Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

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Abide With Me

11 September, 2017

Abide with me, let me know rest
Relieve the sorrow in my breast
Let not my strength or joy recede
Divine-healer, abide with me

Light my way in the darkest hour
No foe’s aggression robs my power
Let fear and doubt and anguish flee
Divine-healer, abide with me

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More Than Just Dust

7 September, 2017

For you are dust and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

God raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles and inherit a seat of honour. 1 Samuel 2:8

 

Growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1980s our house was heated by a boiler stove. Multiple times each day throughout the winter months and sporadically throughout the warmer months my father or mother would go outside in the cold and scrape the ashes from inside the boiler into a large metal trash can.  I once asked my father why he kept the ashes. After all, the wood had already been burned so it could no longer be used to heat the house. It was trash, so why not throw it out? 

My father said it was true the wood had been burned and the ashes left behind could not be used to heat the house, but it was not true that the ashes were trash. In fact, there was a lot that ashes could still do. In the winter, he would lay ashes on our driveway, which went up a small hill. Covering the driveway in ash helped melt the ice and gave the tires something to grip so the truck would not slide or get stuck at the bottom.  During the spring, the ashes could be used to enrich the soil in the garden and flower beds; it also helped ward off pests that could ruin a crop. In the summer it could be used to de-stink the dogs when they tangled with a skunk. In the fall ash could be combined with water to clean silver. Though it did not look like much, there were still many uses for the ash.

We, also, are made of ash. Everything we are composed of is the ash, or dust, of stars after they have burned their fuel. We may not always seem special, but we are never trash. We each have something profoundly us that we can offer to others. Sometimes we forget that about ourselves and about others. Many cisgender and heterosexual Christians have forgotten this truth in regards to the LGBTQIA community. They write us off as just trash. Recently, a group of Evangelical Christians wrote a multiple point declaration they named The Nashville Statement that put the LGBTQIA community in the ash heap of Christian faith. They decried us as fallen, broken, sin-filled, and dangerous. They have forgotten that they are also the dust of stars and that we are also more than just dust. Each of us, no matter how we may look or how others perceive us, has something unique to offer Community. The young bisexual girl at school is an excellent math tutor. The androgynous presenting person in the office is a fantastic copy editor. The gay man who works at the auto store is the only one you trust to give you honest, solid advice on filters and plugs. The trans woman at Starbucks is gregarious and friendly with customers. Yes, it is true they are not ashes in common moulds, but they are special none the less.

You, my loves, are special none the less.

 

Reflection

In what ways am I more than just?

How do we learn to see others as more than just their background or appearance?

 

Prayer

Divine Light, we draw our bodies from the dust of stars and we will return as dust to them, but we draw our value and worth from you and the unique and precious gifts you have given us. Help us to see our value and respect the value you have instilled in others.

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On Lukewarm Christianity and the Nashville Statement

31 August, 2017

In light of the Nashville Statement I have a scriptural reminder for those clergy and congregation members who have decided to remain neutral:
“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:14-16
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24
The good thing that has come out of the Nashville Statement is that I and other LGBTQ people of faith know where the signatories stand in regard to our ability to worship and participate in community. They have pulled the sheets from their faces and made it clear their communities are dangerous, are toxic, to us and we can separate ourselves and our faith from them. It has, also, brought to the fore religious leaders who are unequivocally on the side of the oppressed. It helps us to see where we are welcome and where we can be full and contributing memebers as our authentic selves.

Churches, clergy, and laity who stand silent in the face of announced discrimination and hate are dangerous places for LGBTQ people. It gives us an ungrounded hope that maybe we are welcome while providing enough doubt that we can never act and live as ourselves for fear of condemnation. In their attempt to be everything to everyone, these communities are crushing the spirits of LGBTQ members who are forced to live in a state of doubt and fear. No one can worship and commune when they are living in fear of rejection. As it says: were you hot or cold we would know where we stand with you, but as you are lukewarm, we are left neither fully part not fully barred from community.

If you are clergy, we need you to make clear from the pulpit that we are welcome in your house. We do not expect that every member of the congregation will be in agreement with you, but it makes it clear that if/when conflict comes you are in our corner; that we can rely on you to stand with us and preserve our right to worship. Or, to express the opposite, so we can know that we are not viewed as integrated members and we can seek a place where we are.

