No Holy Hate

Born LovedDear Heidi,

You have no connection to our congregation as far as I know, but today you went on our church’s Facebook page to condemn us. You said we are “dragging the name of Christ into the gutter” and “turning Jesus Christ into a sodomite” because we welcome all God’s children equally. Although I am unclear how an action we might take today would have any bearing whatsoever on the sexual practices of a man who lived 2000 years ago, I will set that aside for a moment to address your other claims.

I know you mean well, Heidi. I know you believe you are doing the work of the Lord by pointing out the (perceived) sins of others. I also know that getting into a biblical argument with you is pointless—not because I do not know my Bible, but because you apparently do not know my Jesus. My Jesus is not concerned about being dragged into the gutter; in fact, that’s where he met some of his best followers. But he is concerned about love. And he most certainly is concerned about people damaging the souls of his children by telling them God hates them.

This is why, on June 21, my church will have a booth at the Pride Portland Festival here in Maine. The sign above our booth will say: “Wounded by the church? Please come let us apologize.” That’s right, we will be apologizing to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for the way they have been treated by the church and for the horrific things said to them in God’s name. In other words, Heidi, we will be apologizing for you.

You warned us that we will be held accountable for every person we “lead to hell” with our “deceptions.” Will you also be held accountable for every teen who commits suicide because he has been told he is an abomination? Will you be held accountable for every woman who hates herself because you said God hated her? No, I don’t believe you will be . . . not because you are not responsible, but because we worship a loving and forgiving God. In fact, if you want to come to Pride, feel free to drop by our booth. I will apologize to you on behalf of the church that infused your mind with such hurtful images of God.

Hate cannot be made holy by sprinkling it with water and calling it Christian. And the resurrected Christ cannot be re-created to condemn those who you disdain.

You said we have nothing to teach the world. I think that’s something.

 

question mark

If you spend any time at all on Facebook, you have seen them: the ubiquitous character quizzes.
“Which Harry Potter character are you?”
“Which Walking Dead character are you?”
“Which Super Hero are you?”

Then there are the pop culture identity quizzes:
“Which 80s pop song are you?”
“Which Broadway musical are you?”

And don’t forget the “actually” quizzes:
“What city should you actually live in?”
“What career should you actually have?”
all implying that the life you live isn’t actually right for you.

I am willing to admit that I have taken a couple of these quizzes. After all, I’m a connoisseur of all things Harry Potter. So naturally I wanted to know if I am Remus Lupin (a compassionate and courageous werewolf) or Hermione Granger (the brilliant book-lover who is mistakenly referred to as “an unsufferable know-it-all” by those who don’t understand her intelligence.) When that particular quiz declared that I was Hagrid (the wonderful but not-too-bright half-giant), I decided it was tragically flawed and most likely created by someone approximately fourteen years of age. I tried to take a couple of other quizzes, but they all seemed to depend upon my choosing between various Beyonces, which I am incapable of doing due to lack of knowledge.

I’m not sure who originally said this, but I heard somewhere that if a person from an earlier time suddenly appeared in ours, the most difficult thing to explain to them would be this: that many of us hold in our hands a device that is capable of accessing an entire world of information, and we use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers. And now, apparently, we must add that we use it to take quizzes. According to Josh Haynam, co-founder of a quiz-building site called Interact, 4.3 million people tweeted with #quiz in the week prior to his article dated May 6, 2014.[1]

These quizzes are mildly entertaining, I admit. But I have to wonder what their popularity says about us as a society. Why do we find it entertaining to be equated with fictional characters? Why is it fun to be pigeon-holed in this way?

Haynam gives three reasons for the popularity of online quizzes: 1) Being categorized helps us make sense of the world; 2) Sharing our results makes our own journey through life significant; and 3) We desire connection, and taking quizzes allows us to “talk with” the quiz, as well as to connect with other people who get the same result. I do not doubt the importance of connection. Hey, I’m a pastor. Human need for connection is an important part of my job and my worldview. And while categorizing can certainly be helpful in understanding concepts and relating to people, I don’t believe that having someone I’ve never met categorize me helps me in any significant way. And really—do I need to share “I am Cat Woman!” to make my life journey significant?

