Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Amazing Peace

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightening rattles the eaves of our houses.

Floodwaters await in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?

We interrogate and worry God.

Are you there? Are you there, really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightening sleeps quietly in the corner.

Floodwaters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children.

It rides on the shoulders of our aged s they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things,

Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.

At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.

We listen carefully as it gathers strength.

We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.

It is loud now.

Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.

It is what we have hungered for.

Not just the absence of war.

But true Peace.

A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.

Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait awhile with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.


Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, Jew and the Janist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you to stay awhile with us

So we may learn by your shimmering light

How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Chrsitmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language

To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world.

We jubilate the precious advent of trust.

We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.

All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices

To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,

Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.

Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves,

And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother.

Peace, My Sister.

Peace, My Soul.

By Maya Angelou

Random House, 2005

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Continued Cost of Homophobia

This morning news broke of yet another conservative pastor resigning his position after admissions of sexual relationships with other men. Channel Four News out of Denver released the story of Paul Barnes, the latest "outed" pastor to leave church leadership in recent days.

Barnes videotaped a message to his congregation in which he recalled his life-long struggle with his sexuality. "I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes, 54, said in the videotaped message. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away." For Barnes, these innate sexual desires for other men were contrary to his reading of the Bible which considers homosexuality an "abomination."

Following close on the heels of Ted Haggard's sex and drug scandal, this public outing is just one more example of the cost of homophobia in our Churches and in our society. Both Haggard and Barnes struggled with their sexuality, not because it was wrong, sinful or "abominable," but rather because their communities of faith convinced them that who they were at their core was flawed and unacceptable to the Church and to God. What violence to the souls of our children are we inflicting through this type of purported moral and religious righteousness?

It was not the sin of homosexuality that drove Haggard to adultery, drug addiction, and deceit. It was not homosexuality that made Barnes cry himself to sleep at night. It was the violence of the conservative Christian Church who taught these men to hate themselves that led to such heartbreak for all involved...for themselves, for their family and friends and for the congregations they led. This is the cost of homophobia and it affects us all.

In a recent edition of Sightings, the Martin Marty Center's e-newsletter, professor of church history at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Dr. Jon Pahl, wrote a piece entitled "Ted Haggard's 'Sin'"in which he explores this cost of homophobia in the context of Augustine's understanding of sin. Just as Augustine believed that "sin arises from a social nexus," he argues Haggard's "sin" was created by his context. It only became a transgression because his conservative Christian environment made it so. The palpable struggle we hear in both men's stories arose from the social and religious context that told them who they were was unacceptable. This was not God's curse, but the curse of an unjust religious community. Pahl writes, "If, say, gay sex were considered good within a committed, loving, and publicly recognized relationship, it would not pose a moral threat."

We must remember that these types of struggles over one's sexuality are not limited to adult men in positions of power. What about the countless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in their congregations? What messages must they be hearing as their pastors are publicly scapegoated and humiliated for just such a desire as they hold secret?

The social and religious shame surrounding non-heterosexual orientations creates an atmosphere of psycho-social oppression that leads to increased risk of suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens. A report by Gary Remafedi in the Journal of American Medical Association reviewed recent studies on suicidality in gay and lesbian youth and discovered that in all ten studies he reviewed researchers found a 20% to 42% rate of suicidality among teens who questioned their sexual orientation, a rate anywhere from 3 to 6 times higher than their heterosexual peers. While there are plenty of conservatives who would like to persuade us that this risk of suicide for gay teens is a myth, the American Psychological Association confirmed that the number one cause of death among teens who question their sexuality is in fact suicide.

The cost of homophobia will continue to weigh heavy on our society until we have the courage to stand for justice, support our children and proclaim the good news of God's Commonwealth in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight persons are known as God's beloved children, each and every one!

"Someday, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well-considered, and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child's spirit." Erik Erikson

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Christians and the Pagans

This week on MassResistance, a blog dedicated to repealing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, they highlighted the efforts of the "wacky pseudo-Christians...with their religious symbols and clerically dressed spiritual leaders," clergy at last month's Constitutional Convention.

This rhetorical tactic to label Christians who disagree with a fundamentalist approach to the faith as "pagans" or "wacky" or "pseudo-Christians" is nothing new. Yet, trolling religious blogs this week, it seems that there is a growing awareness on the part of conservatives about queer theology. Although gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have always been a part of the church in the pews, pulpits and ivory towers, their work is just now being dis-covered by the conservative leaders.

