Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Better Word

Hebrews 12:18-29

God, through this letter to the Hebrews, wants to share a little insight with you about Religion. About religiousness. About two contrasting ways of living your religion. Two opposing religions. Two religions which superficially seem very similar, but couldn’t be more different.

Both of these religions have a mountain. The one has a mountain of fear. The second a mountain of joy.

The mountain of fear is a place where the people of God gather at the base in terror. Lightning flashes and a cloud roils at the peak of the mountain. Anything which touches this mountain – even an animal, must be stoned to death. The mountain is a place of blood and sacrifice. Only one person, a select person specially prepared can go up this mountain and come back safely to bring the word of God. And when that word comes back it is a heavy word. A crushing word of law. An impossible burden demanding obedience and when failure occurs, as it always must, atonement must be sought on this mountain with sacrifice. The mountain must be continually appeased with blood offerings.

The mountain of joy is a place of assembly as well, but here the people of God come to find thousands of angels singing songs of praise and triumph. They find everyone together climbing the mountain in safety to the top where there is no cloud at all, but bright clear sunshine and God in our midst. The word which is spoken from this mountain is a better word, heard by all and not by one representative. This word is that sacrifice is ended. There will be no more atonement, and all who come here will be welcomed and fed.

These mountains are not a Jewish and a Christian mountain. People of all faiths, and of no faith at all can come to the mountain of joy. And people of every faith, including Christians, often choose to worship at the mountain of fear. These are not exclusive clubs. The mountain of fear will accept sacrifices from anyone, and the mountain of joy will host the feast for anyone.

If anyone dared to show up at the mountain of joy, that is. Because through human history we have preferred the mountain of fear. Perhaps because we feared it so, we often told ourselves and others that it was the only mountain. Or groveling and hiding our sorrow, we even convinced ourselves that these mountains were one and the same. That gaining access to joy meant paying obeisance to fear.

It is evident in our history as a species. Anthropologists, archaeologists and historians have been making it plain for the past two centuries that the roots of human religiousness are in sacrifice. On every continent, in every climate, every place that humans went our religious rituals followed us. We sacrificed to spirits, and gods, and forces of nature. We sacrificed to idols, and to secure good fortune in war, or at harvest, or fertility for our wives and daughters. We cut the lives out of animals, goats, chickens, cows, horses, pigs… yes. But we also cut the lives out of human beings. The Aztecs were not uniquely barbarous in taking beating hearts out of human chests. Human sacrifice has played a part in human religion all over the world for tens of thousands of years. It is even recorded in our own scriptures. Fathers killing their daughters to give thanks to a monster God. People going to war and raping, pillaging, and razing, at the behest of this God. Our own Christian history is splattered with the gore of crusades, and inquisitions, of burnings, hangings and tortures… of people sacrificed on the mountain of fear.

Nor have we done away with these darker aspects of our religious selves. These are not mere relics of the past. Simply because we do not have a pyramid to toss the bodies off of, does not mean that we are not sacrificing people to the mountain of fear, perpetually atoning for weakness and failure to an unforgiving cosmos. Wherever the mountain of fear is worshipped, sacrifice follows.

The mountain of fear is where the cowards who flew planes into buildings nine years ago worshipped. They believed that their sacrifice, their holy death, and the deaths of the passengers on those planes, and the deaths of the thousands in those buildings would please God. They believed that the blood would soak into the mountainside and make it sacred. They believed that they would earn approval for themselves and their loved ones with such a sacrifice.

How tragic, then, that we have too often legitimated their depraved beliefs by worshipping at the self-same mountain. By declaring the ground of those attacks sacred because of the blood spilt there as if spilling blood were what made something sacred. By which logic Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Dachau and Auschwitz are some of the holiest sites on earth. Or the nearby sand-creek massacre – who believes that is sacred ground? We spilled enough innocent blood there! We have worshipped at the mountain of fear whenever we treated those deaths as a religious act, as anything other than senseless waste. When we worship and pray and argue and fight as a culture over the proper treatment of “sacred” Ground Zero – we are paying homage to the mountain of fear.

