Posts Tagged ‘god’

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Going to Church

January 23, 2009

I went to church last Sunday.  Big deal.  So did millions of other people.  It was a big deal, at least for me.  It has been over 3 weeks since I left my position as music director at a Disciples of Christ Church.  In the past 25 years, I’ve had very few Sundays in which I could experience church services that are outside of my own experience.  I’ve been employed continuously by churches since 1982, with the longest hiatus from music ministry being about 2 months.  One of the problems of being “in charge” of worship is that one rarely sees how others go about it.  This abrupt leave from my music job is the perfect opportunity to visit and make observations at other churches. 

 

The chosen destination for this past Sunday was my husband’s church, one which I’d never attended services at because I was always at the organ of my own church.  We loaded up the kids of our blended family that were with us for the weekend and headed out in the snow to the church in the country.  It’s part of a small, protestant denomination that tends to be traditional and evangelical.  They are awaiting the arrival of their newly hired minister, so it is understandable that this service may not have been a good example of what things are like there on a regular basis.  And that’s a good thing. 

 

The people were friendly and happy to see Scott.  They greeted me warmly and welcomed our children.  We took our bulletins and found a seat, taking a moment to arrange ourselves comfortably.  The organist began the prelude and I immediately got nervous.  I’m a musician, and a good one.  When I hear church musicians who are struggling, I become anxious.  This woman was having such a difficult time with her chosen prelude, that it took me quite some time to determine what she was playing.  It was an old evangelical hymn  Out of the Ivory Palaces. 

 

Which leads me to the next problem I had with the service: the lack of meaningful, timely hymns.  The hymnal, by my estimation, was at least 25% contemporary Christian music, or “praise choruses”  which I’d hardly call contemporary considering that they were at least 25 years old in most cases.  If a song has been around long enough to be included in a hymnal, printed, promoted, and sold to a congregation;  and the congregation uses the hymnal for a significant period of time, it’s difficult to consider the music “contemporary”.   The one “traditional” hymn planned for the morning worship service was an old Holiness Movement song “We’re Marching to Zion”.  It was sung at a slower pace than I’m used to performing it, and the musicians, both pianist and organist, lacked the skills to transpose it into a key in which most congregants could comfortably sing.  Imagine being out of breath and reaching for high notes.

 

When the ushers were called forward, I looked up to see 4 burly men walking forward.  I whispered to Scott  “is there a weight requirement?”  These guys were huge.   I said “what’s the minimum?  225?”  Seriously, I didn’t know if they were ushers or bouncers.  Of course, since this was an important job, handling the money, all of the ushers were required to be in possession of a penis. 

 

fat-preacher

 

The children’s message was delivered by a woman, which is generally thought of as acceptible in these patriarchal churches.  Caring for children is the woman’s domain afterall.  The woman talked about having friends but the point of her little message was lost on me, so I’m pretty sure the kids were as baffled as they looked.

 

We plodded through another pop-ballad hymn which was executed with technical accuracy by the instrumentalists, but with all the musicality of a horse counting to ten with its front hoof.  This song led us into a time of prayer.  I believe that the people who made their prayer requests known are genuinely concerned about those people named.  Some moved beyond the typical illness requests and made mention of current events and nationally known tragedies. In all of these honest, heart-felt concerns, there remained a sense of some unspoken desire, an appeal to magic.  That appeal to magic was reinforced by the prayer leader, who prayed extemporaneously, including all of the requests voiced moments earlier.  I noticed pretty early in her prayer that she had a favorite phrase, which was  “Dear Heavenly Father”.  She said it so much that I wrote it in my bulletin.  She kept saying it, punctuating each paragraph with 2 or 3 repetitions. So many Christians have this habit when praying publicly.  It is as if there is a mystical combination of “Blessed Jesus'” or “Loving Fathers” or even “Hail Marys”  that said in a specific quantity or order that will unlock heaven’s safe full of blessings.  When did prayer become the heavenly Powerball?  Jesus cautioned us of this in Matthew 6:7

 

And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

 

Sadly, the sermon, offered by a visiting minister, did little to hold my attention as a visitor.  I suspect that it was meant to encourage this congregation as they await the arrival of their recently hired Pastor.  The sermon began with the perfunctory joke and apologies for his shortcomings as a speaker.   Those who attend this church regularly may have heard some words of encouragement, but my mind wandered off.    After one more pop-song hymn, the benediction was pronounced and everyone bolted for the door. 

 

Now, I’ve certainly been critical and some would say downright mean with this post.  You might even tell me that the computer glitch that sent my first version of this post out into cyberspace, never to be found again, was a sign from above that I should turn from my wicked ways.  Let me reinforce this sentiment:  these people are good people, their intentions are noble and their desires are honorable.  Unfortunately, they found something that was successful at some point, decided that this is how they would do it from that point on, and mediocrity set in.  Their worship service has most likely morphed slowly to become the dry and irrelevant ritual that we experienced that morning.