Dr. Peter Jones, explains the dangers of paganism (as found in the work of feminist and queer theologians) to our youth and nation in his article, "Christian Letters to a Pagan Planet." From his recent expereince atthe American Academy of Religion, he cites several examples of the rise of extremist ideology taking over congregations and college campuses including, "An 'evangelical feminist' [who] railed against the genocidal foundation of America and called for the deconstruction of 'normative heteropatriarchy.'"

Apparently, the dangers of "paganism" have infected our institutions for religious education, shaping and molding today's youth into radical apostates. For Jones the professors and scholars he heard at the AAR are evidence of the threat to our youth, a veritable "armada of brain-power deployed on our campuses to form the thinking of the rising generation."

Now, here is the funny thing, I don't think Dr. Jones is wrong. In fact, he is right on target. There is a growing body of research and a ever widening circle of scholars that understands the way in which the Christian tradition at times both oppresses those at the margins and offers possibilities of liberation. These scholars in liberation, feminist and queer theologies are not "anti-Christian" because they question Christianity, rather they are part of that very tradition they seek to engage, pushing at its limits, struggling with its history, re-shaping and re-molding it that it might be a living tradition once again. While for some that struggle may lead to a need to move beyond Christianity to becoming post-Christian, or Buddhist or yes, even, Pagan, there are others who remain challenging the tradition to live up to its own message.

I have hope for the future of the Church precisely becasue of the radical, new scholarship happening in our colleges and seminaries and congregations. Dr. Jones had it almost exactly right, after all these scholars are indeed an armada of brain-power deployed on our campuses to form the rising of the thinking generation!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advent Begins

Today is the first day of Advent, the season of four weeks before Christmas that prepare us for the coming of God's Commonwealth of peace and justice. It is a season of eschatological hope in which we both proclaim and wait for the fulfillment of God's promise. This is a time of both the "not yet" and "already" of our faith in which we anxiously look forward to the coming Reign of peace while simultaneously announcing the initiation of that reality in the birth of Christ, God made flesh.

This year at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries our theme is "The Inconvenient Truth of the Commonwealth of God." As we await and celebrate God's promise of peace and justice, we will focus our liturgy and meditation on ecological justice as an integral part of that total vision. We understand that the peace which we proclaim is not just for humans, but for all of Creation. Echoed in the words of the prophets, we hear God's promise that the whole of the earth shall experience this joy. The lion shall lie down with the lamb, the mountains and the hills will break forth in praise and the trees shall rejoice. God's vision for a new world order includes all of Creation, all things that live and breathe and flourish upon the earth.

Each week we will frame our worship around each of the four elements: earth, fire, water and wind as we proclaim our Advent theme that the "truth that overturns expectations and the status quo will produce fear and confusion; but this truth is good news. Those who trust in it will find peace and joy and guidance concerning the ways of God which lead to abundant, but not easy, living."

Take time this season to meditate each day on the wonder and responsibility of being part of God's Creation. This may take form as silent prayer, reading and reflecting on scared texts, biblical or other, learning more about the environmental crisis, adopting an ecological spiritual discipline (click here for a list of actions you can take) or giving an offering to a local or national group that fosters environmental justice.

How strange and wonderful is our home, our earth,
With its swirling, vaporous atmosphere,
Its flowing and frozen climbing creatures,
The croaking things with wings that hang on rocks
And soar through fog, the furry grass, the scaly seas…
How utterly rich and wild…
Yet some among us have the nerve,
The insolence, the brass, the gall to whine
About the limitations of our earthbound fate
And yearn for some more perfect world beyond the sky.
We are none of us good enough
For the world we have.

- Edward Abbey

Friday, December 01, 2006

Keep the Promise

Today we honor World AIDS Day, an opportunity to unite globally in the struggle to fight HIV/AIDS. Since its inception in 1988, World AIDS Day has worked to raise awareness of the realities of the virus, which is spreading widely through sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and East Africa at the same time as new drug cocktails have served to push back the disease in the affluent parts of what we used to call the "First World." With over 40 million individuals living with HIV/AIDS around the world, the epidemic has only worsened in the past 25 years.

While we realize one day is not enough, we join in the hope that this ongoing project of conscientization, awareness and activism will remind the world of the crisis we all face. HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease, an African disease, a poor disease nor an addict's disease. HIV/AIDS affects us all. Set aside a few moments today to remember, pray and take action.