If you are laity, we need to know you are accepting of us or not accepting of us. It is to everyone’s benefit that your views are clear. If we have an ally in you, we know that we can be genuine with you. When we are able to be vulnerable with you it opens us to be a support for you when you are feeling weak and vulnerable. It allows us to offer our whole selves in our support of you. Conversely, we need to know if you are not accepting because we will know that our genuineness would hurt both of us.

Or maybe you do not know own where you stand on this. If that is you, I urge you to be honest about that. Ask respectful questions, get to know us as people both as LGBTQ people but also as people of faith and members of a community. Hiding from what you do not understand or are uneasy with will not help you to grow and learn. Seek to understand us; we are willing to meet you on that path and we are open to learning about you as a person of faith, as well.

Do not stand neutral in the face of this deceleration. Use it to make your stance known or to embrace your own doubt and to grow.

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Draw the Circle Wider

9 December, 2016

​I do not like having to be political. I do not like drawing “us” and “them” lines when it should always be a collective us. I want to find common ground and shared hope. I believe that all people can work together for basic human rights regardless of their background. We are made more human by our willingness to listen.

I am heart-sick over the increasingly antagonistic posts I have been seeing friends make. Instead of working together to hold administrations accountable despite differences in politics or opinions, people are digging metaphorical moats to divide themselves. Instead of looking at actual actions taken by those in charge and rationally questioning their choices and motives, people are pointing fingers, calling names, and inflaming the aggressive fever ripping through us. Posts are becoming more polarised and less humane. In denouncing the other’s dehumanising actions more and more of my friends are resorting to stripping the other of humanity. Words like “libtards,” “croney-conservatives,” “sheeple,” and “brown shirts” are common place on my news feed. These words divide us from the humanity of those who have disagreed with us. These words divorce us from the reality that we are speaking about real people, with real struggles, and real fears. These words do not invite discussion or compassion or healing.

Now I am seeing people whose politics were in general alignment and whose interests paralleled one another flinging accusations at one another and blaming allies for what went wrong. Accusations of being too “politically correct” or too “moderate” or too “divisive.” People who should be comforting each other are instead othering their neighbours and blaming them for what has been lost. Our culture is becoming so fractured that we cannot even see the humanity in the very people we say we are trying to help. We carve up our country into camps of “rational” and “irrational,” “white collar” and “blue collar,” “urban” and “rural,” “queer” and “normative;” then we label those camps “righteous” or “self-serving,” “all progressive” or “all regressive,” “wise” or “foolish,” “heroic” or “villainous.” We drive equality from our nation because we no longer see all people as deserving respect and dignity.

I am put in mind of the Gospel of Matthew. The Jesus we see in Matthew is different than the Jesus in Luke and Mark and radically different than the Jesus in John. This Jesus is angry and draws lines. He divides people into two camps: those worthy of heaven and those not worthy of it. He says to the crowds, if you do this you are not worth to enter my father’s house but if you do that you are. Then, a while later, he says to those who were deemed worthy, if you do this then you shall be cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then he turns to those who remain saying, if you do this you are fit only to the pit and the never dying flames. Soon he is even drawing divisions in his disciples and then he is saying even to those left they have failed him by falling asleep while praying. And then he is alone but, in the end, even he is unworthy of God’s kingdom and love “for it is written ‘cursed is he who hangs on a tree'” and he cries out to God asking why he has been forsaken. He dies and in the story Matthew’s pen tells what happens is love. Love that reaches out past the tree and the forsaking to extend to the outcast, to extend to Jesus, but the catch of that love is it must then be extended to everyone else, it must be extended to everyone that Jesus’s lines excluded. There is no middle ground. All are worthy of respect and dignity or none are worthy.

I do not know how our nation can pull itself back together or even if it can, but I can offer a small example from my life. It is not an example of success nor is it an example with a happy ending, but it is an example of making the attempt:

My brother and I had a falling out several years ago and we are on very different paths politically and socially. He does not read what I post and I do not read what he posts. He no longer shares his political opinions with me and I do not share mine with him. But, in spite of all that is between us, I still hold his humanity at the fore. I still send him texts asking how he is, expressing sympathy when something bad happens, or just saying I love him. Sometimes he responds and sometimes he does not, but I do not let that interfer with seeing him as a person with struggles and concerns. If I allow my dislike of his politics to prevent me from recognising his heart and humanness than there will never be common ground between us and there will never be a potential for reconciliation between us.

