Being Gay is Not a Sin

A quick glance at social media and it seems to topic – or controversy – of the yesterday was the Franklin Graham attack on Pete Buttigieg for being gay.

I was pleased to see such pushback against this tweet from a person who is a religious leader through the coattails of his father, and who’s “brand” of Christianity is one of hate, misogyny, nationalism, and bigotry. I am especially bothered by his anti-Muslim rhetoric. That he supports a president who’s words and actions are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus lead me to hang my head in shame at the direction Christianity has gone.

So I agree with calling out Franklin Graham for his behavior. At the same time I am bothered that many of the Tweets and other statements are in the “what about your sin” category. This whataboutism is very subtle in its identification of “being gay as a sin.”

It is not a sin to be who God created you to be!

If we choose to go back to the creation story of Genesis, God created:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” -Genesis 1:27, 31a

We can also remember those words of the psalmist:

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” -Psalm 139:13-14

To all my LGBTQ siblings, you are good, just as you were created. You are wonderfully made. Your existence is not a sin. Your seeking and having relationships that are fulfilling is not a sin.

To all of us that are allies, let’s please be careful with our language so that in pushing back against homophobic rhetoric we don’t unthinkingly hurt our siblings.

Running Our Public Lands

img_4998.jpgLast night I listened to a friend, Vic Thasiah, make a call for the running community to be more actively engaged in conservation efforts for our public lands. His presentation took place at Topa Topa Brewing Company, and since I was holding a beer while listening, I missed taking notes! I wish I had because his talk was inspiring.

img_4776He shared that, from a national perspective, runners, as a group, are not as involved in preservation efforts as are hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. We as runners, are not organized around this important issue as are other groups. As I listened to the presentation, I wondered how many of us runners consciously appreciate the beautiful places we can go. Or do many of us think of running as “exercise” and something to “get done” while also experiencing the added benefit of a beautiful view?

As a pastor, I pray my gratitude for this beautifully created world in our weekly worship, while also praying that we would be good stewards of all that surrounds us. I find myself envisioning some of the places I’ve run as I pray. I’ve also tried to encourage our getting outside for worship with a monthly Hike Church. This has been met with limited success… but maybe that’s because I’m not doing a good enough job of inviting people.

img_4207-2.jpgThe other day, while running on one of our paved, but in need of much work, bike trails, I wondered about the feasibility of runners and cyclists fundraising to fix the trails. That’s a good endeavor and I’d support it. But now, I’m also thinking that we, wherever we are, should involve ourselves in to caring for, and helping to preserve, and conserve our public lands.

In my area, that care can be exercised through The Ventura Land Trust. I might even use my upcoming Thanksgiving to Christmas Mile a Day Challenge as a fundraiser for this worthy organization. Meanwhile, how do you see the running community participating in care for our public open spaces?

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My Thoughts – BlackkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman Movie PosterI’m not a movie critic. Sometimes when I read what others have written about movies, my own thoughts seem to be so inadequate. Maybe if I saw more movies, and then chose to review them I’d get better at it. But then, life as a movie critic is not my job.

My current job is both a job and a title, Pastor. Specifically, pastor in a Lutheran Church that is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We are one of the (if not the most) whitest denominations in America. The synod of which I am a part (Los Angeles and surrounding counties) is the most diverse, something to be proud of. But my congregation is not one of those diverse congregations I am sad to say. I am a white pastor in a majority Mexican immigrant city. I speak some Spanish and am continually working at it. But so far, my efforts to lead us to being a more diverse church have had limited success. This is just a bit of my context.

Today, for Labor Day, I went to see BlackkKlansman. It was a powerful movie. It bridges the past and the present in such a way that it is impossible to close our eyes to the ongoing evil of white supremacy in our nation.

I don’t use the word “evil” lightly. It was evil to kidnap and subsequently enslave people. It was evil to keep their children as slaves. It was a most horrible evil to sometimes rip children from the arms of their parents so that they could be sold again. Slavery in this nation was done under the guise of Christianity, my religion. This was evil.

This was not the subject of the movie. But I couldn’t help to think of it because this sin of slavery is at the heart of the racism that we continue to live with today.