O God,
In your compassion made known in Jesus,
Look with favor upon those
Who are in distress because of HIV/AIDS
To them give hope and patience,
And the ability to entrust themselves
To others and to you

Reveal the closeness of your presence
To those who suffer
And also to all family members and friends
Who care about them
And work to alleviate
Their discomfort and anxiety.

Receive this prayer through Christ
Who came among us that we might have life,
And have it abundantly. Amen.

Prayers adapted from Laurence H. Stookey, This Day.

Matthew 11: 28-30
Come to me
All you that are weary
And carrying heavy burdens,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
And learn from me;
For I am gentle and humble in heart,
And you will find rest for your souls
For my yoke is easy
And my burden is light.

Action Opportunities:

Monday, November 27, 2006

Is Your Church Anti-Gay?

Michael Adee, Field Director for More Light Presbyterians highlighted a news column on the Church and anti-gay policies in his email alert today. He wrote:

"Syndicated columnist Tom Teepen's column today in New London , Connecticut 's The Day online newspaper offers us an outsider's view into Christianity's relationship with LGBT persons and our families.

Teepen identifies the Presbyterian Church (USA), along with the Roman Catholic Church and North Carolina Baptists as anti-gay...

And, at the same time more and more persons and churches are realizing that it is not possible to be faithful Christians and silent on the matter of acceptance of LGBT persons as children of God with equal respect and rights in church and society to heterosexuals. A clear stand and witness must be embraced - the debate over the sacred creation,worth and place of LGBT persons is over in Welcoming & Affirming Congregations.

Teepen nails it - the Church, by and large, is anti-gay -- and the Church is on shaky ground by clinging to anti-gay positions.

Teepen also recognizes that this is not a theological, legal or academic matter alone - what the Church says about homosexuality and same-sex relationships & marriage affects real people, real families.

Of course most importantly, how do all of these "church battles over homosexuality" affect you, your faith, your relationship with God, your relationship to your local congregation, your denomination or faith tradition, or the larger body of Christ?

Teepen says of the anti-gay statements and actions by religious leaders:

" ... the real-world effect will be to drive homosexuals underground in their own church and, for gays and lesbians, to make the prospect of any pastoral counseling repellent."

Anti-gay attitudes and church laws, as well as the all too common "fence-sitting" not willing to take a stand posturing, will not only drive those of us who are LGBT and our families underground, it will drive us away to churches and faith traditions that are more welcoming and affirming than our own. The choice is not ours, really, the choice is yours -- meaning the local congregation or the denomination.

One's sexual orientation, gender identity or other human difference is not a choice. It is a choice whether or not we will follow Jesus' example and commandments to love God, neighbor and self -- and Jesus did not say "except for gays."

There is clearly a sea change at hand, a tipping point as noted by Teepen."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"The Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic."

"The Church is where the Word of God is faithfully preached and the sacraments duly administered."

"I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church together."

What is the Church? The quotes above are traditional and popular expressions of the nature of the Church. But are they adequate to describe the complexity and ambiguity of our communities of faith?

This week I have been working diligently on my prospectus, exploring the nature of the Church through its practices. That is asking the question, does what we do reflect what we believe? Can we discover the answer to the question, "What is the Church?" by looking at our practices and polity as communities of faith?

I think the answer is yes. After all, we have all understood the implicit messages in our own congregations communicated through the daily practices of the Church.

What have you learned about the Church from the practices in your own communities of faith? Those of childhood and adulthood? What did the things your congregation do tell you about what Church is and ought to be? What did they fail to teach you?

What does CWM tell you about the nature of the Church?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Finding the Sacred in New Places

This morning as I read through the lectionary for the coming weeks at TextWeek, I discovered a website that is new to me.

United Communities of Spirit has put together a concordance of scriptures from different world religions.

Just another reminder of the expansiveness of the Divine and the truth to be found outside our own tradition.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Cost of Homophobia

Much of the reaction I have heard from colleagues about Ted Haggard, the evangelical leader who was caught in a sex scandal has been laughter. It does seem both ironic and comical that a man who spent so much of his time preaching hate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks would be, himself, caught up in a gay sex scandal.

