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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ragamuffin: The Life of Rich Mullins

"If I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through.
And if I can't, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You.
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs.
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home."

    In 1989 I first heard the song “If I Stand” by Rich Mullins.  It literally brought me to my knees with it’s honest, transparent, grace-filled lyric that resonated with my soul in more ways than I was aware of at the time.  I sensed that Mullins and I were kindred spirits, ragamuffins, who were a bit wounded but were also deeply and passionately in love with Jesus.  Mullin’s musical voice was unique back then.  No one else dared to be as honest as he was about the struggles of life and faith.  In 1997, when I heard he was killed in a tragic auto accident, I was brought to my knees again. I mourned the loss of a spiritual brother and unique artist who would have most certainly gifted us with a lifetime of incredible music.
     Yesterday I watched the 2014 film Ragamuffin which is an attempt to tell Rich’s story and capture his spirit.  Biopics are always a loosing proposition because it’s impossible to summarize a life in 1 1/2 hours.  That being said, Ragamuffin is a very good movie that has the blessing of Mullin’s family which gives it a certain amount of credibility.  Michael Koch does a decent job of portraying Rich Mullins.  To find an actor who is also gifted musically is sometimes hard to find.  Koch definitely captures the wounded side of Mullins, especially his battle with alcohol.  The only thing that is missing is Rich’s playful, child-like side.  Mullins did not brood 24/7.  The love of Jesus shone through him in a way that was genuine and refreshing.  I would have loved to have seen more of that in the film.
     Overall, writer/director David Schultz does a decent job with this film.  My hope is that it will introduce a new generation to an artist that has had a profound effect on my life.  Over the years there have been persistent rumors that Mullins was gay or bisexual.  The only person who can truly answer that question is Mullins himself.  The film is silent on the issue.  To be honest, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other.  I think gay and lesbian Christians feel a kindred spirit with Mullins because he and the Church did not always see eye to eye.  He was definitely an out-of-the-box thinker and challenged everyone to look at God in new ways, which is something the Church is slow to embrace.
     I definitely recommend you see this film.  It can be streamed on Netflix or is available for purchase as well.  More importantly, listen to his music.  It’s as good as Contemporary Christian Music gets and I believe his songs will stand the test of time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Love Wins in North Carolina!

There are no words that can adequately express how I feel this evening as my marriage is finally recognized in the state I love.  I'm not sure how my relationship of 21 years unravels the fabric of society!  I cried when I phoned my adult kids to tell them the news.  They cried, too!  Love won today in North Carolina.  I hope my conservative friends will, one day, understand why this is such an important issue and can celebrate with me!

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Big Day

Wow!  It hardly seems real but with the Supreme Court's decision today, North Carolina might start issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples by the end of the week.  Amendment One would be struck down and my marriage would finally be recognized by my state.  If this happens I'll definitely be at the Register of Deeds in Asheville to bless marriages and sign certificates.  Some of my friends have waited a LONG time to get married.  Who knew we would see this day some so soon?  Praise God!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Am What I Am

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:10, NRSV]

     There is a strange notion in some Christian circles that we need to be perfect. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, we're all a bit of a mess! Martin Luther, a church theologian who definitely thought outside of the box, said that we are "simultaneously saint and sinner." By this he meant that we are a mixture of good and bad, triumphs and struggles. Nobody is all good or all bad. We're a jumbled mix of both.
     Armed with this truth, it is important that we do not totally demonize those who try to speak out against LGBT Christians. I know it's hard to do, but we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us [Jesus' words, not mine! See Matthew 5:43-44]. We are called to see the good that is inside of them, even though it is sometimes hard to do.
     Martin Luther King Jr. [the other Luther] once said that "love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." I believe King knew what he was talking about. And so we are challenged to love those who try to put us down in order that they might be transformed by God's love.
     The flip side of this equation, however, is that we should NEVER remain silent when someone says we are going to hell simply because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. We are baptized children of God, just like they are. God's grace towards us has NOT been in vain and we claim our place at table with no apologies or reservations. We will love our enemies, but we will NOT allow ourselves to become spiritual doormats.
     How are you feeling today? Think about those who have persecuted you in the past and pray that God will to heal their spiritual blindness and fill their hearts with love.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Third Child in the Vineyard

