Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Majority of One: Today’s Testimony to Add the Words

Testimony in support of House Bill 2: Adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act

Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla

Boise, Idaho

Thank you Mr Chairman and members of the committee.

My name is Andrew Kukla, I am a resident of Boise, Idaho and I represent myself today as I speak in favor of House Bill 2.

I am a Presbyterian Minister.  I am white (I am sure you noticed).  I am also male, straight, and married.   I was raised in middle America – the only son of a small business owner and my three sisters will tell you that gave me special privileges.  I was afforded a great education at some of the finest institution in our country.  I live in a society that places undo value on these traits: I am of a privileged and protected class.  I am also a Christian, and despite all the press of the decline of mainline Christianity, it is still the dominant majority of our society given more than equal standing and voice.  The world I live in was made to give me all the advantages, and in all scenarios, to protect me.

I’m even right-handed.

In my life journey I spent time in two situations where I might have been seen as a minority.  I spent a year as a missionary in the Philippines, some of that time in villages where the children hadn’t met a white person before.  And I spent a little over a year as a hospital chaplain in downtown Atlanta (Georgia) living in an apartment complex where my wife and I were the only white people.

In each of those settings I was never a minority.

Because I am the dominant norm of our world.  Not of this city, or this state, or this country – the dominant norm of our world.  I am a privileged and protected class, though I should not be, and in all places I have gone, opportunities I was given, and jobs I have worked, people handed me authority and power I didn’t have to earn.

I am a privileged and protected class.

I have gay friends.  Gay friends who have changed my life for the better, expanded my perspective and taught me much of grace and love – but this doesn’t mean I know the “gay experience.”

I have come to meet and know transgender neighbors and advocates who are overflowing with human dignity and tremendous courage… but I do not know the transgender experience.

I have never experienced vulnerability on that level: I am privileged and protected.

My faith, my relationship with the God of Abraham as revealed through Jesus Christ, calls on my life to seek those who have been tossed to the margins and lift them up and love them as myself regardless of my views of their orthodoxy or purity (which none of us can claim) and in the face of whatever risk that may cause to me and my livelihood.

This is in perfect step with my civic obligation as a patriot to a country whose dream was that the dominant norm – religious, political, or social – would always protect the right and freedom of the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

My faith and my love for county, in this regard at least, see completely eye to eye.  Liberty requires the limit of my freedom (my privileged and protected status) for the protection of the equal freedom for all people.  For this reason I ask you to consider saying yes to passing House Bill 2 out of committee for a yes vote on the floor of the House: you are not being asked to create new legislation but to recognize the attested vulnerability of gay and transgender citizens of our state (and those who may come into it) and extend the already existing circle of care and protection to them.

Thank you Mr Chairman and members of the committee for hearing me today, I hope you consider adding the words: no more, no less.

I stand for questions.

Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla

A Pause to Reflect: Hearing on Add the Words Legislation

Okay this is really a vent post.  It was a facebook status but I decided to post it here as well.  Its not a typical post (but just as wordy as I usually am). Feel free to pass on reading it because its long, snarky, stream of consciousness, not as invitational of dialogue as I usually try to be, and generally more about me than you… buts its my reflections after sitting listening to two and half hours of testimony at the House State Affairs Committee hearing on House Bill 2: Add the Words.  Its very tough for me to sit and listen and not get to engage.  I listened.  I am listening, but in between a little speaking some parenthetical thoughts as we pause in hearing more testimony:

– If in a hearing full of testimonies you get up and say there have been no substantiated cases of discrimination you cannot also claim to be listening to the people whose stories of discrimination you are invalidating with that “substantiated” word.

– There is a little thing I like to call the separation of church and state and it is actually a necessary part of your religious freedom (I may repeat this one 55,000 times since so many people seem to have missed that day in history/government 101.

– That you have, or had, a gay friend (or 50) doesn’t mean you understand what it is like to be gay nor does it give you authority to discriminate “nicely.” Corollary: that you were discriminated against once and survived it doesn’t mean its a worthwhile goal to make others buckup and find a way to grow from being mentally and physically abused.

– There is a little thing I like to call the separation of church and state, heard of it?