What it boils down to for me is that these quizzes allow someone else to define us . . . someone we have never met, and based on the most trivial of reasons. It took me a long time to stop allowing myself to be defined by others, to stop being who other people thought I should be. If I am completely honest, I have to admit it is an on-going task. Perhaps that is why I don’t like these quizzes. I got tired of giving away my power. I grew weary of looking to others for validation. I worked too hard for self-actualization to be told I “actually” should have a different life.

Those of you who are frequent online quiz-takers are probably thinking that I really need to get a life. It’s harmless entertainment, after all. And I’m sure you could have a field day speculating on the psychological and theological significance of my Angry Birds habit. Still, I find myself wanting to create my own quiz . . . a quiz that asks about your favorite color, ideal vacation spot, and perfect life slogan, only to provide one possible result, regardless of your answers: You are God’s beloved! You could post my quiz on Facebook, along with your results, and your friends could chime in, “Hey! I’m God’s beloved, too!” and we would all be connected and would experience all the compartmentalization we need. Of course, we don’t need a quiz to tell us that; but since we seem to be turning to Buzzfeed for validation, it couldn’t hurt.

But perhaps we would rather be Spiderman.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.business2community.com/content-marketing/addicted-buzzfeed-quizzes-business-can-benefit-0874722#!NMqHz

Wedding rings

I was driving home from dinner when I realized that my hand felt funny. I looked down and realized why. My wedding ring was missing.

I searched my pockets, the inside of my gloves, my pockets again. When did I lose it? I had taken it off this morning to put on lotion, but I was sure that I had put it back on. I would have noticed sometime during the day if I hadn’t. I did a quick U-turn and headed back to the restaurant, afraid to hope that I would find it, but not willing to believe I wouldn’t.

It’s replaceable, I told myself. We can afford to buy a new one. But I didn’t want a new one. I wanted this one. I wanted the one my daughter-to-be had carried in her basket of flowers down the aisle, the one my wife had slid on my finger with tears in her eyes. A new one would be bright and shiny. I didn’t want bright and shiny. I wanted the beauty of a well-worn ring.

I thought of John and Angie. We celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary one Sunday during church, and after worship Angie and I were chatting. She told me how excited she was when John gave her a ring. “I fell in love with it,” she explained, “because of the rose gold flowers circling a wide gold band.” I looked down at her hand to admire the ring and saw only a plain, thin gold band. “What happened to it?” I asked rather stupidly. She laughed and said, “Well, Honey, after sixty-two years, it wore off!”

I was 45 when Jackie and I married. It is quite unlikely that we will live long enough to celebrate a sixty-second anniversary. Plus, our rings are titanium, which is much harder than gold, so they will not wear away like Angie’s did. But no matter how many years we are given together, I want my ring to mark the time. I want it to show the journey, the way our laugh lines tell our story.

When I returned to the restaurant, I searched the space where I had parked, my path to and from the restaurant, and then the table where we had sat. I moved the chairs, looked under the table, then backed up and looked again, my panic growing by the second. And then I saw it, peeking out from under the base of the table, visible only to someone who was searching. I grabbed it and slipped it back on with a huge sigh of relief. In that moment I looked up and saw a woman staring at me. She had a worried but hopeful look on her face. I nodded, and she grinned. “My wedding ring!” I mouthed. She nodded again, knowingly, smiling all the while.

I don’t know how my ring fell off, but I’m so glad it’s back where it belongs. The blue etching isn’t as bright as in the picture. In fact, it looks rather gray. And I am thankful.

I’ll Help You

Help_SignMy office at my new church is the closest office to the outside entrance. That also means it is the closest office to the emergency food pantry. Our regulars know the drill. They know to request the food the day before they come. They know to bypass the pastor’s office and head straight for the secretary’s. They know to wait on the landing for the food to be brought to them.

But it’s two days before Thanksgiving, and it’s not all regulars today. An older woman peered into my office, wearing a crocheted poncho over several layers this cold morning. “I’m here to fill out a form?” It was both statement and question. Before I could answer, our secretary called cheerfully to her from the next office. “Right over here! I’ll help you!” A few minutes later I heard a different voice–a younger woman–saying, “Oh, thank you soooo much!” She drew out the “so” long enough for me to know she needed this food. I don’t know her situation–we don’t ask questions–but the relief in her voice sounded to me like a mother who now has enough food for her children.

