Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wednesday Morning Thoughts and Prayers

A human being is a longing for God and nothing less than God will satisfy us; the seductive voices that would make us anything less than this are to be resisted. Our battle will continually be with the deadly reductionisms in the world today; with attitudes that diminish human beings to disposable commodities, to means to commercial or political ends.
-Alan Jones, Exploring Spiritual Direction

Each of us has a longing, whether it's for money, fame, the perfect relationship, the perfect house or car. But, material wants (And some people see relationships as material possessions!) are just a symptom of our deeper longing for the joy and happiness that only a relationship with God can provide.

We're not quite sure how to cultivate that relationship. We have this push and pull relationship with the divine. We desperately want to live in that blissful oneness with our creator, but at the same time, the seductive voices of the world tell us we have to give up everything material to get it. We are caught between God and the world. God calls us to a journey, often fraught with pain and challenge, to deepen our relationship with Her, while the world offers shallow, immediate gratification. So often, we grab for the easy, the shiny, the new. We are always disappointed, always grasping for more and more when the new wears off or an equally attractive worldly bobble appears on the horizon.

The irony is that when we take the chance on God and go on that journey to deepening our relationship with Him, the material world fades in the distance. The new and the shiny are not as attractive as before. We don't miss the instant gratification because we know it will not give us lasting joy.

As we journey with God, drawing closer to God, filling our spirit and senses with God, material concerns and possessions are seen in a new light. Instead of objects to please us, they become tools to be used to please God and further God's work in the world. The material world becomes a resource to implement the greater good, not just a source of instant pleasure. We still can take pleasure in material things, but we now understand their purpose. They are not here for our selfish use - to be consumed and tossed into the garbage the next day. Instead, they are here to be used for the good of all.

As we draw closer to God, resisting those seductive voices become easier and our view of the material world changes. No longer do we see people and things as disposable commodities to be used. Instead, we see them as holy, beloved creations of God and we honor them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tuesday Morning Thoughts and Prayers

The Lord, when He wants to change a situation, has a better method. He changes people, and changed people change situations.
-Norman Vincent Peale, Positive Imaging

As I drove to work yesterday, I noticed the PowerBall Lottery was up to $51 million.

"Oh, Lord, I want that," I breathed.

I probably don't really want that - the money would be nice, sure - but all the new "friends" that come out of the woodwork would be distressing. All the attention. You'd never be able to trust anyone again. The question, "Do they like me or my money?" would always be present.


So, I continued on to work, realizing that the underlying problem was that I just wanted life to be simple. A lot of money would make many things in life very simple. No need for the daily grind of commuting, working and commuting again. No need to ever worry about debt or bills or anything that involves money - except whether or not your banker and your broker really like your or your money.

That's what we all want - a simple life - a life where God swoops in an makes it all right. No more uncertainty. No more fear. No more wondering what you'll do if this or that tragedy occurs.

Alas, God does not work that way. We were given free will in this world which limits God's ability to swoop in like Superman. Sure, God can still do miracles if She pleases, but those are few and far between. For the most part, God watches over us, lets us make our mistakes and then helps us pick up the pieces so we can move on.

Instead of coming in and fixing things for us or taking away all uncertainty, God has a better way. God changes us. As we experience insecurity, fear and despair, God grows our faith. God grows our strength and our character with each trial we face. God does not bring us to these trials - our own free will does that - but God is ever with us through good times and bad times.

By becoming more loving, compassionate, caring people we begin to change the harsh, hateful ways of the world. As one of my favorite theologians, Bono, sings, "I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me."

Rejoice in that knowledge. God is ever shaping and changing you so you can change the situations that surround you.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday Thoughts and Prayers

"Waiting on God is a bore; but what fun to argue, to score off opponents, to lose one's temper and call it 'righteous indignation,' and at last to pass from controversy to blows, from words to what St. Augustine so deliciously described as the 'beningnant asperity' of persecution and punishment."
- Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy"

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon marching in a circle - oh, and getting yelled at. Such is the life of an activist lesbian pastor in South Carolina.

I joined about two dozen other people from the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement in a silent vigil at the "Embrace the Change" concert in Columbia where anti-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin was making his appearance despite protests from the GLBT community. Senator Barack Obama (who only appeared at the fundraising concert via Memorex)had refused to remove McClurkin from the bill and instead added "balance" by inviting the senior pastor of my church, Rev. Andy Sidden, to give the opening prayer.

As we marched across the street from the concert hall, a self-appointed spokeswoman for God decided we needed some preachin'. She insisted that God did not love gays and lesbians because "God created them male and female."

We had agreed to a silent vigil so we let her spew her hatred and condemnation unchallenged. She, of course, caught the attention of the camera crews on hand and was promptly miked up by a couple of them and interviewed. She refused to give her name. I love bigots who still want to maintain their anonymity. If she's so proud of her hateful speech, she ought to at least be willing to give her name just as proudly. We all gave our names to the reporters and photographers hovering around us. We have no problem telling the world about love and giving our names while we do it.

