Friday, June 13, 2014

“Clearing Out the Temple”



Since the end of March I have been trying to write my next blog.  I know the subject I want to cover, but I have hit that “writers block” which is made of solid brick.

Part of the reason for the block is there is just so much un-Christian like behavior and events going on that about the time I settle into something I want to say or share something else happens and I find myself unable to write anything that makes any sense or is the least bit thought provoking.

While rummaging in my wasteland of a writers mind, a friend and colleague of mine Rev. Lisa Heilig needed to let off some steam concerning the world we live in and the community in which both are Pastor’s.  She is one of those Pastor’s that I greatly admire because she is one who has a “pastor’s heart” and wears it right out there for everyone to see and experience.  Currently she is on a Sabbatical so she can do further Studies in the Gospel, Culture, and the Transformation of the Church at Columbia Theological Seminary. 

She like a lot of us who work so hard for our communities is tired and frustrated and when I read her words I knew what my block was about, what my frustration is and why I feel so helpless in writing about any subject much less anything pastoral.  She hit the old theological nail on the head!

So while I pull myself out of the swamp of unending excuses for not writing, I give you my friend’s pastoral rant.  I will have my mind cleared to write the blog about gun control and gun violence next week.  In the meantime without further delay I hope Rev. Lisa will touch your heart and jangle your nerves.

Warning: rant ahead. But, even though it is a little lengthy, please read to the end.

 I am over it. I am over the sexism, racism, heterosexism, Transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, and classism! I have witnessed, sometimes very closely, all of these happen over the years, but at least once in the last week.

I am over it when a woman says something and it is ignored until a man says the same thing. And, while I'm at it, rape jokes are NEVER funny.

I am over it when people of color are targeted by law enforcement in harsher ways and people in mixed race groupings are stared at.

I am over it that my wife of 19 years and I cannot just go down to the courthouse, but have to plan to go out of state to secure our rights.

I am over it that trans* and gender non-conforming people are victims of violence - physical, emotional, spiritual - so often.

I am over it that derogatory "jokes" based on nationality are considered funny.

I am over it that businesses (including some churches) are unwilling to make even minor accommodations for person with differing abilities.

I am over it that young people and their outlook and opinions are so often easily dismissed and that older people's experience is devalued.

I am over it people are so concerned about affiliating with people and organizations that are the "right" ones, i.e., middle-class...

I am beyond over it with the ways that violence has been become so commonplace

I am over others saying those of us who share these experiences are "too sensitive" or playing a "card" or that when we hold people accountable for their actions of exclusion, that we are bullies.

While I am in rant mode, let me make this clear:

Just because I look like you, does not mean I think like you. And, just because I do not look like you, does not mean I don't feel like you.

My parents grew up in a segregated South in the 60's and probably should have been exclusionary and taught us to be, and yet, they did not.

They taught us LOVE.

Not perfectly, because none of us can. I remember one time asking them, specifically, about racism and how they escaped the worldview they grew up in.

My mother talked about how moved she was by watching the news reports about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement and how that spurred her to read and learn more. My father, A Vietnam vet with a colorful way with words, said that, "When the enemy's on your ass, you don't care the color of the person who's got your back, you just care that they do." They opened up and learned to know better and did better by their children.

I am not perfect, either, and despite my best intentions, may end up with a negative impact on someone or a group of someone’s - for times I have and will do this, I am truly sorry and beg forgiveness as I strive daily to know better and do better, to bring down barriers and build bridges.

And, in the end, although I am over all of the ways we hurt instead of help each other, I have hope for a world where we walk together in the ways of healing and wholeness for all.

It is a deeply spiritual hope that love will be lived out and peace will prevail, a hope bolstered by my faith in the God of my understanding, which is a God of radically inclusive love.

It is a hope strengthened by other situations that I get to see…
when little girls are praised for their smarts and strength, not just for being a pretty princess, when groups of children play together in harmony with no regard for the skin color of those next to them, when discriminatory marriage laws fall and more and more communities pass inclusive non-discrimination laws.

When trans* actress and activist Laverne Cox graces the cover of Time magazine and is interviewed in a respectful, thoughtful manner,
when the gifts and achievements of peoples of all nationalities are lifted up and honored.

When persons of differing abilities are included in the lives of our communities as a matter of course, when the leadership of youth is sought out and valued, and our elders are listened to and appreciated, when we care less about being affiliated and getting things done in the "right" way and more about coming together for good, and when we indeed come together, even in our pain, and find ways to reason together for peaceful resolutions.

We have so much work yet to do. And the work can seem so hard, but it isn't really just about us. We tell our kids "It gets better" and it gets better faster if we work together with open hearts and minds, with compassion and kindness, so that when our faith flags, someone else can lift us up and carry us until we find our footing again.

Thank you to so many of you who do that for me. Rant is over,

The way and work of love calls - meet you there...

Amen sister, Amen!

Friday, March 7, 2014

“Our Dirty Little Secret”



Originally, I was planning on writing a blog concerning “Marriage Equality”.  Last night that all changed as I attended a community event called, "Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta's Dirty Little Secret".