I cannot bank on a person’s politics because politics are fleeting and change when convenient. I cannot trust in their understanding because their ability to offer understanding is so dependent on their experiences. I can only look for the common threads. I can only weave love with these threads and offer a garment of peace. If I polarise my life on the political alone, I create new enemies everyday. If I seek to build relationships on shared humanity, I open myself to potential allies and friends. Accusations and hate cannot bind our wounds, but maybe love and respect and basic dignity can.

As the song says, Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. Let this be our song; no one stands alone (Gordon Light & Mark Miller).

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A Call to Divine-Love

18 April, 2015

In her new book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans writes of baptism, The Christian’s descent into the water represents a surrender, a death, to the old way of living. Emergence represents a resurrection, a starting over again. Her words made me pause and I wondered what it is we die to and what we are resurrected into. These are difficult questions and I know that many people far smarter that I am, including Ms. Evans, have struggled to answer these questions. As a teacher, however, I am wired to clarify my thoughts and to share them with others. From my experiences with love and faith and reflection on when I have felt closest to the Divine, I find myself wondering if what we die to is our hindrances and what we are born into is the practice of Divine-Love.

Learning to accept God’s love is a process of little deaths. It is allowing anything that hinders us from having a relationship with God, anything that limits or dampens our experience of Divine-Love, to fall away. There are some things that we can mutually agree are hindrances to our experience of Divine-Love, such as the harbouring of hate and me-centred behaviours, but more often, the things that separate us from Divine-Love are specific to us and our frailties. What separates me from God may not be what separates my sister from God. I struggle to see God’s love when I watch shows with bitter, cynical heroines; they are a stumbling block for me because they encourage a very pessimistic view of the world, but for my sister they may only be entertainment because such shows do not affect how she sees others. For my sister it may be alcohol or spending, violent images or popular music, excessive intellectualism or shallow relationships. What matters isn’t an agreed upon list of what interferes with a God-Centred life but how we respond to our hindrances and to each other. We are called to limit or eliminate things that will hurt us and we are called to encourage our sisters in their walk. What we are not called to do is determine for them what their stumbling blocks are nor are we to make our frailties their frailties by extension. If I struggle with alcohol, it would be kindness from my sister to not drink around me, but it would be cruelty on my part to say my sister should never drink. Conversely, if my sister struggles with loving herself unconditionally she should not resolve her struggle by defining who I am or can be, but I should respond to her with compassion and encourage to see herself and others as God does. We cannot judge what is in the hearts of others, we can only address what dampens our own heart’s receptivity to love. This is why the attempt by Christians to categorise acceptable and unacceptable sins or to limit church membership to certain individuals defies the very nature of Divine-Love.

If we are constantly shedding our hindrances, our dead behaviours and attitudes, we must replace these things with something better. We must allow ourselves to be resurrected into the compassion that sought us out, the non-judgemental love given to us without expectation. Divine-Love reaches out for us regardless of our flaws and imperfections. God does not say “I will love you if… .” This is a very difficult concept for us to grasp because human-love, no matter how pure, is always conditional. There are many things that our love survives but there are limits. Perhaps that love hits its limit when our significant other cheats on us, when the child we sacrificed for makes choices we can’t agree with, when our parent changes, or when we grow apart from our friends. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we have limits and those limits are there because we love through reciprocity; both sides give and both sides get. Divine-Love, however, is different. Divine-Love is given without the need for reciprocity. This is not the love of a hopeless lover, because even she hopes the person she loves will love her back. The closest we can come to understanding it is found in compassion for those who have hurt us. It is radical mercy. Desmond Tutu demonstrated such love when he urged Nelson Mandela to show mercy toward those who benefited from and perpetuated apartheid. Tutu called it reconciling forgiveness. Reconciling love is offered without regard to what will be returned. This is the love that we are resurrected into and because we have received it and been shaped by it, we are able to give it to others. Unfortunately, we are not perfect vessels for Divine-Love; we are mentally and physically incapable of its constant expression. Thankfully, we have not been called to be. Instead, we are called to move toward it. Having been born into reconciling love we are beholden to move ever deeper into it. As we grow and mature, we should express this love a little more consistently and a little more purely. A few might progress great distances, but all of us will gain ground. Through practice and patience (with ourselves more than anyone else) our capacity for compassion will grow; we will each be able to hold a little more and in response give a little more to everyone else.

