Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections on 2012...

Some awful things happened in 2012, including the horrific mass shootings in Seattle; Portland; Oakland; Aurora, CO; Minneapolis; Oak Creek, WI and Newtown, CT; as well as the ever-present societal plagues of poverty, violence, corruption, discrimination and political BS. But beside all that, I had a fantastic year in 2012:

* I transferred from George Fox Evangelical Seminary to the Earlham School of Religion and changed my Master's from Divinity to Religion (which will enable me to emphasize Quaker studies and position me to pursue a Ph.D).

* My explorations of theology have been extremely rewarding. This year, in addition to embarking on formal Quaker studies, I discovered Process Theology, which is fascinating.

* My committment to being an advocate for LGBT people in the church has increased exponentially. I made several new friends this year who have encouraged me greatly in this regard.

* I turned a half-century old. I find that I like being an old guy. I only wish that when I was younger I had known the things I know now.

* I finally finished writing my "theological Science Fiction" novella. I don't know if it's any good, but it felt good to have completed it.

* I am incredibly proud of my wife, who completed the first year-long module of 'Way of the Spirit' (an intensive Quaker-based program for spiritual development) and has signed up for the second year-long module. Both Carla and I continue to learn and grow and I am so grateful that we continue to grow together.

* I am incredibly proud of my son, who is now living in Hannover, Germany and working as a physicist. He is a remarkable young man. Carla and I also really like his girlfriend! A highlight this year was getting to visit them both in Germany (even though it concluded with the trauma of Carla breaking a leg--which she now looks back on as an experience from which she learned a great deal).

* I am thankful for my family and friends (including Facebook friends!) and am grateful to be part of a faith community that is so genuine and life-giving!

* Nearly 30 years ago I had an encounter with the Living God and became a follow of Jesus. In all the years since then, God's presence has not left me. 2012 was no exception. Each day is a gift! I truly believe that the world is gradually becoming a better place and I am excited to be part of it! As Martin Luther King, Jr. often said (quoting the 19th-century Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker) "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Flushing Remonstrance

Today is the anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the earliest appeals for religious tolerance in American history. In the 1600's, the practice of faiths other than the Dutch Reformed Church was forbidden in New Netherlands (now New York). Adherents to other religions or denominations--particularly Quakers--were persecuted, imprisoned and banished. A group of citizens wrote and submitted a petition to the governor. Four of the signees were arrested, but as citizens continued to engage in acts of civil disobedience--primarily in the form of people welcoming Quakers into their homes--it gradually brought an end to religious persecution in the colony.

The Flushing Remonstrace is considered a precursor to the Freedom of Religion clause (First Amendment) in the U.S. Constitution.

From the Bowne House Historical Society:

"On December 27, 1657, Edward Hart wrote a letter on behalf of his fellow townsmen. He was town clerk for Vlissengen [now known as Flushing], and with the authority vested in his office he spoke for all the inhabitants of the settlement. Though the law of New Netherlands [now known as New York] demanded otherwise, Hart wrote, Vlissengen would offer 'free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses,' to any who sought it, whether 'Jews, Turks... Egyptians... Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker.' 'Wee desire...not to judge least we be judged,' he explained, 'neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master...designed for the good of all ....' In accordance with the 'Outward state of Holland' and 'the patent and charter of our Towne...which we are not willing to infringe,' Vlissengen respectfully refused to obey the law. Their letter not only defied the laws of one of the most powerful, religious governors of the colonial age, it challenged the very idea of state-enforced religion. The belief that religion was an affair of state lay at the core of the bloody religious persecutions that had plagued Europe throughout the Reformation age. Even in the more lenient American colonies, the words of the Remonstrance expressed a concept of religious freedom that extended beyond the principles of any other contemporary document.