– No seriously you have haven’t you? The whole point to granting freedom of religion is that the government doesn’t prescribe a certain religious point of view allowing you to have your own. So the argument that a law runs counter to your perspective of the immutable law of God is…. not on point.

– Also religion is not some immutable trait of your being you were born with, you do realize people convert religions (or leave it behind) all the time making it a faith – even a life-style – choice?

– When you keep hounding the argument that you cannot legislate morality and that people will discriminate regardless of the law (with strong implication that you are talking about yourself) you are saying that because you aren’t a law abiding citizen than there should be no laws. I call that anarchy. Hobbes calls it life being “nasty, brutish and short.” I would not suggest actually trying it. (Also I don’t actually suggest reading the Leviathan because its really long but that is where that quote comes from if you are interested.)

– Let your yes be yes, and your no mean no. This saying you don’t discriminate and then spending ten minutes showing just how much you do… yah, I would prefer a simple yes thank you. Trusting me enough to be honest does have an appeal.

– Calling some people a privileged class for asking to have their rights protected while claiming you feel your religious rights are under attack makes you… a privileged class seeking protections you want exclusive access to.

– If your religion needs to have the government (you know the same one you claim is always “overreaching”) to protect its ability to actively discriminate based on your strongly held religious convictions – than that same government needs to protect all strongly held religious convictions, even the ones that will be detrimental to you (again, see freedom of religion and the separation of church and state -> we are not a Christian nation, at least we aren’t supposed to be.)

– Some are pointing out the lack of any actual cases of discrimination filed and saying that shows we don’t need the legislation, others are pointing out the overwhelming number of invasive lawsuits that are occurring because of such legislation so we should fear the legislation…. um. which is it? One or the other of those may be an important conversation point – but raising them both is counter productive to your own case.

– Lastly, to all the people who point to the cost that legislation protecting people from abuse will incur (maybe) from potential trumped up lawsuits. You are putting a price tag on people’s lives.

The hearing this morning ran from 8 am – 11:30 am though many got there at 6 am and I got there around 6:35. It will continue at 5 pm tonight until 8 pm but I have a Session meeting I have to moderate so I will miss the evening session and they will probably call me to testify now that I am not there. 🙂  They aren’t giving time limits (yet) so it will likely run into tomorrow and maybe more. I will give the committee this: they are giving the hearing its full due. Thank you for that.  It is noted and appreciated.

Now let’s add the words: no more, no less.

What’s your Salamander: Confronting Fear and Discrimination

So crazy things happen in politics.  Crazier things seem to happen in Idaho politics, did you see the GOP Gubernatorial debate last May?  It went viral around the country thanks mostly to the participation of Harley Barnes and Walt Bayes who are summed up by Washington Post:

With his bushy white beard and khaki shirt, Walt Bayes looked like a slender Santa Claus on spring break as he thundered Bible verses from the podium. And then there was Harley Brown. Clad in a black leather vest, hat and gloves, the engineer biker with a more manicured white beard and missing teeth looked like a bad Santa. And he sounded like one, too. “I’ve got a master’s degree in raising hell” was one of the many gasp-worthy things uttered during the hour-long debate.

So after two years of living here I no longer get surprised with the antics of our legislature and politicians. Not surprised, but still frustrated and saddened.  It struck again this week.  House Bill 1 was being heard by the House State Affairs Committee.  This bill was attempting to have the Idaho giant salamander named as the state amphibian.  8th grader Ilah Hickman was even on hand to present why she thought this was important, and she had the backing of several voices on the committee who tried to move the legislation to be sent to the House floor… but, no.  This is Idaho.  The legislation lost – again.  And then in words I will not soon forget I read the words Representative Ken Andrus said to her:

When I grew up, when I was a young boy, in our swimming hole, there were salamanders, and we called them water dogs… and I learned to despise them. To me, and to my fellow youth, they were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy.  And I’ve not gotten over that. And, so, to elevate them to a state symbol and status of being the state amphibian, I’m not there yet.

Really?  You grew up thinking they were ugly, and 60-70 years later you aren’t over how ugly those salamanders were so you can’t allow this species of salamander, mostly unique to Idaho, to become our state amphibian???

