Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Yesterday I heard someone make the claim that those of us who advocate for full inclusion of people who are LGBTQ into our churches are merely succumbing to pressure to accommodate the culture at large. The implication is that we are not doing what we are doing for reasons of morality or conscience or obedience to the leading of God. It seems to me that this accusation allows those making it to dismiss us as confused or weak compromisers with "the world" and thus is used as a mechanism to avoid having to wrestle with the real (and challenging) questions. This makes me think of the accounts in the Gospels of how the Pharisees accused Jesus of being a drunk and a glutton and a friend of those whom the Pharisees considered to be sinners. They observed a pattern of Jesus accepting the type of people they viewed as unacceptable to God, and so they criticized him for it rather than consider that they may have been mistaken. Yesterday I also heard a wise man--a scholar and teacher of the Bible--say this: "It is important that we read the Bible. It is important that we keep reading the Bible. In doing so we may discover that it doesn't say what we thought it said."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blessed are the peacemakers...

Monday, January 20, 2014

The arc

Martin Luther King Jr.'s statement that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice" (which is actually a paraphrase of the pre-Civil War minister Theodore Parker who wrote "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.") implies slow and incremental progress. As Dr. King elsewhere wrote, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

That there be justice, fairness, kindness--in a word, shalom--among us is God's will. This is what Jesus meant when he used the term "the kingdom of God" ("Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."). The kingdom of God is not a place. It is the manifest rule and reign of God, right here and right now. The kingdom of God is made visible by practices of kindness, mercy, fairness, compassion, healing, restoration, etc.--all summed up in the word love. If we wish to honor Dr. King (and follow Jesus), we need to ask ourselves questions along the lines of these:

"Where is there unkindness and injustice and unfairness and systematic oppression today?"
"What are the structures and systems that support and perpetuate unkindness and injustice and unfairness and oppression?"
"Who are the victims?"
"Who are the perpetrators?"
"What am I called to do to about it?"

There are a myriad of possible answers to these questions. The leading of the Spirit is unique for each of us. But the goal is the same: to move on that slow and unstoppable arc a little closer to its inevitable terminus. To do our part.

As the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn wrote, "True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it."

Dr. King was one of the brightest lights thus far along that arc, but we are all called to be lights.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

They created gods in their own image...

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Maori name for Quakers in New Zealand (Aotearoa) is Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri, which translates literally as "the faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rachel Held Evans' Reflections on the GCN Conference

On her blog today, Rachel Held Evans offers her reflections on the Gay Christian Network conference she spoke at (and I attended) last week...

Excerpt: "[W]ithin a few hours of arriving, it became apparent to me that I had little to teach these brothers and sisters and everything to learn from them. I speak at dozens of Christian conferences in a given year, and I can say without hesitation that I’ve never attended a Christian conference so energized by the Spirit, so devoid of empty showmanship or preoccupation with image, so grounded in love and abounding in grace."

This completely matches my own impressions.

Also here is a taste of her keynote address from the conference.

A Visit to the Quakers

This is lovely...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let they who have ears to hear...

"Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day."

-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Living Sign

It is a common misconception that Quakers don't do communion. Quakers do, in fact, practice the Eucharist, but in a different way. For us, the sacrament of communion with Christ is an ever-present spiritual reality--a reality which transcends the symbols of bread and wine. Thus, the outward ritual and physical elements tend to be viewed by Quakers as superfluous.

But on Sunday I stood in a line and received a wafer dipped in grape juice. It was given to me by a lesbian sister in Christ after being blessed by a gay priest. I felt moved to participate outwardly, as well as inwardly, in this communion in order to enact the truth I saw around me that I and the 700 mostly LGBTQ people I was with were all part of the body of Christ: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-5)

As the attendees at the Gay Christian Network conference lined up to take communion, a choir made up of conference-goers sang a stunningly beautiful high-church hymn (see the video clip below for a taste). But the words from another hymn came to my mind. They are from a 16th century Dutch Anabaptist hymn entitled What Is This Place?. The Anabaptists were rejected and persecuted by the larger church. The stanza that came to my remembrance was this:

"And we accept bread at his table,
Broken and shared,
A living sign here in this world,
Dying and living,
We are each other's bread and wine."

This was the "living sign" that the bread and wine symbolized for me on Sunday: That Christ was present and we were his body, broken and shared with one another.

(Here are the complete words to What Is This Place?):

What is this place where we're meeting?
Only a house, the earth its floor,
Walls and a roof sheltering people,
Windows for light, an open door,
Yet it becomes a body that lives,
When we are gathered here,

And know our Lord is near,

Words from afar, stars falling,
Sparks that are sown in us like seed,
Names for our God, dreams, signs and wonders,
Sent from the past are what we need,
We in this place remember and speak,
Again what we have heard,

God's free redeeming word,

And we accept bread at His table,
Broken and shared,
A living sign, here in this world,
Dying and living,
We are each other's bread and wine,

This is the place,
Where we can receive,
What we need,
To increase God's justice,
And God's peace.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Yesterday I had a very powerful and transformative experience. I attended the Gay Christian Network conference in Chicago. My goal--actually my God-directed mandate--was to simply listen and learn. I was warmly welcomed. I joined with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians as we worshiped Jesus with our whole hearts. I experienced God's loving presence among us. I listened as they told their stories--there are countless stories--of being condescended to and humiliated and hurt and ostracized by churches, by parents, by pastors and youth group leaders, by "Christian" friends. I saw great pain but also tremendous grace and forgiveness and hope and maturity. I saw followers of Jesus caring for one another and encouraging one another. I saw gifted and beautiful people, beloved--just as they are--by God.

If you are a heterosexual Christian, and especially if you are a church leader or pastor, I encourage you and challenge you (as I have done myself) to seek out some LGBTQ people and listen to their stories. Don't preach. Don't try to fix. Just listen.

This is not an "issue." This is people. These are your brothers and sisters.

Here is a clip from a video that was produced by GCN a few years ago. It gives an inkling of what I mean by listening to their stories. Watching a clip from a DVD is a poor substitute however from sitting face-to-face with a person and hearing their story. Doing the latter may break your heart.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Friend Ray Lovegrove (aka Hay Quaker) was recently featured on the BBC program Songs of Praise.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples..." -- Not because of your piety or your purity or your keeping of all the rules or your doctrinal correctness or the political stands you make or the people you exclude or the perceived persecutions that you complain about. People will recognize who the followers of Jesus are by their love.

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

This is a love that cannot be manufactured by our own efforts. It is God's love that is placed deep inside each one of us and that--if we surrender to it and embrace it and allow it--bubbles up from the inside outwards. We become like sponges: sloppy with God's love and spilling it out haphazardly upon others. We love because we are beloved. We love because everyone is beloved.