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. “  [Matthew 21:28-32, NRSV]

      After reflecting on this coming Sunday’s gospel lesson throughout the week, I have come to the conclusion that it is not our task to identify with one child over the other.  We cannot and should not make this choice because, if we're being totally honest with ourselves, there is a little bit of both children in all of us  There are times in our lives when we turn down God’s invitation to work in the vineyard but go anyway.  Likewise, there are times in our lives when we promise God we'll do some pretty lofty things but don't come through in the end.
     The purpose of this parable is to help us look at the connection between actions and words; between what we believe and how we live our lives.  I don't think Jesus is calling us to be like one child over the other.  He is actually challenging us to be what I call the "third child,” to say yes to the call to go work in the vineyard and then back up our words with our actions; to be people of faith whose words and deeds are consistent with one another.
     This parable is a wake-up call for everyone.  It shouldn't make us feel secure nor should it make us feel totally helpless.  Instead, this parable is designed to place a mirror in front of our faces; to help us examine the way we live our lives and how we treat other people; to see if our words and deeds are in line with the gospel we say we believe in.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If I Have Gay Children

 The following post made the rounds on Facebook and I thought it was very well written.  To see the original source, click HERE.

by John Pavlovitz

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children.

I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do; quite often.

Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It’s in my genes and in my tribe.

Maybe it’s because, as a pastor of students, I’ve seen and heard the horror stories of gay Christian kids, from both inside and outside of the closet, trying to be part of the Church.
Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I interact with so many people who find homosexuality to be the most repulsive thing imaginable, and who make that abundantly clear at every conceivable opportunity.

For whatever reason, it’s something that I ponder frequently. As a pastor and a parent, I wanted to make some promises to you, and to my two kids right now…

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.

My children won’t be our family’s best kept secret.

I won’t talk around them in conversations with others. I won’t speak in code or vague language. I won’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and I won’t try to spare the feelings of those who may be older, or easily offended, or uncomfortable. Childhood is difficult enough, and most gay kids spend their entire existence being horribly, excruciatingly uncomfortable. I’m not going to put mine through any more unnecessary discomfort, just to make Thanksgiving dinner a little easier for a third cousin with misplaced anger issues.

If my children come out, we’ll be out as a family.

2) If I have gay children, I’ll pray for them.

I won’t pray for them to be made “normal”. I’ve lived long enough to know that if my children are gay, that is their normal.

I won’t pray that God will heal or change or fix them. I will pray for God to protect them; from the ignorance and hatred and violence that the world will throw at them, simply because of who they are. I’ll pray the He shields them from those who will despise them and wish them harm; who will curse them to Hell and put them through Hell, without ever knowing them at all. I’ll pray that they enjoy life; that they laugh, and dream, and feel, and forgive, and that they love God and humanity.

Above all, I’ll pray to God that my children won’t allow the unGodly treatment they might receive from some of His misguided children, to keep them from pursuing Him.

3) If I have gay children, I’ll love them.

I don’t mean some token, distant, tolerant love that stays at a safe arm’s length. It will be an extravagant, open-hearted, unapologetic, lavish, embarrassing-them-in-the-school cafeteria, kind of love.

I won’t love them despite their sexuality, and I won’t love them because of it. I will love them; simply because they’re sweet, and funny, and caring, and smart, and kind, and stubborn, and flawed, and original, and beautiful… and mine.

If my kids are gay, they may doubt a million things about themselves and about this world, but they’ll never doubt for a second whether or not their Daddy is over-the-moon crazy about them.

