It’s Time for US to Take the Hit.

img_7456It was just over a month ago that something woke in me and I found myself en route to the small town of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. I’m not sure what it was, but as I’ve said before, something simply lit inside of me and had to become active at some level in advocating for the Standing Rock Sioux on the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Over the last month I have found myself utterly disappointed in both the President of the United States (who, contrary to popular understanding is still Barack Obama) and the mainstream media. Both of them have had their heads in the sand on this issue, no matter what they say. They will cite that the election took precedent, but this is utter nonsense. The election has been over for nearly a month, and the mainstream media cannot stop playing into the President-Elect’s hand as it continues to be obsessed with Donald J. Trump. Let’s get real, media: You love him. You can’t get enough of him. You have been salivating over him for over a year.

As for President Obama: Well, it’s pretty clear where his loyalties lie. Yes, Obama’s silence is proof that we are indeed “one nation, under oil…”. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We are one nation under god, and that god’s name is Oil. That is who our source of life and wellbeing is, that is who we serve, that is who we worship.

Over this last frustrating month, I’ve been doing what little I can to get the word out, but that’s pretty limited. Finally the media is starting to pick this up a little bit, and the story is getting out there a little more. I was struck today by a piece from the Washington Post that I thought is definitely worth a good look for everybody. It traces several different perspectives on DAPL. I think those perspectives- all of them- are important for us to listen to.

As I read the piece and watched the videos I heard some of the cries of those on the other side from where I am. I heard about how this pipeline has provided thousands of good jobs for people who need it. I heard about its economic benefits to all of us. I heard about the disruption of everyday work, income, and livelihood the protests have created for many hard working and even sympathetic North Dakotans. I heard about genuine safety issues for pipeline workers, law enforcement officers, and even uninvolved citizens. These are real issues, with real people, real faces, real names, and real lives that people like need me need to hear, see, and value.

But as much as I hear them, I simply cannot see any argument to allow this pipeline through. There is a side to this story that I think (and seriously, no pun intended) trumps everything else. It’s a side of the story that we all know, but we simply seem unwilling to do anything about, and of which we live in abject denial of. It’s this:

No matter the merits of any argument regarding the economy, the environment, or the process, what we now call the United States of America has been oppressing native peoples for 500 years and it’s time- for once- to give them what they want. And furthermore, it’s time to give them what they want at our expense. 

Yes, there may be some violent protestors, and yes that is wrong. Threats and physical attacks by protestors on pipeline workers, law enforcement officers, and government officials is wrong and should be condemned. It is not what the people of Standing Rock stand for, and it should be boldly and clearly condemned, and those people should go home. And, yes, this pipeline has created jobs, and, yes, this pipeline will likely benefit the US economy. All of that may be true.

But when we’re saying things like “these protestors are impacting people’s livelihoods who have nothing to do with the pipeline”, what we’re failing to recognize is the history in which we are still living today that violently took this land from these people and ruined their very way of being. We’ve been disrupting their livelihood and lives for 500 years. It’s our turn. Maybe it’s time that our lifestyle takes a hit so that we can begin to right the 500 years of wrongs we have inflicted on Native American cultures. It’s time for us to perhaps lose the job, see gas prices rise, and even watch our economy weaken so that we can- for once- do right with Native Peoples.

The minute these people said “no”, we should have stopped and said, “you know what: You’re right. We’re sorry. We’ll stop digging.” And we should have done this for no other reason than all we’ve done for 500 years is trample over and dig up Native Peoples’ land, culture, livelihoods, and lives. It’s time for us- the people of the United States of America- to take the hit. Enough is enough.

Two years ago President Barack Obama stood on the Standing Rock reservation pledging to have their back. I believed him. And I believed in him. I’m ashamed today that I ever trusted this man, and, quite honestly, any other soul that will sit in the Oval Office. I’m embarrassed that I believed him. When it comes down to it, we as a nation have never had, and appears will never have, the backs of Native People. President Obama’s silence is, to me, the sign, sealed, and delivered message that we really don’t care about Native American’s Lives. We don’t. Just look at our receipts for the past 500 years.

We will pay them lip service, but when it comes down to it, we will bow down to and serve our god ever faithfully: We will serve whatever it is that benefits us economically at the time, which right now is the god called oil. And we will, as we are doing right now, trample over whomever we have to in order to worship this god. Today, as it hs been for 500 years, it is those who are native to America over which we trample. Enough is enough, America. It’s time for us to take the hit. Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline now.

What I Didn’t Preach: Sacred Land, Prayer, Daniel & a Black Snake

img_7454-3It’s one of those texts and one of those Sundays: There’s too much in the text and there’s too much in the world. So every now and then you get these kind of intersections where you have to discern what sermon to preach. You only get one, and making more than one into one makes a bad one. Today I preached about the “long night” of Advent. It’s a thing. But there was something else deep in my heart around this text that I chose not preach today, because, as I said, you only get one, and you have to trust the Spirit on which one to preach. So here’s what I didn’t preach today, but which is still aggressively trying to climb out of me:

Today we looked at Daniel 6, which is where Daniel gets thrown into the lions’ den for praying to his god. Here’s the scene: Israel is in exile. They have been conquered and sent into exile and are thoroughly in the grips of another regime. But, as can happen, some Israelites find favor with power and are called to serve the regime in prestigious ways. Daniel is one such fellow. The problem is, well, that pesky thing called humanity. His peers get jealous and threatened by his success. So they set a trap for the ever faithful Daniel. They convince King Darius to pass a law that prohibits the worship of anyone or anything but King Darius. We can only speculate as to why Darius passes this law. Perhaps flattery? It doesn’t matter.

So what happens? Well the obvious. Daniel’s peers go to him just at the time when we faces his holy, sacred land- the city of Jerusalem- to pray to God. They catch him, bring him to King Darius and demand that he be thrown into the lions’ den as the law dictates. Darius regrets this law and does not want to do it, but he must. So into the lions’ den Daniel goes. An angel tends to him there all night by shutting the mouths of the lions, Daniel is saved, and Darius passes a new law that all must worship Daniel’s god (why he didn’t do that before putting him in the lion’s den, I don’t know, but that’s not the point). It’s a happy ending (except for that small little detail of the entire nation of Israel still being oppressed and in exile).

What strikes me is this: Daniel’s response to oppression. He is a faithful Jew, living in oppression and says nothing in this whole story until after he is saved from the lions. The only time it’s even mentioned that he says anything at all is when he is in prayer. Daniel’s response to oppression, even in a seat of power, is prayer. It’s among the most famous stories in the Bible, and when we read it we credit Daniel as faithful and wise just as the text does.

Yet at the same time, today, right now, and for months, another people have responded to oppression in prayer. The people of Standing Rock represent just one tribe of many native peoples who had their land stolen and were led into a kind of exile- an exile on their own land. Someone arbitrarily decided where their land would end and where it would begin, and like Darius and his conspirators, they keep changing the rules to work in their favor. As a black snake plows forward through their holy and scared land to threaten their very source of life, the people of Standing Rock face increased oppression. We may not be comfortable with that word but that’s what it is. They live- and have lived for centuries- under the exiling oppressive arm of the United States of America. What has been their response?

They turn toward their holy land to pray. And, like Daniel, the king’s conspirators have them thrown into the modern day lions’ den of hand cuffs, dog kennels, pepper spray, water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and who knows what else may come as they threaten to evict the Oceti Sakowin camp within the week. The “Biblical values” on which the United States were supposedly founded are not found coming from the king’s throne in Washington, but are found on the camps of Standing Rock.