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I Am Tired

19 February, 2015

I am tired of fighting

I am tired of disrespect

I am tired of being pegged in a slot

And not allowed out

 

I am tired of hatred

I am tired of gossip

I am tired of turning on each other

And not trusting love

 

I am tired of hypocrisy

I am tired of entitlement

I am tired of judgemental friendship

And not being kind

 

We don’t build with hate

We build with love

 

We don’t build with gossip

We build with honesty

 

We don’t build with distrust

We build with community

 

But right now …

… I cannot build

… I am frustrated

… I am at my lowest

 

I am tired

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Trans* Theology: On Trans* Individuals, Inclusion, and Christianity

3 January, 2013

One of the most vexing questions for trans* and cis Christians is how God views trans* individuals. Both inclusionists and fundamentalists turn to the Bible for support, however, the passages that support inclusion are rarely addressed in sermons or in the media. Below you will find the passages that argue for inclusion and the interpretations that support inclusion not just by trans* individuals or local churches but also by entire denominations.

Key Verses:

So God created humanity in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created humanity; male and female God created them. — Genesis 1:27

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28

Let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says YAHWEH: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.’ — Isaiah 56:3-5

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it. — Matthew 19:21

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture [Isaiah 56:3-5] he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. — Acts 8:35-38

A Note on Language:

When the various books of the Bible were written across the cultural and temporal timespan they cover, there was not a word for transsexual or transgender. The word eunuch, however, included three categories, only one of which was what we understand as a modern day eunuch. The other categories included under this umbrella-term were men who chose celibacy and birth-assigned males who dressed and lived as women (in other words, trans* individuals).

A Note on Formatting:

Anything directly quoted will appear in italics and any commentary from me will be in plain-face.

Site Reference 1 (Presbyterian, Reformed):

http://www.whosoever.org/v2Issue2/starchild.html

This Biblical commentary on Isaiah 56:4, Matthew 19:21, and Acts 8:35-38 (along with other passages) specifically addresses the idea of trans* individuals in a context of Christianity and explains why the Presbyterian, Reformed church feels their inclusion by the Church is part of God’s plan.

Important Passages:

 

  1. We see this new inclusion and celebration in the unfolding of Salvation History in Acts. Before the marvelous stories of the enfolding of the Samaritans and of the Gentiles into the Church we have the wonderful little story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is interesting that when he meets Philip, the Eunuch, most likely a Jew who probably knew that Deuteronomy excluded him from the covenant, was reading the prophet Isaiah, which envisions the inclusion of eunuchs. Unlike Peter, who needed a vision from heaven to cross the boundary of including Gentiles, Philip needed no prodding to know that the Spirit was calling him to include eunuchs in the Kingdom of God. Philip proclaims the Good News, the eunuch believes and is received into the family of faith immediately by Baptism. Thus the first boundary that was broken down in our Baptism in Christ was not one of religious differences or race, but one of unusual gender conditions.

 

  1. Sin, of course, does enter the story and it wrecks havoc with this mutual enjoyment. But the story of our redemption is a story of returning us to our original blessings. The goal of the Christian life is not for us to feel alienated from our True Selves, from one another, from all creation, and from God, but instead to be restored to a state of connection and the original sense of “rightness”. Transsexuals, in seeing that the relationship between their persons and their bodies is incongruent and in seeking to create a congruency where one didn’t exist before, are in a real sense fulfilling the mandate of Genesis is [sic – *in] a way that people without Gender Issues are not capable of doing. Transssexuals are people who are able to continue the task of creation and to take up the task of subduing the earth to make it fruitful within their own bodies. In a real sense, then, Transsexuals have a direct and powerful connection to the creation as creatures made in the image of God, for this connection is within their own beings!

 

  1. If God calls us to be farmers, shop-keepers, house-wives, lawyers, craftsmen, pastors, laborers, or whatever, God expects us to find fulfillment in that calling. If something stands in the way of that inner fulfillment and satisfaction, it stands in the way of our ability to serve God and God’s world well in our calling. A sense of Vocation would drive us to remove whatever barriers make it difficult for us to fulfill our calling. If Gender Dysphoria keeps one from being who they truly are and fitting into the reality around them, then it keeps them from serving God to the best of their ability. Vocation then demands that the individual do whatever they can to change this Gender Dysphoria. We now know that the body’s gender can be changed to fit the mind’s gender, but the opposite cannot be done. [emphasis added]

 

  1. So these two Reformed doctrines, Creation and Vocation, not only support people with unusual gender conditions having a freedom within the Church to change their outward gender, but in a sense they teach us that such folk are actually engaged in a sacred and holy task when they undertake such a difficult passage. Rather than attempt to see this passage as something shameful and guilty, we must see it as children of God taking seriously God’s creation of them as creatures who are made in the image of God being therefore co-creators with God and see it as children of God taking seriously God’s calling of them to ruthlessly remove any hindrances to their being whom God desires them to be so they may serve God to their fullest.