Yet, my reaction has been one of sheer saddness. The more I hear hour after hour on the news, the more I listen to the shock and denial of his parishioners, the more I learn of his half-confessions, the sadder I become.

How sad it is that we live in a culture and Church universal that evokes so much shame and fear around sexuality, that people are cowered into living a lie. Haggard not only hid his sexuality but turned his own internalized homophobia on the queer community, working out his own issues with such vitriolic rhetoric towards those who embodied that which he most hated about himself.

What has been most heart-breaking has been the interviews with parishioners ,who despite his own acknowledgement of wrongdoing, cannot believe Haggard could do this. They believe him. They depend on him. They have built a card house of faith on the lessons he gave them and now all of that is about to come tumbling down.

I fear that this type of public outing will do no one any good. I imagine Haggard will repent of his "sexual sin," tell his faithful followers he backslid, attend a "homo-no-mo" program, and encourage parents to send their youth to these reparative therapy camps as soon as possible. Members of his congregation will grow more fearful of the specter of "homosexuality" and its threat to tempt even the most faithful among them.

No one wins under the tyranny of homophobia.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The trailer for the new TV series, Heroes, asks the question, "What is it that unites strangers?" As the video unfolds, we get a glimpse into the fantasy world of nine ordinary people who suddenly realize they can do extraordinary things as hidden superpowers emerge. With the pulsing music and startling images we are drawn into a world that insists "We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save the (hu)mankind."

While the series is a commercialized, fictional tale, I wonder if this trailer could not be used as the soundtrack to our Christian calling and faith tradition (okay, devoid the violence). This week we will celebrate All Saints Day in the Church, remembering those who have gone before us, those who have laid the foundation for our faith, those who have made a path for us. Despite our tendency to over romanticize the saints of the church, we must confess that all were ordinary people.

Remember Esther, an ordinary girl who finds herself embroiled in a struggle to save the peoples of Israel. Remember Ruth, an insignificant Moabite woman trapped in a foreign land, who through her extraordianry love for Naomi initiates the very line of David, the root of Jesse. Remember David, a shepherd boy raised up to lead the people. Remember Samuel, a young boy called by God to listen and follow. Remember Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah, ordinary men who struggled with their call to prophecy. Remember Mary and Martha, ordinary sisters who were called to listen and learn at Jesus' feet and to stand as witnesses to the Gospel. Remember Peter and James and John, fishers who were called out of their quotidian work for an extraordinary journey with Jesus. The list goes on and on, extending beyond the limits of Scripture, traveling through the course of time as faithful women and men have heard God's call and responded.

These are the saints of the Church. Ordinary people who are called to do extraordinary things.

We, too, are the saints of tomorrow; ordinary people called to do extraordinary things day by day. We are called not to be great in a flash, but rather to cultivate and practice our simple acts of faith. It is in the daily living out of our faith that we build a foundation for bringing forth God's Commonwealth little by little. Together these simple acts of faith become the momentum of a movement of love, compassion, justice and mercy that will change the world.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save the (hu)mankind."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Prayers for the Church

Today I received word that yet another person was denied membership in the United Methodist Church because of their sexual orientation.

This time it was a committed, lesbian couple who had been attending New Horizon UMC in Champaign , IL for over a year. At the end of the membership class they were asked to meet with the minister, who directly inquired whether they were lesbian. When they affirmed their orientation, he told them that the UMC does not allow gay/lesbian people to join the church.

Let us pray for this family, for the person serving as pastor, and for our Church.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Denomination to Study 1032

On the one year anniversary of Judicial Council Ruling 1032 ,which upheld the right of a pastor to deny membership to an openly gay man, the United Methodist Church has formed a commission to study the impact of this ruling on the Church.

The commission includes Rev. Martin McLee, from the Reconciling Congregation, Union United Methodist Church in the South End.

Read more about it, here.

Sharing Communion

As we struggle to find life-giving and appropriate ways to understand and practice communion, we can learn much by watching the children among us.

This week as I offered the bread and cup to our 1 1/2 year old member, I was reminded of the simple joy of sharing at table. Taking the bread and dipping it into the cup, she nibbled a piece for herself and then, without hesitation repeated her actions, this time sharing her offering with "Blankie," her beloved friend.

Growing up in a community that values inclusivity and openness at the table, she intimately understood that these gifts of bread and cup are meant to be shared. It is at the table where our community is knit together in the simple act of sharing a meal.

