Dear Black People,

I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.

I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.

Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.

The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”

I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.

For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.

Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.

When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.

Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.

I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.

Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.

It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.

Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.

We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.

Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.

So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.

Or are they?

I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.

I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.

Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.

If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).

I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.

In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.

Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.

To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.

White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.

Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”

Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.

Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.



The Invisible Hand

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

We are in a moral morass thanks to the SCOTUS ruling that a baker does indeed have the right not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple due to religious beliefs. It would have been a totally different case had the baker just posted a sign that said, “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” and kept his mouth shut. But, he didn’t. He brought in the phrase through counsel that “decorating cakes is a form of art through which he can honor God and that it would displease God to create cakes for same-sex marriages.” Here’s where that gets tricky. It was masterful to bring in artistic expression…. probably the only reason that this became a SCOTUS case in the first place.

Let me be clear- these are the ramblings of my legal brain, after completing a course in Constitutional Law (in which I did very well) and becoming a paralegal in the state of Texas, which does not give me license to either claim understanding of Colorado law or dispense legal advice, but does prove that I understand rules of civil procedure. It has nothing to do with how I feel morally about being treated like a second class citizen. I am talking about jurisprudence, which often departs from morality.

The truth is that the ruling was sound. I’m sorry, it’s terrible, and it’s the truth. One paragraph in a news article regarding Kennedy’s opinion stands out to me, and apart from anything else, it is the question at issue on which the entire case rests:

Kennedy, the author of some of the court’s most important gay-rights rulings, began by explaining that the case involved a conflict between two important principles: on the one hand, the state’s power “to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services”; and, on the other, the “First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.”

In that vein, I find for the baker as well. Again, artistic expression is key in this First Amendment ruling. It is also important to note that this case began before Kennedy’s landmark gay rights rulings occurred, so some of the ruling reflects being “grandfathered.” On the other hand, the state of Colorado did itself no favors:

The Court concluded that the [Colorado Civil Rights] Commission’s actions violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to use hostility toward religion or a religious viewpoint as a basis for laws or regulations. Under the facts of this case, the Court determined that Phillips’ religious justification for his refusal to serve Craig and Mullins was not afforded the neutral treatment mandated by the Free Exercise Clause.

This conversation is not over, but it does not begin and end with this SCOTUS ruling. It begins with the American population. An overwhelming majority of Americans support gay marriage, and, in fact, its sanctity. It is time for the hand of the market to reflect it. More powerful than any court decision is not giving money to businesses who discriminate against anyone, and to fight like hell for sexual orientation to become a state and federally protected class.

I understand both sides of the issue- wanting to correct a wrong, and also being skeptical of wanting to give a raging homophobe your money in the first place.

And if you are a liberally religious person, it is time to stand up and reclaim Jesus as your own. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so as theologian Jim Rigby proclaims, it cannot be essential to his teachings. I personally believe that because Jesus was all about widening the net of acceptance, he would be horrified at current Biblical literalism. As in all things, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. If we are to have true religious freedom in this country, the Religious Left needs to do more to make itself known- not that they are not fighting the good fight, but they do not have the clout, basically controlling an entire political party, of the Religious Right. It is not my goal for the Religious Left to control the Democratic Party, because I believe that separation of church and state should remain intact.

I do believe, however, in protesting all of the freedoms that the Religious Right says we should not enjoy, because they are trying to create a theocracy…. As in, you can have religious freedom as long as it’s the one we believe, too.

Never forget that we also have the right to fight like hell for freedom from religion, as well. Even as a liberal Christian, I am on board with this, because again, separation of church and state should remain intact. Religion can and should influence how we vote, but as a result of going into our closets to pray and meditate, not trying to subvert the entire political process.

We were warned a long time ago, and we didn’t listen:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

-Barry Goldwater

It has become so prevalent that the word “Christian” is associated with bigotry and literalism that it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach to admit I am one, because I don’t want to be lumped in with the uncompromising Word of God™ that needs no translation after thousands of years, becoming stagnant and not the ever-living document it was meant to be. For instance, I think that we are constantly adding to the Gospel, that our words are no less important than the ones set forth for us by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. They were just regular people, like us, who felt divine inspiration…. and not only that, it was a regional council in 1546 which resulted in the Canon of Trent.

