- Asphalt Jesus Chapters
- Ch1 – The Idea That Wouldn't Go Away
- Ch10 – Art and Soul
- Ch12 – Faithful Doubting
- Ch2 – Phoenix Rising
- Ch3 – Hellfire, Damnation & Garbage Dumps
- Ch4 – Jesus First Baptist Church
- Ch5 – The Trickster Shows Up – Again!
- Ch6 – Asphalt Jesus
- Ch7 – Faith in Podunk
- Ch8 – Silence of the (Christian) Lambs
- Ch9 – A Little Light That Shined
- Crosswalk America
- Phoenix Affirmations
- Affirmation 1 – God's Paths
- Affirmation 10 – Sacredness of Mind and Heart
- Affirmation 11 – Rest, Recreation & Body
- Affirmation 2 – God's Word
- Affirmation 4 – God's Worship
- Affirmation 5 – ALL My Neighbors
- Affirmation 6 – Poor and Outcast Neighbors
- Affirmation 8 – Neighbors in Opposition
- Affirmation 9 – Loved for Eternity
- Small Group Leaders
It’s good to be back from vacation, friends! My family and I had a great time in Bandon, OR. Sorry for not posting during that time, but I’ve gotten a lot better about making vacation a true vacation over the years …
Since the last subject I preached a (full) sermon on was homosexuality and the Bible, and the subject while I was away was Affirmation 7 and the separation of church and state, I thought it might be appropriate to post the article that Dr. Jim Keck (First Plymouth, Lincoln) and I wrote in the editorial section of the Omaha World-Herald last April concerning the Iowa Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. It speaks to both topics! By the way, I’ll be teaching a class on the Bible and homosexuality in September – one version on Sunday evenings at the church and another version theology-on-tap-style at Myth Lounge in the Old Market on Wednesday evenings. Sign up at the Information Station on Sundays or call the church office (402-391-0350). Now here’s the article:
An April 8 World Herald editorial regarding the recent ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court concerning gay marriage urged readers not to let debate on the issue “devolve into … ugliness and angry stereotyping.” It also asked some important questions of Omaha’s clergy: “How will clergy advise their membership on how to deal with this? Will they be accepting of gay couples, or will those church or synagogue members need to go elsewhere to worship?”
As the pastors of large churches in Omaha and Lincoln, we thought we would take this newspaper up on its query. This is how we would advise not only our congregations but any student of the Bible and the US Constitution:
According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Contrary to popular assumption, Christians overwhelmingly supported the adoption of this amendment, as they believed it to be vital for the protection of religion even more so than protection of the state. By and large, we in the US have tried to hold true to this principle in all areas except one: marriage.
As opposed to certain European countries, where marriage is kept strictly separated into a civil function and a religious one, we combine them in the US without batting an eye. For many couples in Europe, if they wish their marriage to be recognized by both the church and the state, they must receive a certificate of civil union issued by the state alone, and undergo a service of “holy matrimony” performed by the church alone. For those with no desire for church or other religious recognition, the civil union certificate is all they need. This arrangement recognizes that the state has an interest in marriage only in so far as it furthers civic interests, and that the church has an interest in marriage only in so far as it furthers theological interests.
In the US, where no legal differentiation exists between a civil marriage and holy matrimony, we place our clergy in the odd (and dare we say, unconstitutional) role of determining which relationships are in the state’s interest and which are not. Similarly, the state is given implied authority to determine which relationships are blessed by God and which are not.
Consider the problem posed by Cal Thomas, whose column appeared on the same day as the World-Herald editorial. In making his case that gay marriage is a “dangerous precedent,” he states that “the problem with the Iowa Court ruling is that it vitiates a standard that defined marriage as between two people of the opposite sex, which was God’s idea, not government’s (see Genesis 2:24), while failing to substitute a new standard.”
The fact that Genesis 2:24 makes no comment on the legal institution of marriage, and the fact that many God-honoring churches and synagogues in the US are in favor of gay marriage, are minor problems raised by his assertion, compared to the problem it raises for government. Is it the government’s role to discern the mind of God? And shall it pass laws based on its discernment?
