An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Cross, Part 3

Cross logo from Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, NC
A third way we can understand the cross comes from the symbol itself.  There is a vertical line that connects us to God.  There is a horizontal line that connects us to others.  The cross reminds us that Jesus is the one who helps to make these connections possible.  He is the spiritual glue that holds everything together.

     When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he responded by saying "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."  This is something I believe we cannot do alone.  It is the power of Christ working in our lives that makes this possible.
     Jesus connects us to God in a profound and powerful way.  Through him we understand the nature and character of God.  Through him we are bonded to God in a way that is not possible without him.
     Likewise, it is the power of Christ's love and forgiveness working in our lives that makes it possible for us to love and forgive our neighbors as well as ourselves.  The cross reminds us that Jesus is the one who helps to make these connections possible.  He is the spiritual glue that holds everything together.
     This is the only way we can do church.  Far too many Christians have a number of litmus tests for what constitutes being a Christian such as their stance on homosexuality, abortion, taking the Bible literally, etc.  This has left the Christian community fractured, bruised, divided and wounded.  We cannot put anything other than Christ in the center of the whole thing falls apart.  Therefore, Lent is a good time to ask ourselves what our spiritual center is going to be.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Cross, Part 2

Liberation Cross, El Salvador
     A second way we can look at the cross is that it represents a clash between two kingdoms:  The kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God.  Jesus did not get crucified for being a nice guy.  His vision of the way our world should operate was seen as a threat by those who were in power in both church and society.  Therefore, they conspired together and thought they found a way to silence him.  They crucified Jesus and breathed a sigh of relief.  Problem solved.  Check it off the list.
     But we know the rest of the story.  The powers of our world who seek to control, destroy and demean, said "no" to Jesus, but God said "yes" and, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
     This clash of kingdoms still plays out in our world today.  It will come as no big surprise that there are individuals in both church and society who abuse their positions of power and privilege.  There are individuals who seek to move up corporate and societal ladders no matter what the cost to others.  Every time we join them.  Every time we turn a blind eye to their evil deeds, we are guilty of crucifying Jesus all over again.
     However, the same is true that every time we confront these powers, upholding the values of love, compassion, mercy, justice and the like, we help to give birth to Jesus' vision of a new way of living in our world.
     This socio-political view of the cross makes some people uncomfortable.  However, I don't know how we can read the gospels and not come away with them with the understanding that Jesus wanted us to live life differently than the way we are living it now.
     The kingdom parables make it clear that Jesus' envisioned a world where everyone had an equal place at the banquet feast...and, yet, there was still room for more.  Values such as compassion, forgiveness and mercy should be the cornerstone of our life and faith.  We are called to find the lost, feed the poor, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, etc.
     Therefore, the cross of Jesus reminds us that we are called to move beyond belief into action.  We are called to try to bring about Jesus' vision of the kingdom, now.  It's not just something that is reserved for heaven.  We are called to be living signs of the kingdom in a world that would like to silence that kingdom forever.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Cross: Part 1

     The cross of Christ is essential to our identity as a church and our identity as believers. Yet, in spite of this, Christians are often guilty of reducing the cross to a belief rather than an action or lifestyle.  We ask people "Do you believe  that Jesus died on the cross for your sins?"   Then we settle for a "yes" or "no" answer. 
     But the cross is more than a simple "yes" or "no" answer.  The cross has the power to transform our lives and our world.  Therefore, at the beginning of this season of Lent I'd like to expand our understanding of the meaning of the cross over the next few posts. My purpose in doing so is to give the cross its full power in our lives and in our world.  So let's get started.
     One of the ways we can understand the cross is that it is a symbol of personal transformation.  It represents a rhythm in our lives of dying and rising, of letting go and embracing, of dead ends and new beginnings.
     The cross reminds us that there are emotions and thought patterns that are unhealthy for us to continue.  There are habits and actions that harm us rather than help us.
     When we look at the cross, it asks us "What do we need to let go of?  What thoughts and actions are keeping us from moving forward?  From experiencing life in all of its abundance?"  "What do we need to embrace?  What new ways of thinking and being in the world will bring blessing and healing to ourselves, our families, and our community?"
     This is one of the ways the cross speaks to us.  It offers us a way to move forward in life and experience the love, hope, peace and joy Jesus desires to give all of us.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Temptation 3: Who do we worship?

     Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.  [Matt 4:8-11 NRSV]

     In the third temptation, Jesus is given the opportunity to acquire great political power and authority. In a metaphorical sense, the text is asking us the question "What do we worship? What or who is our God?"
     LGBT people of faith can get caught in the trap of idol worship just as much as our straight brothers and sisters. The gym or the club can become our church. Only hanging out with the beautiful people can become our exclusive congregation. Beauty, power, influence and wealth are enticing, indeed. However, they can sometimes lead us down dangerous paths in life.
     This does not mean we can't be famous or popular or powerful. It means these things cannot become what we worship. We must use our fame, popularity and power in service of God and in service of the world. The need for justice in our world is great not only among LGBT people but also among other oppressed people such as the homeless, the poor. etc.
     Who or what do we worship? It's a question worth pondering.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Remember You Are Dust

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return"

     Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Tonight I will place ashes on the foreheads of everyone in my congregation, from the youngest to the oldest. It is an emotional moment for me because it reminds me that everyone's days are numbered. Every person I love, including myself, will cease to exist, at least in bodily form. This stark reality may make some people feel depressed but I find that it gives me perspective. It makes me appreciate the gift of each new day as I try to live each moment to the fullest.
     Lent is an important season in the life of all believers, including us LGBT folks. It is a season of letting go and embracing; of turning from habits that are self-destructive and soul sucking and turning toward those activities which build us up in body, mind and spirit. Because of the emotional damage the LGBT community has sustained over the years, especially by well meaning Christians, there are many things we need to let go of: the trauma of spiritual abuse, the hurt we feel because of being rejected by family and friends, unhealthy expressions of sexuality because we weren't able to be open about our orientation, etc.
     As we let go of these things, we create space in our hearts and spirits for healthier habits and emotions to take their place: the joy of discovering that God loves us queer folk just as we are, the strength and encouragement we receive when we become part of a faith community that welcomes us and value our gifts, the sense of safety and well-being we feel as we create our own definitions of family and community, etc.
     This Lent I hope we will all take the time to both let go and embrace. This can be a wonderful season in the life of a believer. I hope and pray it will be a wonderful season in your lives, my cyber brothers and sisters!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Temptation 2: Bad choices?

     Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  [Matt 4:5-7 NRSV]

     In the second temptation, Jesus is given the opportunity to test God and demand that God perform a miracle. In a metaphorical sense, the text is asking us the question "Why do we make stupid choices in life, and then expect God to perform a miracle and rescue us?"
     Think about it for a minute. Hurling yourself off a tall building like the temple is a stupid idea. Driving down the highway at 70 mph with a cell phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other is a stupid idea. Smoking cigarettes for 30 years while eating all the wrong foods and never exercising is a stupid idea.
     The truth of this second temptation is that sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We make foolish and terrible decisions all the time that diminish our quality of our lives. Then, when something bad happens, we cry out "Why God? Why are you doing this to me?" When, in fact, we have done it to ourselves.
     There are people out there who believe that God punishes us for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. I am not one of those people. The God I love and worship is the One who saves me from myself and helps me to become a more faithful friend, supportive husband, caring parent, compassionate pastor, etc.
     When something goes wrong in my life, I never blame God for it. Instead, I always ask did I set this into motion on my own accord or was it simply an act of nature. My experience is that God is not in the "smiting" business as some Christians believe. God is in the "saving" business, bringing life where there once was death and making new beginnings from dead ends.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Temptation 1: What are you hungry for?

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” [Matthew 4:1-4, NRSV]

     This coming Sunday we read the story of the temptation of Jesus. In a metaphorical sense, the first temptation asks us the question "What are we hungry for?" Do we spend all our time stuffing ourselves with material things or have we whipped up an appetite for that which is lasting an eternal?
     Sometimes the LGBT community can be fairly materialistic. Stung by religious conservatives and rejected by churches, our woundedness as a community has led some of us to reject God and try to find solace and security in tangible things such as big houses and expensive nick nacks. Now, there's nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of our labors. However, we must not con ourselves into believing that these things will feed our souls. They are a fast food meal at best and have no staying power in and of themselves.
     Each of us needs a deep connection with the Holy One. For some, this means attending a gay friendly church were we are free to be ourselves. For others this might mean a more contemplative prayer life, following the tradition of Christian mystics throughout the ages such as the Desert Fathers, Teresa of Avila and Meister Eckhart. Still others become activists, waging holy war on the institutions that have oppressed our tribe. [My path is a combination of all three!] Whatever that road, it's important that we develop an appetite for the God who created us, loves us and desires to walk with us through our earthly journey an beyond! What are you hungry for?