BlackkKlansman is a story that is based on a memoir. I don’t know what of it is true memoir and what is added story telling.

An uncomfortable, for me, aspect of this story was the juxtaposition of scenes depicting calls for white power alongside demonstrations with calls for black power. I am uncomfortable because I often wonder how we will ever progress. The story also almost allows us (white people) to tell ourselves that we aren’t part of the KKK and thus we are not racist. It touches on the institutional aspects of racism but even there, it depicts a racist police officer rather than a system that is biased against people of color. Alas, there is too much to cover in a single movie.

As a pastor, I continually preach that we are allcreated in God’s image and that means us all people. I also lament the fact that too many of my fellow (white) Christians don’t seem to be able to see this beauty in all of God’s creation. I often wonder about my place among Christianity, because it seems as if the most vocal proponents of my faith are also vocal proponents of white supremacy. Even if they don’t use those words.

I’ve heard arguments along the lines of, “no, that is not us, but we just want everyone to get along.” But then the next line of the conversation is to attack Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization. I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain the reason the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary.

I once had a very long dialog with a distant family member. He is an evangelical Christian and he had no desire to learn about why people are protesting. It was easier for his to condemn the protestors as members of a hate group. I went so far as to try and find people in his city for him to meet and to learn from. But once I made this step, it became clear that he wasn’t interested in learning. It turns out that he was just trying to figure out how “unchristian” I am because of my “liberal” positions. The conversation ended with his telling me that he’s learned a bit about ELCA Lutherans and it appears that I am where I belong (not a compliment from his perspective), and that he would pray for me. I wanted to scream that I don’t want these prayers. I didn’t scream, but I did say that instead of praying for me, maybe he could pray to see.

I’m tired and I’m white and I’m privileged and I’ve not done enough and I’m not doing enough and I’m tired.

Stamped from the BeginningI cannot imagine how exhausted my Black sisters and brothers must be in living with the structural racism that is so much a part of our culture. It is like the air we breathe. Don’t believe me? I suggest you read, starting with “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi. If anyone reading this would like to read this book as a group – in person gatherings or online, please let me know. I think we could learn a lot together.

Our learning the history of slavery, segregation, and racism from times past until now is necessary for us to be able to see the truth that is all around us. We need to learn so that we can see and so that we can work for a better today and a better tomorrow. I don’t believe that it should be the responsibility of our Black citizens to get us white people to change. It should be up to us! It is our continued collective sin in burying our heads as we try to say, “that’s not me” or “that’s not us.”

Letter From Birmingham Jail is included in this book
As I think of this I am reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” I’ve often said that if I could, I would add this letter to the canon of scripture. I don’t’ have that ability, but I can still use it in matters of faith. And as I think about this movie, and the state of affairs in our country today I am reminded of his calling to account of the “white moderate.” For Rev. King, the moderate was in many ways worse than the overt racist because the moderate just went along with the status quo. This was not helpful then and it is not helpful now.

Well my friends, this was definitely not a review of the movie! Please see it. Please read what our sibling of color are writing. And please know that the God that I know is a gracious God. This God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. All our neighbors. It’s not easy to do but it starts with opening our eyes to see.

This pastor hopes and prays that we will.

Our Flag and Independence Day

Pixabay - american-flag-795307.jpgA few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in our preschool and kindergarten graduations. Because we have different options for attendance at our school, we have multiple graduation services. I’m not sure if you know this, but one of the civic responsibilities taught to our children is the pledge of allegiance. So, to demonstrate their proficiency as well as their pride in our country the children lead us in the pledge. Thus, I participated in saying the pledge of allegiance four times in two days. Here are the words:

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands.
One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

This year, as I said that pledge I had two thoughts.

First, of the rancor that is dividing our country. Some of that division is over the flag, not so much the pledge but rather the National Anthem. I’ve debated with people about this because I strongly believe in the freedom that our flag symbolizes. While I stand and while I recite the pledge, I do so supporting my brothers and sisters who choose to do something else. If saluting this flag of ours is compulsory, then we’ve lost the freedom for which it stands.