But this time there appears to be no angel shutting the lions’ mouths. The hand of God seems to be absent, mute, and impotent. But what if the hand of God isn’t absent? I would argue that it’s not. But it is mute and impotent. Advent is the season in which we wait for God to come here and dwell with us. It is when we cry out in our desperate moments for God to meet us here in the flesh. And God did. God came in the flesh as a man called Jesus who is also called “Emmanuel”, which means “God with us”.

But where is this Jesus now? Where is this God in the flesh now? It’s a fair and necessary question. As the story goes, Jesus leads a radical revolution of turning the establishment on its head, is crucified for it- that is, has his body was broken for it- is buried, rises from the dead in wholeness, and then ascends to Heaven. And as this “God-in-the-flesh” ascends, he says, among other things, that we are the ones to go and be (in a sense) God in the flesh in the world. This is why we pray whenever we come to the Communion Table, “pour out your Spirit on these gifts of bread and wine that they may become the body and blood of Christ for us that we may be the Body of Christ for the world.

Beloved, the Church- by the power of the Spirit within us- is the hand of God in the world. We are the ones who are to fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s word that Christ took on as his mission in Luke 4 to, “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1). We now are the Body of Christ for the world- that charge is ours.

The people of Standing Rock are Daniel in the lions’ den right now, and there is a raging lion manifested as a black snake waiting to devour them. It is our job to do what we can to show up and shut that snake’s mouth. The people of Standing Rock are embodying the faithful, while the Church has largely been mute and impotent, too distracted by what’s happening with the king’s castle and crown.

As we head into Advent, the stakes are high, and we need to remember that when it comes to oppressed people throughout the world, we are to stand up for them. It doesn’t always fit nicely into our shopping, cookie exchanges, and office parties, but it’s what our call is. If we want to put “Christ back into Christmas”, our task is not to say “merry Christmas” at the checkout counter at Target; our task is to embody Christ by standing in solidarity with those on the margins of society. Or in this case, those whose own margins society continually shrinks down until they have none. So, come, let’s stand together as the very presence of God in the world- as emmanuel- to do the hard work of shutting the mouth of the black snake.

Have a Troubled Thanksgiving

tumblr_og7eoxyw5m1qd42iqo1_1280Yes, that’s right, I don’t want you to have a “happy” Thanksgiving. I want you (and me) to have a troubled- disturbed- thanksgiving. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for gratitude and calling to mind the blessings in our lives, and that is something we all should ado. So do that, but as you do, remember that there’s another narrative that surrounds this gluttonous holiday which we need to address, and which we need to condemn. It’s that narrative that tells the outright lie of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, meeting and shaking hands with Native Americans who all then sit down and have a turkey dinner together. We know this isn’t true. We know that what actually happened is one of the biggest and most long lasting acts of imperial dominion and genocide the world has ever known. That’s what Thanksgiving is, and we need to let that in.

The American story, for which we “give thanks” tomorrow, is one surrounded by the kinds of acts that when another nation engages in them, we fight wars and cry for a regime change. Yet somehow we still live in whispers of this false narrative of pilgrims and natives peacefully sitting down to dinner together. We dress our white preschool kids up in offensive native attire and put on thanksgiving pageants in our schools, we run 5Ks and put head dresses on cartoon turkey characters on the t-shirt, and we thank God for the freedom we have in this great country- a freedom we stole. A freedom that came at the cost of nations which we plundered, raped, and destroyed. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

When it comes to what we now know as the Standing Rock Sioux, we came in, we took their land, we gave some of it back, then we took some back again. The land we’ve taken, which they hold as sacred, we’ve exploited over and over again. Today a massive black snake known as an oil pipeline is being laid right through that land we took, gave back, and took again, and the Standing Rock Sioux have had enough. And so have I. So should we all. It doesn’t matter what permits they have or don’t have. It doesn’t matter whether the land the pipeline is going through is technically the Standing Rock reservation or not. It doesn’t matter that water protectors may be “trespassing”. Trespassing? Are you kidding me? Our whole nation, this “greatest nation in the world”, was founded on trespassing- and that’s putting it nicely. This is an “enough is enough” moment. It’s time for this US Government to just once- just once- side with Native Peoples in a meaningful way. In a way that costs us something. But it’s not happening. Peaceful water protectors are alone, being attacked by law enforcement, and we don’t care. Why? Because we are “one nation under God” and that god’s name is Oil. That is who we bow to, serve and worship. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

So, yes, I want you and me to have a troubled Thanksgiving, because while we sit down to turkey, mashed potatoes, “green stuff”, wine, and football, native peoples are still fighting for their (and our) well being. While we pull out the fine china and pretend we like each other, thousands of people, and more nations than have ever gathered before in history, camp out in the cold and snow on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota trying to do everything they can to stop an oil pipeline from tunneling underneath the river that gives the people of Standing Rock life. And, quite honestly, gives all of us life. So as we fill ourselves on massive amounts of food and drink, have a troubled Thanksgiving.

As the Standing Rock people and their allies do what they can to stop it, law enforcement officers have proven to stop at nothing to stop them. Water cannons in freezing temperatures, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets have been launched on water protectors, severely injury many. Just two years ago President Obama (who, contrary to popular belief is still the President) stood on the Standing Rock reservation and pledged to stand with native peoples. Today, he’s got his head buried in the sand, proving that 500+ years later, this nation- the “land of the free and the home of the brave”- doesn’t care about native peoples. After all that we’ve learned, we still dress up our kids in head dresses on Thanksgiving, and we still move into native land to exploit it for our own economic benefit. We are still, right now, today, this Thanksgiving, taking their land and ignoring their cries as we were 500 years ago. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

An oil pipeline running through sacred ground that we stole and tunneling underneath sacred and life giving water, combined with a militarized police force, and capped with a liberal president bailing on his promises with his head in the sand exposes that 500 years later this country, the United States of America, the “city on a hill”, is still an imperial oppressor, who views indigenous people as subhuman savages that need to be destroyed so that we can “be free”. This is a reality we need to let in and confess. This should be a national day of repentance, not a celebration. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

This image (also above) is the most accurate modern day reenactment of the original tumblr_og7eoxyw5m1qd42iqo1_1280Thanksgiving you’ll see… except that it’s not a reenactment. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s now. So as you sit down to dinner tomorrow, as you doze off on the couch watching football, as you argue with your family about the election, remember the people of Standing Rock- that is, “Real America”- and the thousands of water protectors gathered there. Remember that the turkey you’re eating comes in memory of a slaughter and genocide of native peoples that is still happening today. And remember that their plight isn’t even really about “their land”. It’s about our land. Everybody’s land. It’s about protecting this earth for generations to come. The Standing Rock Sioux are our teachers in this, but we are treating them as enemies.

So… have a troubled Thanksgiving. May your soul be in a state of unrest. May your heart cry tears of sorrow with every beat. May your mind be distracted by the truth. May your body be built by a riot in your bones. Have a troubled Thanksgiving, friends.

Since “we the people” are the only help the people of Standing Rock will get, here are a few ways you can help:

Sacred Stone Camp: http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
Oceti Sakowin Camp: http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org
Sophia’s GoFundMe Page: https://www.gofundme.com/30aezxs

What Now? Stop Beating the Crap Out of Each Other.

what_now1I’ve been trying to find words. Words are how I make sense out of things, and all week I’ve been trying to find the words that will make sense out of the insanity that this presidential election has brought. But I’ve struggled to find them. I’ve been sitting in front of my computer all morning trying to find them, but they don’t seem to come in any coherent way. I guess because there is little sense to be made out of what’s taking place in these “United” States of America. Regardless my soul needs words (even if somewhat raw and unrefined as these), and my soul needs to send those words out somehow, even if it is merely like a message in a bottle doomed to floating on an empty sea for eternity. So here are my words…

We’ve got problems, America. As much as Trump appalls me (and has since I watched “The Apprentice” back when he was mostly just a blowhard reality TV star and real estate huckster), he is right about one thing: America needs to be made great. Now I won’t say “great again”, because I’m not sure of the time when we were great, but I don’t want to get into that history right now. Suffice it to say that whether it’s “great again” or merely “great”, what Trump’s campaign slogan got right is that we as a nation have work to do. A lot of work. And in saying that, don’t give me the “why don’t you go live somewhere else” crap, because all that is is a not-clever way of shutting down hard but necessary conversation. I say that America needs to be made great, not because I hate America, but because I love it. The sooner we come to grips with the fact that we have real problems, the better. I’ll be honest: After an entire morning of several attempts at analyzing those problems, trying to find their causes, and then drawing on some kind of hopeful solution, I’m stuck. That is not to say that there isn’t a solution, but I’m stymied.

But here’s what I do know. The fear, hate, and violence has to stop. I’m just going to throw this out there, because it’s all that I know.

Those of you protesting Trump’s election, don’t stop. It’s your right to publicly assemble 546508-20161111-highschool-protest02and make your voice heard. Especially those like the gathering of Minneapolis High School students yesterday who have no vote. Get out there and make your voice heard. Don’t listen to the “he won fair and square, get over it” rhetoric. I’ll confess that he did win, and won legally. We can argue the merits of some voter laws in some states, but he won. But that doesn’t mean you have to get over it and be quiet. To a certain extent, Congress does. They need to get over it and for the sake of our country get to work, but as a private citizen, you have every right to get out there make your voice heard. But when you do, don’t destroy and burn stuff. Violence is not the answer. It never is. That doesn’t mean you can’t shut down a highway. That may be illegal, and to a certain degree dangerous, but it’s not violent. I have mixed feelings about shutting down highways, but a non-violent protest does not necessarily mean only a legal protest. Just know that if you do choose to do things like non-noviontely shut down a highway, you may get arrested. You have the right to assemble, but if you break the law in doing so, you can get arrested. You’ll need to deal with that, but deal with it peacefully.

So, Trump protestors, stop burning things, destroying property, and above all else, stop attacking Trump supporters. That is happening, whether you want to admit or not (it’s happened and they are so horrific that I don’t even want to link it here. Google it and will have no trouble finding them). Stop doing it, and furthermore start condemning the actions of those who do. You don’t have to like Trump supporters, you don’t have agree with them, you don’t have to be their friend, but you have no right whatsoever to threaten or harm them in any way. Stop it, and stop it now. I know you’re angry, and it’s ok to be angry, but you must not manifest your anger in physical attacks or threats. Stop it and condemn it when you see it.

To you Trump supporters: Climb out of your holes and stop denying that your fellow Trump supporters are engaging in a rash of hate crimes, vandalism, threats, physical and sexual assaults literally in Trump’s name across the nation. Is happening and maple-grove-high-school-graffiti-2collectively, you have not only been silent about it, you’ve been in abject denial of it. Not only that, President-Elect Trump has been silent about it. What you need to understand about those protesting his election, is that they are not protesting the merits of the election as much as they are protesting that these hate crimes, threats, and assaults, which many of us believed would come because of a Trump presidency, are actually coming. Yes, Trump tapped into what we often call “working class” America in a particular way which Hillary Clinton could not, and which got him elected, but that is not what the protests against him are about. They are about the violence he incited in his campaign toward certain people groups in America. You cannot- cannot- deny it. We saw it in his rallies. He made a promise to ban all Muslims from coming into our country. This distinctly un-American. He promised to build a wall, when the Republican hero’s (Ronald Reagan’s) most famous moment was the call to tear one down. Furthermore he encouraged violence towards his protestors by saying things like “I’d like to punch him in the face”, and, “in the gold old days, he’d be carried out on a stretcher” (If you need me to prove to you that he said these things, then you simply have not been paying attention and were an uninformed voter- look it up). The President-Elect incited violence, and that violence is manifesting itself across the nation, and he, along with his supporters are hiding from and denying it. This is not a “well, we’ve all sinned haven’t haven’t we” kind of moment. This is the President-Elect of the united states endorsing hate crimes, threats, and assaults on other Americans, and if he is not going to condemn it, you need to do it, and you need to demand that he does.

All of this is to say this. Post election (any election) there is little that we can do about what happens in Washington. We should never stop making our voices heard, no matter where on the political spectrum we fall, but in the end- that is, post election- there is little we can do. But what we can do, and what we must do, is stop the fear, hatred, and violence toward one another. Our reciprocal fear of the other, our hateful vitriol toward those who think differently than we do, and our physical destroying of one another and property is something over which we do have control. I am not asking anyone to compromise your beliefs. Stand up for what you believe in, but do it peacefully. Do it boldly, but do it peacefully. Death, assault, hate crimes, destruction… these have to stop and stop now.

12107836_10207468604055373_992290273295544282_n-2I don’t know what the answer is for America right now, but I know that we have serious, serious problems. I love this country. I do. But I am ashamed of it right now and have been for some time. Right now, I am not proud to be an American. It is disingenuous to even call us the “United” States of America. Today we are the Untied States of America. I don’t know what the answers are for what will truly tie us together, but I do know that step #1 is stop beating the crap out of each other. You on the right may not like this, but Hillary Clinton preemptively condemned beating the crap out of each other in her concession speech. And I, as one who voted for her, will publicly and boldly condemn the actions of those who have assaulted Trump supporters. I am still waiting for even one Trump supporter and the man himself to do the same about violence, hate crime, and threats in his name. Trump was surprisingly gracious in his victory speech late Tuesday night, but since then his supporters have erupted in violent attacks and hate crimes on Muslims, women, black lives, the LGBT+ community, and so on, and he has been silent (again, look it up. If you can’t find it, you’re trying not to). We have to stop beating the crap out of each other, and that means that President-Elect Trump needs to condemn those actions, and if he will not, his supporters need to do so. If neither of those happen, the future is terrifying.

So, can we build a better country and world together? I believe we can, but it’s going to take work. It’s going to take trust over fear, hope over despair, mercy over condemnation, and love over hate. Let’s do better. We can do better.We can argue, we can have battles for the ages in Congress, and we can boldly support what we believe will be great for America even if it’s different than our friend’s belief, our family member’s belief, or the person next us in the pew’s belief, but for the love of God and one another, can we please stop beating the crap out of each other? I’m sending out an SOS. I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.

The Hope for America is on Standing Rock

fullsizerender-2Last Thursday I had the honor of traveling to the Standing Rock reservation with seven other colleagues from the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to stand in solidarity with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux. We heard the call for clergy to come from Father John Floberg of the Episcopal Church on Standing Rock, and so we came. When we arrived at the gym for training, I was floored by the sea of clergy from all over the country. They were hoping for 100. Over 500 showed up. Something was happening here. We learned the action we would take the next day, and then we heard from various members of the community who shared their heart with us. The gratitude for our mere presence was overwhelming as one elder shared that she had dreams and visions that we would come, and she knew we would, but she just didn’t when.

The next morning we woke up, donned our various garments identifying as clergy and headed over to Oceti Sakowin Camp. The sun was peaking over the hills, smoke from theimg_7454 fires warming the campers gently graced the crisp air, and peace like I’ve rarely if ever felt- a peace that you might say surpasses understanding- dwelt among it all. We gathered around the sacred fire where we were to meet (500+ people gathering around a fire is no small feat!), and began. Tribal leaders welcomed us, explained a little about the camp, and again expressed their sincerest gratitude for our presence. Then Father John took the microphone and led us through a ceremony wherein we burned the Doctrine of Discovery, followed by each denomination present repudiating it.

After the repudiation, we were smudged (no idea if I’m saying that right), we marched to the bridge which was the scene of some violence a week earlier. Our original plan, which Father John had worked out with authorities in advance, was to cross that bridge and img_7469march to the scene of Dakota Access Pipeline work, but when we arrived at the bridge, it became clear that this would not happen. I don’t know why, and I don’t know who’s decision it was, but members of the tribe stood at attention on the other side of the bridge with police vehicles about 50 yards behind them, prohibiting us from crossing. We then gathered in a circle to offer prayers and pass the peace (also no small feat with 500+ people!), and then we were essentially done. We walked back to the camp, and prepared to head home.

As we walked back to the camp, numerous people shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “thank you for coming here. It means so much”. It occurred to me then, that though we didn’t “do” much, we did what the tribe needed us to do, which was simply to show up and say “we’re with you.” Sometimes the call is merely to show up. One young man who appeared to have just come from what I can only describe as the front lines, shook my hand and said “thank you, you have no idea how much it means to us that you’re here”. I looked back at him and said, “It’s the least we could do. We’re with you. Stay strong, and don’t get weary”. He said, “I will stay strong. I love my people, and I love this land, and I will die protecting them if I have to.”

At that moment I realized just how much what I feel I can only describe as “White America” does not understand what’s happening here. It may have seemed merely like a nice symbol to burn a 500+ year old document, but the reason we needed to do that is that, like it or not, we are still living into that document today. It’s alive. By decree of the Pope, that document gives us the “right” take lands we have “discovered”. As those machines tear up these sacred lands, which we took from the people of Standing Rock, gave back to them, then took them back again, the Doctrine of Discovery lives. As I looked into that young man’s eyes I realized that this is not a protest against oil; this is battle for national security. These are not protestors; they are soldiers fighting for the very survival and well being of their people. And, friends, as extreme and as uncomfortable as this may sound, we- our “great nation”- are the imperial force literally ploughing our way to further domination of native peoples. This is a reality to which we need to wake up.

But these soldiers I met are not like any soldiers I’ve ever met. They carry no weapons. img_7479They are, as the sign outside the camp says, unarmed. They desire that no one or no thing die or be injured. They are there to protect and to pray. And they are met with more familiar soldiers to me; ones with riot gear, guns and pepper spray. And while our president, our media, and our nation focus on an election for our next president, the “Manifest Destiny” we all read in our history books in high school lives in our very midst. And just like 227 years ago when we elected our first president, we, as a nation, don’t seem to care. Every four years we elect a president, and to some degree we put the hope of our nation into the hands of whomever is elected.

What I witnessed on Thursday is that the hope for America is not in Washington and it is not on your ballot. The hope for America is on Standing Rock. On this small reservation straddling the North and South Dakota border, in an area too hard to get to for the media to cover, is a people guided by a sense of peace, community, simplicity, and love. Their idea of being “great” is not rooted in being number one, but in living in communion with each other and the land. Their idea of being “stronger” is not in being some kind powerful savior to the world, but in serving one another and the land. As a Polynesian clergy person said,”I look to my brothers and sisters of Standing Rock, because it is them who have become the moral compass of this country”. While our president, for whom I voted twice, and who vowed to protect the people of Standing Rock paid some lip service but largely remains silent, the people of Standing Rock are fighting not only for themselves, but for what is truly in the best interests of this nation and the world.

In Genesis 2 God breathes the breath of life into Adam, and then gives Adam a job. It is a job that God quickly realizes he cannot do alone, so he makes for him his opposite to share in the work. That is he makes for him someone who is not like him but who has what he doesn’t have to do this important work. And that important work is to “till” and to “keep” this Garden of Life. Another way to translate these words “till” and “keep” is to “serve and protect” the Garden of Life. There in North Dakota stand a band of soldiers wearing badges that read “to serve and protect”, who are not serving and protecting the Garden of Life, but who are serving and protecting machines tearing up the earth to lay down on an oil pipeline. Meanwhile, the people of Standing Rock come unarmed, willing to literally give their lives to serve and protect the Garden of Life. Friends, the hope for this nation about which we are all very afraid, is- just as it often is- in an unsuspecting place. The hope for America is not in Washington nor on your ballot. The hope for America is on Standing Rock.

Adam & Eve: Who’s Leading Whom?

img_6479-001-e1378168705770So this Sunday the Narrative Lectionary began with Genesis 2-3. And for the purposes of where the lectionary is going, I felt the message for Sunday needed to focus on the reality of a broken world and our job as God’s people to be laborers for restoration and healing of that broken world. But the more I read this story- this very familiar story- the more something stood out to me that I felt I needed to say but which I did not have time to preach. It was an entirely different sermon. In order to give the Narrative Lectionary focus, the Genesis reading for this year skips over the creation of Eve, not because she doesn’t matter, but that it is in another year when we focus on the relationship between her and Adam. But something hit me about this relationship that I felt warranted words now, and that is this:

Despite many traditional interpretations of this passage in relation to male-female dynamics, Eve is the stronger of these two central characters. For centuries this passage has been twisted to blame what we call “the fall” on Eve, and it is has been twisted to name Eve as subordinate to Adam. It is from perversions of this text that we have shamefully referred to women as “the weaker sex”. What I found fascinating about that in my reading of it this week is that if there is one who is weaker, it’s Adam, and Eve is not so subtly, but clearly, the leader. Let’s look at it…

The story begins with Adam all alone. God makes him from the dirt and he is referred to as “the man”. He gets the name Adam because the Hebrew word for “man” is “adahm”. So right off the bat even his name is generalized and in this sense not particularly strong. It doesn’t mean “warrior” or “worker” or “leader” or anything like that- just “man”. But God does give Adam a job, which is to “till and to keep” the garden. That means he is to serve it and he is to protect it. It’s his to take care of. Then God gives Adam some instructions: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16–17 NRSV).

As soon as God gives these instructions (which seem simple enough), the very next thing that happens is God says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, or “it is not good for Adam to be alone”. God gives Adam the instructions and immediately upon doing so it’s as though God says, “oh, boy- he’s got no shot. He needs help.” And it’s here that God says, “I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18 NRSV). And it is from here that we get a woman, whom Adam will later name Eve, which at its root doesn’t mean the generalized “woman”, but means “life” (a relatively strong name, if you ask me).

Here’s the problem: “Helper as his partner” is a terrible translation. It makes it sound as though Eve is a child holding the nuts and bolts while dad fixes something. It makes her sound like an assistant to the one really doing the work, but if we look at the context, we see that Adam can’t actually do the work at all without her. He needs her. She’s not a “helper”, but she is necessary and active participant. The Hebrew phrase literally translates to “helping opposite”, or as the NET Bible notes, she is “an indispensable companion”. It speaks to a mutuality of relationship. It speaks to the idea that Eve has what Adam doesn’t and which Adam desperately needs and vice-versa. The woman is given a name rooted in the word for “life” because without her Adam (and with him, humanity) dies. She is not secondary or subordinate- she is essential.

But there’s more: It’s from here that the story moves toward that crafty serpent coming in and tempting them to eat the forbidden fruit. Traditionally Eve has taken the brunt of the blame for The Fall because she is the initial one to give in to temptation, and because of that, the story is twisted to make her subordinate. We treat this story as though Adam is some great leader who delegates the task of fruit gathering to Eve, and she fails. But this not all what happens. Just look closely at what happens here…

The serpent comes in and goes directly to Eve. He doesn’t even bother with Adam. I don’t know about you, but I always thought the serpent went to Eve because Adam was off doing something else. But that’s not the case at all. Verse 6 tells us “he was with her”. So the serpent slinks in, doesn’t even bother with Adam and goes directly to Eve. Is this because Eve is the weak one? No. If that were the case, Adam would’ve stepped in and said “not so fast, Mr. Snake!” But he doesn’t. He’s there, but he’s so inconsequential to the narrative that we don’t even notice him. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the serpent goes to the decision maker, which is Eve. And, she gives in to the temptation. She takes the fruit which God commanded not to take (and even adds to the commandment by stating that they are not even to touch it). She eats and then “she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6 NRSV).

Let’s think about this for a second. First of all, the serpent bypasses Adam. He doesn’t even deal with him. The serpent goes to straight to the decision maker. Also buried in this is the fact that Adam is the only one to whom the command is given firsthand. God gives Adam the dietary instructions before Eve is even created. So Adam is the first-hand keeper of the command, while Eve presumably hears it second-hand from Adam. Yet Eve is still the decision maker. She hands the fruit to Adam who is utterly oblivious to anything that’s going on. While Eve is working hard to till and keep the garden of life, working to fend off the temptation of the serpent, Adam is off catching a Pidgey playing Pokemon Go. It is from there that humanity “falls”, and then God gives these curses to the serpent, to Adam, and to Eve.

My point is this. Do not let anyone use this passage to pass on sexist, misogynist declarations about humanity and gender roles. When it comes down to it, what is really happening Genesis 2-3 is God is establishing an equality between the sexes. Eve is the “indispensable companion” to Adam and Adam is the “indispensable companion” to Eve. Or, to put it another way, Life is meant for humanity, and humanity is meant for life. They balance, complete and fulfill one another.

But if there is an inequality between the sexes in Gneiss 2-3, it is certainly not in favor of men. the man (Adam) is a non-factor in this story. Eve is the leader. Putting her in a subordinate position because she is the one that gave in to the serpent initially is like a third string quarterback putting the starting quarterback in a subordinate position because it is the starter who threw a game losing interception on the final drive. Adam isn’t even in the game. He’s on the sidelines with a clipboard and a headset… learning. Like I said, this story is (I believe) about equality, but if it is not, it is about dudes like me being utterly lost, confused, and wholly dependent on women for any chance at survival.

I’m thankful for all those women who’ve led me in my life. First my mom, and then so many others. I’ve said for years now, if you don’t think women can lead, let me introduce you to… and then I can go on with the many women who’ve led, taught, shaped, and mentored me. As I look at this foundational story, I also say, “if you don’t think women can lead, just look Eve.” Yes, she gave in to the temptation, but we all do and we have the benefit of history and still can’t resist that fruit. Though she gave in, Eve is still the leader in the story. So all you women and girls out there, don’t let any one, and in particular church folks, hold you back. God’s been expecting leadership out of you since the beginning. You get out there, assert yourself with your Creator-endowed strength, courage, and leadership, and lead me home.

Has Confirmation Lost Its Way?

Schoolchildren bored in a classroom, during lesson.

Confirmation is a beautiful and right idea, but I wonder if it has lost its way in the United Methodist Church. At its very root it is about confirming one’s baptism. When you’re a baby, your parents put white clothes on you (probably), and bring you to a church where you stand awkwardly before some pastor who asks you a series of very odd (almost Harry Potter like) questions. Then they hand you to the pastor who holds you near what one child in my congregation affectionally referred to as a “baptism bucket”, and proceeds to pour, drip or drizzle water on you and says something to the effect of “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Then people dote on you for a little while and you go and have brunch. That’s it. Done. Whether you like it or not, at this moment you become a connected to the community of faith and the community of faith becomes connected to you by committing to raise you as a disciple of Jesus. You have no choice in this matter what so ever. And it’s beautiful. It says, among other things, “God is working in you, and you belong here” before you even realize that you do. You have no say in the matter.

That is, until some point in your early adolescent days. You’re trying to figure out who you are, who your friends are, and what this world is all about, and suddenly this thing called “confirmation” pops up. Depending on the church it’s a 1, 2, or 3 year program designed to help you “confirm” your baptism. That is, it is now time for you to have some choice in the matter. Do you want to be a member of this community of faith? More often than not, the answer is yes.
So at some time in the Spring (and these days more and more in the Fall), upon finishing the confirmation class, however long it is, you head back to church, all dressed up. This time without your parents you stand independently before a pastor (sometimes even the same 2944861-hogwartspastor), and that pastor asks you the same Hogwartsian questions your parents were asked when they dragged you in there in that white outfit you wore only that one time in your life: “Do you, Harry Potter, renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness in this world…” and so on and so forth. You say “I do” and “I will” and such and such, and then the pastor and some other folk (depends on the church) put their hands on you, say some words, and, boom, you’re confirmed. Check! Then you never go to church again.

I’ve been leading and co-leading confirmation programs for 19 years. I’ve done it in a variety of forms, and in every one, for various reasons, there’s something missing. Something really important. Something, perhaps, more important than anything else. And something with which I’ve been wrestling for 19 years. This will be my 20th confirmation/baptism class and it’s time for me to rethink this whole thing.

Confirmation, remember, is about confirming your baptism- confirming what was said for you on your behalf when you could not speak or choose for yourself (which is why it is logically absurd to baptize a student and then immediately confirm them. A student who chooses to be baptized does not need to be confirmed, and it sends a bad theological and liturgical IMG_5945message when we do. Phew- got that off my chest- feel better now). So if confirmation is about confirming your baptism, it follows, then, that confirmation is about baptism. It is about the same thing baptism is about. And in the United Methodist Church (as I understand it, anyway- I’m no UMC theology and polity expert) one of the, if not the, primary components to baptism is the joining and committing to the community of faith. The baptismal candidate commits to being a full participant in the community of faith’s method (there’s a reason we’re “methodists”) of discipleship, and the community of faith commits to growing and nurturing that candidate in her discipleship. This is why we UMC pastors are discouraged from doing private baptisms. It’s about participation in the community. The community needs to be there!

Because baptism is about being a full participant in the community of faith, so is confirmation. And here’s where our problem is. What do we do?

We set up a wholly separate program for a specific age group wherein they rarely participate in the life of the community because all they have time for in their busy schedule is the wholly separate program that we set up. And the reason we do that is that there is so much we need to teach our students about the faith so that they can participate in it. Now let’s think about for a minute:

First, why would we expect our students to be full participants in the community of faith, when the very program we’ve designed to help them do that mostly separates them from the community of the faith and has an end date? We may have expectations that they participate in worship, and we may have a mentor of some kind for them, but those are generally secondary to being a part of that class we set up. Why are we surprised when our confirmands “disappear” after confirmation? We separated them from the community in the very program that’s supposed to teach them about being a part of the community!

Second, just think on this again: We set up a 1-3 year program to teach our students what it means to be a participant in the community of faith. Just let that in: We need to set up a separate program to teach our students what it means to be a disciple in a denomination whose very mission statement is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. What has happened to the church that we are not already doing this? We shouldn’t need to teach our students this. They should already be doing it!

Our confirmation programs usually consist of things like teaching our students about the Bible, what it is, what is not, how it’s structured, etc. We teach them about the Trinity. We teach them about Jesus more in depth (short changing the Holy Spirit, per usual). We teach them about the early church, we teach them about God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s grace.

What are we doing that we’re not doing this in our ministry to children and youth to the extent that we need to set up a separate program from our regular ministries for our teenagers to do it? And we do so by holding a certificate hostage that their parents desperately want/need on their students’ graduation open house table. At risk of hurting some feelings (I just think we need to name the problem), I believe that the fact that we need a separate class to teach our young people what it means to be a disciple is an indictment on the church’s abject failure to live out its mission with young people. We shouldn’t need a separate class from their regular large and small gathered communities to teach young people about being a disciple. We should just make disciples. We need to do a better of job calling our people of all ages to a life of prayer, searching the scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, and acts of service all in the context of the large gathered community and (no “or”) small gathered communities.

What this means for our teenagers is that our youth groups and our worship contexts should be enough to teach them what it means to be a full participant in the community of faith. And those programs (and, yes, worship is a program too) should be enough because they should be disciple forming programs. What our confirmation “programs” should be is the calling of a deep commitment to these methods of discipleship that are centered on prayer, searching the scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, and acts of service in large and small gathered communities. It should be a 1,2 or 3 year commitment to discipleship in the community of faith, but not its own program that ends after 1, 2 or 3 years. We should be calling them to a commitment to our respective ongoing discipleship processes.

And hear this: This is not on our youth ministers, children’s ministers, and Sunday school teachers. This is on pastors like me. It is our job to set up methods of discipleship that enable the entire community- including our students- to become full participants in AAEAAQAAAAAAAATPAAAAJDNlMDIwMTg0LThjODgtNGMyNi04YWZlLWZkMDMyMjE5NzVhMwthe community. But when our worship services are done in a language that alienates them, and when we don’t make room for them in leadership, and when we demand that our youth pastor “grow the program” through mere fun and games and glitz and glamour, we fail to implement adequate discipleship methods for our young people. We need “entry points”, but we fail to disciple our young people when their weekly core gathering lacks discipleship methods. I would rather my youth group be small and make disciples, than be the hot spot in town for teenagers to play foosball (that being said, there’s nothing wrong with foosball in a youth room!). Furthermore, the reason we need “entry points” into youth ministry is that we as pastors too often fall short of discipling their parents that we hang our hopes on our children’s and youth ministers to draw and reach new families. The entry point to the church should not be children and youth ministry. It should be parents bringing their kids with them because a friend, neighbor or family member has come so alive in their own spirituality through the ministry of the church that they can’t shut up about it and invite them.

So that’s what we’re thinking about at Aldersgate UMC this year. Our namesake makes a claim for us that we want to be a place where hearts are strangely warmed. That is, we want to be a place of spiritual vitality, and as Methodists, we believe there is a method to spiritual vitality. So for confirmation, we are going to call our young people to our discipleship process. We are going to call them to commit to their youth group, which will be a place of prayer, searching the scriptures, and acts of service. And we call them to participate in and lead worship, which will be a place of prayer, searching the scriptures and the Lord’s supper. And as they approach confirmation Sunday, we will call them away for one weekend retreat to tie it all together and call them to reflect on whether this life is a life they want to commit to for the rest of their lives. And then when confirmation Sunday comes, those who so choose and have been baptized before will kneel, we will lay hands on them, and we will celebrate their commitment to being a disciple of Jesus as set forth for them by their parents having them baptized. And those who have not been baptized, will kneel and will likewise simply be baptized (and not confirmed because their baptism will be their confirmation!).

There’s risk in it. What if they don’t choose to be confirmed? Well, that should be the caseunspecified
in any confirmation system. And what if there are too many distractions on Wednesday to adequately teach them the core tenets of the faith? Well, when Jesus told us to go and make disciples he didn’t say “teach them everything I’ve commanded”, but he said “teach them to obey everything I’ve commanded.”Jesus didn’t teach students in a classroom. He apprenticed disciples in the world. I don’t know if it will work, but if I’m honest, I don’t think what we’ve been doing has been working.

And so I wonder… I wonder if those students who stick with the commitment to engage in the community of faith, just might stick around after confirmation Sunday. Because “confirmation” will not have ended, because discipleship will not have ended. I don’t know if it will work. But it might. So let’s stop isolating confirmation. And let’s do our busy families a favor but setting up simple but meaningful methods of discipleship for all age groups, and in so doing, let’s get back to being who we say we are: Methodists. Define the method, then call everyone to it, and celebrate those who find renewed vitality through it. There is no need for anything else.

 

Something is Wrong.

justice-387213_960_720Last night I turned on the “news” to get caught up on happenings in the world and in particular the Alton Sterling story (I put “news” quotes because that’s where what’s on the TV belongs these days). My heart sank as I watched reports on yet another black man shot and killed by law enforcement. It was only moments later when I began to see reports about the Philando Castile shooting in Falcon Heights. Grief, sorrow and quite honestly depression sank in. I woke up this morning and it did feel like a new day. The sorrow continues. I don’t know what to do anymore. Something is wrong in our culture and we seem to be utterly unwilling to address it.

I, myself, have been pretty quiet about it, because I think this is really complicated stuff. I will continue to hold that being a law enforcement officer is a difficult, dangerous, and frightening job. We can’t ignore that, and I think very few actually are ignoring it. But what else is true, and which we seem to be unable to confess, is that being a black male in this culture is just as, if not more, difficult, dangerous, and scary. For some reason we are unable and unwilling to admit this.

Story after story after story of black men being killed by police officers have come our way, and every time we find a reason to defend to the killing, all the while the stats continue to prove that something is out of balance. The image we use for justice is a scale, and we do so, because these scales speak to balance. If justice is out of balance, there is no justice. The reality that we must let in (and by “we” I mean primarily suburban white America) is that something is out of balance, and if we truly want justice, something will have to change to tip the scales.

Like I said, I don’t know what to do anymore. All I know to do is write and speak, but I just don’t think that’s enough anymore. This problem is bigger than story and rhetoric. We have a problem in our judicial and law enforcement systems, and we will not get anywhere until we come to grips with that. This does not mean that our judicial and law enforcement systems are entirely and wholly bad or evil, but it does mean that there is a problem. And it’s not a new problem. It goes way back. My first awakening to it was the Rodney King case, but it goes even further back than that. It’s been buried for a long time, but suddenly these things called smart phones are exposing it, and yet we still turn away and blindly defend the establishment.

For the third time, I don’t know what to do. But one cry I have heard from the black community is a plea for people in the white community to speak up. So this is me, a white guy, asking all of us to step back, take a look at the numbers and simply confess that something is out of balance and that we need to do something about it. We have to stop this “yeah, but…” response, and we have to start to listen to the cries. We have to stop picking apart the details of every story and begin to look at the big picture of out of balance scales of justice. We have to stop using an out of balance judicial system to tell us what justice is. That’s like using a broken speedometer to prove I’m not speeding. Something is wrong, and we have to look at it.

Truthfully, I think the embedded racism in our culture that we want to deny is exposed in our refusal to admit that there’s a problem, that the scales of justice are out of balance. I implore all of us to wonder and reflect on why we are so unwilling to admit this. Try to put down the defenses and simply wonder, reflect, and if you are of the praying persuasion, pray about it.

Something is wrong. It just is. So let’s stop denying and let’s start listening. Just start with that, and see where it takes you. We must listen to and hear the cries.

#ItsTime (To Do Away With “I Think So”)

aircraft-537963_960_720It’s been a whirlwind of a month for the United Methodist Church. Our General Conference convened and adjourned and nothing changed in regards to our position on matters of human sexuality. Our position remains as one that excludes the LGBTQ community from full inclusion in our denomination, but this leaves many of our churches in a curious position.

From my experience at least in our conference, most of our local churches do not have clarity on where they stand on matters of human sexuality. They know that the denomination has been debating it for decades, and they know that the culture in which they exist is seeing significant shifts, and the combination of the two has created a lack of clarity for many local churches. From my experience we have largely avoided talking about and coming to any clarity on matters of human sexuality because doing so may “blow up the church”. But what if the church is already crashing?