 

Traditionally, people in this country have attended church for the spiritual encouragement they receive by participating in worship services.  There was a time when people attended church out of a sense of obligation, regardless of any spiritual or communal benefits that may or may not have been derived from attending.  I’ve heard complaints about the lack of commitment to the church and its programs.   My question, after visiting this church, is “what does this church offer that would encourage people to attend regularly and support their programs?”  In addition, for those who do attend, are their perceived or actual needs, physical and spiritual, being met?  And finally, are the people we meet in this or any other Christian church a reflection of the Christ they strive to emulate?

 

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Mohandas Gandhi

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When You Can’t Prove What is Obviously True

December 31, 2008

It all started with a phone call from the new interim pastor of Paradise Christian Church* (wink and tip of the hat to preacherlady). 

“This is Reggie Dominy.  I’m the new interim pastor here at Paradise Christian.”

“Yes. Good to talk to you.”

“I’ll be selecting the hymns for the worship service from now on.  I guess you’ve been doing that for a while?”

“I’m really uncomfortable with that.”

“Why?  That’s not typically the organist’s job.”

“Well, it’s part of my job description.  I do it well and I’m not comfortable giving it up.” 

And that’s how the battle began.  That phone call lasted more than thirty minutes, and during that time, I found myself making some strong and defensive statements to a stranger who’s face I’d never seen.  I felt attacked, especially when Reggie said that he had to pick the hymns because we needed to change the way we do things since attendance at worship had decreased.  I told him that he was making it sound as if that was my fault; as if my music were the cause of people not attending worship services.  Reggie said he wasn’t saying that, but how else could I read that implication in the context of this conversation?

In the first service over which Reggie presided, there were at least five statements that sent up red flags in my mind.  From our phone conversation, it sounded like Reggie desired to create a solemn, even somber service steeped in traditional worship and laced with long moments of silence and reflection.  Nothing could have been further from the reality of what happened that very first Sunday in November. 

The humor was abundant as well as inappropriate.  Reggie set the tone in the announcements which are made before the organ prelude and the official start of the worship service.  As Thanksgiving was approaching and the Outreach committee was planning on giving food to several needy families, a plea was being made for congregants to donate canned goods.  Reggie’s pitch went like this:

“You know that can of salsa you bought seven years ago and it’s been sitting there on your shelf and you don’t know why you bought it?  Go ahead and bring that in for the food drive.”

It was then followed up with some muttered statement about buying a new can of something to go with it.  The request for food donations was being played for laughs, while the sincere request was downplayed.   Throughout the service we learned a few things.  For instance, it became clear that Reggie loves to eat deviled eggs.  And just in case someone might not have gotten that message, Reggie repeated his declaration of love for deviled eggs in the next four consecutive worship services.  We also learned that he likes to hear jokes, and that we should feel free to tell him Polish jokes and “jew” jokes.  For some reason, as Reggie made that statement, he hesitated, as though there were more kinds of jokes he enjoys, but felt it best to edit himself as this was part of his introductory sermon.  We also learned that there is a proper way to introduce onesself, which, one would know how to do “if you’ve ever been to college.”  What an effective way to discourage the “wrong” kind of people from attending church!

Most telling was the one particular family that Rev. Dr. Dominy made sure to mention in his sermon.  It was the one family in which the husband has a great job, the wife is a SAHM, and the two daughters are involved in dance lessons, baton twirling corps, and kiddie pageants.  They also happen to be the family who left the church in a huff, refusing to return until the full-time minister was either fired or resigned.  Dr. Dominy made sure to say their names, or compliment the beauty of the daughters, or involve the family in most of the services during November. 

On my last Sunday as music director, December 21st, Reggie did something that was at best unethical, and at the worst, creepy in the sense of looking too much like a child molester.  As part of his sermon, he asked the two little girls, both under the age of 12, to come forward and model their new Christmas dresses.  Embarassed, they walked to the chancel, where Reggie had them put their forefingers on their heads and do a ballerina turn for all to see the new outfits.  Then, in spite of smaller children moving back and forth between the sanctuary and the nursery, Dr. Dominy gifted the two “models” with presents, to be opened there in front of everyone. 

The weeks between that initial phone call and my final service were stressful. Communication between Dr. Dominy and myself was archaic.  He would leave handwritten notes, in the most screeching hot pink ink, on the piano.  I asked our secretary why he didn’t use email.  She replied that he wasn’t very computer savvy.  That statement that was refuted in the coming weeks when, during a sermon, Reggie mentioned looking things up on the internet.  It was countered again in a meeting of the church committees in which one member spoke of the email exchange that he and Dr. Dominy had. 