My second thought centered on the words “with liberty and justice for all.” These are words of aspiration and I hope that one day, we as a nation will truly reflect the “for all” part of these words.

Meanwhile, as Christian Americans we remember that our ultimate loyalty is to the God who loves us. This love transcends borders. This love recognizes the dignity and worth of every human, even those with whom we might disagree. It is this love that leads me to be a seeker of justice. It is this love that assures me, and us, of God’s grace all those times we are unable to love as we are loved. And it is this love that, when active in our midst, can transform our world.

As we celebrate Independence Day may we do so with thanksgiving for the ideals of the place in which we live. May we also strive to live up to the values that are enshrined in our pledge as well as our constitution. But above all, may we, no matter the circumstances, love and defend our neighbor. For that, my friend is what God commands us to do.

When I was in seminary my preaching professor used to start our classes with song. One song touched me and continues to touch me. It is a slight re-write of America the Beautiful. The re-write, done by Sister Miriam Therese Winter, transforms the song into one of repentance and hope. We’ve used this in worship and will do so July 1.

How Beautiful, Our Spacious Skies

How beautiful, our spacious skies, our amber waves of grain
our purple mountains as they rise above the fruitful plain:
America! America! God’s gracious gifts abound,
And more and more we’re grateful for life’s bounty all around

 Indigenous and immigrant, our daughters and our sons;
O may we never rest content till all are truly one.
America! America! God grant that we may be
A sisterhood and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

 How beautiful, sincere lament, the wisdom born of tears,
The courage call for to repent the bloodshed through the years.
America! America! God grant that we may be,
A nation blessed with none oppressed, true land of liberty.

 How beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea,
That dream of peace, non-violence, all people living free.
Americas! Americas! God grant that we may be,
A hemisphere where people here all live in harmony.

“How Beautiful, Our Spacious Skies”, Sister Miriam Therese Winter. Hymns, Songs, Rounds and Refrains for Prayer and Praise. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996

 

Traumatizing the Children

Each week, in our Sunday worship service, we have a time for a Children’s Chat. Yesterday, we didn’t have any children. For our small congregation this occurs about once a month (last week we had 10 children, which is also a monthly occurrence). Anyway, I often will just skip this time with the children. But yesterday I opted to talk about the children. Other children. Children who are being traumatized. I didn’t write down my comments, so I don’t know exactly what I said, and how, but here is what I was thinking.

We have a crisis at our border today. Our government has decided to take children away from their parents, as a “deterrent” to other migrants (many seeking asylum) who might try to make their way to our country. We’ve been praying about this for a few weeks. But now we must act. I urge each of you to speak up. Write to our representatives. Voice your concerns at all levels. We cannot be silent on this.

This morning, as I drove to join a group run, I listened to the news and heard a pediatrician speaking about the trauma that is being visited upon these children (and their parents). This trauma has the very real potential to cause life-long problems for these children. Trauma actually affects developing brains. To make matters worse, we are hearing stories of little children taken from their parents and being placed in strange surroundings, sometimes in cages. These children may be provided food and shelter, but they are not receiving nurture. Apparently there is a policy that “shelter” (more like prison) employees are not allowed to touch the children. Being deprived of comforting touch is heaping additional abuse onto these traumatized children.

As I listened to this, I visualized the scene at our preschool on those first days of school each year. This is when little ones are oftentimes separated from their parents for the first time in their lives. It’s an important developmental step, but it is hard. So, the sound that often comes from the school those first few days is of children crying. Not all children cry, but once in awhile one child crying will cause them all to cry. Sometimes the parents cry too…and the teachers often have to encourage the parent to leave.

Not much formalmteaching happens those first few days. But there is a lot of comforting. (I think the teaching here is to learn that mom or dad will indeed return and that all will be well.)

At this point in my talk, a retired preschool teacher interrupted me with the question:

“And do you know what we tell those children?”

“What?” I respond.

“We tell them that mommy or daddy will return very soon.”

She was emotional as she shared this.

The children who are being taken from their parents have no idea when or if they will be reunited with the parents. Can you imagine this?

This policy of separating children from their parents is evil. Yesterday, I was at a loss of words beyond this recognition of the evil of these actions.