As the future of the UMC is uncertain, I, an appointed clergy person charged with shepherding a local congregation am left asking, “but what about my church?” As I was watching General Conference proceedings a couple weeks ago my 13 year old son asked me what I was watching. I told what it was and what they were debating and his response was “they’re arguing about that? That’s dumb.” He then asked me if his gay friends were welcome and safe in our church. The best answer I could give him, “I think so.”

In the span of 40 years of debate, another 2-4 isn’t much, but to a 13 year old, it’s an entire season of life. Today’s teenagers are living in a world where a certain degree of inclusion is assumed in most institutions, and I think our local churches owe the LGBTQ community the truth about where we stand. Sure, the denomination is in some limbo, but the local church doesn’t have to be. Local churches have been in a holding pattern, waiting for the denomination to tell us where to land, and our planes are running out of gas, or perhaps already have and we’re coasting on fumes. We’ve got to land somewhere soon.

I believe a lack of clarity on matters of human sexuality is symptomatic of a lack of theological, missiological, and ecclesial identity in the local church, and that lack of clarity impacts our ability to grow in spiritual vitality and reach new people. We cannot wait 2-4 years to gain clarity on which new people we will reach and how we will reach them. These matters of human sexuality are not an isolated issue. Our view of Scripture, our ecclesiology, and our entire ways of being the gathered and scattered community are wrapped up in them, and because of that, we simply cannot wait to start to have the crucial conversations about where we’re at as local congregations.

How we do that? I’m not an entirely sure, and I know I need wisdom in how to do so, but what I am certain about is that I believe in the power of the local church above all else. Our conferences and our denomination are only as strong as the local church that makes them up, and the local church is getting lost in the debate. So we can debate General Conference proceedings, and we can argue in our Annual Conferences about all kinds of global and national issues all day long, but until the local church gains clarity about who it is, it will not rise to renewed vitality and the trajectory the denomination as a whole has been on for decades will not change.

Yes, the denomination will still have limits placed on us as clergy in what we can and cannot do, but I believe we must step into what can do. It’s scary waters for me. I don’t want to blow up my church! I love my church! I really do. I’m one lucky guy to be appointed where I am. But I’m tired of circling, and I’m not sure how much longer we can do it. I am beginning to believe that we as pastors of local churches need to step into those scary waters. Let’s take the lead in bringing some of our own clarity. Is it possible that this what our bishops appointed us to do anyway? What are we waiting for? We may not be able to get all the answers, but we can get more than we have now.

The time for clarity at the local church level is now. “I think so” is no longer an acceptable response. I do not want to advocate for polarizing us further, but I do believe that churches that have clarity on matters of human sexuality (like our Reconciling congregations) are a step ahead of the rest of us. They know who they are. There’s no question about who is called to be a participant in God’s mission. And the same goes for our more conservative congregations. They know who they are, and if my 13 year old son asks them if his gay friends are welcome and safe there, he will get a much more clear answer than “I think so.”

My Journey to No (4 Years Later)

brick-wall1In 2012 I wrote the following post leading up to the marriage amendment vote in the Minnesota election. What I didn’t know when I wrote this was that about 18 months after writing it, I would be co-officiating the marriage ceremony for the couple referenced in this post- one of my most powerful moments as a pastor. I will never forget the moment when the couple signed that license, and the Episcopalian priest with whom I shared the ceremony held up that license in the same way that Michael Jordan pumped his fist after a clutch jumper in game one of 1997 NBA Finals.

Well here we are, four years later and my denomination still opposes such a marriage. Today the General Conference will convene in Portland, Oregon, and, among other things, there will debate about the United Method Church’s stance policies regarding LGBTQI marriage, ordination and other matters. I am hopeful, but not anticipating, that something will change, for, as I said to the couple referred to in the following post when Minnesota eventually did legalize gay marriage, “we made it legal; now we gotta make it holy.” Well, it already is holy; we just haven’t realized it yet. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

With that, some of it is maybe not how I would say it today (we’re all on a journey), but here’s what I wrote in 2012:

Let me begin by saying that this is a story about my journey. It reflects my journey, my thoughts, and who I am. It is not a reflection of, nor do I claim to speak for, my denomination, my annual conference or  the local community to which I am appointed. This is where I am. My purpose in writing this is mostly for me. There is an aching inside of me to say something in order to, one, get it down “on paper” for my own good, but I do also feel compelled share my thoughts. I am not trying to persuade anyone, as much as I feel a need to “come clean” with my thoughts, which differ from earlier thinking about which I was public in my past. Out of fear of losing theological respect for some whom I love dearly, I have merely hinted at my thoughts lately but have yet to come right out to say them. To my current congregation, let me also just say that it is okay to disagree with me. Your views, voice, and opinions are no less valid than mine. Let’s look at this, talk about it, and maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. That being said, here is “My Journey to No”.

I was brought up to be a good agnostic, and I mean that in the best sense of the term. I was brought up to be very careful not to subscribe to any dogma of any degree; to question everything, think critically, and be comfortable with the idea that when it comes to things spiritual in particular, none of us really “know”. We are all, to some degree, agnostics. This does not mean, however, that I was brought up in a context void of values, morals and even truths. Prejudice of any kind was not allowed in my home. Respect for “neighbor” in the most literal and most broad senses of the term, no matter who they happened to be or what they happened to believe, was an expectation. And an adherence to the rules and laws of my context was expected. That is, I was to go to school and do my best, obey the law to fullest extent, and honor and respect the rules of the home (curfew, chores, etc.). Beyond that, I was largely free to think for myself. I appreciated this upbringing.

Because of this upbringing and the predominate thinking in South Minneapolis, I grew up very open to any form of law abiding religion, sexuality, and lifestyle. While I indeed held these beliefs, as a teenager I cared more about sports and movies than I did about who was elected and what might be on a ballot. But then something happened. Somehow, what I believe now to be, the Spirit of God got a hold of me, and I became enamored with the Bible and with the person of Jesus Christ. After much resistance, I found myself at 17 years old literally on my knees choosing to live my life in the character and nature of Christ. But not even knowing my way around a Bible, I needed guidance. And I found guidance in a community of faith that loved me well, but also had a certain dogma about it that left little room for varying opinions and perspectives; a stark contrast to my upbringing. This forced me to begin thinking through social, political and religious issues more. I remember, as though it happened yesterday, driving near Park Ave UMC in South Minneapolis with my youth pastor asking him the tough questions about why homosexuality was a sin. The crux of the answer I received then, and which I received from most of my Christian leaders was this: “The Bible is pretty clear, whether we like it or not”.

The more I grew in my faith and the more I studied the Bible in this context, the more it appeared to be true. This was something I was just going to have to learn to accept. Overtime, I wrestled greatly internally while becoming cognitively convinced that homosexuality is indeed a sin and a lifestyle which is “incompatible with Christian teaching” (as the United Methodist Book of discipline states). It was also clear, however, that as Christians, we are called to love. So the old adage, “hate the sin, love the sinner” became the crux of my belief, although I always hated the trite, condescending phrase.

Since then I have shifted, and today I, like you, am faced with a question on our ballot asking for a “yes” or “no” vote on whether our state’s constitution should embrace a biblically rooted definition of what marriage is. Even though the Minnesota ballot will be specific to a constitutional amendment defining marriage, at its roots, this is a biblical issue. The frustrating thing for many people in our culture is that they don’t care what the Bible says, and, quite honestly, why should they? It would be grossly unconstitutional to tell them they have to care, so I hear and feel they’re frustration with this whole thing. But for many people in our culture today, the words of the Bible are still very important, myself included. What’s tricky about this is that while the Bible should not be banned from the marketplace of ideas that inform legislation, the Bible should not be the litmus test for legislation either. “The Bible tells me so” is good thinking when we are talking about church politics and legislation, but by itself it is dangerous thinking when talking about matters of the state. The rationale behind a constitutional definition of marriage (or any matter of the state) must go beyond “the Bible tells me so”. When talking about matters of the state, I believe the Bible (as well as sacred texts from any number of other faiths) should have a seat at the table, but none of them at the head. What makes America great, is that all sources of ideas are welcome, but none takes ultimate authority.

That being said, this amendment is forcing Christians throughout the state to wrestle with their biblical definitions of marriage. And those definitions should factor into your vote. YOUR vote. But I would challenge Christians to think for a minute about what you are doing when the only rationale for a constitutional amendment is The Bible. This is okay in church world. But our state is not church world. You have to accept that for those who don’t subscribe to the Bible’s ideas as we do, its definition of marriage (whatever it may be) means nothing to them. I have heard people say that without this amendment one judge could have the power to impose gay marriage on me. This makes no sense. One judge could have the power to determine whether gay marriage is legal or not, but no one will ever force you to enter into a gay marriage, nor can any one force you to officiate one. As clergy, we already reserve the right not to marry a couple if we don’t want to. And our polities already have limits on marriage that the state does not. My denomination requires premarital counseling. The state does not. So no one is taking anything from you nor forcing anything upon you. On the flip side, however, something is already denied GLBT persons, and this amendment would only make that denial stronger. The only people who have anything to lose here are those in the GLBT community. If this amendment does not pass, the GLBT community still loses, they just lose less. The only imposition that can come out of this is a biblical interpretation being imposed upon those who don’t subscribe to it [cue Thomas Jefferson rolling over in his grave]. Even if I agree with this as a biblical definition of marriage (more on that later), I still would vote “no” on this amendment, because I believe it to be unconstitutional to impose a biblical idea on some one who does not believe that the Bible is nothing more than ink on paper. I am not saying that biblical ideology has no seat at the table. It does, but it must be balanced with all the other seats at the table as well. Were there a rationale for voting “yes” beyond one specific biblical ideology, I might listen to it, but I have yet to hear one, nor do I believe a viable one exists.

While I shifted on the legal and civic aspects of this amendment, the truth is, I have shifted biblically as well. And this was the hardest shift of all for me, but also the most important and formational one. I fear that with what I am about to say, I will lose credibility with many people I hold dear, but I have come to a point where it must be said. While one can biblically defend not just banning gay marriage but believing homosexuality to be a lifestyle “incompatible with Christian teaching”, I have come see that there is also biblical support on the contrary. I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am a man deeply influenced by The Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit within it. And like I said, this is my journey, not THE journey. So I am going to forgo a well argued biblical treatise on this. There are plenty of books and sermons out there that would do, and have done, a much a better job of that than I. What I want to do is explain how I look at this biblically in the context of what I believe to be the work of the Spirit of God in my life.

It comes down to the deep dark secret that many Christians are afraid to admit, but cannot be denied: The Bible is messy. More specifically, it is messy because we treat it as a “manual for life” or as “basic instructions before leaving earth”. If we read it this way, we are in deep trouble because it will contradict itself. The Bible is not “a manual for life”. Manuals get thrown in a drawer and are only taken out when there is a problem. The Bible is the story of God and God’s people, and it is a messy story. A really good, complicated, beautiful, messy story, that stays not in a drawer, but on a shelf and, like any good story, is read over and over and over. This does not mean that the Bible is fictional and therefore meaningless, but it means that we must be very careful how we use it. It is in its messiness that I have come to see that it can be used to defend either end of just about any debate. So what I have found myself doing over the last 5-7 years is stepping back and asking myself, “what’s the big story here?” And I have come to see that, as a Christian, the heart of the big story is in the Gospels. And when I look at the life of Jesus, I see a man whose work and ministry was centered around breaking the Kingdom of God wide open. He is constantly bringing those who are on the outside to the inside, and cunningly forcing those who are on the inside to self select to the outside. At the story’s peak, Jesus breaks the concept of outside and inside down completely, as he dies and the curtain around the Holy of Holies tears in two. The walls have come down. This does not mean that any and all behavior is now acceptable. But it does mean that the Spirit of God is now boldly accessible to all, and therefore all are invited into a life immersed in (that is baptized in) the Spirit of God.

In the big story, Jesus then ascends to heaven and soon leaves us, as he promised, the power of the Holy Spirit, which comes upon the disciples in two different stories (John 20 and Acts 2). As I understand it, the mark of a Christian, then, is evidenced by those who appear to be living “by the spirit”. So what does that mean? To live “by the spirit” means that the fruit of your life will be the fruit of the Spirit, which we know to be “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity (or goodness in some translations), faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Therefore it follows that when you see those attributes in a person naturally flow out of who that person is, from a Christian perspective, you are seeing the work of the Spirit in that person’s life. For a long time I believed that a gay person could not fully be a Christian. They might claim it, but I believed there was something at the core of their identity keeping them from the fullness of the Spirit in their lives. This, of course, then begged the question, “so what happens if you see the fruit of the spirit in a gay person or any person deemed an outsider?” When we step back from Levitical law and look at Gospel fruit, we begin to see the work of the spirit in places we never thought it existed. And that’s what I saw.

This is not a “and then I met a gay person” story. I’ve known, interacted with and been friends with gay people for as long as I can remember, and I have counseled students who were gay as well. So it’s not as though it took meeting a gay person to form me in this way. But it was through a gay couple in my life, among a whole host of other things, that the Spirit of God formed me. An old friend came out many years ago, and while this did not necessarily surprise me, it did force me to think more deeply about how I would respond. I remember telling him that I loved him, but that I just disagreed with this lifestyle choice. I did not see then just how hurtful and impossible those words likely were as I do now. How this person and his partner stayed friends with me, I will never know. Furthermore, how they continued to love me, I will never know. As the years rolled on, what I began to see pouring out of this couple, not just toward me, but in every facet of their lives was a deep and authentic faith that produced the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. They are all there. Yet in me I saw judgement, anxiety, and fear. They returned my hate and judgement with love and acceptance, the most Christ-like thing a person could do. It was not a well crafted treatise, article or sermon that changed me (although they did play roles), but the authentic, fearless and undeserving love of a friend. We cannot ignore the significance of the fruit of the spirit in those we place on the spiritual margins of our faith.

The Bible says a lot of things, and is a messy book, but its big story is a beautiful one. It is a God doing what it takes to be reconciled to God’s creation. All of it. And this reconciliation is not a mental ascent to a doctrine. Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruit”, not by what they say, how they do church, what they do or don’t do on Saturday night, or whom they love. It’s time to tear down the walls and embrace a welcoming God. It’s been God’s agenda from the very beginning. And so on november 6th, I will be voting “no”, because I want my Christ-like friends to one day be able to enjoy the same benefits and rights as a married person that I do, and even more so, I want them to enjoy the same beauty and holiness in a Christian ceremony that I enjoyed 15 years ago. Many of you will, no doubt, come to me with compelling biblical arguments opposing my views, and that’s ok. I get it. I’m sure my hermeneutic is flawed, my exegesis is lacking, my eschatology is incomplete, and my Christology is low, but this is what’s in me. Me, a Bible-loving, Christ-seeking, hopefully Kingdom-expanding man, trying to do his best to authentically embody the character and nature of Christ in the way he lives. So, yes, I will be voting “no”, and what I have said above is why.

In closing, as we go to the polls on November 6th, let’s all, especially those people called “methodists” remember these great words, above all else:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, one, to vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; Two, to speak no evil of the person they voted against; and three, to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side” -John Wesley, October 6, 1774