Neither she, nor us, can wait on God. It's way more fun to argue, to score points and express our righteous indignation. She felt righteous, but so did we. Instead of trusting God to reconcile us all, we contend with one another - shouting, marching, protesting, holding vigils. Instead of finding common ground where we can work with each other and God to achieve God's realm of peace, we fight and score points against one another, taunting each other over trivial differences of opinion.

Waiting on God is boring - but it's necessary if we are to recognize when God moves. We can certainly work while we wait - but let our work be searching for common ground, not just shouting at one another across the divide.

God, forgive us all for our arrogance. Give us the patience, and the joy, to instead, wait on you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rev. Sidden on the Radio

Rev. Andy Sidden, Senior Pastor of Garden of Grace UCC, where I serve as associate pastor, appeared on Mike Signorile's radio show yesterday to discuss the controversy around his being chosen to give the opening prayer at Barack Obama's black gospel concert this Sunday in Columbia, SC.

Use this link to listen to the interview.

Friday Morning Thoughts and Prayers

Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men's souls, and a beautiful image it is.
- Blaise Pascal

Just as I began to create this post an ad for one of the politicians running for president flashed across the television. I did not say a kind word to him. In fact, the words I said were quite unkind. True, he couldn't hear me, but I heard me. I heard the disgust in my voice, the underlying frustration in my tone. I felt them blister on my tongue and lips. What is the true cost of my stinging words, even uttered alone in a room, against another human being? They may not harm this politician, but they tear at my own soul.

Kind words don't cost much - harsh words cost plenty. They can destroy friendships, marriages, churches and nations. A war of words has a high price tag. It causes agitation, irritation, anger, and often results in real war - humans battling one another because of something another person said. Gossip is pricey - kind words don't cost much.

Jesus tells us it's not what goes into our mouth that defiles us, but what comes out of it (Matthew 15:11). If words of anger, irritation or hatred come from our lips, that is surely what is in our heart. My words to the politician reveal my own irritation and anger in my heart. My words tell more about me than they do about that politician. My words mean I need to work more on me - allowing God to soften my own heart. It says nothing about the politician.

Today, resolve to speak kind words. They don't cost much, so spend freely. Speak kindly, even of those who irritate or anger you. Create beautiful images in the hearts and minds of others. Utter words of compassion, understanding, grace, mercy and love - even if you're all alone. Give over to God any words of anger or irritation that come from your heart.

If you have prayers or praises to share, please do so in the comments.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Pastor is Now Famous

So, perhaps you've heard the brouhaha about Barack Obama and his association with a homophobic gospel singer set to perform during a show in Columbia, SC this Sunday. The GLBT community is going nuts, of course, demanding that Obama get rid of said performer.

Instead, the campaign has asked an openly gay pastor to give the opening prayer. That pastor is none other than Andy Sidden, the Senior Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ where I am privileged to serve as his associate pastor.

When he told me yesterday that they had asked him to do this, I told him he'd make news if he did it. He didn't think some little old pastor doing a prayer would be anything newsworthy - but I knew better. I told him Obama needs to throw the GLBT community a bone and he's the bone!

Andy's already taking some hits over on Pam's House Blend for agreeing to do this, but I am proud of him for taking a stand and for taking the opportunity to give a voice to our community against this blatant homophobia.

In addition, Andy will be appearing on Mike Signorile's Sirius Satellite Radio show at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon. Catch it if you have SIRIUS OutQ 109, and let me know how it went. I gave up my satellite radio about a year ago.

And give Andy your prayer support while you're at it. He's getting it from both sides now!

Thursday Morning Thoughts and Prayers

If a thought or behavior divides us, it is not of God; if it unites us, it is of God. -Wayne Dyer, Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life

Why is that such a hard concept to grasp? Humans live to divide. We divide into tribes, nations, religious affiliations, classes, races, sexual orientations and genders. What ridiculous creatures we are - wanting to find that extra something that makes us more special than someone else, more favored than someone else and especially more loved by God than someone else.

Scripture tells us that God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11) and that before God there is no male or female (Galatians 3:28). There is no distinction when God looks at us. All God sees are His beloved children. All God sees is Her image, lurking inside of each of us, dying to get out. But we keep our God essence locked up tight as we divide and divide and divide.

We feel so righteous when we divide. We feel like we're engaged in an activity blessed by God, but we are not. Our penchant to divide comes from fear and fear does not come from God. We are afraid that someone might get more than us, be more favored than us and be loved by God more than us. In that fear, we divide, we hate, we destroy anyone who threatens our feeling of specialness.

We see it in church and society all the time as GLBT Christians. Those who fear including us in God's love verbally abuse us, call us names, exclude us, and work to keep us from full participation in the body of Christ. In society, those who fear losing their special status pass laws preventing us from benefiting from federal marriage laws or federal job protections.

Fear and division do not come from God. Only when we set aside our differences and realize that we are all beloved children of God will we finally get a glimpse of what God intends for Her realm. The realm of God is here - we only make it a reality when we unite in the assurance that we are all special to our Creator.