As people of faith, we are called to love our neighbor. We are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to care for the children (in fact Jesus gives dire warning against those who would harm children). We are called to all of this by a God who loves us immensely. It is this love that should, and indeed can give us the power to use our collective voice in opposition to what is happening.

Please speak up.

Where’s Jesus? Part of My Sermon for John Chapter 3:1-17

Where’s Jesus? I’m reminded of a dumb joke, or what I’ve always thought was a dumb joke. The thing is, I keep remembering it. Here it is.

A mom was having problems with her two young sons. They were misbehaving, probably in the same manner that all children misbehave. But the mom was frustrated. So she asked the pastor to help. This (male) pastor agreed to go and visit and talk to the kids.

Once at the home, he decides to first talk to the youngest boy, leaving the older sibling to wait in the bedroom. In the living room with the young boy the pastor asks, “where’s Jesus?” The boy doesn’t know how to respond so he says nothing. The pastor repeats the question, raising his voice a bit, “where’s Jesus?” Confused and becoming nervous the boy continues in his silence. The pastor then, in his most loud and authoritarian voice, repeats the question, “where’s Jesus?”

At once the boy flees, running to the bedroom shared with his brother and diving under the bed. The older brother asks, “what happened?” To which the younger brother replies, “someone stole Jesus and the pastor thinks we did it!”

The part I don’t like about this joke is that it is so disconnected from the idea of child discipline. What, I ask my logical self, would the pastor have been trying to accomplish? But, in thinking about the question, “where’s Jesus?” this particular joke always comes to mind.

Where’s Jesus? Somebody stole him…

We laugh at the idea that someone would have the power to control Jesus’ coming and going. Or do we? These days it doesn’t seem to be so funny. At least the idea of Jesus seems to have been stolen. Stolen and replaced with a fake, plastic, moldable Jesus. This Jesus says whatever those who seek power in his name want him to say. This Jesus doesn’t really care about moral behavior if it gets in the way of the quest for earthly power. It’s interesting, this quest for power though. Because some who use it also try to make God into someone completely powerless.

644188_526552814037754_1413004826_nHow else to understand that meme that goes around after every school shooting…and every other atrocity that happens? This week I saw it as a photo of a t-shirt. It’s supposed to be a letter to God, along with God’s response. Here it is:

There is so much that is wrong and harmful in this.

First, the “God is not allowed in school” argument is referring to prayer. Compulsory prayer, led by a person in authority is not allowed in school. But any person can pray. Why not compulsory prayer? Because everyone is not of the same religion and even people of the same faith might have different interpretations of that faith. On this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who died fighting to defend freedom…freedom of religion is part of this freedom.

Second, the God of this meme is vindictive. The implication is, “I would help you but…” How else can you describe a God who would have the power to stop the violence but chooses not to.

Third, it blames people for supporting freedom of religion but then absolves those responsible of committing crimes with the misplaced logic that “if only we had organized prayer every day there would be no violence.”

Fourth, if the problem is that God is not allowed to be in school – through prayer – then we don’t really have any responsibility in the matter.

Last, and most importantly, it assumes a great arrogance in the human ability to dictate to God, where God can and cannot go. The God I know is more powerful than that.

Can we control where God goes? Is it then like the story of the children…Jesus is missing and they think we took him?

Where’s Jesus?

Right here in this world. Sent by the father because of love for the world. In fact, he was sent by love for the world, not to condemn it, “but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17). This is not because of anything we did, or could do. Jesus is here because of God’s love for the world.

This is what Jesus told Nicodemus during his late-night visit. It was a late-night visit because Nicodemus was afraid of what the other leaders would think of his associating with someone who’d just violently thrown people out of the temple…people who’d been abusing religion. Who’d made it a method of gaining wealth and power. Nicodemus didn’t understand.

I wonder how often we too are silent because we desire the approval of others…or fear their reactions. As I wonder this, I am increasingly convinced that now is the time to speak up. To counter the dangerous, hateful, and harmful depictions of God. I understand the fear. But I also see a need to speak up, especially for our neighbors.

