, race, and origin who have had to learn the hard way that “freedom” is quite a bit more free to those who fit the look, feel, and expectations of our normal.
  • Outsiders to our institutions who we may profess to invite in but who we do not welcome enough to change who we are so they have a place at the table.
  • Recent events in Santa Barbara remind us that women’s voices as equal to men is still not a reality.  Women are still treated as objects on our streets, and machismo definitions of what it means to be male and the entitlements therein continue to silence and degrade gender relations.

This list could go on at great length, but in the midst of these silenced voices I am immediately drawn to a particular population that has quite visibly been silenced.  I have become involved with advocacy on behalf of Idaho’s LGBTQ population who desires to have their rights protected as equal under our constitution.  The Add the Words campaign has sought for 8 years to get the four words (sexual orientation and gender identity) added to Idaho’s Human Rights Act.  For 8 years the legislature has been unwilling to even have a hearing on the idea.  Voices silenced.  So silenced that this year the protestors advocating for these changes did so by covering their mouths in mute testimony to our silenced friends.  This change isn’t about granting our LGBTQ friends and neighbors special rights – but the same rights that the majority of us take for granted.  This is a protecting people with the basic right to freedom and safety from abuse.  This is about ensuring that they can be who they are in their gender identity and/or sexual preference without fear of being kicked out of housing or losing their job – in other words that they can be free in a nation that claims to hold freedom among the highest of virtues.  This is about helping to create a tomorrow in which no more youth seeking to be who they are in their own hearts feel so silenced by an unloving and unaccepting and unsafe society that they take their own life.

This isn’t an issue.  These are peoples… long silenced.  So let me introduce you for a moment to one such voice, Ty Carson.  I met Ty through the Add the Words movement.  Ty spoke a moving testimony at our Service of Healing and Hope through the Interfaith Equality Coalition and when I saw that I was to write today on, “hearing the voices of people’s long silenced” it met up perfectly with Ty’s continued work.  So without further ado.  Meet my friend Ty.

My name is Ty Carson. I am a parent of 3 beautiful children. I was born in Silverton, Idaho. Growing up in the Boise Schools I experienced bullying, physical violence and fear daily, while teachers and administrators stood silent. These classroom and playground experiences instilled a fear and shame inside me that still haunts me today. As an adult I have been verbally attacked in bathrooms, locker rooms, and local restaurants, just because I entered the room. I believe that adding these four words (sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act) will be the beginning to changing the para-dime that ignoring discrimination is okay in schools and businesses. Being silent in our families, in our schools, in our communities and in our government is toxic and it hurts. Until the Governor and the Idaho State Legislature say that it is wrong, the message they are sending is that it is ok to discriminate in our state.

81% of Idahoans believe it is wrong to discriminate against gay and transgender people in Idaho. 81!  And yet still our government is silent and will do nothing – still our voices are silenced. To these wonderful friends and very important allies that make up that 81% I invite you to come see a new documentary film of the Add the Words struggle; see the film and be inspired by a chance to really see and “hear” the gay and transgender community!

Filmmakers Cammie Pavesic and Michael D Gough have teamed up with Sean Small, MDG films and Quicksand Productions to produce their second film together, Add The Words. This documentary has 2 intentions; 1. To tell the story of this epic 8 year long battle of adding the words sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho’s Human Rights Act; and 2. To tell individual stories of those directly affected by Idaho lawmakers not including the four words. Idaho ranks at the top for suicides in the 50 states and many of these can be linked to “Gay bullying”.

I believe that this film has the ability to touch everyone who takes time to go see it. So EVERYONE grab a friend, inspire a neighbor, invite someone who makes you nervous and go see a film about WHO we did this for and WHY we did it!!!

Silence in the face of injustice hurts.  End the hurt, end the silence, listen – and hear – your neighbor’s story.

“hear the voices of peoples long silenced”

 

For more information about these events you can go to these places or “inquire within”:

Add the Words Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/addthewords

Add the Words Website: http://www.addthewords.org/

Add the Words Documentary News Story and Video: http://www.boiseweekly.com/CityDesk/archives/2014/05/30/watch-a-trailer-for-documentary-on-idahos-add-the-words-movement

Add the Words Screening at Egyptian Theater, buy tickets here: http://sa1.seatadvisor.com/sabo/servlets/TicketRequest?eventId=896285&presenter=EGYPTIAN&venue=&event=

Interfaith Equality Coalition (faith communities dedicated to support equality for LGBTQ neighbors) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/interfaithequalitycoalitionidaho