The reason why debate on gay marriage tends to break down so quickly is because by failing to distinguish between the civic and religious functions of marriage, we give religious institutions and the state powers that do not properly reside with them, which they do not have the means to adequately arbitrate.
Realizing this Catch-22, some have suggested that gay people receive “civil unions,” reserving “marriage” to heterosexuals. Yet while this solution at least recognizes the problem of mixing the functions of religion and government, it actually reinforces the problem. The reasons for separating gay and straight relationships into civil unions and marriage remain strongly theologically based.
Until or unless the US adopts a stricter separation between civil and religious marriages that apply to all couples across the board, the best route through this issue is to allow states the ability to marry gays and religious institutions the right to marry or not marry them depending on their theological commitments.
This arrangement at least respects the fact that the First Amendment’ requires the free exercise of religion. It recognizes that, assured of this freedom, some religious institutions will marry gay people and some won’t. And by granting marriage licenses to both gay and straight couples alike, the state is protected from having to determine which marriages are blessed by God and which are not.
We feel the Iowa decision should be applauded by all religious people, regardless of their theological views on marriage, for it at least rebuilds a section of the wall that protects not only the state from religion, but religion from the state.
Have you ever been to a twelve step meeting? In twelve step programs they often refer to a “higher power” which some people call “God” but others refer to the higher power as something other than God. The simplest definition I ever heard was that GOD stands for Good Orderly Direction. That is about as basic as you can get. Being pretty simple myself that definition has an appeal for me. The reason I am thinking about twelve step programs and addiction is that I have been reading a lot about death and addiction lately. First there was Diane Schuler in New York who drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway. The police say she had way more alcohol and TCP in her body than was legal.
Schuler’s blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit, and she still had undigested alcohol in her stomach, State Police Maj. William Carey said Tuesday.
Blood tests also showed she had smoked marijuana 15 minutes to an hour before the crash, said Betsy Spratt, chief toxicologist for the Westchester County medical examiner.
Then there was the TV pitchman Billy Mays. Billy died of a heart attack but:
The medical examiner “concluded that cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and thereby contributed to his death,” the office said in a press release.
I had a good friend that died of a heart attack in a Seattle hotel room while he was there on business. This was back in the 80s. I never heard of any drugs in my friends system. But then I might not have been on the distribution list for that information. I do know that he had done cocaine. It was something he had learned in Vietnam. Even then I knew that coke was associated with heart conditions. And I wondered.
In both of these deaths the families are aghast at the idea that there was any abuse of drugs or alcohol. – Technically alcohol is a drug so I wonder why we always need to say “drug or alcohol” – I know about being aghast that a family member abuses alcohol. I was married to a woman that went to the original twelve step program, Alcoholic Anonymous, long after we were divorced. I asked her later if she had been drinking while we were married. Her answer was “Of course”! So much for my keen powers of observation. My denial (and that of Schuler’s and May’s families) is not that unusual.
“We were totally unaware of any non-prescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results,” Mays’ family said in a statement.
Schuler’s husband, Daniel, and other family members said the 36-year-old Long Island mother and cable executive was never known to drink. His lawyer insists that a medical problem – an abscessed tooth, diabetes, stroke or a pulmonary embolism – might have led the mom to self-medicate herself.
Daniel Schuler has a lawyer because relatives of the three men that died in the accident caused by his wife’s driving the wrong way are planning to sue her estate. He even had a tearful press conference (available here with more about denial in the Schuler tragedy: Family denial or hidden personal demons?) in which he denied that his wife was an alcoholic. He has not only the shame to overcome but legal woes as well. The Mays family has only the shame but their denial is just as strong
There are many twelve step organizations (AA, NA, CA for users; Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, ACOA for friends and family members of users; OA and EA for non-drug related abusers) that are based on the 12 steps developed by Bill W, a co-founder of AA. Many people have found them to be useful in dealing either with their own addictions or those of others. A basic premise of the twelve steps is that each individual is only responsible for his or her own actions (or addictions) and no one else’s. I believe both the Schuler and Mays family could use a dose of that.