The hymns that Dr. Dominy chose were ancient, plodding tunes with dated language.  Although one of his stated reasons for taking the hymn selections away from me was the need to match the hymn texts to the scriptures, I seldom saw how the two aligned themselves.  Several times within those few weeks that Reggie and I worked in the same building, he repeated hymn choices.  I was left wondering if he selected hymns the way he selected the Psalms for our worship services:  numerically.  On his first Sunday in worship at Paradise Christian Church, Dr. Dominy selected Psalm One for our call to worship.  In subsequent weeks, the Psalms were used, in numerical order, regardless of the sermon topic, and regardless of the scheduled readings from the Revised Common Lectionary

The final straw came on the morning of December 19th.  I received a text message from our secretary asking me to call her asap.  I replied with a request that she email me, as I had students all day (with my teaching position at a public school) and would not have a break to make a phone call until late in the day.  The email arrived quickly, and in it, was a message from Dr. Dominy that said:

Ok  here goes.    Reggie left me a note to ask you if you got a brass ensemble for Christmas Eve.  If you did, please get the name of the group and names of their songs to me on Monday.  If you did not, please contact the band director at local school district.  She has some names of students who might be available or some other musicians in the area.  She can be contacted at local middle school xxx-xxx-xxxx  Her name is middle school music teacher her e-mail address is someteacher@someschool.

I am sending you the bulletin stuff so that you can give me the song titles by Sunday (or Monday morning at the latest)  The ones in pink he would like the brass ensemble to do  and he would like the choir and the brass ensemble to join in on the other carols as well.

Reggie said to contact him if you had any questions or suggestions.  xxx-xxx-xxxx

Thanks Dana

Interesting thing about this email:  I do not recall having a conversation with Reggie in which firm plans were ever made about the Christmas Eve service, let alone such an important detail about hiring or assembling a Brass Ensemble for the service.  At my first opportunity to call, I phoned Dr. Dominy.  In that phone call, I was verbally pushed around.  During a break from ministry, Reggie had been a car salesman, and a good one according to some accounts.  I could tell that I was being manipulated by his words.  He objected to my statements about why it would be impossible to assemble a brass ensemble just five days before the performance.  He interrupted me.  He cut me off.  He dismissed my professional musical advice.  Then I figured out what was going on.  I was being placed in a “catch 22” situation:  fail to assemble the ensemble, and Reggie could claim I’m not doing my job;  get one together in short order with no time to rehearse, no many to pay them, no music to give them, and have a disastrous performance on Christmas Eve and he could say that I didn’t do my job as well as I should have.  For me, given all that I had witnessed in the previous weeks, my only option was to resign.  My plan was to do so immediately, leave them without a musician for Sunday morning as well as Christmas Eve, but friends talked me out that plan. 

I learned that the committee charged with finding this interim pastor had failed to check his references.  They hadn’t bothered to call his former churches and talk to them about his strengths and weaknesses.  After handing in my resignation letter, and feeling crappy for about 24 hours, I decided that I’d look to see what I could find on this guy.   I did a search for “Dr. Reggie Dominy”  on Google and discovered that the guy is pretty computer savvy, contrary to previous claims. 

I also found one particular piece of information that confirms what I suspected from that very first phone conversation.  Reggie seemed to have some contempt for me from the very beginning.  It didn’t make sense that an interim pastor would walk in and start changing things before ever experiencing a worship service in the way that the members were accustomed to worshipping.  Interim pastors usually keep things going, the status quo, until the permanent pastor is hired.  This bit of information explains why he and I could never work together.

In the eight weeks in which both of us, interim pastor and music director, tried to do our duties, there was rarely a moment of kindness, of friendship, even an attempt to understand each other.  Attempts by Reggie to put up a facade of respecting and valuing me, at least in front of the congregation, fell flat.  At one service, Dr. Dominy said that he appreciated the “beautiful competency” that I brought to the services.   Competency?  Well, I must have some adequate skills when it comes to music.  It’s like saying “I love you” to someone and hearing “and I’m fond of you as well.” 

What could make us resist each other like oil and water?  The search results contained a major clue:  a letter to the editor of an online denominational magazine, written by one Dr. Reggie Dominy.   Here are some relevant excerpts:

I have no problem deleting statements from the Barman Confession (ah, another confession) that are editorial additions and weren’t originally there. Make it pure! I do have problems with ignoring cogent statements in the New Testament regarding homosexuality (Romans chapter 1 seems rather clear.) The Scriptures have to be our final authority about the actions and directions of God. What makes an action a sin at the time written but not in the present? More people lie and cheat others than participate in homosexual activity, and we all seem born with that narcissistic trait (this makes it a natural act); maybe the Church should support, or at least condone, lying and cheating.

            I hurt for gays and lesbians who have in the past been wrongly excluded from the Church. I also hurt for those devout Christians who believe the Presbyterian Church has abandoned them in this decision. They feel NO peace, NO unity, NO purity in the General Assembly decisions. Our voted inclusivity feels like exclusivity for many devout Presbyterians. They feel the Scriptures have been ignored. Many will leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Whole churches will leave. We do not now exclude homosexuals from church membership; but our ushering in their ability to be church officers and ministers will usher out other true believers from the whole church.

          There were times in the past when portions of our Presbyterian Church supported slavery. There were times when we excluded folks from the Lord’s Table because they weren’t of our ilk. There were times when we Presbyterians haughtily looked down on those who were not like us in faith and practice. There were times when women could not be ordained. We overcame and grew through those parochial sins.

