Last week, I had a conversation over the phone with a fellow pastor who is interested in planting a church. He share some of his plans and ideas. It seemed solid, so I asked him to share an outline of his idea that I could pass on to some other folks in the area.
While I’m excited to hear about his plans, there is a part of me that is wary, a fear that he’s just talking and not really that into planting a church.
Last year, when I was still leading New Church Ministry Team in the region, I had a number of people call me and tell me that they wanted to plant a church. Each time I was excited and hopeful. It seemed like God was doing a new thing in the area. But everytime nothing came of it. Most of the time I’d never hear back. I had one person who said they had plans to start a church in the East Metro and was given items to start the church. This person even went as far as printing business cards. And then, nothing. He got cold feet or realized he wasn’t that interested after all and abandoned plans to go farther.
All of these aborted plans do have an effect. As I sit here a year later, I feel heartbroken. Since I am so literal, when these people said they wanted to plant a church, I believed them. Maybe there was an interest, but seeing so many people not take their idea to the next level kind of hurt me in a way. I’m not saying this to blame folk, just to share it had an effect.
So a year later, someone says they want to plant a church and I have a hard time believing them. Being the Aspie pastor that I am, the things I am passionate about are things I am REALLY passionate about. I am passionate about new churches. I want to see new Disciples of Christ churches in Minnesota. So, when I hear someone casually say they want to plant a church, my heart goes all in. This makes the letdown that much harder.
I sometimes feel that I’m alone in this passion. Everybody else seems concerned about other things, but no one else seems to want to plant new churches.
Part of the reason for my passion comes from my evangelical upbringing. While I don’t always agree theologically with evangelicals these days, I still admire their passion for sharing the gospel. I don’t see that happening as much in the more liberal waters these days. There are people like Nadia Bolz-Weber and a good chunk of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that do want to tell the good news. Bolz-Weber has a liberal evangelism that I love. I wish there were more people like her, wanting to tell people about the love of Jesus.
A while back I shared my frustrations with a fellow pastor. He suggested going and planting a church. I have to say that is tempting, but I’m already busy trying to revitalize a congregation so I don’t know if I can.
All I can do right now is pray to God that this time, someone is truly serious in starting something new.
I hesitate share all of this, because I don’t want this to be “Dennis having a pity party.” But I also need to be honest about how I’m feeling. And right now that’s a bit of heartache.
Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 6:1-21
March 5, 2014
First Christian Church
It’s been nearly 20 years since Ken Burn’s documentary on the Great American pasttime aired. Baseball talked about the early beginnings of the sport, what impact it had on American society and how it was impacted by American society. There was a certain poignancy in watching this mini-series in 1994, because during that fall there was no baseball due to a strike. For the first time since World War I, the bats of October would fall silent; there was no 1994 World Series.
There are a number of memorable moments from that documentary, but the one that most interested me was footage of a reporter interviewing Reggie Jackson sometime in the late 1970s. Supposedly during this time, Jackson had found faith and become a Christian. The interview had Jackson speaking like a choirboy, telling the reporter the joys of being saved. When the interview ended, Jackson changed. He started swearing up a storm and talking about what you had to do in front of the cameras. I can’t make a call as to whether Jackson’s faith was real, but it was easy to see that the piety was just an act for the cameras. Of course, while Jackson now being himself, there was a camera on taking all this in.
The passages we read this evening talk about worship and how people were basically doing things for show. They would do everything for the cameras, but when the light went off, they treated their fellow person poorly.
It would be easy to look at the passages and simply say that we shouldn’t act that way. I could tell you that we need to care for the poor more than how we look during worship. But that is not what these passages are about. At least not on this day.
Ash Wednesday is a day when we are reminded of how finite we are. It is a day to remind us that we are imperfect, as the old pop song goes, “we’re not that innocent.”
Do you remember? Do you remember that you are finite? Do you remember that you are not perfect? Ash Wednesday is a call to remember our baptisms as children of God, a call to remember that our worship is only as good as how we treat our neighbors, a call to remember that God doesn’t want an act, but an honest heart.