Although simplifying it to this extent does not magically solve any of the theological problematics of communion, it points us in a new direction, away from theologies of death and redemptive violence, toward new interpretations of life and love and sharing. While we may struggle to find adequate theological language to describe what happens at the table, the very practice of breaking bread together communicates a simple message of inclusivity, nurture, celebration and sharing; a message so simple in its actions, that a young child already deeply understands this sacred ritual.

No one is excluded, not even Blankie!

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Reminder Why Marriage Matters

This week our nation had another reminder why marriage matters in this country. Following the death of Massachussets Congressman, Gerry Studds, it was revealed that his legal husband and life partner was not eligible for spousal benefits under the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Read more about the story, here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Broken Bodies

"This is my body which shall be broken for you..."

These are the words I have been using during communion for the last few weeks. While the traditional language in the Book of Worship uses present tense ("This is my body, broken for you"), I have been using future tense as a way of representing the time-limited nature of this event. These are, after all, the words Jesus spoke to his friends about what was going to happen the next day. I use the future tense as a way to place this event in its sequential context and to represent the actual breaking of Jesus' body for his religious, political and social transgresions against the dominant structures of power.

In recent months this breaking of Jesus' body has taken on a particular significance for me. In a world where people face daily violence and death, in a country where our governemt uses tactics of torture and terror to "fight terrorism,"and in a denomination (and wider Church) where people's bodies and spirits are broken daily because of unjust doctrine and polity, Jesus' own experience of being broken is important to me. I need a God who knows my pain.

The fact that Jesus, the embodiment of the Divine on earth, knows our pain and struggle helps us to see God, not as a paternalistic and detached diety who only offers pity for our suffering, but rather as a truly empathic presence who through the very body of the Divine takes on human suffering. That God struggles and suffers with us is radical. In this way, we have a God who is in intimate solidarity with us, who knows our pain, and who offers not pity, but compassion.

Yet, when we focus soley on the broken body of Jesus, neglecting to move beyond the cross to the resurrection, we risk becoming paralyzed in our own struggles, re-traumatizing those who have suffered and glorifying suffering in and of itself.

June Goudy writes in her book, The Feast of Our Lives: Re-Imaging Communion, "the use of the eucharistic images of body and blood, which suggest the trauma of Jesus' violent death on the cross as well as the identification of his death as a new means of life, strikes many believers as a denial of their pain and a re-traumatizing of their personal lives. If memories of one's own blood being spilled or one's body being bruised are stored in one's body, then it is difficult to have God's presence associated with victimization."

Let's be clear, the power of the crucifixion lies not in the torture and murder of a person, but rather in the miraculous way in which life defeats even the most cruel death. It is Jesus' life and his witness to the power of life over death that brings meaning to this horrific event. Jesus did not die to satisfy an angry God, or as a ransom to the devil, or to somehow mystically atone for human sin. Jesus' body was broken because he dared to preach a gospel that transgressed normative religious, social, and political practices and beliefs.

While we cannot ignore the suffering of Jesus' death, we can find alternative meanings in it and in the ritual of communion.

What would it look like to re-image the eucharist? What would it look like to leave behind the funereal focus of liturgical death and suffering, long associated with the ritual of the eucharist, and instead create a festive, life-giving, celebratory ritual of true communion, that is, in the words of Goudy, "a moment of awesome connection and 'radical amazement' that gifts us with the larger truth of our existence?"

What would a re-imagined, re-enlivened, re-newed communion look like for us at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Job's Legacy

It seems no coincidence the week the lectionary begins the Job cycle our nation witnesses three horrific shootings. Within a week six children and three adults are dead from Wisconsin to Colorado to Pennsylvania. It is in the midst of a nation trying to make sense of the senseless, that we begin reading this story.

The Book of Job is a classic attempt to find meaning in suffering. It seems that since the beginning of time humanity has struggled to make sense of the pain and chaos of the world in which we live. Why do bad things happen to good people?

At first glance we may be tempted to interpret Job as yet another version of the omnipotence of an almighty God who brings forth both good and evil. After all, it is God, who in a bet with the devil inflicts upon Job every type of misery possible, taking his health, wealth and family as a test of his faithfulness.