Billy and Diane are dead. Does it make any difference to them how they died? I don’t believe that it makes any difference to the other six people that died – because of Diane’s actions – either. Likewise, I seriously doubt that it makes any difference to God.
I wonder: how one would go about praying to Good Orderly Direction?
Your boy, Lester, will never learn music.
Childhood piano teacher of Lester William Polsfuss in a note to Lester’s mother.
Sometimes my mother asks me if I went to the National Cemetery in North Phoenix. She usually asks this after some holiday weekend when she and my brother have gone to the columbarium where my father’s ashes are. I am sympathetic but my answer is always the same. “No, I didn’t go this weekend, maybe next.” My dad died last December. I don’t think my mom is taking his death very well. She is having a difficult time of it. As is my brother. I remember my brother once telling me that he could not imagine life without our parents. My brother has always been closer to my parents than I am. The lack of attachment I attribute to the fact that I was left in care of my maternal grandparents before the age of six months and not re-united with the rest of the family until after the age of 18 months. It was during this period that my brother was born. So it was that I never bonded well with my family.
The lack of bonding at an early age has very little to do with my refusal to visit with my father’s ashes. Before his death I visited with my father nearly daily, first in the rehab facility and then the group home in which he was placed. I was his most frequent visitor. I wondered at the time if perhaps my lack of closeness enabled me to visit him more often than the other members of my family. I still wonder. The real reason why I have no intention of going to where his ashes are stored – ever -, is that for me the remains in the columbarium are a collection of atoms that formerly were part of my father’s body. Those atoms have been around for more than 4.6 billion years. They have been around ever since they were formed in the nuclear furnace of the unknown star that died to give life to our solar system. It is difficult for me to become nostalgic about something that old that only spent the last 8o odd years as part of a human body.
As far as I can tell, I am in the minority in holding this opinion. Last June I read about a seven year old boy that fell into a canal in Salt Lake City. Tuesday (4 August 2009) I read in The Salt Lake Tribune article, McEntee: Finding Trejon a final act of love, how they found his body. The body apparently floated down the canal and into The Great Salt Lake where it was found last Saturday (1 August 2009). He was found by friends of his grandfather. The grandfather never stopped looking for Trejon.
It’s what those who love the missing almost always do. They marshal their strength and hope, their friends and relatives, and they never stop searching.
I can understand searching as long as there is hope for life but it has always seemed to me that there is a point after which all you are looking for is a body. What is the point of that? From a somewhat different perspective I read of finding the only MIA from the first Gulf War. U.S. Pilot’s Remains Found in Iraq After 18 Years was in the New York Times but the same story was carried in many papers across the country. It seems that 18 years ago some Bedouins found the dead pilot (apparently he did not survive the crash of his aircraft) and buried him. Recently an Iraqi led some US Marines to the grave. The navy took the opportunity to get a little propaganda in:
Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be.
I am glad that the families of Trejon Fite and Capt. Michael Scott Speicher can have some closure. But for me I always think of these words in similar situations:
… let the dead bury their own dead…
Jesus of Nazareth, as reported by Matthew and Luke, ca 30 CE
There is something I am a little curious about. Why did the Bedouins bury an American pilot in the middle of a war?
In my last post I mentioned the hike on Camelback Mountain with Arizona Outdoor and Travel Club. On that trail in the steep ascent out of Echo canyon there is a section that is bounded on one side by a towering cliff and the off side has a high mesh fence (so that hikers won’t fall off the cliff). The trail is wide and steep. It is so steep that there are two hand rails (made of iron pipe) to enable ascent and descent. One handrail is next to the fence and the other is in the middle of the trail. The fence (and its handrail) is on the up traffic’s left. On this particular hike (Saturday, July 25), a man was going up along the handrail next to the fence (his left). One of the things I dislike about hiking on Camelback Mountain , my usual Summit trail, or any of the more popular trails in Phoenix is that many people neither know nor practice trail etiquette. This man was staying to the left going up and thus violating the “stay right” rule which was causing problems with people coming down (and staying to the right). The problem was that for them staying to the right was conflicting with the “give those going up the right of way” rule.