I’m not going to urge you to do good. That’s not the point of this day. I am asking that you remember who you are and whose you are. When you do that, everything else will fall into place. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Transfiguration Sunday, Year A
March 2, 2014
First Christian Church
I envy those people who can spend periods in prayer or meditating. The reason I am jealous of them is that this is something I can’t do. It might be a result of my Apserger’s diagnosis, but I can’t focus on things for very long. This means that when I’m trying to pray, my mind decides to think about other things. I can go from praying to thinking about what I have to do at work, to where I plan to go on vacation, to wondering if I had made that student loan payment, to…what was I doing now?
My brain can’t sit still. It is always busy and I envy those who can just rest their brain to focus on what’s at hand. I am reminded of a graphic that has made its way on the internet: someone explains how hard it is to focus when they have ADHD and they give a demonstration at the same time. The sentence goes, “I Wish I Could sleep, but my ADD kicks in and one sheep, two sheep, cow, turtle, duck, Old MacDonald had a farm, Hey Macarena!”
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, it’s the last Sunday before Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. This story of Jesus going up to a mountain top and being changed is always told on this Sunday. It’s the last tale of Epiphany, that time when we see Christ being revealed to the world and it ends with a bang.
Jesus goes up to an unnamed mountain to pray. He brings along three of his disciples, Peter, James and John. While they are up on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured or goes through a metamorphosis. Sunlight pours from his face as the Message translation states. At the same time Jesus is now in conversation with two people and neither of them were disciples. He was talking to Moses and Elijah, the giver of the law and the last great prophet. It was odd enough for Jesus to be lit up like a Christmas tree, but he is also talking to two men who were supposed to be long dead.
The three disciples have seen this all and you have to imagine they are a little bit bewildered and downright scared. Peter decides this is the perfect time to talk about a capital campaign. He wants to build shelters for all three of them to memorialize this moment in time. That’s when that voice comes, interrupts Peter and tells everyone that Jesus is God’s son and that he should be listened to.
I’ve heard this story many times and it’s always told in the same way: why couldn’t silly Peter just keep quiet and live in the moment? Why was Peter so stupid?
The thing is, Peter is just doing what we would all do if we were in his shoes. Peter was shocked by what he saw. He couldn’t focus on what was important at that time, which was to listen to Jesus and take in the moment. No, he decides it’s time to build something for the Big Three.
I wonder if Peter was aware of his Jewish history. He would have learned that it is on top of mountains that God’s people come in contact with God. It was on a mountain top that God gave Moses the law. It was on a mountain that Elijah challenge the King of Israel and the prophets of Baal and where God reminded the people who was God. My guess is that Peter was too stunned to be thinking about such things. He was focused on doing something instead of siply being in the moment.
As I said, I think Peter is more representative of all of us than being an outlier. We too can be focused on other things; paying this bill or going shopping, wondering what color the carpet should be in the church sanctuary. We can get so focused on doing work that we leave Jesus behind. God’s calling out of Peter is a reminder to him and to all of us to be present throughout our life, because if we are too busy with other things, we might ignore the presence of God in our midst. This was a God-infused moment and Peter was missing it.
I’d be remissed if I didn’t touch upon another related subject going on here. Peter did have a case of spiritual ADHD, but noticed that after God speaks how the disciples fell to the ground. The passage says they were afraid. Fear can also take our minds of God, to see where God is working. Fear is a natural response to things that we don’t understand, and let’s be honest seeing your friend lit up like a Christmas tree and talking to two dead people is a great reason to be scared.
But look at what Jesus does. He comes and touches the disciples and tells them to not be afraid. When we are so busy with life that we aren’t paying attention or when life leaves us scared, Jesus is there offering a healing touch telling us not to be afraid.
We are getting ready to head into the season of Lent. This time of the year is a 40 day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, a time when we take stock of our lives and prepare for Holy Week and Easter. As we enter this time, I ask that you be aware of those moments in your life where God is present. Even better I hope you will make time to be alone and be attentive to God’s presence. I also hope you will use this time to think about when you were scared and be mindful that Jesus is there offering a touch and a word of encouragement.
This congregation has had a very momentous year that would leave most people fearful and focused on the small stuff. I’m not asking you to not be scared. I am asking that you be aware that Jesus is there offering a word of hope as we continue to seek being church. Even when we are scared, we are not alone. We are never alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
About a week ago, I wrote a post on same-sex marriage and how those of us who support it should act towards those that oppose it. Can we be good winners to the losers?