Yet, when we delve deeper into the book, we , like Job, begin to question this image of a detached, capricious, all-powerful God who blesses and curses as if all a whim. In the course of his suffering, Job argues fiercely with God, questioning how God can be both all good and all powerful and allow such horrific things to happen in the world. Through his own radical suffering Job begins to see that this image of God does not make sense. Our experience of life's pain, sorrow and tragedy tell us that God cannot be all powerful and all good at the same time...for then why would God allow humanity to delve into the depths of such suffering?

The theologian Burton Z. Cooper interprets the book of Job as a journey from the traditional image of an all-powerful God to a new image of a vulnerable God. In his article "Why God?" he writes this:

"Job is healed when a new image of God appears to him. Now be can let go of the monarchial image of God. He is healed because, in letting go of the image of all-controlling power, he is letting go of the experience of God as the enemy, the one who "crushes" him. The "thee" that he sees in "now my eye sees thee" is God the friend, the vulnerable one, who is there with him in his suffering and whose caring presence heals him. He does not repent of his concern for God's justice; biblical faith can never have enough of that concern. Job repents of his loathing for life, his sense of despair, his lack of faith in the goodness of the creation. Thus, he is ready to return to life."

Far from being an answer to the question of why we suffer, the Book of Job helps us to understand the utter meaninglessness in our suffering. It is as absurd as a bet between God and the devil. What Job teaches us is that despite our inability to make sense of life's tragedy, we can be assured of the presence of God in the midst of it all, vulnerable and suffering with us.

The three shootings this week cannot be made sense of. No matter how much psychoanalysis we might do on the perpetrators, no matter how many times we question the security of our schools, no matter how often we might seek to understand the root of violence, we will never make sense out of the senseless. Suffering is a part of the chaotic world in which we live.

The only thing we know for certain is that in the midst of it all, God is with us, embracing us and covering us in Divine tears.


People go to God when they are sore bestead,
Pray to God for succour, for peace, for bread,
For mercy for the sick, sinning or dead:
All people do so, Christian and unbelieving.

People go to God when God is sore bestead,
Find God poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,
Whelmed under the weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead:
Christians stand by God in God's hour of grieving.

God goes to all people when sore bestead.
Feeds body and spirit with God's bread,
For Christians, heathens alike, God hangeth dead:
And both alike forgiving.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Christians and Unbelievers" in Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. E. Bethge, tr. R. H. Fuller (New York: Macmillian, 1953), pp. 224-25. Trans. adapted by author.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Christian "Gay Agenda"

IRD staffer, John Lomperis, has issued a warning to conservative UMs, calling on them to take the "State of the Church" survey sponsored by the General Church to keep the "radical," "pro-homosexuality" fringe from skewing the results.

So, click here and take the "State of the Church" survey. Let your voice be heard!

Can you trust a Methodist in power?

Garrison Keeler's recent editorial asks the question, "Can you trust a Methodist in power?"

I suppose it depends on which one's in question...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Caution Against Bigotry

This week's lectionary text (Mk 9:38-50) comes at a time in our nation when the question of who is for us and who is against us seems to be the topic of the day.

The disciples are worried that there are other prophets and preachers ministering in Jesus' name who do not belong to the disciples' inner circle. It seems some have heard Jesus' message of love and liberation and have run with it outside of the disciples' proscribed community of faith.

But Jesus is not so concerned. He reminds the disciples that the important thing at hand is not who these people follow, but rather what they do. Are they healing people? Are they preaching the good news? Are they working for justice, peace, love and wholeness? Are they bringing forth the Reign of God? If so, who cares if they are different.

Jesus' answer reminds the disciples that just because folks are different from us, doesn't mean they are not doing the work of God.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, understood this passage as a "caution against bigotry." In his sermon of this same title, Wesley is clear that the differences that divide us are meaningless in the face of the work we do in seeking God's commonwealth of peace and justice. Highlighting the salient differences of his day, he wrote:

"What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even them, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid them either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still."

It is not the differences that divide us, but the common cause that unites us.

"In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in GodÂ’s work, and praise GodÂ’s name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give themselves wholly up thereto. Speak well of all wheresoever you are; defend their character and their mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, their sphere of action; show them all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in their behalf,"

It seems an easy answer, but a lesson we as a nation have yet to learn. In the midst of the "war on terror" and "crackdown on immigration," we continue to draw the lines tighter and tighter of who is in and who is out. This week Congress even voted to make those lines concrete in a 700 mile fence between the US and Mexico.

We are left to ponder Jesus' message of unity in the midst of this division and exclusion.