We have always done this. We commemorate our massacres. We venerate those who we have piled on the altar – and we justify new sacrifices because we can’t allow those who have already been killed to have died in vain. Our cemeteries at Gettysburg, and Arlington are holy sites where we go on pilgrimage to remind ourselves why we have to continue every day to put new bodies on the altar. Our soldiers who die because we sent them to war are robbed of their humanity. When they are brought back they are not allowed to just be people who died to senseless violence like millions before them. They are heros, and mini-saviors. We use the same words to describe them that we normally reserve for Christ – they gave their life for others.

These sacrifices are wrapped in ritual and symbolism. There are flags, and songs, and prayers… and then more sacrifices. Perpetually. Because the mountain of fear can never be appeased. Our sins are too deep to ever be sufficiently atoned for.

Perceive then how radical a departure it is for us to claim that Jesus Christ has called us into a new form of worship. To worship at a mountain of Joy – where the symbols of division and exclusion (nationality, race, gender, sexuality, class, age) have all been completely wiped away. Here everyone assembles openly in the presence of God and a multitude of angels, saints, martyrs, sinners, victims, workers, lovers, and children. Here the worship is not about appeasement or atonement. Here there are no sacrifices.

What we place at the heart of our sanctuary is not an altar, but a table. Here we come not to make a sacrifice, but to celebrate a feast. If this were an altar there would be blood gutters at the sides and a place for a fire in the center. The gas grill we have on our porch is closer to an altar than this table is. At this table nothing dies – but everything receives new life.

We never believe nor claim on this mountain that God demands, desires, or accepts one drop of blood spilled in his name or in any other name. There is here only one kind of blood that is spilled – the blood of the grape. Christ’s blood and Christ’s body which we share at this table, which are the constant proof of our unity and absolute end of any division.

Here where we worship there should be only one thing which reminds us of that other mountain and its consequences – the cross. That in seeking forgiveness and safety, and freedom and every other good thing that we have prayed for from God while laying another sacrificial goat on the altar we ended up killing our very hope. The very sign of God’s love. The very proof of God’s forgiveness. The very guarantee of God’s protection. And the very essence of freedom.

So forever let us swear off all idols, and symbols, and prayers and rituals which tell us that blood makes things holy, that sacred things are about sacrifices. That salvation requires violence.

Here is our hope. Here is our salvation. Here is our joy. This is the mountain we have been called to worship upon.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Remember the Real One

Not cynical fear-mongering, not knowingly spreading ignorance, not vapid scribblings on a chalk-board, not comparing everyone to a Nazi, not hypocrisy married to self-righteousness, not infantile partisan one-upmanship, not snarling jingoist xenophobia. Masterful rhetoric from a heart moved by love even for those who would destroy him, telling us who we are called to be.

Glenn Beck could grow wings and a shining halo and walk across the surface of the Reflecting Pool and never even come close.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pray For Me

As a pastor I am asked to pray for people all the time. Even more frequently situations come up in which the socially appropriate, expected response is "I'll pray for you." When those situations come up, more often than not, other people around me are uttering the familiar phrase and I am looking befuddled like "why did you say that?"

I have been working and working to understand this impulse, but something deep in me strongly resists uttering the words. Oh I've said them. Usually when the external pressure was so intense there seemed to be no polite way to avoid it, as when every other person in the room has made their pledges of prayer and then turned to look at me patiently, but expectantly. Or when I felt completely helpless or lost for other possible responses to a situation... but it is precisely in those situations that I feel most convicted that it is the wrong thing to say and the moment the words have left my mouth I regret it.

Partly I resist the words because they make me into a hypocrite. Yes I actually do pray for other people, but not as often as I have promised I will. Far too often my pledge of prayer has been worthless. I promise myself every day I will get better about keeping lists and remembering everything I am told, and I will be more disciplined about when and where I say my prayers etc... etc... but until I am a better person than I am right now I will keep breaking promises to myself and to you.