There’s so much there that I could write about, and perhaps I will examine more of this letter on this blog at some point.  The important thing to notice is that while attempting to sound compassionate, even loving toward the “homosexuals”  it is clear that Dr. Dominy does not like gay and lesbian people.  Nothing else explains his immediate dislike for me, nothing else explains why he felt the need to change my job description, nothing else explains why he created a situation with the purpose to tarnish my integrity with a congregation who felt I was doing a fine job for them. 

Dr. Dominy believes that my orientation is a choice, and as such, is a sin, much like lying and cheating.  For him, the scripture about such things is clear, although, he’s managed to find some grace in the Bible for himself, being a divorced man.  There are many more scriptures concerning divorce, than there are homosexuality.  Reggie hurts for gays and lesbians who feel excluded from the church, but then goes on to reinforce that exclusion.  Homosexuals are welcome to be members in the church, but if they are given positions of authority, church officers and ministers, then true believers will leave the church.  Did you catch that?  Whether Reggie admits it or not, whether he would claim his words as his own or deny them, it’s stated clearly in that letter, gays and lesbians are not true christians. 

My mind goes back to that phone call.  I recall Dr. Reggie’s claim that if he had known I was going to be so opposed to his removal of my job duties, that the phone conversation was going to go so poorly, he would have come to my house and visited with me and my…friend.  He choked on the word “friend.”  I didn’t correct him and say “husband” because I felt like I had said so much that was in direct confrontation that I didn’t need to add to the tension of that phone call.  I can never file charges of discrimination because I resigned voluntarily.  Even if I had been fired, the situation created by Reggie would have appeared to be a legitimate reason to do so.  Discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry is seldom blatant, but at church it is couched in the language of love and compassion, making it all the more painful. 

A final word to my friends at Paradise Christian Church:  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said  “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

*all the names have been changed

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Today’s Sermon: Creation: God Starts it All Off with a Big Bang

October 12, 2008
I was honored to speak as a layspeaker at church this morning.  Here is a copy of my sermon. 
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness and some gas. The Bible says the Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, “Give me a light!” and someone did. Then God made the world. He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.  Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something. 

Right from the beginning, we are confused on the creation story.  And if this is what a child hears when we read today’s scripture, is it any wonder that even the theologians can’t agree on what really happened in Genesis?  “Oh, Steve, We aren’t tackling Evolution vs. Creationism today, are we?”  No, we’re not.  We don’t need to.  As Disciples, we have members who accept the creation story as historical fact;  we also have members who believe it to be metaphorical, a creation story unique to Christians, but in many ways similar to creation stories from other cultures. We find that many of us fall somewhere in between. As Disciples, our tradition has been to encourage each other to study the scriptures, and respect each other for where we are on our individual journeys. So I’m not going to tell you what you must believe about God’s first actions.  However, let’s look at the beliefs we hold about these early chapters of the Bible and why they can cause such controversy. 

Christians who accept the Genesis 1 account as historical fact, must have a strong faith in God.  I mean this in the most positive way.  They look at the events of each day: separation of day and night,separation of the waters to create an expanse known as the heavens, and the water and land; and in these events they witness a powerful God, speaking a word and the elements of the universe moving to obey. In 3 days the stage is set for life to begin.  In the next 3 days, God speaks the planets, ocean life and birds, and animals and humans into being. God pronounces all of it good, and takes a day off.  We need only to look around us to find the witness of nature to God’s awesome power. 
 
For some of us, it’s too much to take in, we just can’t believe that something so big, so majestic, so amazing as our universe could come into existance in a mere 6 days.  In our quest to learn more about our selves, our environment, our planet, our galaxy and our universe, we have questioned everything. And we’ve found some clues that it may have taken more than 6 days to put this place together. As humans developed methods for studying every aspect of our planet and beyond, and learned that scientific methods could indeed yield answers about where we come from, the 6 day creation account has been called into question.
 
One of the most famous inquiries in the science vs. faith debate was the Scopes Trial in 1925.  John Scopes was a science teacher in Tennessee who openly defied the law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, made popular by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species.  The case went to court, and very quickly, instead of John Scopes being tried for breaking the law, the Bible seemed to go on trial.  Clarence Darrow, the famous attorney, questioned William Jennings Bryan relentlessy about things most Christians consider miracles that which could not be explained scientifically.  Mr. Bryan died 5 days after the end of the trial, and the enmity between Christians and Scientists has lingered since then. 
 
If we could begin that discussion again, how would we bring together the opposing sides?  Where would we find agreement?  How could we find a current in which faith and knowledge flow together? 
I say that we should begin with God’s love.  I say that no matter what you believe about the creation story, it very simply demonstrates God’s great love in that God creates a world, an amazing universe for humans to occupy and share with the rest of the creation. It appears God’s motivation for the creative act is to receive honor and glory from beings who have a choice to do so. 
The creation story comes to us, presumably through Moses, in a way that these early people could understand.  The story was handed down in an oral tradition and finally put on paper by Moses, although I’m sure you’ll find some people who would argue that point with you.  In doing some research for today’s sermon, I discovered a theory I’d never heard before:  That the creationism vs. evolution argument is not about Science, it’s about literary genre.  This makes sense to me.  Did the original author intend to write, or recite history?  Or, did the author intend to write something more like poetry?   Could it be that giving the story somewhat of a symmetrical structure would make it easier to retell?  A look at the structure of the text reveals that the first three days of creation MIRROR the second three days of creation:

  • On the first day of creation God said “let there be light,” as well as darkness, and on the fourth day of creation he made the moving inhabitants of those realms (the sun, moon, and stars).
  • On the second day God separated the waters above the earth from the waters below the earth, and on the fifth day he made the moving inhabitants of those two realms (the birds and sea creatures).
  • On the third day God made the dry land and plants appear, and on the sixth day he made the moving inhabitants of that realm (the animals and man).
 In the first 3 days, the stage is set, and in the following 3 days the actors appear.  The story is set up to describe the things that “are” and the things that “move” – the living creatures. Is it possible that in the years this story was told in the oral tradition that it developed this form?  Is it possible, like that old game of “telephone”, that with each retelling of the story the details were nuanced?  When humans are involved, we need to acknowledge the opportunity for such changes, even error, but that does not negate the main idea:  God loved and God created.
 
You may find people willing to stand on their arguments for or against the Creation story based on the words used.  The simplest telling of the story teaches us that God made a man named Adam and a woman named Eve.  Research tells us that those Hebrew words ‘adam and havvah may be more symbolic terms meaning mankind and mother of all life.  For those who wish to discredit the literal or historical creation story, it’s a simple move to then ask about the children of this couple.  In fact, it is a question that was asked by Clarence Darrow, back in the Scopes trial that I mentioned earlier:  Where did Cain’s wife come from?  Maintaining that Adam and Eve were the only 2 humans from which life springs, takes us to a place we’d rather not go when explaining how the earth became populated. Using a symbolic interpretation of Adam and Eve as “the people” that God created solves that problem, but makes many more for us.  It becomes much easier to simply dig in our heels and lock horns with our adversaries, rather than do the research and discern what God wants us to learn from such a story. 
And if this isn’t enough controversy for you, we’re given a second account of the creation in Genesis 2:4-25.  The second telling of the creation doesn’t match the first telling in Genesis 1.  In the first chapter of Genesis, humans are the last thing created by God; in the second chapter, humans are created before the other animals.  In chapter one, the man and woman are created simultaneously; in chapter two we get the famous “adam’s rib” story. 
 
At this point, do we get hung up on the controversy, or do we look beyond it to discover what God wants us to know?  I’ve seen some of the arguments over these scriptures.  They go off into tangents on issues that don’t matter, but all sides want to claim these words as proof that God agrees with them and not their opponent.  We place our own prejudice and our own bias on top of the Word that we’ve been given.  We can suddenly find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be.  For example, in chapter two, Adam is alone.  God says “it’s not good for man to be alone” so God creates the animals and brings them to Adam to be named.  From the scriptures, it’s clear that Adam is to choose a helper from the animals. It seems that it is only after Adam fails to choose a helper, that God creates Eve.  For those reading these verses with a literal viewpoint combined with a skewed agenda, it could sound like God expected man to have a working relationship with animals beyond what we already experience.  
And we haven’t even gotten to the “Fall” of humans.  Was it really an apple?  What did the “serpent” look like before God made it crawl on its belly?  Are the tree, fruit, and serpent literal or symbolic?  Believe it or not, I even found a website that believes Cain was not Adam’s son, but Satan’s.  Controversy!  From the very beginning!  
Does it make a difference in our daily lives if God spent 6 days working and 1 day resting?  Do we lose our salvation if God’s day means thousands or millions of years instead of 24 hours?  Is God’s love negated if the creation story is told as a narrative with some details changed to make it easier to remember as well as for better drama?  More importantly, how does it benefit any of us to deride each other for holding the literal or allegorical view of the creation story?  The Disciples slogan certainly is appropriate “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things, Charity.” 
From the very beginning, God has interacted with humankind. Whether it was through a booming theatrical voice to speak the world into being, or the voice of God as the Big Bang Theory, we may never know.  The universe is an amazing place, full of things our human minds will never comprehend.
When Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in God, here was his response: “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws.”

  

 

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You Can Lead a Christian to Knowledge But You Can’t Make Him Think

March 10, 2008

This week, I am having two separate discussions with individuals about the gay issue as it pertains to christians.  I’m using much of the same information in both conversations, but the reactions have been very different from each of these people. 

I mentioned in a previous post that some people from my church were struggling with seeing me and my partner attending worship services together.  I decided that I would meet with those people individually, and so I am fresh from a meeting with one woman that I’ll simply call “C” as I don’t want to name her publicly. 

What a wonderful time we had! We met at a new coffee house, exchanged some pleasantries, and then I asked “well, C, what happened?”  C told me that at the end of an elder’s meeting she brought up a situation in which another member of the church asked her about the new choir member, my partner, and she wasn’t sure how to respond.  Sure wasn’t quite sure how much information to give, and because of her beliefs about the gay issue, she wanted guidance from her fellow elders as to a proper response.  For C, this was the extent of her struggle.  From there, what appears to have been a small matter became larger, for both of us, creating discord in both of our houses, until it was necessary for us to talk this thing out with each other.