This makes me almost unbearably sad.  I read this the next day and sat dumbfounded and dismayed.  This is where I live?  We are so governed by our fears and dislikes that can’t put aside a childhood impression of a salamander?  How are we supposed to address more engrained problems like systemic racism, gender discrimination, the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors, and religious intolerance?  When I was a child I had irrational fears – it’s part of being a child.  I grew up in an old Midwestern farmhouse with a large unfinished basement.  Like so many kids I was convinced that unspeakable things lived under the stairs to our basement.  We also had playroom in the basement that required me to traverse those stairs daily.  And you know what?  I ran.  Every day I went down those stairs as if the devil was on my heels… because I was CONVINCED that was exactly the kind of plight I was in.

But guess what?  The place under the stairs in our basement?  It was not a den of inequity.  It was not a place of horrible monsters or great evil – I know it, and you know it.  But little Andy didn’t.  I grew up.  I saw the world different.  I learned to confront my fears to gain new understanding and appreciation for that which was outside my comfort zone. In fact that process took me to mission work in the Philippines and chaplaincy in large public (and very urban) hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.  Experiences that became formative, if not fun for this introverted shy boy who grew up in a sheltered suburban community, because they challenged me and helped me grow.  They made me see the world differently and with much more perspective than an eight year old version of myself was ever capable of.  In fact, they made me see the world with more perspective than 38 year old me is capable of, and with more perspective than 78 year old Andrew will be able to manage.  That is why we need community and diversity to help us understand things we aren’t naturally going to know anything about.  This is how we grow, change, and become wiser versions of ourselves.  We confront the other, and become known and we come to know it or them, and our sense of neighbor grows bigger.  Our world becomes bigger.

And we all have such stories.  At least I hope so.  But maybe not.  Maybe we all have some things we can’t, or won’t, change our mind about.  Maybe we all have our “salamander.” Maybe we all have something or someone that we refuse to get to know.  We refuse to let go of our presupposed opinions and allow ourselves to be changed by them.  Maybe Ken Andrus’ statement is the most apocalyptic and helpful words that have come to me in a long time.  Because, you see, he was willing to be unveiled about a “thing” in a way he would never be about a person.  He was able to be honest, because he didn’t have to care about a salamander.  But most of our salamanders are people.  People whose faith we have judged as ugly or destructive.  People who we have decided don’t work hard or well and therefore deserve their lot.  People whose priorities are different than ours and we decide they are dysfunctional or irrational or wrong or… an abomination.  I have heard those words used recently, by a law-maker… of a person.  Talk about your “salamander!”

If there is to be hope in this world, we have got to let go of our unchecked and unconfronted biases and fears.  We have got to sit down with our “salamanders” and learn about them and let them learn about us and find a way forward together.  Most of those biases are not our fault.  They were handed on to us by instinct, by friends or family, by society as whole.  They were kneaded into the dough we are made with and they are a part of us. They are so ingrained into our being that we react out of those fears and biases without knowledge: as one wired to feel and believe certain things without thought.  We should not feel guilty because we have bias toward or against something or someone.

And yet.  Setting that guilty and shame aside, we cannot stop there.

It is when we stop there that we incur responsibility.  When we refuse to confront and learn and do the disciplined hard work of rewiring our biases?  That is on us.  I have never met a person, nor do I ever expect to, who didn’t have some fears, who didn’t have some jaded understanding of someone else, who didn’t have bias.  But I also hope never to meet people who aren’t working to address them. Walk down the stairs, maybe get a friend and go under the stairs – have a picnic there!  Meet people outside your normal network and learn how to care for them as a neighbor.  Make your world bigger, more informed, and more understood by being willing to sit down with “others” and make them companions.   Learn to appreciate salamanders!

Because fear of “salamanders” is leading us down dark roads toward a scary future.  And I don’t want to live in that future! We all owe it to each other to work toward something better: more caring, more understanding, more whole.

What and who and where are your salamanders, and what are you prepared to do about it?

“I am the Vine, you are the branches”

John 10:7-18

            So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.  I have received this command from my Father.”