I was going up and had watched 3 or 4 problems occur with this situation. When I had overtaken and was passing the man causing the problems, I violated one of my personal (on trail and off trail) rules. I gave him some unsolicited advice. I suggested that he might have fewer problems if he stayed to the right. I am sure that he had gotten this advice before because his answer was instantaneous. He said:
It doesn’t work that way for me. It just doesn’t work the same for everyone.
I have been thinking about that all week. What happens when the right of an individual (to decide what works for him/her) causes problems with others following rules designed to eliminate conflict? Personally I believe following good trail etiquette makes for a more pleasant hiking experience. Not everyone agrees. Having thought about it for a week I am just as happy that he wasn’t staying to the right. He was moving a lot slower than I was and I would have had to pass him if he had been following “the rules”. While I haven’t made any decisions about the basic question of individual rights vs. problems for the many, I have resolved to follow more closely my own rule about giving advice. Especially the unsolicited variety.
The following Monday, July 27, I was in Flagstaff and hiked the Elden Lookout Trail #4. Mt. Elden is a lava dome associated with the San Francisco Peaks lava field. It is 2.5 miles from the parking lot at the trail head to the lookout. That is about the same distance as from the start of the Cholla trail to Echo Canyon on Camelback Mountain. The distance is the only thing the two hikes have in common. Camelback tops out at 2,706 feet while Mt. Elden reaches 9299 feet (The sign at the lookout reads 9300, but that is incorrect). The gain in elevation for the Mt. Elden trail is almost a thousand feet more than that of Camelback (2,200 vs. 1,300). The climb up was difficult, sweaty and worth the effort. I blamed the sweat on the high humidity – it had rained the afternoon before – but I suspect my age, the elevation, my condition and the steepness of the trail had more to do with it. As on the previous hike I heard something that gave me food for thought.
The Elden Lookout Trail #4 intersects the Pipeline trail and the Fatmans Loop trail about 0.9 miles from the trailhead. I was about halfway between the intersection and the trailhead on the way back to my car when I met a group of six people on their way up. The group included a woman with a gorgeous Irish setter. The woman asked me how much farther it was. My reply was: “That depends on where you are headed.” What she said next just floored me.
We don’t know where we are going.
Woman with the Irish setter
Now, who would ask for the distance to an unknown destination? Keeping in mind the resolution made after my Camelback hike, I told her that there was a sign a little farther along the trail giving the answers to her question.
I was reminded of the Irish setter woman’s question as I read Spong’s Newsletter Thursday morning. It was about The Study of Life, Part 1, A Journey Into the Mystery of Life Begins in the Amazon Rain Forest and somewhat indirectly about his forth coming book on life after death. As Spong so eloquently points out in his column no one knows where (or when) we are going when we die. That doesn’t stop us, like the woman on the trail, from asking:
How much farther?
Woman with the Irish setter
I know that it is farther for some than others. Is it different for everyone or does it work the same for everyone? I especially wonder about people that are happy when false prophets get convicted and go to jail (see my previous post below). But… I haven’t a clue.
When churches declare themselves to be inclusive of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people, a number of things commonly happen that people don’t necessarily expect. Let me deconstruct three myths. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the term “open and affirming” (O&A) to describe any church that has made a public declaration of inclusiveness, regardless of the actual language used (Depending on the denomination, some churches use “Reconciling,” “More Light,” etc.)
Myth #1: LGBT people will flood the church.
Fact: While some churches who declare themselves O&A do so in hopes of realizing strong membership gains from the LGBT community, O&A churches do not tend to experience many, or any, additional LGBT members very quickly. While, years ago, stories circulated about certain churches who were flooded by the LGBT community after declaring themselves O&A, these churches were quite far from the norm. Most churches’ experience has been more like Countryside’s. Several years ago, Countryside adopted a mission statement publicly declaring itself to be “an inclusive family of faith, welcoming all to our table of love and acceptance.” The phrase “an inclusive family of faith” has regularly been included in our advertising to the community and been displayed on our banner facing Pacific Street. Yet Countryside has experienced no discernible growth from the LBBT community since the adoption of our mission statement. While some may assume that we would experience more growth if we used the words “Open and Affirming” in our mission and advertising, this is not the experience of most churches who adopt this term.
When my former congregation in Scottsdale declared itself to be formally “Open and Affirming” twelve years ago (becoming the first UCC church in Arizona to do this), for instance, we went for two or three years before welcoming our first new gay member – this, despite the fact that we were actively promoting our “O&A” status in community publications and held a series of special prayer services for those with AIDS which were advertised in area HIV clinics.
Given their long history of exclusion from full participation in faith communities, many LGBT people have either drifted away from Christian faith or have become skeptical about how fully they actually would be welcomed even among churches that declare themselves O&A. So they tend to shy away. The fact of the matter is that a church normally has to work very hard, intentionally reaching out to the LGBT over a number of years, before they realize discernible growth from the LGBT community. When I left Scottsdale, after we had been publicly and assertively O&A for a full eleven years, the percentage of LGBT members in the congregation had definitely risen, but to approximately 15%. That’s significant, but hardly “flooded.”
Myth #2: Membership will decline due to conflict over O&A status.
Fact: A few years ago, the UCC published a study showing that O&A churches in our denomination were more likely to grow, and also to realize giving increases, than non-O&A churches. While a recent study of O&A churches in a couple of other mainline denominations has shown no significant increase in growth among O&A churches, it was also shown that O&A churches were no more likely to decline than non-O&A ones.
Curiously, during the years I was in Scottsdale, we experienced a significant increase in membership growth from “straight” people after declaring ourselves O&A. While other factors contributed to membership gains besides O&A, we were intrigued by the fact that approximately 9 in every 10 new “straight” members cited our O&A status as being a contributing factor to their attraction.
Myth #3: People’s attitudes about whether or not to accept LGBT people are fixed and can’t be expected to change.
Fact: Have YOU always affirmed and accepted LGBT people? Personally, as I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon, I have not. And, like Bishop Spong, I have always figured that if I could change, the Church could change. Happily, this assumption has proved itself to be correct over and over. In the 15 months since I arrived at Countryside, quite a few people have told me that their views on LGBT people have changed in recent years. I witnessed the same phenomenon in Scottsdale. This shouldn’t be surprising. The same thing happened with respect to welcoming Gentiles into full Christian fellowship in the early church. Had not quite a number of staunch rejectors of Gentiles not experienced a change of mind and heart, most of us would not be Christian today. It’s still hard to believe, isn’t it, that the largest, most controversial issue facing the Christian church in the first century was whether or not to let people like you and me in?
While there are certainly some pockets of resistance among churches with respect to the O&A issue, this trend toward greater inclusiveness may be expected not only to continue, but to accelerate. While a handful of years ago, there were just 200 churches in the UCC that listed themselves formally as “Open and Affirming,” now there are over 700 and the number is still rising rapidly. A couple of weeks ago, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. boldly declared that it would not only lift the 3-year-old moratorium on ordaining openly gay bishops that the worldwide fellowship of Anglican Churches had asked it to sustain, but that it would begin development of marriage liturgies for gays (Click here for a NY Times article on this).
The fact of the matter is that when people discover that “the sky does not fall” after churches begin welcoming LGBT people, or states begin allowing LGBT people to marry, then many of those who had been taught that the sky would, in fact, proverbially fall begin to reexamine their assumptions.
Most people don’t want to condemn others or deny them basic rights. They only do so out of fear. Once it can be shown decisively that their fears are unfounded, many people who have condemned or been wary of LGBT people experience profound relief. (They may also experience anger or resentment toward those responsible for instilling their fear to begin with.) The more joyfully churches and other social and cultural institutions welcome LGBT people, the more relief is experienced by good-hearted people who had once been afraid of everything coming apart at the seams. And the more that this relief is sustained by continuing life experience, the more former detractors start becoming advocates.
In his poem, “The Old Interior Angel,” David Whyte describes an experience of being confronted by a scary-looking bridge to be crossed in the Himalayas. This poem, I think, describes far more than bridge crossings. To me, his poem describes wonderfully well the important role played by individuals – and institutions – who joyfully go where others have been afraid to go, creating a change of heart in those who had been paralyzed by fear. I think it serves as a fitting end this post.
The Old Interior Angel”
by David Whyte (from Fire in the Earth [Many Rivers Press, 1992]; reprinted in River Flow: New and Selected Poems 1984-2007 [Many Rivers Press, 2007]
Young, male and
immortal as I was,
I stopped at the first sight
of that broken bridge.
The taut cables snapped
and the bridge planks
into a crazy jumble
over the drop,
four hundred feet
to the craggy
I sat and watched
the wind shiver
on the broken planks,
as if by looking hard
and long enough
-but watched in vain.
An hour I sat
in the clear silence,
of the body toward
with a fearful mind,
and an emphatic
shake of the head.
Finally, facing defeat
and about to go back
the way I came
to meet the others.
Three days round
by another pass.
Enter the old mountain woman
with her stooped gait,
her dark clothes
and her dung basket
clasped to her back.
Small feet shuffling
for the precious gold-brown
fuel for cooking food.
Intent on the ground
she glimpsed my feet
and looking up
“I greet the God in you”
the last syllable
held like a song.
I inclined my head
and clasped my hands
to reply, but
before I could look up
she turned her lined face
and went straight across
that shivering chaos
and broken steel
in one movement.
I really feel good this morning, for two reasons. The first is that I did the rump to head and back again hike on Camelback Mountain with Arizona Outdoor and Travel Club. The only bad part of the hike was that I forgot my camera. Drats. The hike took four hours. We started at 5:15 so it was a bit warm at the end. It was great.
The second reason is that they convicted 74 year old Tony Alamo of violating the Mann Act. I read about the trial last Thursday (here) in the Singapore Straits Times and the again in a more complete story in the Washington Times article, Evangelist convicted of sex crimes. According to the article he could get up to 175 years. I hope he does. I have posted about Tony before – here. Tony denies everything and says that
I’m just another one of the prophets that went to jail for the Gospel
If you want Tony’s side go here. I am not buying Tony’s story. The article said that the jurors wept as the witnesses told their stories. Can you see the five women (now 17 to 35) coming forward in court to tell how when they were younger (the youngest was eight or nine) they were “married” to Tony and sexually abused. What courage that must have taken.
One question that occurred to me was: Where were the parents? And what is being done about them? Google located the answer for me. In an Associated Press dispatch, Parents’ role in Alamo case is a tricky question, I found some rather unsatisfactory answers. Some parents apparently encouraged it. Some believed Tony when he said he was a prophet. I guess. This brings to mind scenes of parents sacrificing their children to Moloch or some volcano. I have always had problem understanding how any parent could condone or abet any harm to their children. The answer appears to be that if you believe your salvation and that of your child depends on doing something that you would in other circumstances find abhorrent then you allow it. I don’t buy it any more then I buy Tony’s claim to be a prophet. I also know that in the past some parents in Tony’s church, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries , have complained even if to no avail.
Tony was tried in a federal court on federal charges (transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes). I wonder if any state (Arkansas especially) will prosecute him or any of the parents. Some other questions have occurred to me. How much of my interest in the saga of Tony Alamo is due to my concern with modern Christianity (and the abuses in it)? How much of it is due to the fact that I was sexually abused as a child? I don’t know the answers to any of the questions. I do know I am happy that Tony got his.
I’ve invited novelist and recent Countryside member, Margaret McGrath, to share a reflection from time to time on one of the twelve Phoenix Affirmations. She graciously took me up on the offer. Here’s her reflection on Affirmation 5, which claims that “Christian love of neighbor includes engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God’s very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class.”
When Eric asked me to write something for the Asphalt Jesus blog about Affirmation Five, I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to say. I am all about equal rights regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, socio-economic class so Affirmation Five seems like a slam-dunk to a left-wing tree-hugging liberal like me. I’ve marched on Washington. I’ve signed petitions, donated time, talents, treasure to any number of social justice causes. I can check Affirmation Five off my list…right?
During prayer and reflection, however, the phrase “engaging people authentically” kept bobbing to the surface of my mind. If I dig a little deeper into my politically correct beliefs, I’m not convinced I follow the affirmation to its most powerful conclusion. I’m not convinced I engage people authentically.
To me, engaging people authentically means seeing them as more than a member of a “protected class”. It means moving beyond such automatic categorizations as gay/straight/transgendered, white/Asian/black, male/female, Muslim/Christian/Buddhist/Jew, poor/rich – to seeing that person as an individual. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that engaging people authentically begins and ends with seeing them as no more and no less than a child of God.
This is not easy to do when someone espouses political beliefs diametrically opposed to yours or worse, cuts you off in traffic, when your spouse forgets a crucial appointment or your child demands your attention after a long, tiring day. Sometimes the people I engage least authentically are those closest to me, with whom familiarity has bred a certain frustration, if not contempt. But I believe Jesus saw the people in his world not as Roman/Israelite, Samaritan/Essene, male/female, Jew/Gentile but as kernels of God-ness encased in human bodies. I’m slowly learning to do the same.
In the Buddhist tradition people greet each other with hands in prayer position. They give a slight bow and say, “Namaste” which means, “I bow to the divinity within you that is also within me.” In other words, encounters begin by honoring the God-spark within. Now that’s some seriously authentic engagement…or at least a good foundation for it!
In an effort to more fully live Affirmation Five, I’m working on listening with my heart and soul as well as my ears, striving to hear God’s voice speaking through another person. I also try to slow down, to give more than a millisecond of attention to a cashier, a barista, someone who greets me at coffee hour on Sunday…not to mention my family. What are some ways you engage people authentically in your daily life?
I heard some unexpected good news this morning at Asbury UMC. I will quote from the report:
The major actions taken by the conference was the passage of the desert southwest regional conference was to vote in favor of the petition for “all means all”…….it was an example of ”extravagant hospitality”, the theme for this years conference. For all persons in the GLBT it is a major affirmation of our holiness and the example of Christ who was willing to set aside standards of holiness for a ministry extended to all.
Asbury’s lay delegate, Robert Nielson-Tweet
I thought it was especially fitting that Robert Nielson-Tweet was the one reporting the news. I have posted on Robert before. Clicking on his name will take you to that post. The news gave a twist to the reading, children’s moment and message for this Sunday.
1. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4. Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23 (New International Version)
I memorized the 23rd Psalm as a teenager because I lived in fear that God could never love someone like me. I repeated it to myself many times for reassurance. The words I heard the loudest were “…I will fear no evil…”. Now, fifty years later, the promise of goodness and love seems to be more important (and to the point). The DSW Conference in its action has increased goodness and love in the world just a bit more. Not just for the GLBT community but for “all” of us.
I was meditating on this when Tex Sample gave the Invitation to Holy Communion. In his invitation he mentioned Ludwig Wittgenstein. Now I had never heard of Ludwig before so how could Tex be describing him as the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century? I googled Ludwig (and here) and confirmed that Tex knew what he was talking about. Not that I had any doubts. Ludwig had an immense effect on Bertrand Russell who is my pick for greatest (definitely my favorite) twentieth century philosopher. So, my question is: how is it that I never heard of Ludwig Wittgenstein? I attribute it to a misspent youth (fearing that God could not love me) and an inferior education. I can’t do anything about the misspent youth but I can remedy the education. I checked Amazon, found “Culture and Value” (Tex’s recommendation) by Ludwig Wittgenstein; Paperback; for $10.92. I bought it which is good. Unfortunately I also bought “War of the Lamb, The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking” by John Howard Yoder; Paperback; for $16.49. I may regret the last one. Yoder always makes my head hurt. I hope “Culture and Value” doesn’t.
In response to last Sunday’s service, in which the implications of the Hebrew notion of day beginning with night were explored, a Countrysider sent me the following poem, which fits the theme well.
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yearn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.