Our business manager came in to my office and said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to leave for a few minutes. One of the people who came for food doesn’t have a car, and I don’t want her to have to walk home carrying these groceries.” Of course I didn’t mind. She had already told me, “I don’t think I’ll get anything accomplished today but give out food. And that’s just fine with me.”

I am blessed to be serving alongside staff members who understand that helping is part of their job, and blessed to be serving a church that agrees.  I am blessed to hear gratitude echo through the halls.

All day the words have stuck with me: “Right over here! I’ll help you!” And I wonder how different our community would be–how different our world would be–if every day we found reason to say it.

I’m right over here. I’ll help.

Carpe Diem?

Carpe Diem motivacionWhen I was in college, I loved that phrase. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It was a reminder to make each day count, an encouragement to follow my dreams, and a challenge to live a life of excellence. I wanted to live boldly, bravely. Carpe diem was the answer.

Now I am a little wiser.

Now I know that on some days, the best you can hope for is mediocrity. Excellence is a wonderful goal, and we should strive for it personally and professionally. But we also have to strive for sanity. Sometimes we just don’t have enough energy to be excellent.

Now I also know that hard times come when you can’t possibly “seize the day” because you are just trying to hold on. You are clinging with all your might to the cliff’s edge, and one more “to do” or one more disappointment or one more loss, no matter how small, could make you lose your tenuous grasp. You can’t seize the day when you’re just trying to survive it.

Plus, now I know that seizing the day means seizing all of the day . . . all that the day has to offer. And most days offer sorrow as well as joy, anxiety as well as fearlessness. Am I willing to seize all of that?

Take this week, for example. This week I started in my new role as Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of South Portland, Maine. I am excited beyond words. From the moment I read the church profile, I felt drawn to this place. From the moment I met the search committee, I felt drawn to these people. From the moment I accepted the call to be their next pastor, I felt drawn closer to God as I seek to follow in the path I believe is God’s next right step.

But there is also trepidation. Every new pastor feels some anxiety in starting at a new church—or at least every honest one I’ve ever met. There are many uncertainties. Will everyone be pleased with my leadership? (Experience suggests that the answer is no.) Are they ready for the changes that will inevitably come with a new pastor? (Maybe.) Will I be everything they think I am? (Probably not.) Will the church be everything the search committee said it is? (And more!)

It is the beginning of a new journey, a new relationship, and I am a little nervous, yet certain. I am cautious, yet ready to be bold. I have already taken the plunge, a step into the only-partly-known waters of this congregation. But I am certain that I will swim. And I am certain that when I can’t, I will be held up. You can’t ask for more than that.

So I will seize this day, with all that it has to offer. And I will remember that I am seized, held, embraced, by God. Carpe Diem. Carpe Deum.

Spam

I don’t like spam. I am not referring to the “precooked meat product” but to the ubiquitous electronic spam that clogs one of my email accounts. Usually these emails fall into one of three categories: phishing scams, ads for products and services I don’t need, and ads for the treatment of medical conditions I don’t have. My answer is always “no.” No, I will not give you my account number even if the money is to further the Lord’s work. No, I am not interested in meeting other Latino singles, as I am neither Latino nor single. And no, I am not interested in increasing the size of my “manhood,” as the only male in my household is the dog and he’s perfectly content the way he is.

Usually I find spam annoying, but in the past three days I have found it frightening. The emails in question contain innocuous subject lines such as “Momentum may get bigger this week” and “It’s time everyone has a chance.” But it’s the content of the messages that sent chills down my spine:

“It’s your turn to make money on war! As soon as the first bombs get to the earth in Syria, stone oil prices will go up as well as Monarchy Resources Inc share price!!! Begin earning cash today!!!”

When I read the first of these emails, I immediately felt sick to my stomach. It’s my turn to make money on war? I don’t want to make money on war! I don’t want to profit from violence. I don’t want to benefit at the expense of innocent people I have never even met. I am appalled at the suggestion.