John 15: 1-8

            “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

So when I study a text I like to have my bible, because its good to keep the whole context in mind, and be able to track down other scriptures that are referenced or come to mind and my accumulated notes written in the margins.   But I also like to have the text of focus on a clean piece of paper.  And those of you who have been in bible studies with me know this paper doesn’t stay nice and clean and neat.  I like this for several reasons.

First, just because I like to doodle.  It isn’t a day dreaming thing, its actual a focusing thing, I tend to write versions of my thoughts and what I’m saying.  In fact if you ever look at paper on my desk you will probably find I have written my name and phone number many many times on it.  Once for every time I told someone my name… and how to reach me.

The second reason I like this is because I am a visual person, but also because brain science tells us that far more than typing, the act of hand writing out thoughts is very good for helping to remember it.  That tactile nature of pen and paper helps us code the knowledge into our brains.

Lastly, I like coming fresh to a text, not influenced by whatever previous notes I wrote in the margins… there is so much wisdom in a single set of verses you cannot hear it all.  So what am I hearing this day?  This time?  What does this text wish me to know – now?

So today here are the six lines that spoke particularly to me, three from each of our texts.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 

I came that you might have life – and life abundantly.  We tend to make Jesus about so many other things than this.  We reduce Jesus to sets of belief that we have to have, this is what you need to believe in order to be Christian.  This is what you must believe to be saved.  This is what you need to believe to be “on the right path.”

Rob Bell – most well-known for authoring the book Love Wins also authored what was my favorite book of his: Velvet Elvis.  And in the book he makes a comment that doctrine makes a wonderful servant and a horrible master.  Doctrines – our sets of beliefs – are meant to help clarify our understanding of God… But it’s a tool toward that end and only that.  Sadly, doctrine often becomes the master, sometimes even replacing God.  Jesus is not reducible to a set of beliefs… in fact Jesus resists and actively seeks to break down such things.  Jesus is a way of life, Jesus IS life -> I come to give you life, and life abundantly.

Jesus wants there to be life in us, abundantly.  That is what we talked last week – the waters of life flowing through us and not in a way that we hoard what we have fearing there is not enough… but that life is so abundant in us that others found themselves feeling renewed by our presence… I come to give you life, that you might give life as well!  When life is perceived as abundant we do not need to fear what is happening in another’s life – we are not in competition for good news.  We are not competing for who gets more life, and seeking the good of all people is not counter to our own good.

Church missiologist (a big word for one who studies and thinks on the mission of the church) Reggie McNeal writes and speaks on the missional church.  That is a big concept to define but that basically is the idea that there is no part of the church separate from mission, and that the church is the people out in the world – not gathered in a building.  In one of his speaking engagements Reggie turned to the crowd and jokingly said, “We all know that Jesus said he came to the world to give us church, and church abundantly.”

We can all chuckle at that, but often its our hidden message. And yet we know that isn’t right.  That’s closer to doctrine as master than servant.  The church is not essential to Jesus Christ or God or anyone.  I will repeat that: the church is not essential to Jesus.  The church is our way of working out what it means to be the body of Christ, to be people in community affirming and holding each other accountable to abundant life, and that is the part that is essential to Jesus.  The church is a servant and not a master… Jesus came not to give us church – but life.  How do you receive and give life?  And do you do so abundantly?

The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep

We have an aversion to staying sometimes – commitment phobes we call ourselves and we usually mean that for intimate relationships like dating and marriage but its true as well for our sense of community.  When the going gets tough?  We leave.  When something is happening that we don’t like?  We leave.  When it’s not all about me?  We leave.  We become consumers of people and relationships and community.  And consumers of goods can always shop around.

Jesus says, hired hands (consumers) shop around for a better people.  But I’m not a hired hand, I am the good shepherd – YOUR shepherd.  And you are my people.  And so no matter how bad this gets, I am here.  I’m not leaving, I will not abandon you, I do not shop around.  And I lay down my life – my needs, my desire for it to be all about me – I lay that all down because I’m here – one way or the other, forever with you.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. 