Some of the response to that post got me thinking (and agonizing) over this issue. In two states, Kansas and Arizona, bills have made their way through the state legislature that would give people the right to refuse service to gays. I think both bills are unconstitutional on their face and bring to mind the dreadful memories of Jim Crow.
That said, these laws are the signs of a way of being that is passing. I as said in my previous post, those in favor of same sex marriage have won. But there is still something nagging me. How do we live with those who are the losers? How do we deal with those who say their opposition to gay marriage is based on religious teachings? Do we ignore them? Do we try to stamp them out? What is deemed as religious (even if we think it is weird) and what is not a religious practice?
The issue of a baker or florist refusing to serve a gay couple brings out conflicting emotions. I do think at some level there is the potential of bigotry behind that refusal. I also think that having laws where people can refuse service could cause chaos in our economy. But then I think about how someone who is a social conservative would see this. There’s something about compelling someone to do something they don’t agree with because of their interpretation of the Bible that bothers me deeply. Those of us on our side tend to see this simply as case of bigotry. Bigots don’t deserve protection and they should shut up and do their job. After all their “religious objection” is just a smoke screen for their hate.
But the thing is, seeing homosexuality as a sin was considered the normative teaching in our society until recently. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, but we have to take in account that tradition is not something that you can easily dispose of.
The tactic that I have shared at times is that it’s okay to believe what you do in private, but in public you have to set your beliefs aside. But upon thinking on this, I found this reasoning to be bothersome. We are basically saying that their faith is a hobby that can be pursued at other times, but not when we enter the public square. For the faithful, religious belief is not something that is private, but very public. It orders every part of one’s life. I think it would be difficult for someone who might think that same sex marriage to have to set their belief aside. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense. Why would they knowingly put themselves in a position to sin?
About three years ago, writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about the change that was heading our way on marriage. He called on the LGBT community and allies to not immediately try to challenge the other side when it came to issues like refusing service to a gay couple. To do so would be to make social conservatives fears come true and would basically play into their hands. He writes:
…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.
So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:
Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.
They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.
At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.
He continues writing what should be our response:
In a messy world where rights often collide, we can’t avoid arguing about where legitimate dissent ends and intolerable discrimination begins. What we can do is avoid a trap the other side has set for us. Incidents of rage against “haters,” verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: Those and other “zero-tolerance” tactics play into the “homosexual bullies” narrative, which is why our adversaries publicize them so energetically.
The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.
I think we have to decide what level of discrimination is acceptable and what is off limits. As James Antle notes in his latest article, that at least according to the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, there has to be a compelling interest for the state to force someone to violate their religious conscience:
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 seems to have this much right. Freedom of conscience isn’t absolute. But the government can only override religious conscience to serve a compelling interest and then must pursue that interest using the least coercive means available.
So even if there is a compelling public interest in ensuring access to contraception, if contraception can be made affordable and readily available through means other than forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception or contraceptive coverage, than those other less coercive means should be employed.
The same logic would seem to apply to participation in same-sex marriage services. If we can allow conscientious objectors to refuse to fight in wars, we can surely make some allowance for people to who don’t want to bake cakes, provide floral arrangements, or take photos at a particular wedding. A case could also be made that same-sex couples should prefer to send their business to vendors who share their values.
A sense of proportion matters here. It’s unlikely that we are talking about very many businesses, and even fewer large companies. In some parts of the country, at least, vendors who take this stand risk being picketed out of existence. A few news stories about a same-sex couple who was refused service in their town could easily attract a flood of free wedding cakes, floral arrangements, and photography offers from other more supportive businesses.
He also brings up something that I’ve been thinking about. The analogy that has been used likening these proposed laws to segregation doesn’t really work:
Should gay business owners be forced to provide services to Chick-fil-A, Phil Robertson or organizations that lobby against same-sex marriage? Should gay advertising executives be compelled to write ads in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act? Freedom of conscience applies here too. So does the market’s ability to punish irrational discrimination and a business’s willingness to turn away paying customers.
If a Muslim fundamentalist car dealer refused to sell automobiles to women on religious grounds, even if it was not against the law, he would almost certainly go out of business. (If he didn’t, then immigration laws might need to be revised rather than the First Amendment.)