Furthermore, the King James edition was specifically made to reflect the views of the Church of England, the basis for the Protestant church today. So think about all of those regular people we left out…. all of whom had something to say and weren’t deemed worthy of inclusion.

We all need to keep writing the Gospel of our lives, whether or not it is deemed officially worthy of inclusion, because even if we are not included in “canon,” it is already well-documented that it doesn’t matter. Someone else long ago threw out regular people’s truths because it didn’t line up with their beliefs…. but that doesn’t render them invalid.

Because if we’re going to talk about religious freedom and the government, it has to reflect the changes in our own lives, as well. My favorite stories are the ones in which Biblical literalists step into the light of inclusion, leaving behind the comfort zone that is only “thisbig,” due to the threat of hellfire and damnation…. or simply reaching out to someone unlike themselves after un-thinking that it is unpleasing to God.

The reality is that reaching out to people unlike yourselves is the entire point of the Gospel. For that part, there is no translation needed.

We have to prove it with our money. Few things speak louder than fear of losing money or going completely bankrupt because of discrimination. We may have to drag bigotry out of society kicking and screaming, but it is what needs to happen. We cannot rely on the courts to do it for us. Some things have to start with realizing what is true for us, and acting on it.

Sometimes, the invisible hand of God working in our lives coincides with the invisible hand of the free market. It can either be life-stifling or life giving.

You get to choose.


Sermon for Proper 11, Year A: Subtraction

It might help to read the scriptures before you read the sermon, although if I put them here, my word count is bigger. 😛

In researching for this sermon today, I accidentally came across something profound in a novel called Quantum Lens, by Douglas Richards. I have two free book aggregators that comes to me through e-mail every day, and though it is not on sale anymore, it is worth every penny ($6.99). As an aside, because I’ve gotten so many books for free, my Kindle is breaking under the “weight” of everything I haven’t read….. But the lines I came across that struck me so deeply are these, and I’ll have to paraphrase:

Character 1: How many colors are in the rainbow?
Character 2: Seven, but with combinations, infinite possibilities.
C1: What color do you get when you look at all of them together?
C2: White.
C1: Right. Water is blue not because of addition. Water is blue because of subtraction. The water is not blue because it was made that way, but because the water subtracts everything but blue. What if God is the same way? God is not God because of addition, but because of subtraction? That God is all infinite possibilities and creates by subtracting pieces of God’s self breaking open?

In another part of the book, my mind was absolutely blown. One of the characters says that on the first day of creation, Genesis says, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Ok, so we’re there. It’s one of the most famous passages in all of scripture… and here’s where it gets interesting.

The sun and the moon and the stars weren’t created until the fourth day.

What if, without knowing it, quantum physics is explained in Biblical terms by the 3rd verse of the first chapter of the first book in the Bible… God separating light matter from dark in a concept not truly understood even today… Again, God working through subtraction and not addition.

God dividing themself rather than multiplying.

When you think of scripture in this way, we are all subtractions of God… tiny pieces of divinity flung throughout the world, no matter what kind of deity to which you identify. Eastern, Western, it’s all the same. What changes is the way we subtract from God willingly. If God has many names, they also have none. There is no separation from God, because you are a piece of them, cut of the same cloth:

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.

If I say, surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.

Psalms 139: 7-11

What would Christianity look like if we all saw ourselves in this way? What if we threw out the idea of the grandfather in the sky and all realized that God themself is within us, and not without? How would that change theology as we know it? Not for the people that study it every day, but for the people who think they are worthless, or friendless, or needy, or insecure, or all of the things we tell ourselves in our moments of weakness

What would it look like to know for sure that you are not a multiplication of God, but a subtraction? That God themself is in the beating of your heart, divinity you do not have to seek anywhere but in your own heart? What would it look like if all of God’s subtractions stopped subtracting from each other, because as a human race, we are all the same pieces?

What if we were able to subtract negativity, toxicity, war-mongering, famine… all the horrible things that humans do to one another because we do not realize that we are literally hurting ourselves? If everyone on earth is a subtraction of God, we are all literally the same person, with enough difference to make things interesting. We lash out in fear, but what if we were all able to turn that fear on its ear and reach out in the knowledge that when we treat each other unfairly, or engender anger and fear in others, we are only using a knife to cut our own hearts?