4) If I have gay children, most likely; I have gay children.

If my kids are going to be gay, well they pretty much already are.

God has already created them and wired them, and placed the seed of who they are within them. Psalm 139 says that He, “stitched them together in their mother’s womb”. The incredibly intricate stuff that makes them uniquely them; once-in-History souls, has already been uploaded into their very cells.

Because of that, there isn’t a coming deadline on their sexuality that their mother and I are working feverishly toward. I don’t believe there’s some magical expiration date approaching, by which time she and I need to somehow do, or say, or pray just the right things to get them to “turn straight”, or forever lose them to the other side.

They are today, simply a younger version of who they will be; and today they’re pretty darn great.

Many of you may be offended by all of this, I fully realize. I know this may be especially true if you are a religious person; one who finds the whole topic disgusting.

As you’ve been reading, you may have been rolling your eyes, or clicking the roof of your mouth, or drafting familiar Scriptures to send me, or praying for me to repent, or preparing to Unfriend me, or writing me off as a sinful, evil, Hell-bound heretic… but with as much gentleness and understanding as I can muster; I really couldn’t care less.

This isn’t about you. This is a whole lot bigger than you.

You’re not the one I waited on breathlessly for nine months.
You’re not the one I wept with joy for when you were born.
You’re not the one I bathed, and fed, and rocked to sleep through a hundred intimate, midnight snuggle sessions.

You’re not the one I taught to ride a bike, and whose scraped knee I kissed, and whose tiny, trembling hand I held, while getting stitches.
You’re not the one whose head I love to smell, and whose face lights-up when I come home at night, and whose laughter is like music to my weary soul.
You’re not the one who gives my days meaning and purpose, and who I adore more than I ever thought I could adore anything.

And you’re not the one who I’ll hopefully be with, when I take my last precious breaths on this planet; gratefully looking back on a lifetime of shared treasures, and resting in the knowledge that I loved you well.

If you’re a parent, I don’t know how you’ll respond if you find out your children are gay, but I pray you consider it.

One day, despite your perceptions of your kids or how you’ve parented, you may need to respond in real-time, to a frightened, frantic, hurting child; one whose sense of peace, and identity, and acceptance; whose very heart, may be placed in your hands in a way you never imagined… and you’ll need to respond.

If that day should ever come for me; if my children should ever come out to me, this is the Dad I hope I’ll be to them.

Note: The word “gay” in this post, refers to anyone who identifies themselves as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning) . Though I certainly realize and respect the distinctions and differences, it was simply the word that would quickly and easily communicate within the context of the piece. It was the clearest and best way to address non-hetereosexual individuals in the post, by using a common tern that would resonate with the average reader. Hopefully my heart for the LGBTQ community is still clear in the writing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Discovering Our Gifts in Community

"In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. [Romans 11:4-6, The Message]

     Paul reminds us in Romans 11 that we're connected to one another and discover our gifts only when we're in community with each other. I chose The Message's translation of this text because it breathes new life into this well-known text and clarifies its meaning. [Read the NRSV for a comparison].
     What I get from Paul's wisdom is that each of us has gifts [See vs. 7-8] but we truly only discover those gifts when we are living out our faith in a community of believers. I think this is true whether you're gay, straight or somewhere in-between. The community of faith, when it is healthy, is there to love us, encourage us and help us to discover what we do best. There is nothing more wonderful than a church who lifts up and develops the talents of all its members including the LGBT ones. This is the reason why I think it is imperative for LGBT Christians to find a church that loves them unconditionally and welcomes them as full participating members. These prophetic churches are out there, and the number is growing! [For gay friendly Lutheran churches, check out the Reconciling in Christ movement.]
     I am so grateful to find a church that not only values my gifts but also trusts me to be their pastor. As we live, work and serve together, they have been my greatest teachers and encouragers. I hope and pray I do the same for them. Take the time to discover your God-given gifts and find a church that will let you use them.