This phrase then becomes interestingly connected and inseparable from the former.  I am here.  But know that I am also elsewhere.  I am here forever and ever and ever.  But I am not ONLY here.  And my sheep do not all look the same, and my shepherding doesn’t always look the same and maybe I don’t even look the same.  There are different folds… and I am working to bring them together… so know that I am here, and I’m also elsewhere.  And again – you are not in competition for presence, for life… because I come to give life abundantly.

And now from our next text: John 15: Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 

This one jumps out at me because normally when we think about pruning we think about cutting off the dead branches.  We like to hear this as the people we see as having dead faith being cut out.  But Jesus says as much as there is pruning off the dead in order to promote more abundant life… I also prune that which IS bearing fruit in order that it might bear more fruit.  Pruning is a part of life, this is the life cycle: death is natural and a part of life.  In fact avoiding death often strangles life.  So forests burn, and leaves fall, and seeds must be broken apart and eaten up.  And that which is dead in us must be pruned in order that life might spring forth.  Thinking in this way, I come to give you life and life abundantly also means that Jesus comes to give us death… and death abundantly.  Because what Jesus is not… is stagnant.

Abide in me as I abide in you. 

Abide.  Dwell.  Make your home, in me.  As I make my home in you.

Author and speaker on discipleship practices, James Bryan Smith likes to repeat early and often in his speaking engagements: “You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights.”  You – no exceptions here.  You.  You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights.  Abide in me, as I abide in you.

What blessing… and what responsibility… to think that we are the abiding place of God.  Our life is the home of God.  I am the Vine, and you are the branches.  And while this text tends to focus on the ways abundant life in Jesus is necessary for our life, it is also true to the metaphor that the fruit is necessary to the vine.  In order for Jesus to bear fruit in the world, Jesus needs us.  As early as Abraham, and arguably all the way back to the creation story, God makes it clear that God works out God’s will through us.  We are the instruments of God’s peace – God creates but we cultivate.  We are the fruit God is growing in the word in order to give life… and life abundantly.  It’s the ultimate blessing and trust and endorsement: that you are worthy of being the dwelling place of God.  But it is also a radical challenge: you are the dwelling place of God!  The way the world knows God and God’s works is through your works, and your life.  Is your life bearing the fruit of Jesus’ vine?  Jesus will be with you regardless, we already heard that, but what kind of dwelling place has your life carved out in order to make Jesus’ life abundantly live through you?

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Lastly I had to circle this sentence that I did not like.  I couldn’t stand this sentence, and those of you who were here for the contemporary worship study of this text on Wednesday know that and in fact you transformed my thoughts around it when you invited me to repent (that is to turn around) my thoughts on it.  I don’t like it because I see lines like these get used to endorse a kind prosperity gospel as if the text is saying: if you believe in me than I will give you whatever you wish for: an easy life, a big house, a fancy car.

But its not the scripture I don’t like, it’s that interpretation of it.

The full texts says: if you abide in me.  If you make me your dwelling place, and if you allow my words to dwell and make a home in your heart… then what you wish for after all that – will be done for you.  But I have to imagine that what is at work here is that once you have truly let God dwell in you, and written God’s word on your heart – the Spirit will form the very things you wish for… and your wishes, your hopes, your dreams, will be in line with God’s dreams, God’s hopes, God’s wishes.  Not for your prosperity, but for the prosperity of God’s world: for life, and life abundantly.

Steve Hayner, a former professor of mine, my doctoral reader, and the former President of Columbia Theological Seminary who even now is demonstrating humility, faithfulness, and grace as he is in hospice care struggling with cancer once shared with a small group of folk I was a part of that he opened every day praying a threefold prayer:

“God, let me love the things that you love. Break my heart with the things that break yours. Help me not to duck.”

God, let me love the things that you love: let us abide in each other.

Break my heart with the things that break yours: let my hopes be in line with your hopes.

And help me not to duck: Let me not just hope it, let me work towards it.  I will do something about it.  My empathy, and my wishes are not enough but I will act..  May I bear your fruit, may I work to achieve life, and life abundantly – for all people.

I am the vine, BUT you are the branches.  Bear fruit.

This is the word of our Lord, thanks be to God.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.