Perhaps the timing of these emails has increased their affect on me. Today is the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a day of terror beyond any our nation had known since Pearl Harbor. The date also marks the beginning of American retaliation in the name of justice. So many lives have been lost. Why would I possibly want to make money on war?

Experts with much greater knowledge than I possess have outlined again and again who profits from war — from which corporations make the most money to which countries benefit from other countries being at war. A recent article on the website The Motley Fool asked, “Can You Profit from a Syrian War and Still Sleep at Night?” The author declares that he could sleep just fine if he bought more oil stock in expectation of a war because, after all, you should “hate the game, not the player.” I can’t make those kinds of distinctions.

On the other hand, maybe I already do.

The prosperity of the 1950s enabled my parents to go to college, which changed their lives and consequently mine. But that prosperity was won, at least in part, by U.S. involvement in World War II. I drive on an interstate highway system built by Eisenhower for the purpose of making troop movement easier. This blog would be impossible if computers hadn’t been created by and for the military.  Then there are our more recent military actions. How have they affected me? Do I have more consistent access to fuel? or at a cheaper price? How do I know I’m not already profiting from war?

I already know that I profit from inequality.  I already know that I profit from unfair labor practices. Am I doing anything to change those systems? Even the most diligent among us is buoyed by the status of the U.S., in ways we can’t begin to identify. So what’s a little more profiting at the expense of others?

I could argue that the difference is knowledge. I don’t knowingly buy clothes made in sweat shops. But do I turn a blind eye to easily available information in order to protect my ability to not know?

Perhaps the difference is intent.  I don’t intend to profit from war. My status as a U.S. citizen means that I may unintentionally profit, but that’s not my fault, right? I don’t have the goal of making money from violence.

I have this argument with my daughter all the time: the difference between responsibility and blame. I know she didn’t intend to break the glass. I know she didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident. Nevertheless, she dropped the glass. Is she to blame? No. Is she responsible? Yes.

I am not to blame for the results of U.S. military actions around the world. But I am responsible for my silence.

Now Is When

Flying birdsToday I let go of my daughter. Just a little bit. Or I guess I should say, just a little bit more.

Today she started middle school, and that means big changes are on the way. Now is when we begin loosening the reins just a tad. Now is when we begin trusting her to make more decisions for herself. Now is when she will start learning more about the responsibility of freedom. Now is when we begin to see if all our rules and guidelines have taught her anything.

So far so good. A few months ago, at a school dance, she sought me out thirty seconds into a song to declare, “Seriously?! They’re playing ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ at a fifth grade dance? This is soooo inappropriate!” I loved that her words echoed my thoughts. But will her values still be mine in three years? And if they’re not, will she be clear enough about her own values to make good, safe choices? Now is when it starts getting hard. Now is when it starts getting real. Now is when we have to learn to trust.

I have parishioners who, just a few days ago, took their babies to college. I know their letting go was harder, more significant. But this is the farthest I’ve gone, so forgive me my desire to hold on.

Today I let go of my daughter. Just a little bit.

Tomorrow I will let go of my son. For good.

You could say that he is not really my son, since he is my foster son. And you would be right. And you would be wrong. Because for eleven months and eleven days, he has been mine. Ours. Part of the family. And tomorrow he leaves us to go live with his grandmother. She loves him, and I know she will do her best to keep him safe and healthy. But he has lived with us for more than 70% of his little life. We are the ones who helped him learn to roll over, who encouraged him to crawl, who watched and applauded his first steps. We are the ones who discovered that he will eat anything as long as it has pesto on it, and that he thinks the best way to comfort someone is to bring them gifts and then hold their hand. We are the ones who know him best, and we have done our best to fill every growing inch of him with love.

And now is when we let go. Now is when we let someone else be his shelter. Now is when we have to learn to trust—trust that we have done our best, trust that he is in good hands, trust that even if he doesn’t remember, he will still somehow know that there are three extra people in the world who will love him forever.

Tomorrow I will let go of my son–my foster son, who was never mine to keep. And then I will want to hold even tighter to my daughter, for I know that my letting-go has only begun. And I know that although today I sent her to middle school, tomorrow I will take her to college.

God help me not to hold too tight. Now is when I need to learn to trust.

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