Our conversation lasted 90 minutes.  We talked of our children, our dreams, our experiences in our relationships and marriages.  We spoke of things we had in common, things that were so very different.  When she talked about my lifestyle choices, I asked her to refrain from using those terms as they were offensive to me. I explained how they imply that lgbt people choose to be as they are, which is just not true.  That lead us to a discussion of all the major medical and psychological organizations that have declared sexual orientation to be natural, unchangeable, and not a mental illness.  Throughout the entire conversation we were able to laugh and honor each other.  It was the best conversation I’d ever had with someone who holds an entirely different opinion than that of my own. 

 There were some tense moments.  At one point, she brought out the slippery slope argument.  She is afraid that if we “allow” homosexuals to say that they are “naturally” attracted to people of the same gender, that people would then claim that they are “naturally” attracted to children.  I stopped her, and asked her if children could consent to that kind of activity.  C’s response was telling to me: molesters could claim that!  I agreed that they could, but, I pressed on, “can children consent to that kind of relationship?” to which she had to admit they could not.  I asked her to stop comparing my relationship to that of a child molester.  It could not be part of this conversation, as it was offensive to me.

We were both aware of the time and of the weather, which seemed only to get worse as we sat drinking our coffee and talking on about our beliefs.  We countered each other’s statements with valid points, and requests for more examination, and eventually decided that we needed to move on to our respective plans for the evening.  I asked C to continue studying the information I had given her.  She promised she would.  As we left the coffee house, I gave C a hug and responded to her “God Bless You” with the same reply.  I decided in that moment to give her what we all wish to hear:  “I love you”, and was pleased to receive that same blessing from C. 

The second conversation takes place in the blogoshpere.  Q is a guy who is a christian and is struggling with his orientation.  I caught a post in the tag surfer and decided to comment.  Q has a male friend who is gay, christian, and has come to accept his orientation.  That friend has moved on and taken a boyfriend.  Q was lamenting the fact that the boyfriend is a guy that Q would have loved to be in love with.  Q seems to be spinning his wheels, waiting for God to send an angel with word from on high as to how he should live his life. 

My comment included some of my own story of being gay and christian, a link to some good theological study, and an invitation to read more here at my blog.  The response from Q was more internalized homophobia, and that while being gay is not a choice, Q thought it was the result of living in an imperfect, or fallen world.  He dismissed my advice by stating “but for now I haven’t heard it from the Spirit, so I’m having to just say no to man dating.” 

So I simplified it;  I explained how the Bible has only 6 verses that can be interpreted to same-sex behavior, and that when studied in depth, those verses can not be applied to homosexual orientation as we understand it today.  I asked if a loving God would create a class of people with an attraction for persons of the same sex, then not only forbid them from acting on that attraction, but hold them responsible for behaving according to the nature God placed within them. 

Evidently Q’s answer is yes, God would do that.  The evidence comes in his statement “sucks for me.”  I brought this up in the soulforce forums, and some of my friends there went to Q’s blog and joined in the conversation.  Q’s response to this was another blog entry in which he declares it’s useless for us to “puncture his beliefs” with our list of counterpoints.  Q lives his life according to his relationship with Christ.  He’s waiting for a word from the Spirit about the stuff he’s struggling with, and until then the best thing we can do for him is pray for him. 

Q wants it to drop out of the sky without him ever investing time, study, thought, or even much of himself into the process.  The words of those who have been there, and those who have experience in counselling mean nothing to Q.  He doesn’t want to examine his own beliefs, he simply expects a miraculous bit of information to pop into his head. 

Let’s go back to C for a moment.  I emailed her to thank her for meeting me and having our conversation.  She told me that she had spent a restless night, got up early and studied the scriptures.  C said she was drawn to 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians 6, two of the verses that appear to condemn homosexuals.  Her conclusion was that God was telling her she shouldn’t change her beliefs.  I mentioned that perhaps God was asking her to study those passages more deeply.  I asked her to pay attention to the Greek words arsenokoitai and malakoi

I am struck by something common my experiences with C and Q.  It is the willingness of both of them to dismiss the power of our intellect to help us understand scripture and the world around us.  Q even told me that her mind was telling her that everything I said in our conversation was right, but that because it was her “human nature” that controlled her thoughts, she could not make that leap to change her beliefs.  Q is basically saying the same thing:  don’t confuse me with scientific facts, and logical conclusions based on a sound interpretation of scripture; I need to hear from God. 

I thought that humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that we are made in God’s image.  That seems to me, as humans, we have the potential to be high quality products, and as such, at least some of what we learn about the creation in which we find ourselves has got to be of some significant quality as well.  You can bring people to the fountain of knowledge, you just can’t make them take a sip.