I also do not like promising to pray for people because it is too easy. It is something I can say if I don't want to commit to something more difficult. It is easy to avoid the work of compassion, attention, and presence and still maintain my veneer of empathy by promising my prayers. Sometimes I just don't have time for your problems. You know that too, but neither of us want to admit it. So we are both given a little guilt-reprieve by me promising to pray for you.

It also glosses over times and places when there really is nothing I can do. Rather than live with the discomfort of admitting my helplessness I can promise to pray and instantly banish awkward feelings. It is a subtle and effective barrier between me and some very ugly feelings. Oh, your cancer is inoperable? That makes me feel very sad because I love you and don't want to lose you. Promising to pray for you helps keep me in denial. Your situation makes me feel frightened because it reminds me of my own mortality? Promising to pray for you keeps me distracted. Your situatiom makes me feel guilty because I want to be able to help? Promising to pray for you satisfies my need to be helpful.

Pledges of prayer don't make sense theologically to me. First of all, my primary understanding of the purpose of prayer is that it is a discipline of sanctification. It is a process we go through for the transformation of our own hearts and minds into the heart and mind of Christ. We open ourselves to the inspiration of the Spirit and hope that prayer changes something - ourselves. So when I pray for someone else I do so primarily to teach myself compassion. This discipline is undermined by the words "I'll pray for you." It is undermined because compassion which seeks attention to itself is insufficiently humble. It is undermined because every time I promise to pray, but then do not, I strengthen my vice of respectability. I substitute the public appearance of empathy for true compassion. Like eating junk food in place of real food I slowly poison myself.

Secondly, even if you believe that intercessory prayer is meant to effect miracles in the world beyond inward transformation, what does pledging to pray accomplish? These are separate actions. Praying for miracles is one thing. Pledging to pray for miracles is another. If you care about that person and can perform miracles what difference does it make if they know you intend to do so? Is it so that you can get credit if or when the miracle occurs? So they won't be caught by surprise when their cancer suddenly goes into remission? Does the pledge make the prayer more powerful somehow?

Ultimately, as best as I am able to discern, people promise to pray for each other because it is a nice thing to say. It is the common Christian way to express concern and let people know you are attempting to sympathize with them. It is the equivalent of a get well card or a thank you note, but requiring less effort. I try to see it in the best possible light when people promise to pray for me (though it gives me no comfort). I realize they are just trying to express their support.

Still, as I am standing in conversations at fellowship hour, or scanning my twitter feed, or reading updates on facebook, I constantly bump into this phrase, "I'll pray for you." And part of me wonders, "why did you say that?"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Yes, A White Person Can Understand What It Is Like to Be Black...

...or asian, or hispanic, etc.  And yes, a man can understand what it is like to be a woman.  A straight person can understand what it is like to be gay.

Did I get your attention?  Cool.

I've seen this question in the race conversation a lot - everybody has - and I think the answer is clearly "yes".  The important part of the question, though, is that race has nothing to do with it.

The real question is "Can one human being understand what it is like to be another human being."  Race is just one variable in our experience as human beings.  Gender is another.  Dis/ability is another, as are age and economic class and culture and religion and anything else you can think of that describes a person.  The question is, can we understand each other?  The answer is yes - it has to be yes for any of our communication or relationships to be meaningful at all.  If the answer is no, then apoia'giajds;aio hgdag;ieha.

Now, if the question is "Can one human being experience the experiences of another human being", the answer is obviously no across the board.  We can't live another person's life - we can't be them.  But we have more than just experience to help us understand other people.

We have limbic resonance.  Your mammalian brain broadcasts how you feel through subtle clues many times per second, thousands of times in a given conversation, entirely outside of your control.  Outside of my control, my mammalian brain picks up on these cues.  Happiness, sadness, anger, even things like obesity, are actually contagious in this way.  Our mammalian brains are always striving to understand and communicate with each other, and this process is not impeded in the slightest by something constructed like race or ethnicity.