The Remonstrance presented a raw version of the radical ideals later solidified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"The great fact remains that there is no greater spiritual gift than the gift of listening to God, and that there is no greater spiritual power than that which comes when a whole congregation is fused and melted in silent waiting and soul-worship before the living God, when God's presence can be felt and His voice heard so distinctly that no audible words are needed." - Rufus Jones (Quaker theologian)

"When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,"

- Howard Thurman

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

German soldier, giving a cigarette to an English soldier, Christmas, 1918.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Weighty Friends

One evening earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit with some weighty Friends. This is the term we Quakers use for those among us who, over the span of decades, have come to be known for their wisdom, discernment, spiritual maturity, service and depth of character. As a result, when they speak it carries weight. Just sitting around in a living room the other night and talking with these weighty Friends was encouraging, instructive, edifying and affirming. One of them told a powerful story of how she first encountered the living Christ and continues to hear his voice and receive his guidance. As the evening progressed it became less and less relevant to me that these weighty Friends were lesbians--such distinctions were blurred by the image of Christ I saw in them. It is that awareness of Christ in the other which erases any boundaries or categories of disqualification or marginalization. I understand now better than I ever have what Paul meant when he said "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

“I said to them, 'I need you to know that I love you all very much and it’s going to be OK', because I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I wanted that to be the last things they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway.” - Sandy Hook Elementary First grade teacher Kaitlin Roig

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Quester Chronicles, Book 1

A couple of years ago I decided to try to write a Quaker science fiction story. The idea was to base it on actual people and events from history but recast them into a sci-fi milieu (and take considerable artistic license). I got part way into it but ran out of steam. This semester I took a class on Quaker History & Literature which inspired me to take another run at it. I managed to complete the story last week and hope to write two additional volumes. If anyone is interested in reading it, I have put it up online (in PDF format) here:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Life of Pi


Thursday, December 06, 2012

On the Evangelical church and people who are LGBT

A pastor friend of mine had a lively discussion going recently on Facebook about the church's stance regarding people who are LGBTQ. Most of the commenters were conservative Evangelical Christians, and the consensus seemed to be that LGBTQ people ought to be welcomed in the church but also must be told that they need to repent. I wrote a lengthy comment in response, but when I went to post it I discovered that my friend had deleted the entire thread (apparently some of the comments had gotten quite harsh). So, hating to waste all that effort, I've decided to post a stand-alone response on Facebook and to re-post it here. I have a diverse group of Facebook friends, so please keep in mind that this is directed to a particular group of people and uses some terminology that is familiar to them but may not be preferred by the LGBTQ community. - DC

Having spent a few years carefully studying the Gospels and the Book of Acts (and indeed the rest of the Old and New Testaments) I've come to the conclusion that there is a "hidden message" which many of us have not had eyes to see (or have not been taught to see). This "hidden message" is that God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is radically inclusive. Jesus reached out in love, and interacted on a relational level with the social pariahs and religious outcasts of his day, including lepers, "unclean" (for various reasons) women, Samaritans (even Samaritan women!) -- who were considered to be heretics and enemies of the Jews, Gentiles (even Gentile women!) -- who were considered to be unclean pagans, etc. The disciples of Jesus, as recorded in the book of Acts, continued and expanded that trend of inclusion (consider Simon the Tanner or Cornelius the Roman Centurion or the Ethiopian Eunich). The fascinating thing about the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is that the Christians of the Pharisee party who were opposed to accepting Gentiles--unless they became observant of Torah stipulations, including circumcision and dietary regulations--were the faction who was "right." They had both scripture and tradition on their side. Yet the Spirit was saying something different.

The Gospel writers and Paul and the other inspired authors of New Testament texts were not attempting to write a new Torah. I think they all would be aghast that this is exactly what many later Christians turned their words into. Rather than implement another Law, we are called--as Paul wrote to the Galatians (and echoed in his other epistles)-- to "keep in step with the Spirit."