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Letter in the Spirit of Paul to the Romans

Who hopes for what is seen?

If we are to believe in this letter, we have a lot of work to do. “Paul” is urging us to set our own creation free. Chapter 8, from which this excerpt is taken, deals with the problem of righteousness and entitlement… that being saved in hope does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want without consequences. His ambition in this letter is to show that the Jews of his time practiced their faith by strict adherence to the law, and to him, there was no way on earth this was possible, or even probable. What speaks to “Paul” is spiritual submission, the act of doing the right thing because the law did not always line up morally.

Jesus freed us from all Talmudic law, which is the basis for the new church that “Paul” is trying to create. In effect, he wants to subtract Christians from the legal bondage that the Jews have created, to be able to follow their own hearts and minds. Reading between the lines, “Paul” is calling out all the Jews who live to the letter of the law and yet, have no spirituality at all…. but he’s trying to fix it. He is trying to show the Romans that they are not a church of their own, but part of a larger body, all subtracted from the same being.

There is also self-motivation as well as mobilization. “Paul” was eager to preach in Spain as the West opened up, and he knew that establishing Rome as a base of operations was his best bet. He laid his heart bare, establishing his theology, because he knew that his “reviews” from Rome would be mixed based upon his reputation without even knowing him…. because who hopes for what is seen? He was trying to hope for something bigger than the churches he knew well (to paraphrase Wm. Barclay).

In order to do this, he establishes that we must be responsible for our own well-being and that of others. Not to be claimed, but to own the claim we already have. “Paul” calls us the first fruits of the spirit, just sitting there, waiting.

What are we waiting for if God has already subtracted a piece of themself into us, so that we may further the message of the Christ on our own? If “Paul” was reaching beyond the hope that was already established, what is stopping us? What is stopping us from reaching out to the poor, friendless, needy, insecure, or otherwise hurt in a world that sometimes knocks us flat? What is stopping us from subtracting pain? What is stopping us from subtracting fear? What is stopping us from subtracting unity?

Glory is not about to be revealed to us. It is already here. What are we waiting for?


Sermon for All Saints Day 2015

Though Bethany is listed in the Gospel as the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, note that it was a place of healing long before Jesus got there. The Temple Scroll from Qumran, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, gives the number and exact measurements from Jerusalem in terms of places where the sick should be………… relocated. There should be three separate colonies, one exclusively for lepers. None of them could be within a three thousand cubit radius (about 1400 yards), and according to John, Bethany was 15 stadia (1.72 miles) southeast… out of view of the Temple Mount. Thus, it was the perfect location to hide away the ritually unclean, for two reasons. The first is medical; it prevented the spread of disease and infection. The second is social. No one had to look at the sick and dying, either.

Because the book of Matthew tells the story of Jesus dining with Simon the Leper in Bethany, it’s safe to assume that Bethany was the leper colony mentioned in the Temple Scroll.

Leprosy, today known as Hansen’s Disease, is a bacterial infection. It spread like wildfire because getting it was as easy as coming into contact with an infected person’s cough or phlegm, depending on how much of the bacteria was in the person’s system. Additionally, when you first come into contact with the bacteria, you don’t show any symptoms. If you looked bad enough to be sent to the leper colony, you could have already had the disease for years without knowing it, making it even easier for leprosy to become the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Today, it can be cured by a six or 12 month treatment of multiple antibiotics (depending on severity), now freely provided by the World Health Organization in case any of you Texans decide eating armadillo meat (yes, really) is a good idea.

Of course, back then there was no treatment, because not only had antibiotics not been invented, the idea of something called an “infection” or even a “germ” wouldn’t be introduced for hundreds of years. The only answer was complete isolation. Plus, lepers are not attractive people, which contributed to the temple’s need to stash them away.

Patients present with inflammation of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. As it progresses, lepers develop an inability to feel pain, so not only are their bodies and faces oddly shaped from the inflammation, they tend to have inexplicable wounds all over them because they’ve been hurt without even knowing it. In Bethany, the terrain is hilly, with a lot of brush and short trees… in other words, plenty of opportunities to trip and fall. If you can’t feel an injury, and you can’t see it, you won’t treat it, either. It’s a great recipe for secondary infection.