We have empathy.  We have the capacity (with the exception of sociopaths or perhaps severely autistic persons) to feel what other people are feeling.  When we see a sad face, we feel a pang of sadness.  When we see an angry face, our pulse rate goes up a few beats or more.  Reveling in empathy isn't very helpful, but it is there.  We know from the research of people like Charles Darwin all the way to Paul Ekman that emotional facial expressions are universal regardless of culture.  If you haven't read Paul Ekman's books, I highly recommend them.  He has demonstrated through decades of research and facial analysis that the facial expressions that accompany emotions are universally human and entirely cross-cultural.  Culture teaches us different ways of managing those emotional reactions, but the reactions go deeper than culture or ethnicity, all the way to biology.  We are 'wired' to communicate emotional experiences and emotional states, whether we are New Guinean stone-age hunter-gatherers or Japanese executives.

We have sympathy.  This is the imaginative capacity to understand, from a slight remove, what it is like to be another person.  We can find experiences in our lives that are similar to experiences in other lives.  We can listen to their stories and imagine ourselves in those stories.  We can ask them what it is like to be in their skin and the words they tell us have meaning.  We have to be careful that we're not just projecting our own experience and biases onto the other person - but that's what listening is for!

We have imagination.  We can imagine, and understand to a degree, what it is to be a big blue alien on Pandora, or an Elf, or a cyborg, or an artificially intelligent robot, or a killer whale, or Jesus, or our parents, or our ancestors.  We started developing this capacity when we were toddlers.  We can use it to manipulate others or to help them, to build up or to destroy, but we have it.  We can walk in each other's shoes just like we can walk on Mars or the bottom of the ocean.  More information and broader experience sharpens this capacity, as does wisdom, but we have it almost from the beginning.

What we cannot do is to have the same experiences as another person.  We can't mind meld or download their experiences into our brains.  So, while I am not black, not a woman, not gay, not hispanic, etc., can I understand what it is like to be those things?  It takes some effort and imagination, but yes.   Can I have the experiences of those other categories of people?  Can I embody them?  Can I be just like them and live their lives?  Not at all - of course not!  No more than they can embody me or have my experiences or live my life.

So, the bad news is, we're just going to have to listen to each other, and actually use our capacities for understanding.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm A Color-Less Child Who Don't Know Right From Wrong...

Race came up a number of times in the past couple of weeks, in conversation with my mother and her partner Sandy as well as, for example, on Bruce Reyes-Chow's recent Facebook comment.  These conversations about race have all been with primarily white people, all middle-class-seeming from what I can tell.  I found myself trying to make the same point about whiteness.

When whiteness is part of a race discussion, it is the backdrop.  Whiteness is the blank, forgettable paper upon which the beautiful rainbow of diversity can be painted.  "Ethnic" means anything but white.  "People of color" is the same.

This is not some kind of "reverse racism" rant - that being said, the invisibility of whiteness is the problem.  When whiteness becomes just another ethnicity, we will have dealt a powerful blow to racism everywhere.  It is no longer a game of measurement against one ethnicity which is treated like it is the assumed position, but rather a game of comparing ethnicities subjectively and relativistically - this one is unlike this other one, but similar to this other one, etc.  With any luck, we eventually stop playing the game altogether.

When whiteness is the backdrop; when white is not just another ethnicity, it becomes the default.  It becomes the assumed basis on which we discuss race - race exists as a comparison to whiteness.

It isn't as if white is not a distinctive ethnicity, just like any other ethnicity (granted that all ethnicity is invented and constructed).  You just have to listen to...any standup comedian for any length of time, or read Stuff White People Like, to get the idea of what white ethnicity means, insofar as any ethnicity means anything.

We need to get the point where we are all people of color - only one of those colors is "pale".

Here are a couple of my longer comments from BRC's Facebook page:

I think that the idea that white people are somehow "not ethnic" or have no color just perpetuates racism, and I see a lot of that in this conversation, as I do in most conversations about race. Whiteness is treated, even by most of the commenters here, as the "default" position, as if there was nothing distinctive about whiteness. It is the blank page upon which the beautiful rainbow of diversity is painted, it seems.