Only the most uninformed in our day and age would not be aware that people do not "choose" to be gay. Many, if not most, gay people have struggled greatly and in futility to not be gay. As I heard one young Christian man say recently, "I didn't want to be gay. My life would be a whole lot easier if I was not gay." Most of us did not "choose" to be heterosexual either, we just are. People do not "choose" their sexual orientation. To simply be what you are, whether that is straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, is not a sin. In fact, it could be argued that it would be a sin (and psychologically unhealthy) to live a lie about who you are.

Consider this: Would you feel welcomed at a church that told you that an unchosen and unchangeable aspect of your very being is a sin which you must repent of?  Not necessarily your actions, but your very being?  "But we love and welcome you, nonetheless!" they say.  Right.

And what is this "lifestyle" that keeps getting spoken of? Gay people don't "gay park" their car or "gay cook" their dinner or "gay ride" the bus to work or "gay get their children ready for school." Their "lifestyle" is pretty much just like heterosexual people, except when it comes to sex. And, let's be honest, gay sex is the real issue here.  So, is gay sex (rather than simply a gay sexual orientation) a sin?  Promiscuous or exploitative gay sex certainly is. Then again, so is promiscuous or exploitative hetero sex.  But is a monogamous lifelong romantic relationship between two persons of the same gender a sin? That is the real question. The rest is just noise and static and hyperbole.

What I've come to realize is that the Biblical writers knew nothing about sexual orientation. They looked at actions. To them, in their culture and given their knowledge of human sexuality, sex was meant to be between a male and a female. Homosexual sex acts were typically confined to the context of idolatrous temple prostitution or pederasty (older married men having sex with boys) or heterosexual men raping other heterosexual men in order to humiliate them (as goes on even today in prisons). The handful of texts in the Bible that speak of "homosexual" acts speak of it in those terms. It is quite eye-opening to look at the handful of scriptures which appear to pertain to homosexuality, but to do so with their historical and cultural context in mind (and looking at the actual Hebrew and Greek words used). Many devout and learned Christian theologians have discovered that, upon doing so, they find a whole lot more nuance to the issue than first meets the eye.

There was no such thing acknowledged in Jewish culture as monogamous, non-exploitative, lifelong homosexual relationships--it was completely off of their radar (as was the idea of a world without slavery). It is worth noting that the term "homosexual" did not exist until it was coined in the late 19th century by the German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert. Ancient people (at least ancient heterosexual people) had no concept of sexual orientation, and frankly, in ancient cultures people tended to marry not for love but for survival of the tribe. Romance and sexual attraction were not high on the priority list; procreation was. And LGBTQ persons can participate in procreation and family-creation and child-rearing.  Their sexual orientation is not an impediment to that.

So then I ask you, my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters:

Can you welcome and affirm into your church people who are homosexual (or bisexual or transgender), provided that they remain celebate?

If so, that is a big step forward.

But, there is another step that many Christians (myself included) have taken:

How do we reconcile the notion of requiring that gay people practice life-long celebacy, with God's statement in Genesis that "It is not good for man to be alone" (and, one would assume the same goes for woman)? Must LGBTQ people never know the intimacy and companionship that we straight people do?  Once we come to understand that the scriptural texts supposedly forbidding same-sex erotic acts were speaking about pagan idolatry and exploitation and violence and not about committed monogamous relationships between partners with same-sex-attracted orientations, it becomes apparent that to presume to impose celebacy upon gay people is tantamount to the Jewish Christians in Acts 15 wanting to impose circumcision and other Torah stipulations upon Gentiles.

I believe with every cell in my body that the Spirit is saying something different than our tradition and that if Jesus were here in the flesh today, he would reach out to love and appreciate and enfold people who are LGBTQ--without conditions.

Then again, Jesus is here in the flesh today--via the people who call themselves the Body of Christ.  Let us begin to act like it.

Regarding the radical inclusiveness of God:

For a closer look at the scriptures pertaining to homosexuality, I recommend David Westmoreland-White's excellent series of blog posts: