a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘grace’

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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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.

 

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.

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.

Truth and Typos

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Today is April 16, 2013, just one day after the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Today is also the day I was supposed to attend a conference on responding to trauma. But instead I am sick at home, the cold I’ve been fighting for over a week finally having knocked me on my well-padded behind. If I had taken better care of myself when the cold first arrived, it would probably be gone by now. But based on how often I repeat this same mistake, apparently I am incapable of learning this lesson.

Anyway, between naps and reading about the tragedy in Boston, I read my parishioners’ Facebook posts with more attention than usual. One of my people posted a request yesterday that everyone please be careful what they repost, as so much false information was being repeated. In response, a friend of his commented that some media outlets are so intent on being first with the news that they don’t check the accuracy before reporting. Then he wrote, “I don’t want the first. I want the truth!”

Well, that’s what he meant to say. But one little typo–one tiny missing letter–changed his intended meaning.  Instead of “I don’t want the first,” he wrote “I don’t want the fist.”

I don’t want the fist, either. I don’t want the violence. I am sick of the cruelty and the carnage. I am sick of funerals for six-year-olds. I am sick of helping my eleven-year-old think through how she would react in such an attack. Yesterday she asked if we would be mad at her if she gave her life to save a friend. I wanted to scream “Yes!” But I couldn’t.

I don’t want the fist. I don’t want the violence. And I dread the violent response. It is too soon for us to know who perpetrated this act, whether it was domestic or international, whether it was an individual or a group. I find myself praying it was one person, so that our thirst for revenge will be limited. I find myself hoping this one person is white, heterosexual, and either non-religious or even–I’m sorry–call himself a Christian, so that we will not use this as an opportunity to target people of color or gays or Muslims or anyone else we want a reason to hate.

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. And truth will not come through the fist. It never does. Facts may, but not truth. Truth is far too powerful for that.

At this point you’re probably expecting a “Love wins” message. And frankly, I’m tempted. But my friend and colleague, Rev. John Gage, pastor of the United Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, had this to say today:

[It’s] not that I don’t appreciate all the “love wins… eventually” posts going up in the wake of yesterday’s bombing. Hell, I posted one myself a bit earlier. But, honestly: No, it doesn’t–not unless we make that happen. Love doesn’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air. Love has to have hands and feet. Love needs wisdom and the courage to act now… and now… and now to root out the hate, not with the sword, but with the ploughshare. Far-sighted faith in love’s eventual victory may sustain us in low moments, but love doesn’t actually grow unless we plant it and tend it and defend it at every opportunity. Love is a garden, not a given.  

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. I want the love garden we all tend.

I pray that this is a lesson we are capable of learning.

It Shows

Young Woman Sitting in Front of a Computer and LaughingYesterday I tried Skype for the first time. I had heard others talk about it, and I thought video chatting sounded great, but I had never tried it for myself.

I finally took the plunge—downloaded the software, set up an account, and bought a headset—and then yesterday I got to visit with Valerie. Valerie and I became best friends when we were in high school, and although our relationship has gone through many changes over the years, I still count her as one of my very best friends. I could call her at any time of the day or night, and she would be there for me. She also can tell how I’m doing by the way I answer the phone. If something is bothering me, I can be sure to hear “What’s wrong, chica?”

Valerie and I don’t get to see each other very often, and she recently moved to London so I don’t know when I’ll see her again. But via the wonders of Skype, yesterday I got to see her (virtually) face to face. I got to see where she works. I got to see her smile. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed her.

After we disconnected, my spouse said to me, “You’re different when you talk to her.” When I asked what she meant, she explained: “When you’re on the phone, I can tell by your tone of voice whether you’re talking to a friend or an acquaintance or a stranger. But your whole face is different when you talk to Val. I’ve noticed it when you talk to your parents, too. Your face is different when you’re talking to someone who you know loves you.”

Although I’ve never thought of this before, it doesn’t surprise me. There is a wonderful sense of security that comes from knowing you are loved, and surely it shows.

But this conversation made me wonder: Is my face different when I pray? After all, I’m talking with someone who I know loves me. Does it show? Does it show on my face? Does it show in my life?

Sometimes I wish I could Skype with God. Yes, I know I am limiting God by anthropomorphizing God, but still . . . sometimes I just want a God I can see and talk to face to face.That’s when I am particularly thankful for people in my life like Valerie, and my parents, and my spouse. Not that they are God! But they do help me catch a glimpse of God’s love through their love for me. And I think it shows.