Site Reference 2 (Transsexual Road Map > Spirtuality):

http://www.tsroadmap.com/mental/spirit.html

Written by trans women for trans women, this section of the Road Map explains how trans* individuals have an accepted place within Christianity.

Important Passages:

 

  1. See the section Passages from Scripture for a commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5. Read it in its entirety as it is too logical, contextual, and supportable to paraphrase.

 

  1. Isaiah 56:4-5

In contradiction to the rules against eunuchs in Deuteronomy stands this passage from Isaiah:

“For thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths [sic], who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

“Shall not be cut off??” Who says the Bible doesn’t have much humor! That’s a pretty bad pun! This passage is especially useful for transsexuals, since it appears in the Old Testament along with the Deuteronomy passage.

 

  1. Matthew 19:12

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about eunuchs:

For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen. Some believe it is a discussion of voluntary celibacy, but the fact that Christ mentions people born that way indicates to me a birth condition. Some have also interpreted this to mean gays, which doesn’t seem out of the question. However, I think the most literal interpretation would include intersexed (born that way) and transsexual persons (made that way). Regardless of interpretation, the main point is that anyone able to receive the Kingdom of Heaven may do so.

 

  1. Mark 9:43-47

[For those who feel the “body augmenting” of transsexuals goes against the idea of your body as “God’s temple” (I Corinthians 5:19).]

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about altering one’s body:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen as well. While it is rarely taken as a literal exhortation, it does seem to say that your bodily form does not matter, and that altering it will not exclude you from entering heaven.


Site Reference 3 (Episcopal):

http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/episcopal-church-transfigured

This site is a recounting of the Episcopal church’s choice to allow trans* individuals to participate in church life and to also allow their ordination.

 

Important Passages:

  1. [T]he House of Deputies—one of the two Houses in The Episcopal Church’s bicameral system of governance – passed resolutions D019 and D002. D019 garuntees trans* individuals access to the life and governance of the church – so, for instance, it clarifies that transgender people can be Eucharistic ministers, vestry members, retreat attendees or leaders, etc and D002 allows trans* individuals to serve as ordained leaders in the church.
  1. A Deputy from Alabama (yes, that’s right, Ala-Bible-belt-bama) quoted Isaiah 56:4-5 and said: These were a people that formerly had not been allowed access to the assembly.  They had been a people cut off—unwelcome because of what we might refer to as their gender identity and expression—but now they were welcomed.  We must name what God has named.


Site Reference 4 (A Sermon for Transgender Day of Remembrance):

http://www.camposiris.com/a-sermon-for-transgender-day-of-remembrance/

I’ll leave you with this quote from a sermon delivered by Shay, a trans man who is also a pastor. It is taken from the the sermon he gave on his seminary’s first TDoR service during which he addressed Isaiah 56:3-5. I think this sums it all up:

 

Some scholars have said that the eunuch is the closest biblical example we have to modern transpeople [sic]. Whatever the case, eunuchs were outcasts from society. They were denied a place in the holy assembly. They were looked down upon and despised. And yet here God is saying that they will be given a name that is better than sons and daughters. Friends, this is good news to transgender and gender non-conforming people. We know what it means to have names chosen for us that don’t fit, or to be called names that are hurtful. We also know what it means to choose names for ourselves that represent all of who we are. And we honor one another by using those chosen names even when others refuse to.

But to have an everlasting name; one that will not be cut off; this is hope for those of us who feel like outcasts. This monument is hope to those who have been killed and to those who worry they will be forgotten. This passage brings me great comfort: to know that I am a beloved son of God and that God gives me an everlasting name, even if my family rejects me, even if the church doesn’t want me, there is a place for me in God’s eyes. This isn’t just some cheap hope. I don’t offer it as a placebo, to say that we should stop fighting for our place at the table, our place in society and the church. Instead I offer it as a raft in the ocean for when the fight gets too hard. I offer it in response to the fearful hallelujah. I offer it because it’s the best I have to offer. We are beloved children of the Universe and no one can take that away from us. We are beloved children. We are beloved.