This is deeply unfortunate on every level. Until "white" is just another color, just another ethnicity, racism will rule the day. As long as we divide everything along lines of white vs. "ethnic" or white vs "color", we're still defining everything in light of whiteness. Isn't that what so many people have struggled and suffered so much to avoid?

As for BRC's comment - cool. I don't really understand what he means. When I'm in a group of all white people (which happens all the time as a Presbyterian) we don't even notice - again, because we're not "ethnic" , we don't have "color", we're just white people. Blank. Monochromatic. The cultural and phenotypic default setting.

And this language of white vs. color allows us to continue in that illusion, even though it is harmful to non-white people."

And to clarify:

"I think that's actually what I said - or what I intended to say. Race is an artificial construct, even if you change the terminology to "ethnicity". As long as whiteness is the artificial construct that is made the backdrop for all others, the unjust system will be propped up. If whiteness is just another ethnicity, then I believe that is a concrete move toward equality. Part of the power of whiteness is it's cultural invisibility - many act and speak as if white isn't particular, as if only "color" is particular. This is worse than acknowledging white as a particular construct, in my view, because it is all tacitly based on the assumption that white is standard and everything else is a deviation, when in truth, ethnicities are all constructs."

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Protestant Disease

Yesterday during my sermon, I spoke in part about what I called "the Protestant disease" - the common delusion that we are community, as people of God, because we agree with each other.  It's the reason we have between 20,000 and 30,000 Protestant denominations in the U.S., as well as untold numbers of nondenominational churches

If the delusion is that we must agree in order to be a community, then every disagreement demands fighting, coercion of some kind, and if that fails, schism.  The only determination to make, in fact, is whether a disagreement is minor enough to let us just tough it out, gritting out teeth and getting along, or whether it's time to leave and found a brand new church or denomination where we can all agree again.

Until the next time we disagree about something.

I call this "the Protestant disease" because it is an affliction of the spirit.  It is a failure of trust and of any semblance of genuine Christian community.  It is a malfunction - an incredibly common one.

You can see it all over our culture right now.  The disease raises pustular boils on the body politic who are given jobs on 24-hour news channels so that people can waste their lives away watching them spew.  We hear again and again - those who disagree with us are our enemy.

Now, if the Church had not almost entirely abrogated it's calling, we would know how to treat our enemies, even if we persist in the delusions we are being fed.  We would know to pray for them and to love them, to overcome what we see as their evil with our own good.  We would know that in the pursuit of truth, resorting to weaponry of any kind is the same as surrender.  We, as the Church, could be the start of the healing of this disease of spirit.

We have, after all, the antidote - the germ of a loving community, an adopted family, in which we do not come together because we agree.  We come together because we are called, because we experience this ineffable grace, and we just have to find out what (or Who) is behind it.

But, instead, we have the Protestant disease.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

American Cowardice 1

Driving home tonight I witnessed two police cruisers pulling over a man in a sedan. They shined their spotlights on him, and approached from both sides. I drove past without seeing what happened next, but I imagined the following unrealistic conversation.

Drunk Guy: Man those lights are bright could you turn them down.

Officer: It's normal procedure. For our protection. So we can see what you're doing.

Drunk Guy: For your protection? What do you need protecting from?

Officer: Well you see, we don't know if you are some PCP-head or gang-banger and might go crazy on us. You could be anyone. We can't be too careful.

Drunk Guy: But you're wearing body armor and have a gun, and 3 other guys with body armor and guns, and a radio to call for help to get a bunch more guys with body armor and guns. Plus you've been trained in hand-to-hand combat and all that stuff...

Officer: Well yes, but you could be a really belligerent alcoholic...

Drunk Guy: But you have pepper spray and a taser and handcuffs, and there is a shotgun in your car. And even if I drive away you have much faster cars with bullet proof glass, and that radio again with which to call helicopters and tire spikes and, paramedics if one of you gets hurt...

Officer: Of course, but we can't be too careful...

The point of my rambling imagination is not that cops don't face real dangers, but that perhaps we've gotten our ideas of danger out of perspective. When I get pulled over for a speeding ticket I sweat. Why? Because a guy (or girl) with a gun is about to give me a lecture. Police officers certainly do get injured and die in the line of duty, but far more criminals and bystanders are shot by cops than the other way around. This is because the cops are better armed, better trained, better prepared, and usually outnumber their opponents. In other words, however dangerous it may be to be a cop, it is more dangerous for everyone else.

This is not an anti law-enforcement post. This is just what got my mind started down this train of thought. My broader point is this:

We have become a society of cowards. We have institutionalized cowardice.

Look at that chart to the right. We spend as much money on our military as the almost the entire rest of the world. Our military is the best equipped, best trained, most advanced everything. In the past century we have inflicted millions of casualties on the rest of the world while we have suffered less than 1% of the deaths we have caused.

Yet, despite our utter dominance, we live in fear.

After those police officers have got the talkative drunk guy out of his car he decides he does feel slightly belligerent. He cracks some jokes at the cops and doesn't exactly follow instructions. They push him up against the car and try to cuff him. He gets defensive.

Drunk Guy: Hey why are you pushing me!

He shoves back. The police both grab him and force him face first to the ground. He squirms, while one officer gets out his cuffs and the other pulls his taser out.

Officer: Hold still or I will taze you.

He doesn't hold still. The cop cuffing him, being bigger, stronger, in better shape, trained for this sort of thing and sober is, at most, in danger of inhaling some intense halitosis. The drunk guy keeps squirming. They taze him. Twice. For their own safety. Everyone agrees this is perfectly reasonable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Josh Dunham is fond of saying that ministers are the last generalists. You hear constantly about ministerial "burnout" and many speculate about the cause of that. Seminaries boast about training "Whole Leaders for the Whole Church" meaning they will try to teach everything from spiritual development, to pastoral care, to christian education, to biblical studies, to administration etc... In trying to do it all, they do most of it poorly. Churches looking for pastors usually identify about 120 key strengths they want in their new minister, and no matter how much of a renaissance man or woman you may be you are guaranteed to get complaints about the various things you do not do as well as their previous beloved pastors.

Going into ministry we are set up to fail because we are tasked with an impossible variety of tasks - every one of which is CRUCIAL!!!! 100% of ministers out there are inadequate. 100%.

I don't say that just to comfort myself in my own insecurity. Nor to make light of a serious problem or create some kind of universal excuse for why ministers fail, or burnout, or the church is declining or whatever situation needs explaining. Nor do I mean this in some semi-profound theological way to be a message about human brokenness and our need for a gracious savior. Nor, lastly, am I just trying to whine and say that ministry is so much harder than most jobs, when I think it is the opposite.

What I mean is - from a practical perspective we are operating on a failing model for church leadership. We are schizophrenic about what a minister even is, and what they are supposed to do. It isn't that ministers are generalists it's that they are expected to be specialists in 100 different areas. We've no idea what we actually want or need from ministers and as a result we get ministers who only provide useless things.

As an example - here are skills I feel like my congregation, and many others, would like me to have which I do not and which I do not feel ought to be the province of ministers:
  • Website design
  • Installing/Running Audio-Visual Technology
  • Financial Planning/Investment Knowledge
  • Computer Expert
  • Community Organizer
  • Early Childhood Educator
There is nothing wrong with these skills. I would love to have some of these skills and I know there are plenty of people who have them who will use them in their ministry to great effect. Good for them. But are these the kind of things we actually need from ministers? Am I made to feel inadequate for not having these skills for no reason?

Here are some skills that I am expected to have, which I DO have, which are still not what we probably need from ministers:
  • Social Networking
  • Administrative Planning
  • General Knowledge of History, Politics, Religions
  • Life of the party
  • Great memory for names, dates, factoids
  • Office Management
Again, these are skills which I find useful all of the time because they are expected of me, but I wonder how much they have to do with ministry.