The classic image of leprosy is that it makes your fingers and toes fall off. This is untrue, although the people of the time thought so. What they thought of as fingers and toes “falling off” was actually secondary injuries causing tissue damage enough to make cartilage absorb into the body and bones to shorten.

If there’s nerve damage in the face, you lose the ability to blink, which can lead to blindness and even more chance for serious secondary injury and/or infection.

Leprosy rates are higher in places of poverty. This makes sense, because in the Aramaic, Bethany (or Beth Anya) means “house of misery” or “poor house.” Painting a picture of Bethany is not a beautiful one in terms of population. If you lived there, you were probably poor, sick, or both. It didn’t matter to Jesus, though. It was just the last stop before journeying into Jerusalem. While he was there, he found friends close enough to make it feel like home.

Jesus met Mary, Martha and Lazarus when he and the Disciples were passing through Bethany (although the village isn’t named in the Gospel of Luke) and the sisters opened their home to them. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her in the kitchen while he taught the Disciples, he said, Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. After that, they remained close.

When their brother got sick, Mary and Martha naturally wanted their friend. Not only did they need him for emotional support, they thought that Jesus might be able to heal Lazarus altogether. They sent Jesus a message saying simply, the one you love is ill. Notice that they did not ask Jesus to come to Bethany at all. They did not send a message of expectation. They knew that their friendship bond was strong enough for the message to stand on its own. St. Augustine was the first person to point this out, saying it was sufficient that Jesus should know; for it is not possible that any man should at one and the same time love a friend and desert him.

When he heard the message, Jesus said, this illness is not going to prove fatal; rather it has happened for the sake of the glory of God, so that God’s Son should be glorified by means of it. Political tensions were growing surrounding Jesus’ healing ability. I do not believe that Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, although there are many theologians who do. At that point, I think he believed in his ability to deal with the situation no matter what it was, but that when he healed Lazarus, it would give the Sanhedrin enough evidence to convict him. Jesus did not mean that he was going to Bethany to show off by bringing a dead man to life. He meant that if he healed Lazarus, he was the one that was going to die.

No good deed goes unpunished.
Clare Booth Luce, The Book of Laws

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

Looking at this scripture in this light, it makes more sense that Jesus waited two days before beginning the journey to Bethany. The gospel does not record why those two extra days were needed, but venturing into fiction, when you know you’re going to die, there are things you have to take care of, first. Perhaps he had to take care of his own panic before he could lead his disciples back into fire.

In John 11:6-10, the disciples are terrified, and they show it:

Now, when Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was ill, he continued to stay where he was for two days. But after that he said to his disciples: “Let us go to Judaea again.” His disciples said to him: “Rabbi, things had got to a stage when the Jews were trying to find a way to stone you, and do you propose to go back there?” Jesus answered: “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walks in the day-time, he does not stumble because he has the light of this world. But if a man walks in the night-time, he does stumble because the light is not in him.”

I believe that those two days were needed for Jesus’ presence of mind and clear vision. He had to pray for discernment, and ask the hard questions, like “am I really ready for this? If I perform another miracle, that’s it. My days are numbered because I already have a mark on my head and this will just send the Sanhedrin over the edge… and if they take me, they’re going to take me in broad daylight, because I will not run.”

When they reach Bethany, Mary is understandably upset, and so is Jesus:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

I depart from most theologians on this scripture. Most of the commentary I’ve read says that Jesus intentionally waited until Lazarus was indisputably dead just to make the miracle that much more…. well… miraculous. But the words “greatly disturbed in spirit” and “deeply moved” do not point to that conclusion.

To me, it is a moment of undeniable humanness. Jesus, in his need for clarity and discernment, is late. When the crowd reaches the tomb, John says again that Jesus is “deeply disturbed.” I believe he has heard the Jews in the crowd who said could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? After all, it’s going to be the Jews who scoffed at him who ignore the miracle entirely and rat him out to the Sanhedrin, anyway…. and he knows it.

He prays in supplication to show holy authority. The power to raise Lazarus from the dead does not come from him, but from God… and when he yells Lazarus, come out!, inexplicably, he does. Jesus then says to unbind him, and let him go.