Nicodemus visited in the night out of fear but later, after Jesus had been abandoned to a lonely death on the cross, Nicodemus was one of those who cared for his body. He had experienced the love of God through Jesus and it changed him. How might that love change us? Will we share the love that we’ve received to a world that is need of experiencing it? I hope so.

 

A Big Distraction

This is a sermon based on John 17:6-19

I confess that I struggle reading this prayer from Jesus. Whenever I read it, it seems as if the words go in circle after circle. After about the third circle my mind is dizzy and I’m ready to jump off. Maybe this is why I don’t seem to have preached on this text.

But this week, finally, I understood something.

This something is connected to the text (and thus message) for the past two Sundays. Which, duh, of course it is…it is all the same discourse. Except that today, Jesus is no longer instructing his disciples, he is instead praying for them.

Two weeks ago (Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8), we contemplated the vine and the branches. We were reminded that no matter how things may look, we have Jesus. While the vine is pruned, and in a church (or anywhere) this is a might painful process, we have the assurance that we are not pruned away. We have that promise that Jesus abides in us. We are then invited to abide in him. The good news was that his abiding or living in us is not conditional. It just is!

Then in last week’s text (The Greatest Fruit – John 15:9-17), Jesus took us a bit deeper. We were reminded that the fruit of the vine metaphor is love. I shared some delicious fruit with everyone and we talked about those things that distract us the way the abundance of sugar masks the natural sweetness of fresh fruit. The good news, again, is that Jesus loves each of us and he loves us collectively, as a church. His commandment is that we love one another…in the same way.

Sometimes this is hard to do…all those distractions that get in the way of our loving others. Today we are introduced to a mighty big distraction…hate. To get to this we need to weave our way through all that circular language…

About Jesus recognizing the disciples as belonging to God the Father, and yet given to him…

About being in the world but not of the world…

About truth and unity and a plea that the disciples are protected.

About his joy being made complete…as in love being present.

But the world will hate them.

Why? If what they are about is love…love of God and loving one another, why would the world hate them?

What do you think? (discussion ensued of those who advocate for others, like Colin Kaepernick who protests against racial injustice…by the way he was confirmed in a Lutheran church. We also talked about Martin Luther King Jr who’s unfavorable rating at the time of his death was more than 75% and is now over 90% approval.)

Here’s what I think. The world, as it is referred to here, doesn’t much like love. In the world, it is far better that people are divided and distracted. In the world, there is always a winner and a loser. In the world, there is the in group and the out group. In the world, things like racism, sexism, nationalism and other ismsare the currency of the day.

But to love one another means:

Thatwe love beyond the label, whatever it may be.

Thatwe see our neighbor, not as an opponent but as a precious child of God.

Thatwe defend our neighbor.

Thatwe leave our own comfort zones so that we can learn about and build community with our neighbor.

None of this should be controversial. But it is. And so, we might stay silent and inactive because we don’t want to be on the receiving end of criticism… of hate.

But Jesus is praying for us for expressly this reason.

This week I asked on my Facebook feed if anyone has received pushback for doing what was the right thing to do. Here are a couple examples of what I received:

  • We put a sign in front of our church offering a “Blessed Ramadan” for our Muslim neighbors. We were surprised at the negative response.
  • I am an immigrant from Mexico (and an American citizen). I tell the stories of, and advocate for my fellow immigrants. For this I am sometimes told to “go back where I came from.”
  • I once join with other kids in school and became a bully…attacking a fellow student who was Jewish. “Afterwards I felt really bad and went over to his house to tell him I was sorry.” Our relationship was never the same, but we are, thankfully, friends on Facebook today.

We all have the opportunity before us to love or reject our neighbor. How will we respond? Sometimes it’s hard to know…unless we’ve thought about, and even prayed about it in advance.

And that takes us back to today’s gospel, and to prayer. Jesus prayed for his disciples and today that includes us. It is prayer that helps us to see our neighbor. It is prayer that gives us strength in the face of opposition. It is a prayer that gives us hope in the midst of turmoil. It is prayer that gives us the power to love.

Let’s follow Jesus’ example and pray for one another…and then let’s harness the power of prayer so that we can better love God, one another, and our neighbor.