Doubtless some who read this will think, "Ministry is all of that!" Sure. That's what we've been saying for the last hundred years or so and I think we have gotten lost. Ministry is now everything and therefore it is nothing.

Someone else will say "Different ministries have different needs," which is also easy to agree with, but then why do we ordain everyone to the one office and expect people ordained to that one office to cover all of the different types of ministry? Ministers of Word and Sacrament are expected to be theologians, orators, counselors, teachers, planners, administrators, chaplains, universal friends, and everything else too.

It's impossibly vague. We're all inadequate at dozens of the roles we are professionally obliged to be competent in. Something has to give.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

10 "Points of Light"

From Politics Daily, citing part of the 130+ page decision which overturned California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional:

1. "Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation."

2. "California has no interest in asking gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation or in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in California."

3. "Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions. Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners."

4. "Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals."

5. "The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships."

6. "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."

7. "Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society."

8. "Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage."

9. "Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents."

10. "The gender of a child's parent is not a factor in a child's adjustment. The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted."

While the theological question of LGBT marriage and ordination remains a deeply contentious one, and I am able to understand many of the various views that people hold even where I disagree with them, the civil case for LGBT marriage seems overwhelming.  The only real arguments against it seem to be theological arguments with the serial numbers filed off - or they're just vague threats with a background of storm clouds.  While these might have some power among portions of society, I don't see how they can hold up in the harsh light of a courtroom.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Safe From Jesus

Most of the kids at Presbyterian Youth Triennium were not what you would call hooligans. These are church kids. Many of them had been to more than one church camp already this summer. Many had grown up attending Sunday School, and doing Vacation Bible School on school breaks. When I asked my small group of twenty-five teenagers if we had any pastor’s kids in the mix, four of them raised their hands. When you get 5,000 teenagers in one place there is bound to be a lot of energy and a bit of misbehavior, but not as much as you might think. These are the kids who have bought into the program and internalized our expectations. They are the “good” ones.

The Presbyterian Youth Triennium is a remarkable event. Held every three years on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, it is a huge conference. This was my second time attending as an adult advisor. It was my job, along with the other adults, to guide the group of youth from our presbytery to and from the event; to ensure their safety; and help them have a good time. Though it was exhausting it was not difficult to get these kids to be on their best behavior. As I said, these kids, for the most part, are the ones who know what good church behavior is. Many of them had been sent on this trip by parents who hoped that Triennium would continue to reinforce how to be a good, polite, jesus-loving, church-goer.

Imagine how surprised some of those parents, and most of these teenagers were when the dominant theme of the conference seemed to be breaking the expectations our parents and churches and society put on us to fit the mold. Preacher after preacher hammered the point that following Jesus means living sacrificially. It means giving up what we want for ourselves, and what others want for us, and following God’s plans which often sound and look crazy. The youth were encouraged to be risk-takers, and by this they did not mean “entrepreneurs”. The preachers told the kids to stand with the homeless by sleeping on the street with them. To make peace by going into warzones and bringing relief to the victims. To speak out against homophobia, and to let their hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus Christ. These kids who spend a lot of their energy making their parents proud were invited to turn away from success, power, prestige, and even approval. They were persuasively encouraged to give everything they have away in order to be with the least of these.

It was, in my opinion, as raw and truthful a presentation of the gospel as you could ask for.

I have no doubt, though, that many of these kids arrived home to have their enthusiasm suddenly dampened by disapproval. Well-meaning parents and teachers and church-members will give these kids a hefty dose of “reality”. They will be told that all that risky stuff is overly idealistic. That they need to know "how the world works" and make responsible decisions. They will be set back on the course toward expensive colleges and respectable careers. The parents will breath a sigh of relief and make a mental note not to send their kids back to an event like Triennium, which is going to say things they disagree with. They will save their kids from that crazy radical Jesus.

I wonder how many of us have been saved by friends and family when we were dangerously close to following Christ. How many times have you nearly done something completely foolish like take a homeless person into your house when at the last minute sanity intervened and you gave them some spare change instead? We’ve learned very well how to be realistic, and safe. Especially safe from Jesus.