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A Mission and Moral Obligation

February 23, 2008

As a gay man who is relatively new to being out of the closet, it’s been just over four years, I have quickly become an activist for fair and equal treatment of gay and lesbian people.  Much of the work I have done has been online in discussion forums, and face to face with friends and acquaintances who are struggling with their prejudices as they realize they can no longer apply those to gay people, especially when their friend comes out of the closet. I have protested at the state capitol, attended the church trial of a minister accused of marrying two women, and marched in protest outside of a rally in which James Dobson was the main speaker. Much of what I’ve learned comes from Soulforce, where I am a moderator of discussion forums, and it’s founder, Rev. Mel White.  Soulforce believes in achieving freedom from religious oppression through nonviolent resistance, in the tradtions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.   

 Recently, I found myself in a situation that has caused me to employ the principles of nonviolent resistance.  As I was exploring those principles, looking for clues as to the best course of action, I began to reflect about the roles of the Oppressor and the Oppressed.  I saw myself in the role of the oppressed, and I was resenting the fact that it fell upon me to aid my oppressor.  That aid was not meant to assist in my continued oppression, but rather to educate the oppressor and move them from that role.  It felt so unfair.  I did all the work to come out of the closet, live life honestly as a gay man, overcome the fears of being rejected by friends and family, erase the memories of bullying I experienced as a teenager, and now I was being called on to help my tormentors.  Surely, they could do the work themselves.  Google is available to everyone, isn’t it?  But what I discovered as I started doing the research for my own nonviolent resistance, as well as for writing about my experience, is that Oppressors are often blind to their power and privilege.  The oppressor has the power to define their social situation which leaves them morally pretentious and ethically obtuse.  (see John C. Raines, Righteous Resistance and Martin Luther King, Jr.)

The Situation

I am a music director for a small, upper middle class church.  I have been the music director for many years.  These good people knew me as a married man with children, although they had their suspicions about my orientation, and handled my separation and divorce pretty well.  They even took the news of my outting with only minor struggles.  The congregation was able to accept the concept of a gay man not only in their midst, but in a visible position at worship on Sunday mornings.  This peaceful existance has lasted these past four years.  But now I’ve pushed past the conceptual homosexuality and have introduced them to the reality of my life.  My partner has begun attending church with me. 

One would think that this wouldn’t be a huge problem.  Of all the ways people tend to view being gay, church attendance would most likely be a check in the positive column for a couple of gay guys.  Think being gay is a sin?  then it’s a good thing those sinners are attending church.  Think being gay is neutral? attending church is harmless, and may be a positive force in their lives.  Think being gay is a natural occurence, perhaps even planned as part of God’s creation?  then gay folks should honor their Creator by attending worship.   I just can’t think of any reason that Gay and Lesbian people of faith should not attend church, either separately or as a couple. 

Yet, word has gotten back to me that a few people are so upset by our attendance at worship that it became the topic of discussion at an Elder’s meeting.  My own dear Pastor has given me a “heads up” on this, and we had a meeting to discuss what we might do.  This is where my sense of justice/injustice has kicked in.  This is the circumstance that has me wrestling with the idea of the oppressed aiding the oppressor. 

The Education

Oppression causes harm to the oppressed and the oppressor.  Oppressors lose when they cause harm.  In this situation, should those who resent a gay couple attending church persist, the church will lose a voice from the choir, and most likely, lose their faithful music director. There are more ramifications to this for the congregation, but for now let’s leave it at two people, making positive contributions, being driven away from the fellowship.

The oppressed have many obstacles to overcome as they fight for justice.  Being in a position of powerlessness brings with it a lack of clarity about the condition of the oppressed. The oppressed may believe what the oppressor has said about them.  The gay community recognizes this as internalized homophobia.  If the oppressed succomb to the temptation to exact revenge, they merely usurp the power of the oppressor and become like them, creating more injustice.  The lack of clarity about the unjust situation can cause loneliness and isolation.  The oppressed do not want to see the lives of others like themselves, the wounds are a much too explicit reminder of their own pain. Oppression causes a mute suffering, leaving the oppressed unable to name what it is that oppresses them, unable to declare the reality of their condition, and unable to protest the indignities that are foist upon them. 

Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that the oppressed have a moral obligation to the oppressor.  It is impossible to meet that obligation without having a clear and objective understanding of the injustice of the situation.  This focus enables the oppressed to name the plight, proclaim the immorality of it, and oppose it.  When this is done, the oppressed are able to unite and stand against their oppressors in nonviolent resistance.  Martin Luther King Jr. showed that having clarity about the oppression is enough to unite the community.  It allows an oppressed group to stand in their own dignity and protest the injury of injustice.  The oppressed become moral agents and then have an obligation to the oppressors to teach them that their ways are immoral.  The goal becomes of greater moral importance then:  reconciliation. 

The Plan

I am still in the stages of examining my emotions about the situation at church, my hurt that my relationship could be the topic of discussion at an Elder’s meeting, the pain at knowing good people are engaged in gossip, yet have never approached me with their concerns when the Bible clearly teaches us to go to each other in love.  I can not say at this point, that I have been successful, because the journey is just beginning.  However, I am making a plan, and I believe, because of the things I’ve learned, that I will be successful, and that success will be demonstrated in reconciliation, not in conquering anyone. 