This story is quite problematic because it is so great a miracle surely the other gospel writers would have heard about it. It’s also a problem because John says that this miracle was Jesus’ undoing, while in the other three gospels it is the cleansing of the temple… the story that beget the saying, “when asking ‘what would Jesus do,’ remember that getting angry and flipping over tables is a viable option.” To me, the cleansing of the temple seems like a much more punishable offense, but at the same time, if Jesus hadn’t cured Lazarus, would he have received such a spectacle of a welcome in Jerusalem (celebrated on Palm Sunday)?

I believe he would’ve. Jesus did something that none of the other Jews had the chutzpah to achieve- making the temple sacred once more. This story comes across as a parable mimicking Luke 16:19-31, which talks about a rich man and a poor man in the afterlife. The poor man, coincidentally (or not), is also named Lazarus. In it, the rich man begs Abraham to let Lazarus put some water on him because he is in agony. When Abraham denies his request, he asks him to send Lazarus to his house to warn his family of their fate if they keep treating poor people the way he did. Then, this conversation takes place:

Abraham: They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.

Unnamed Rich Man: I know, Father Abraham, but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.

Abraham: If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.

The Jews absolutely wailing at Lazarus’ death did not believe in a God who could change their lives even though a person rose from the dead right in front of them. We cannot possibly know what actually happened that day, but we cannot ignore the truth in the story altogether. It doesn’t matter whether Jesus raised Lazarus corporeally, but it does matter that if you feel dead inside, there is a way out.

Think about all the secrets that burn you up… the ones in which you’d rather be dead than tell. Everyone has them, because we are all human. What would it take to resurrect you and free you from that pain? Jesus is talking about walking in more than literal sunlight. The darkness is where we hide the things we’d rather not share, and in keeping them pent up, we limit ourselves from resurrection into a new life, one in which we can be our flawed human selves and have people love us, anyway.

Today as we celebrate the sainthood of those who have gone before us, I ask that you remember we call everyone who has passed on “saints,” but that doesn’t mean they were perfect when they were alive. They had the experience of loving and living just as we do right now, in the same “heavenly hell.” Talk about them as they were, and tell their stories of the death and resurrection that happened over and over in their lifetimes…. every time they had enough of the life they were living and decided to reach up for something more. Every time they resolved a problem they thought would never end. Every time they tried for perfection and reality got in the way but they bounced back, full and alive again. Talk about their Good Fridays, and every Easter afterward.

And then talk about yours.


Sermon for Pentecost 2, Year B: It’s Not You, It’s Me

[Editor’s Note: The reason I’m publishing my sermon early is that I want me to be me and Matt to be Matt. For those just joining us, Matt is my pastor at Christ Congregational Church, and I never want him to think that I’m just stealing his ideas. However, I don’t mind in the slightest if he steals mine. :P~]

There are some times when I’m reading the Lectionary and I just bust out laughing. Like, snot and tears everywhere and choking to keep it together. This week it was the conversation between Samuel and God, where Samuel is talking to God about the people rejecting him as king. God tells Samuel clearly that it’s not him they’re rejecting. It’s God. Then my sermon title came to me in a flash and I nearly fell out of my desk chair, just shaking with the hilarity of the moment.

Last week, I preached on Isaiah being called to serve God, and his emphatic “HERE AM I, SEND ME.” This week, the focus is on what to do if you stand up and the people say, “not so fast…” Or worse, the people have been happy with you for a long time and now, they just aren’t. But instead of being willing to stand in the rain and get wet, they just want the relationship to end altogether.