Remember, if you have a prayer or a praise, feel free to post it in the comments and we'll pray for you or celebrate with you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Morning Thoughts and Prayers

What if genuine faithfulness is less a matter of waiting on God and more a matter of working or playing with God?
-Kirk Byron Jones, Holy Play

How many of us are waiting on God to do something in our lives? Whether it's bringing about peace and joy, that perfect job, that perfect mate, that perfect house, car or other possession. How many times have we been told to be patient that God will work it out? So we sit on our blessed assurances and bitch and moan and say, "Well, I'm waiting on God."

What if God is really waiting on us? What if God is waiting for us to understand that if we truly want peace and all those good things we desire, we need to get to work, to make God our co-worker instead of our rescuer. What if God is winking at us, waiting for us to give a knowing wink back and learn how to play with God.

Why do we always talk so reverently of God, in hushed tones, averting our eyes so that God won't get angry with us or punish us for some perceived sin? Why can't we understand that the God who loves us beyond all imagination wants to work and play with us.

An Episcopalian friend of mine once remarked, "God created us because God thought we might enjoy it." We must celebrate our lives. Instead of waiting for some mysterious God to rescue us from our troubles and despairs, we need to get out there and pursue God with all our heart, mind and strength. Work with God on what you want in this life and don't forget to take some holy recess time. Play on the swings with God, go down the slide - backwards if you like, get dizzy on the merry-go-round. God laughs and plays right along.

I'll try to be faithful in posting some morning thoughts and give you all a chance to use the comments to post any praises and prayers you'd like to lift up. What can we celebrate or pray about today for you? Let us know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Say What You Want, Just Spell My Name Right

Alas, the author of this blog cannot even do that - referring to me as "Challew" the entire post. He accuses me of mangling scripture, yet his reading skills are so poor he can't even tell an "e" from an "a." Too rich.

His critique of Whosoever is hysterical (and full of self-righteous hysterics) however, so go check it out - excerpting it does not do it justice.

Theological Bull$%!&

Here in the buckle of the Bible belt you don't have to drive too far to read all sorts of crap that passes for "sound theology" in today's conservative churches. They are the source of much amusement for me and would be even more amusing if so many people didn't buy into this kind of claptrap about God. So, I'm going to start writing regularly about the theological bull$%!& I regularly see around my area.

I'll provide photographic evidence of as much of this crap as I can, but I didn't have the camera when I read this morning's gem:

"Are you ready to meet him in your present condition?"

Theologically there are so many problems with this statement, but let's focus on the major underlying assumption: "You have to change your ways before you'll ever be acceptable to God. You are such a scum sucking worm that God could never, ever love you as you are right now, so shape up, jerk, or you'll spend an eternity burning in HELL!"

But, they can't fit all that on a small message board, so they go with the shorthand:

"Are you ready to meet him in your present condition?

My answer is, "Yes, of course."

Why? Because God meets ME in my present condition. God isn't waiting somewhere far off ignoring me until I clean up my act, wash my face and stop that damn sinning. Instead, God is with us constantly, getting dirty with us. God meets us every minute in those moments when we think bad thoughts about others and in those moments when we have rare altruistic thoughts without a selfish motive. God is with us in the good times and the bad - when we're wishing the idiot driving the car in front of us would swerve off the road and out of our way and also when we're coming to the aid of someone who just swerved off the road in front of us.

Anyone who tells someone else that they must change before God can love them is lying. Plain and simple. Those who put the sign up are probably the smugly self-righteous crowd who believe that yes, they have properly cleaned up their act and God is favoring them even as they finish spelling out their theological bull$%!&.

God tells us we can come to Her heavy laden and unburden ourselves. We don't have to come unburdened and all fixed. God is the one who does any repair work that's needed. Trying to change ourselves without God's help or thinking that we can win God's favor by even trying is the real sin here.

Here's the truth - God is with you now, in your present condition, and She thinks you're incredibly wonderful.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Who said this?

''In a world wounded by conflicts, where violence is justified in God's name, it's important to repeat that religion can never become a vehicle of hatred, it can never be used in God's name to justify violence,'' he said. ''On the contrary, religions can and must offer precious resources to build a peaceful humanity, because they speak about peace in the heart of man.''

Oddly enough, it was the same man who said this:

''It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally."

''This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves," he wrote then, ''but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."

Tell me, Pope Benedict, why is it okay for you to use God to justify your verbal violence against gay and lesbian people but then you go to Naples, Italy and denounce all violence done in the name of God?

I'm just asking, because calling gay and lesbian people "disordered," "immoral," and "self-indulgent" is just as violent as a kick or a punch. It's been said that while sticks and stones break bones, words can never hurt you, but words do hurt because they give those who put stock in your words all the excuses they need to go out and beat and/or kill gay and lesbian people and feel righteous about it.

Your words, Pope Benedict, are violent and perpetuate violence. Unless you repent of your violence toward gay and lesbian people you're no better than the punks you denounced in Italy. The thug waiting in the alley for his next victim may be holding a knife or a gun, but your words of hatred for gay and lesbian people are just as deadly.