Communication is key.  I have taken steps to open the lines of communication with at least one person that I know is “struggling” with seeing me with my partner at church.  In her discussion of that struggle with the Elders, she imposes a situation of oppression on my partner and I as a couple, and as we’ve seen above, the entire congregation suffers.  I’ve provided her with information that demonstrates what we all know:  the Bible is not a text book for science or psychology; the few scripture verses that address homosexual activity are for a certain time and place and do not address homosexual orientation as we know it; homosexuality is recognized by all the professional medical and psychological organizations as being an affectional orientation that carries no moral stigma and is not considered a mental health disorder.  To cling to such beliefs is in effect just using the scriptures to justify one’s own prejudices and bigotry.  Along with that packet of information I have issued and invitation to meet, perhaps with our Pastor as a mediator, and discuss her fears, my anger, and come to some reconciliation. 

That is just one person.  There will be others.  For them, perhaps a different plan will be needed.  Each person that I speak to may require a slightly different method.  For one, appealing to the emotions may work, for another, a more academic approach will be beneficial.  At all times, the goal is claiming that moral ground, in nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Gandhi and MLK Jr. and looking for the opportunity for reconciliation, for agreement.  I am convinced that these men have taught us that nonviolent resistance offers us the best chance for success.  Our adversaries are not evil, only misinformed.  Once they have assimilated this new information, they will understand our plight and become supporters instead of adversaries.  Should they choose to remain in their ignorance, it will become clear to others that they have chosen to remain oppressors.  Justice does indeed prevail.

What direction will this journey take?  That remains to be seen.  I do not know if I will be there to see the fruits of my actions.  I may be like those ministers in I Corinthians 3, as one plants the seed, another waters it, and God provides the growth.  I hope that I can revisit this subject in the near future and report some success.  For now, I can only speak of my plans and my hopes for this journey. 

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How Big is Your God?

October 31, 2007

Once again the fundies are claiming that a natural disaster is God’s judgment against this country for tolerating gays.  That’s right, California is burning because gays are allowed to wiggle their wienies where they shouldn’t be wiggled!  Here’s one report:  Matt Trewhella Email  Trewhella claims that the California Bill SB777 signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on October 13, 2007 is the direct cause of the San Diego fires that started on October 20, 2007.

The bill, SB777 is a hate crimes bill that prevents describing groups of people in negative terms. 

Existing law prohibits a teacher from giving instruction, and a school district from sponsoring any activity, that reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry. This bill would revise the list of prohibited bases of discrimination and the kinds of prohibited instruction and activities and, instead, would refer to disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic contained in the definition of hate crimes that is contained in the Penal Code. The bill would define disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation for this purpose.

We all know how much God hates that “love thy neighbor” stuff. 

The point is, the bill that was signed by Ahnold is basically a hate crimes/anti-bullying bill.   A few, homophobic fundies see it as just another liberal attempt to legalize the “gay lifestyle” and force it on our children.  This time though, God isn’t taking it lying down.  God has sent a fire!

Ummmm, aren’t there a lot of non-gay people being punished for this bill?  I mean, if the gays are the problem, couldn’t God just find a way to take them out?  Perhaps God could start a fire at a gay bar.  Maybe there could be a power outage at a gym frequented by gay men and as they scramble to replace the weights, they could crush each other under the heavy iron plates they’ve been lifting.  God could cause electrical shorts in the blow dryers of homosexual hairstylists.  There could be lead in the paint used by interior designers, or automotive jacks could fail crushing hundreds of gay mechanics.  Really, if the gays, and their acceptance by heterosexuals is pissing off the Great Almighty, surely the Big Guy has enough power to rid the earth of gay guys and the ‘ros that love them.

Evidently not.  The fundie God is weak. He has to use massive and ineffective natural disasters that take out large numbers of heterosexuals and their habitats.  Think “Katrina” with its devastating loss of life and property, but no significant reduction in the number of homosexuals.  Think of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, with high numbers of casualties but relatively few flamers actually killed.  The fundie God seems to be kind of an oaf. 

The God I’ve come to know is loving and kind, and certainly very powerful.  It seems to me that if the God I’ve learned to love would decide that something, or someone should need to “go” then it would happen in decisive manner.  No hurricanes, no fires, no floods to take out large numbers of people, both gay and straight.  If “the gays” are the major affront to our most holy supreme being that some would have us believe, then that Omnipotent One should be able to remove the gay offenders, and their straight allies, with surgical precision.  A fire?  really?  Hundreds of square miles, vegetation, animal life, illegal aliens, the homes of God-fearing heteros, businesses, infrastructure are all destroyed because this weak, fundie God can’t target the ten percent of the population that likes to play “hide the hot dog” with some other hot dog vendor. 

God spoke the word and a universe fell into space.  A few days later, another word and humans are frolicking in the garden. Am I to believe this same God can’t find a few queers and turn them to stone, or salt, or ashes?  No, we’ve either got a pansy posing as our Almighty Counselor, or the gay issue isn’t as important to the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and Omega, the Everlasting Father, as we’ve been lead to believe.