This is where the Jim Crow analogy, used by Kirsten Powers and others, fails. People often argue for or against the civil-rights laws of the 1960s on the basis of abstract principles, pitting generic equality against generic freedom of association, but they were in fact a reaction to a very specific set of circumstances.
Jim Crow was a system of extensive discrimination, not isolated incidents. It relied on the state enforcement of laws requiring racial separation and the non-enforcement of laws banning private acts of violence when the victims were black. It denied blacks’ constitutional rights and was rooted in state government coercion and social customs so powerful they were largely impervious to market forces. The federal government had repeatedly attempted to remedy these problems through more modest measures.
It is theoretically possible that allowing a New Mexico photographer to refrain from taking pictures at a same-sex wedding ceremony—or more plausibly, allowing the Kansas legislature to enact the previously mentioned bill—would create conditions like this for gays. But it is not very likely.
I would agree. On the surface the two seem the same, but not in context. The Jim Crow that my father lived through in Louisiana was not simply one person refusing him service, but an entire system that was placed into law. There is a difference between the two, not that refusing a gay couple is okay, but it is not backed by a system of laws, at least not in every state but Arizona it seems.
The point of my rambling is that those of us in favor of same sex marriage and those opposed have to find a way to tolerate each other. Those who have a traditional understanding of sexuality have to understand that being gay is becoming more and more normative. LGBT folk and their allies have to understand that the other side isn’t going away anytime soon and in many cases they are compelled to follow what they interpret to be from God (even if we think this is pure hogwash). We have to learn to coexist, because this tit for tat war of stigmatizing is futile and for those of us who are Christian not very Christ-like. We have to learn to love the other even if we think they are wrong.
I want to end with the words of fellow pastor Trevor Lee who has this to say about tolerance:
Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…
You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.
The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.
I pray for more tolerance in our society. On all sides.
It’s over. We won.
I’m talking about same-sex marriage. In the months following last year’s decision by the Supreme Court on marriage, state after state has had laws banning same-sex marriage ruled unconstitutional. This week alone, we’ve seen Virgina and Kentucky move forward in the march towards marriage equality. Different parts of the federal government are providing full rights to same sex couples. So, this year my partner Daniel (we had our civil ceremony last September) nd I can file taxes jointly in Minnesota and with the IRS.
What many of us thought would take a while for the nation to accept is only taking months. Step by step, state by state, the cause of marriage equality is advancing.
This is good news and it should be celebrated. But as we start pouring champagne, Progressive Christians need to ask a question: how do we win with grace?
You see, there are winners in this argument over same sex marriage and of course there are losers, those who believe in “traditional marriage.” As we bask in the light of a new day, there are others who feel their world is crumbling around them. How do we deal with these people? How do we treat them? Do we create space for them to live out their lives with little interference from the state or do we seek give them no quarter?
My fear is that for all of the talk in mainline churches about loving the enemy, we won’t be gracious winners. It’s a fear that has come true. Without going into much detail, I have seen how pro-gay folks have treated those who are on the other side and it wasn’t with open arms.
The template that the gay rights movement has used in our fight for equality has been the civil rights movement of 50 years ago. Those that forbid gay marriage are just like the racists who opposed interracial marriage.
It’s easy to see the struggle for gay rights in the same light as civil rights. It’s an easy way to get people to understand the movement and casts us in a more positive light. I used this analogy for a long time.
But at some point, I stopped using that analogy. Partially because I got to know some more conservative folks who weren’t the monsters I envision them to be. It’s hard to liken someone to the Klan when you just had a good conversation over a beer. But the main reason is that the struggle for gay equality isn’t just like civil rights. While there are similarities there are also some big differences. The general understanding of religious conservative is that they use the Bible to exclude people they don’t like just like the slaveholders of old used the Bible to justify slavery. The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t take into account that the objection to gay marriage or gay clergy is less about hating gay folks than it is about biblical integrity. Long story short: I think they actually believe that the Bible forbids same sex marriage. They actually believe being gay is sinful because they interpret the Bible that way. This is less about homophobia (though some that does exist) than it is about them wanting to follow Scripture.
Writer Damon Linker wrote this week about gay marriage and if those who oppose it are akin to racists. His view? No.