Does this in any way resonate with you? It should. It happens all the time. I am still reeling from it happening to me, so as you can imagine, I cannot help but take these scriptures personally and try to learn from them. The scriptures put together by the Lectionary are all designed around this theme, because it repeats over and over. Congregations get unhappy with their leaders just like they do with politicians. People also run away from their leaders because they know they’re right and hide in shame, anyway. Both of these things are equal in their power to disrupt leadership, but at either end of the spectrum. Let me give you a few examples taken straight from our scriptures today:

  • In the Samuel reading, the people get so mad that they just stomp off and follow someone else.
  • In the Genesis reading, Adam hides from the God who created him because he is so ashamed that he and Eve have done something that God expressly asked them not to do. He is not unhappy with the leadership so much as he is unhappy with himself. It reminds me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… “is there someone else up there we could talk to?”
  • In the Mark reading, Jesus has come home to a large crowd that thinks he has lost his ever-loving MIND…. that he has Satan in him because only Satan can cast out demons. Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms that they have lost their minds, instead. No wonder Jesus said of his hometown, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” because his own people were the first to become unhappy with him. [Editor’s Note: NOTE TO SELF]
  • In the Corinthians reading, Paul is heading into such strong opposition that he fears he is failing spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically…. perhaps even physically. The context of this passage is that he can feel he is near death (some believe this is due to epilepsy), and his words have urgency. Please, people. Believe. Carry my message forward. PLEASE!
  • In one of my favorite Psalms of all time, David pleads with Israel to wait upon God… to believe that God’s leadership is right and true. He knows this to be the case as he as often walked in darkness himself, and even though his time is long before the Christ, has seen redemption through Jehovah, the God he loves.

As you can see, it’s a pattern that will repeat until the end of time. The question for pastors in these scriptures is, “NOW WHAT?” How do we deal with both the people’s feelings of unworthiness in reaching out to God for help, and at the same time, seeing the flaws in our own leadership? Because come on. Leaders aren’t always right, and are sometimes too proud to see that reality. They are reticent to see the times when God isn’t speaking through them so much as they are taking too much license with what they have been given.

If you are not religious, think of all the politicians that claim God is speaking through them, and yet their policies clearly scream ego… that if they were really listening to God and not themselves, it would clearly be a different calling to ministry- using that term because politicians all over the world are called exactly that- ministers.

Again, where is the balance? We’re all in this together, in a sense. Both the religious and the spiritual, the born again and the atheists, because it’s all the same problem. Issues in the church are just a microcosm of what happens in the electorate, and that is true for the United States as well as all other countries who have democracy, and those that have monarchy.

You might think, “no. You are totally wrong. It’s not my problem. It’s my leaders. They’re the ones with the problems. Not me.”

Are you sure about that?

If you are religious, how are you running away from your leadership? If you are not, I ask you the same question in a different context. Are you expressing your unhappiness? Are you sitting in your own unworthiness? Are you hiding from the fact that you do have power to promote change… it’s just that you’re not using it? Are you just tuning out because it’s easier? Someone has to stand up and say, “HERE AM I; SEND ME!” Will it be you?

If you need real-life examples of  this, let’s look at the Catholics. I am flabbergasted by all the changes since Pope Francis came into power. He listened to the people’s distress with all of the problems inherent in the leadership trying to live in a 21st century world with a 19th century attitude and said, “enough is enough.”

I am waiting for the Anglicans to have that sort of revelation, because they are the ones that stomped off mad. They are the AntiFrancis. They are content to sit in their own stubborn beliefs that are eventually going to lead to their demise. They are secure in their own authority, the one that says the Bible doesn’t change as we do. They have ceased to look at the Bible as a living document, and their stagnation is evident… maybe not in terms of their numbers, but in the way that their views are slowly becoming antiquated and they are coming down on the wrong side of history. I mean, come on. They have a problem with women bishops. Please. If ever there was an example of leading through ego and not leading through God, it’s them.

Pope Francis is determined  to stop that kind of death, and the people are heartened and strengthened by it. The church is showing new life as more and more parishioners see that faith does have relevance in their lives as long as it moves forward with the context surrounding them. When the people cry out for change, they’re leading from the back, and because of Pope Francis, it is working.

So again, what kind of leader are you?

Do you believe, in the one true edge… by fastening your safety belts and stepping towards the ledge? Or are you content with letting your leaders decide your direction without your input? Worse, are your leaders crying out to you because you are wrong- either in the church or in politics, and you are forcibly running away from conflict? It’s not unprecedented. People have left churches, left countries, left relationships because they didn’t have the fortitude to get down and dirty and figure it out. How do we know when we are speaking from a place of soft power, and when we are broadcasting God as ego? That is not limited to leaders. That is everyone, everywhere.

