a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘church’

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

I am embarrassed by my family.

I’ve tried not to be, tried to tolerate them, tried to be accepting of their “eccentricities.” I’ve tried to remind myself that I come from them, that I used to be like them, that we share so much history. I’ve tried to tell myself that what unites us is greater than what separates us.

It is no longer true.

I was taught that we are bound by blood. Not human blood—that’s for relatives, and I’m not talking about relatives. The blood of Jesus is what makes us family. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God,” I used to sing, just as I was taught. I used to sing about the “Power, power, wonder-working power of the blood of the lamb.” I believed that “Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.” And above all, I was taught that believing in the power of the blood made us family.

But the family of God has become an embarrassment.

Too many members of this “family” will gladly cut food stamps and let children starve. Too many members of this “family” will happily support racist policies. Too many members of this “family” will joyfully tell you you’re going to hell. All while claiming to believe in “the joy of the Lord.”

Here is a great (and by “great” I mean horrific) example. A website called ChristInYou.com offers “The Twenty-third Psalm: Welfare Recipient’s Version.” Read it and weep.

Society is my shepherd: I shall not work.

It alloweth me to lie down on a feather bed;

It leadeth me beside the still factories.

It destroyeth my ambition.

It leadeth me in the paths of a goldbrick for politics’ sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of inflation and deficit spending,

I will fear no evil,

For the welfare agencies are with me.

Their generosity and their staff they comfort me.

They prepareth the requisitions that filleth my table.

By mortgaging the earnings of my grandchildren

My head is filled with mirth

That my cup runneth over without effort.

Surely, the taxpayers shall care for me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of a parasite forever.[1]

 

That’s right, nothing says “Christ in You” like calling hungry people “parasites.”

Then there’s the church that cut ties with a group providing housing for homeless families because one of the families had same-sex parents.[2] Apparently WWJD now stands for Who Would Jesus Deny?

And the incidents in response to Target’s inclusive restroom policy have been hideous. Watch Here and Here if you have the stomach for it. (Warning: don’t read the comments.)

Let’s not forget the Christian people at a school board meeting in South Carolina who were confronted with one lone woman standing up for the rights of transgender kids to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The Christians present chose to drown out this voice of compassion by singing none other than “Yes, Jesus loves me—the Bible tells me so.”[3]

If I sound angry, I am. And for once I’m not going to apologize for it. I am angry that the voice of Christianity is, far too often, a voice of hate. I am angry that my faith has been co-opted by bigots. I am angry that nursing home residents have to be fearful about what the visiting minister might say to them. I am angry that, according to GLAAD, 75% of religious messages in the media are from anti-LGBTQ religious leaders. I am angry that when I tell people I’m a minister, I have to immediately either swear or mention my sexual orientation so they know I’m not like them—them! Another reason to be angry: I have come to view other members of the family of God as them. I was taught not to be ashamed of the Gospel. And I’m not. But I am ashamed of those who pervert the gospel of love in the name of Christ.

So, yes, I am angry. But I am too old to believe that anger is the end. Too much of the anger in our society is self-serving. It allows people (not to mention politicians) to smear their opponents with impunity, both sides claiming their cause is righteous. I’m not interested in that very much anymore. I am interested in reclaiming Christ. I am interested in reclaiming the family of God to include all God’s children. I am interested in reclaiming my own faith and my own religious experience and my own evangelism and my own voice. I am interested in singing not “Jesus Loves Me” but “Jesus Loves You” … because I already know it and maybe you don’t.

So on June 18 I will again march with my church in the annual gay pride parade. And I will again offer apologies on behalf of the church to those who have been wounded by the church at large. And I will again be prepared to confront those who come to the parade to preach judgment. And my anger will fuel my feet but it will not scar my heart, for my heart has enough scars from prior lashings.

If you see me, my heart will be singing. I will not be able to sing “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.” Instead I will sing, “We are a gentle, angry people, singing for our lives.” And I will sing, “It is well with my soul.” And I will sing, “Yes, Jesus loves you”–not to silence anyone, but to amplify the song.

 

 

[1] http://www.christinyou.com/pages/psalm23.html

[2] http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/5/18/1527889/-WWJD-Church-cut-ties-with-homeless-non-profit-after-they-tried-to-help-a-same-sex-couple-with-kids

[3] http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/watch_parents_sing_jesus_loves_me_to_silence_lone_transgender_supporter_at_school_board_meeting

 

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They said “Thank you.”

09_Ash_crossThey said “Thank you.”

Over and over again. The vast majority of people. “Thank you.”

It wasn’t their usual procession before me, and not my usual gift to them. Usually when they come before me I hold out to them the bread and cup as I say “the bread of life and cup of blessing.” Sometimes that gets me a “thank you,” mumbled as an afterthought through a mouth trying to mind its manners. Sometimes I hear a soft “Amen” as they dip the bread into the blessing with agreement.

But today is Ash Wednesday. Today my first offering to them was not life and blessing but ashes and solemn reminders. “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” I don’t always say these words on Ash Wednesday. Some years I tell people, “From God you have come and to God you will return.” Other times I have said, “Remember that you are human.” But this year I was compelled to use the more traditional words because of a blog someone wrote about needing to hear them. Her mother received a terminal diagnosis last year, just days after receiving the ashes of Lent, and she died six weeks later. The author wrote about how she is preparing to attend another Ash Wednesday service this year, waiting to hear the words of mortality. She wrote:

“I hope the minister won’t get all progressive about it, change up the old words to soften the blow, tamper with the truth and use flowers instead of ashes, or some such thing. It will ring really false to me after last year when things suddenly got real. I might get visibly pissed, and that would mess up the contemplative atmosphere. Just give me my burnt cross of ashes and let me cling to it grieving for a while.”(Read her blog here.)

So even though I don’t know her, I did as she requested, in honor of all those for whom things have suddenly gotten real. From dust you have come and to dust you shall return. I said it to each person who showed up at noon on a weekday, the youngest of whom was probably fifty, all of us closer to the end than the beginning. From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.

I said it to them all. The lapsed Catholic. The man going through chemo. The man whose wife is. The woman who comes to our building for other meetings but not for worship. And most of them said, “Thank you.” Perhaps they were being polite. Perhaps the intimate touching of my finger to their foreheads, my attempt to look them in the eye, made them feel it required a response. Of course, earlier I had told them that they were dust and stardust, made of the stuff of galaxies. I reminded them of what miracles God can do with dust. But then I said those words. I reminded them that they are mortal, reminded them that they will not get out of this alive. And they said, “Thank you.”

I made the mark on my own forehead and repeated the words: From dust you have come and to dust you shall return. And then I echoed my parishioners, my teachers, as I whispered, “Thank you.”

I got so distracted pondering my response that I forgot the next hymn. But I will try again in my evening service. To speak truth. To look people I love in the eye and remind them that they will not live on this earth forever. And to say “thank you” for the reminder.

 

 

A Note to My Newly Ordained Self

DSC_0590When I was interviewing with my current congregation, the search committee asked me a wonderful question: If you were able to write a note to your newly ordained self, what would you say? I came across my answer today and decided to share it.

A note to my newly ordained self

First, congratulations. You worked hard to get here. There were people who opposed your ordination on principle, but you believed in your call and you stayed the course in order to open the door for others. You should feel really good about that. Now don’t forget the lessons this process taught you:

  •          Rely on the strength of those around you.
  •          Believe in the power of music to get you through.
  •          Remember that the conflict was caused by clergy and the solution found by a layperson.
  •          Don’t take it personally.

That last one—that’s a big one. If you do your job well, someone will always be upset with you. Nine times out of ten, it’s not about you. That doesn’t mean you didn’t screw up. You probably did. But angry, wounded people will try to blame you. Listen to their complaints and if they have merit, take responsibility. If they don’t, learn to let it go. Learn now. It gets harder.

You know that problem they handed you the day you started at your first church? I hope you learned from that experience the importance of face-to-face conflict resolution. Also learn that you can’t fix in a day what took years to mess up. Be patient. With others and with yourself.

Lots of what you learned in seminary will serve you well in the church. Lots won’t. Few of your parishioners will care about your eschatology. Many will care about your authenticity. Be real. Be you. It’s not a bad thing to be. And remember that your greatest lessons will come from unexpected sources.

And that self-care stuff that experienced clergy talk about: they mean that. But you’re not going to understand until you’ve faced it, so I won’t waste my breath. Just try to remember one thing: you’re not Wonder Woman. Or, come to think of it, Jesus.

Since you’re not Jesus, you will not be able to raise people from the dead. And you will want to. You will sit and hold hands with the dying and will want desperately to keep them here . . . and not just for their loved ones’ sake, but for your own. You will lead funerals with your heart in your throat, which makes it hard to speak. But the good news is, any words you speak will come through love.

You will make mistakes; make them with love. Your judgment will not be perfect; err on the side of love. And when you find yourself stuck or frustrated or overwhelmed, remember that the way out is the way through and the way through is the way of love.

And finally, always remember the lessons you learned fishing with your dad:

  •         If the fish aren’t biting, try something else.
  •         The flashy lure may catch their eye, but it’s not enough to get them in the boat.
  •         Creatures that feel trapped will try anything to get free, and you can get hurt in the process.
  •         Sky and water are good for the soul.

Oh, and one more thing. Be grateful. If you are trustworthy, you will get to be called pastor.

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.

 

What quiz should you actually take?

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

Something Old, Something New

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.