As countless liberals have done before him, (Issac) Chotiner breezily equates those believers who once appealed to Scripture in defense of racism and those who currently reject gay marriage. The first position has been socially, morally, and legally marginalized with no negative consequences for faith, Chotiner asserts, and the same will soon be true about the second. So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that strictures against homosexuality are rooted far more deeply in the Judeo-Christian tradition than racism ever was. Yes, slavery is found throughout the Scriptures and comes in for criticism only, at best, by implication. But race-based slavery — and the racism that made it possible and continues to infect ideas and institutions throughout the West to this day — receives no explicit endorsement from the Bible…
Which isn’t to say that those seeking to justify race-based slavery or racism couldn’t, and didn’t, twist biblical passages to make them provide such justification. But the Hebrew Bible and New Testament clearly do not teach (either explicitly or implicitly) that buying, owning, and selling African slaves is next to godliness.
The same cannot be said about the normative teaching on human sexuality contained within the Judeo-Christian scriptures — and even more so, within the interpretative and theological traditions that grow out of them. In dismissing this teaching so casually, Chotiner ends up implying that traditionalist churches and religious communities are the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.
If that’s an accurate evaluation of their moral status, then we can expect that before long traditionalist religious views will be denied legitimacy by the courts, denigrated in the public schools, and thoroughly marginalized in our public life.
While those of us who are pro-gay and don’t see the teachings in Leviticus and others parts of the Bible as normative, there is still a large segment of Christians in America that do. Is there a way that they can be allowed to follow their consciences without giving up my hard-won rights?
Maybe I’m being a softie, but I don’t know if I’m wiling to go a far as pushing people out of the public square. I want to respond in love and not with a taste for revenge. I fear that we will gain our rights at the expense of our souls.
I am happy that society seems to be moving forward on gay rights. But because I’ve learned to see my opponents as people and not monsters, I don’t want to do it at their expense. I don’t want to send them to the margins. I’m not saying this because I’m week or anything. I’m saying this because as a Christian, I think we are supposed to be different from our sisters and brothers.
I am proud to be gay. But I also follow the One who said we are to love our enemies and forgive our persecuters.
As the advance of gay rights moves forward, I pray I can look at the other side with God’s eyes of love and not with a desire for revenge.
When I was in high school, I ran track. I didn’t run well, but I did run track. Practice would take place after school. I remember heading into the locker room to change, and passing by this front room set aside for physical therapy. Every time I passed by there were people my age chatting and having a good time.
One day, I decided I was going to join in. I came in after practice and walked into the room. Unlike other days, the room was mostly empty save for one student who was being attended to by a teacher. I walked in and sat down hoping to engage in some conversation. The teacher stopped what he was doing and looked at me. “What are you doing here?” he said. I gave him a confused look and started to think I had made the wrong decision. He pointed to the door and ordered me to leave. I walked out feeling ashamed that I had even bothered to come in.
I share this story because it serves as an example of the ups and downs of one person with Aspergers trying to be social. Looking back, I probably should have known that social situations change. But in my mind, everything repeats. If there were people goofing off one day, then they would be there everyday. Obviously there were time it was okay to be in the room and times this wasn’t possible. But that nuance was lost on me.
Relationships for someone with Aspergers is like walking into a room that’s pitch black. You can’t see anything. The darkness is scary and you feel very alone. The result is that you are always scared, scared that something in the darkness is coming after you.
This all makes it hard to simply be. You are constantly worried you are going to say something stupid and when you do, all hell breaks loose. So, you withdraw feeling more alone and isolated.
It’s not just that you don’t know how to act with potential friends, it’s also that you don’t know how to act with fellow co-workers. A conversation that I intended to be helpful was interpreted as being hostile. I nearly lost my position because of it.
And let’s not even talk about romantic relationships.
In many ways, I’m still that 16 year old boy trying to figure out human relationships and failing miserably. It’s trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn’t.
The thing is, after being rapped on the nose more than once you start to become risk averse. You feel like a trapped animal with eyes darting about; seeing others as a potential threat or potential friend.
Blogger and fellow aspie Penelope Trunk has said that people with Aspergers don’t have friends and don’t have the emotional need for friends. I tend to disagree with this. I want to have friends, especially close ones, I just don’t know how to start a friendship let alone maintain it.