If you are not religious, how are you rejecting President Obama, or any other president that comes to power? By rejection, I do not mean that you have to like your leaders. Affecting them is not committing to liking them. Affecting them is a call to leadership whether you agree with them or not. Rejecting them is not hearing them at all. I am using President Obama as an example not because he is the politician I like, but because he is president right now. There will be others, but we are talking about right here. Right now. Are you affecting change, or rejecting it?

If you are religious, how are you rejecting God? How are you rejecting the life lessons we have to learn from Samuel, Adam, Mark, Paul, and David? How are you mistaking your own ego from the light of Christ shown through you? How are you not submitting to the higher power that runs through us all? Because in the end, in order to lead, you have to get your own ego out of the way.

Are you willing to listen when God says, “it’s not me. It’s you?”

To me, that is the very essence of the Pentecost season. Pentecost was revealed to us through fire. Our job is to learn not to throw water at it, but learn to walk in it without getting burned.

Andy Doyle, my bishop in Texas, wrote a gorgeous prayer with which I’ll close that talks about this very thing. I ask that you sit with it for a while, because it brought me the fortitude to keep walking my path; to be a leader inspired by Christ and not by myself:

Gracious Father,

We pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior.


Blogging for Jesus

I have so much to write about that nothing is really sticking in one place. I am about as stoned as one can get on OTC medication- real Sudafed and Zyrtec together was a bad idea. All morning I’ve felt like I am walking through wall-to-wall Jell-o. I can’t pick a flavor. What seems right for a Friday? Leave it in the comments. Oh, wait. It’s peach. Friday peach (inside joke just for Meg [holla!]).

I should have bought the Sudafed PE instead, but in the past I have always told people it says, “does not work” right on the box. It is the deodorant crystal of sinus meds. But at the same time, I think it works better than the credit I’ve given it in the past. For instance, it does not suppress my appetite, and in my case, that’s a bad thing. I’m trying. I really am. For breakfast I had two pieces of rye toast smothered in margarine made of coconut oil because we don’t have any coffee. If you don’t get the reference, I thought it might be a good compromise for Bulletproof Coffee. If it doesn’t taste right, I’ll get the Kerrygold and a jar of real coconut oil. Everyone I know who drinks it is an evangelist (sometimes literally [shout-out to Casey, a real evangelical pastor]).

As I have said before, I feel better when I eat vegan food, so I’m trying to buy it more often. That’s not to say I’m a true vegan. I ate the hell out of some ribs and chicken on Memorial Day. I just pay for it later. Something’s not right with me, and I am going to make an appointment to see an internist to re-do the urine and blood tests for rheumatoid markers since Jacob isn’t my doctor anymore and I need to establish one here. It’s time. I can’t be passive about it. I have been out of fear of finding out what’s wrong with me. It doesn’t make any sense at all except that I’m scared of the reality of being sick. Samantha was brave enough to face her treatment plan head-on. The least I can do is follow her lead.

I watched her get angry, really really angry. Sobs and screaming to such a degree that I thought she’d gotten fired or something. If only she had been, because it would have been better news. Her dad said, “I thought you’d gotten engaged, won the lottery, or gotten pregnant.” Again, if only. I don’t want to share her diagnosis to protect her privacy, but I think she’s starting to write about it herself. If she does, I will link that bitch up. She is almost as funny as I am. 😉

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

Getting over Dana has been so much easier with you guys. I can vent, I can cry, and you’ll still love me afterwards. Of course, you’re not here for the crying part, but I know there are parts of my writing where you know I’m feeling something. My hope in writing about this mess is that it continues to let me bless and release this relationship without being bitter and angry. It has gotten me nothing in the past. I really do go out with joy in terms of Argo and Dana, because I know I was the problem in many cases, not just one. At the same time, though, it is feeding me to feel joy that the relationships happened in the first place, rather than being an angry asshole that they ended. Not every relationship is supposed to be lifelong. Nothing is stopping me from sending good energy so that if they come here and read something that strikes as true, we can pick up later on. I do not have hope, but I do have peace, if that makes any sense at all. I just know that if they show up, they’re not going to be received in anger. That’s the best I can do in a situation like this, because they both mean so much to me that it doesn’t make sense to hold on to the bad feelings. It makes sense to hold on to the good. Not that it will make them any more likely to show up or not, just that I have peace within myself and the direction I am going without them.

I workshop all my feelings to go back and find what is truth and not what is said in the moment. In the moment, I say things that may or may not ring true later… that’s why you see so much difference in the way I feel day to day, and sometimes they’ll give you cognitive dissonance unless you hold on to the fact that it’s just a snapshot and not the whole picture. Timestamps MATTER. It’s kind of like walking the Bible, in a way. That’s why there are opposing views in it, too. You have to know when the books were written and in whose voice to really understand it. The difference between my blog and the Bible is that there’s only one voice, and in the Bible, there are many.

I just had an epiphany. “Stories” is my blog. The Bible is theirs. Moses, Mark, Luke…. Pick a voice. They’re writing what they see in that date and time. Interesting. It may not matter much to you if you’re not a God person, but it struck me as important. Like, the Pentateuch is Moses’ blog. To me that is accurate AND hilarious.

Paul is the biggest blogger of them all. He writes letters to every church you can possibly imagine. Ephesus, Corinth, Caesaria Phillipi, you name it. Paul was ON IT.

Man, that was a shot in the arm of energy. They wrote their books of the Bible. I’m writing mine. What makes us think that our words about the works of Christ in our lives (or Moses, for that matter) are any less sacred? They may not make canon, but neither did Tobit, and yet, his words are accepted by some congregations, anyway. Still meaning to read Elaine Pagels’ seminal work on the gospel of Judas that didn’t make it, but it’s on my to-do list. Also, I am going to read every word that Karen Armstrong has ever written, because I’ve seen her on TV and I think she is one of the best theological minds in the world. She posits that the reaction to the divine is more important than the divine itself, and has been since the beginning of creation. It’s why you can forget about disproving God with science, because science and religion feed different things. I feel sorry for the Biblical literalists that can’t see it, because I think they’re being left behind in this realm, much less the Rapture (still giggling over “Come the Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned” and “Come the Rapture, Can I Have Your Car?” Didn’t write ’em. Still funny.).

They’re being left behind because they are taking an ancient society and trying to fit their rules into ours. Will it Blend? I think not. The best we can do, and I got this line from Susan Leo, is to take the Bible seriously, but not literally. The Bible is the lens through which those people saw their world, and we can use it as a living document, much like the Constitution. As the UCC so eloquently says, “God is still speaking.” I’m just trying to figure out what God is saying to me. I have a lot of work to do. Knowing the direction you need to go and knowing the concrete steps to get there are two different things. Putting one foot down on holy ground was asking Starbucks to donate coffee….. but where does my other foot go? I am not afraid. I am confused. There’s a difference.

Luckily, I have people who believe in me that I can go to for help. Like you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep listening. Keep praying for me. Keep supporting me. Keep seeing the vision, and if you want, ask me how you can help. I will put you to work, that’s for damn sure. I can’t do this alone, and I’m not. When I put myself out there, people listen. I’m not used to that sort of thing, but I’m getting there. I’m taking back my power from the weakling I’d become due to my own unworthiness.

You have no idea how much you’ve helped to erase that feeling. All your donations, all your love notes, all your prayers and PRESENCE. Presence is the biggest thing. If God works through us, then I see God in your eyes. You matter to me, Fanagans. You gave me self-esteem and confidence at a time in my life when I desperately needed it. You reached into your own godspaces and treated me with everpresentlovingkindness that stemmed from your own willingness to give of yourselves.

As Gracie Allen so famously said, and another slogan adopted by the UCC, “never place a period where God has placed a comma,”

My comma is happening right now, in this very room. Downsizing into staying in someone else’s house so that I could manage less and think more is propelling me into a different Leslie than you’ve ever seen before. I still slip and slide through life what with my cerebral palsy and ADD and running into things, both literally and figuratively. At the same time, though, I am thinking through different things than I ever thought I would. I have a bigger capacity for growth. That only happened when I let myself into my innermost secrets.

I am so glad I decided to invite you along for this glorious ride. We’ve been through the valley together. Let’s go to the mountain top. I’ll bring the champagne. You bring the hugs.