 

What I experienced, heard and saw has caused such a level of disruption to my soul as to cause me to vomit upon arriving home.  My anger is such that my tears of anguish are hot enough to fry an egg.

 

Yes, I am a survivor of sexual abuse.  Yes, over the years I have read and heard the stories about how some lone freak did horrendous deeds to children.

 

Yes, when the city of Atlanta made a move to banish prostitution from the city, I knew in my gut the city council and their political friends were turning victims into criminals.

 

Yes, I knew that Pedophiles exist and work their evil every day of the year.

 

Yet, what is difficult to face is the same thing that was difficult for Audrey, Daisha and Yewanda from “Face Atlanta” to face,

 

It’s been difficult for us to face how few of those who buy and sell kids for sex are held accountable, how kids are groomed, slowly lured into the trade, how the average age of victims is 12 to 14 years old, how some 400 girls are sold for sex in George each month, and how difficult it is to escape.”

 

 

 

What is difficult to face this is going on in my neighborhood, my LGBTQ community and the city that I call home.

 

According to INnocenceATL.org these are the facts:

 

Atlanta was named by the FBI as one of 14 US cities with the highest rate of children used in prostitution

 

 

 

The Schapiro Group Georgia Demand Study

 

In Georgia, 12,400 men purchase sex with young women in a given month; more than 27,000 men purchase sex with young women in Georgia more than once per year.

 

Approximately 100 adolescent females are sexually exploited each night in Georgia

 

In Georgia, adolescent females controlled by the child sex trafficking trade are sexually exploited by an adult male on an average of three times per night.

42% of men who buy sex either seek out young girls, or are willing to disregard all signs that the woman they are about to have sex with is an adolescent

 

 

Bureau of Justice Statistics

 

Bureau of Justice Statistics

 

Federal law enforcement task forces opened 2,515 investigations into suspected human trafficking incidents between January 2008 and June 2010

of these investigations, 8 in 10 were classified as sex trafficking:

 

82.1% of victims in sex trafficking incidents were identified as US citizens

40.4% of all suspected trafficking incidents were child-related and classified as “prostitution or sexual exploitation of a child”

 

I have not included the statistics for young boys because as you will see later it is a much harder group to get information about.

 

I sat in this auditorium as 10 stories of victims were given voice through the spoken word, song, poetry and rap and tried to convince myself I did not know that “sex trafficking” is a 30 billion dollar a year industry.  I didn’t know it was this evil, this horrendous, this wide spread, this close to my soul.

 

Please indulge me as I share just one of the stories from this very unsettling night.

 

As told by JONATHAN BLANCHARD Soul Singer, Actor, Educator

jonathanblanchard.com

His TESTIMONY

I’ve worked in the public school systems in TN, GA, AL, AR, and IL as an Artist in Residence. The primary objective has been to integrate Afrikan American Music into the core curriculum. To say that I spend a lot of time around children is an understatement. Before signing on to be a part of the Facing Project, I'd never done any real research on the matter of child trafficking. I had no idea how prevalent it is in the US furthermore in Atlanta, GA. To know that there are young children growing up in these conditions makes me feel as if there is so much more that I should be doing. I suppose however that it shouldn't be a shock, seeing how the majority of women that I know have expressed to me that they have been molested or touched inappropriately at least once in their life. Ironically, for this project I was assigned the task of exposing the stories of young boys who are victims of sex trafficking. My research revealed that boys are forced into the lifestyle at a very alarming rate, and though young boys account for 57% of all child sex trafficking cases, almost 100% of efforts to combat and expose trafficking has been focused on girls. You see, boys aren't going to say anything, young men aren't going to say anything, and no one cares to even ask them. That is the reality. That’s why myself and the brothers that participated with me, decided to present the research in the way we did.......to be the crying voice of the forgotten. 

 

FACING STORY: THE FORGOTTEN

This presentation will attempt to shed some light on the enslavement of young boys whether it be for slave labor or sex slavery. We will address specific accounts of nameless young men, as well as their fear of talking about their abduction and victimization. It will be comprised of myself and other men chanting a song while presenting brief accounts of males who have been victims of child sex trafficking. The unnamed young men will be represented by a blank, black piece of construction paper. The song will feel like an old spiritual being sang in the field.

 

MENTAL HOSPITAL DIRECTOR

Claude Foulk, the director of a mental hospital deliberately adopted a young boy to be his sex slave for almost a decade as part of a pattern that spanned four decades and ensnared dozens of young boys. Foulk was convicted of 20 counts of forcible oral copulation, nine counts of sodomy and two counts of lewd acts for abuse between 1992 and 2001. His victim is now 30 and living in Atlanta where he remains anonymous. 11 other men came forward claim Foulk molested them as children dating back to 1965. 5 adult men testified that Foulk would take them to a cabin in the mountains and force them to commit sexual acts, telling them that this is how men show love.

 

THE STEPFATHER

A young boy’s stepfather locked him up in his bedroom for six years with straps and hooks. The step-father deprived the boy of food and water while constantly torturing him sexually, emotionally and physically. This abuse went on from the time the boy was 11 until he was 17. The boy said that he was so underfed, that he had gained 100 pounds in six months after leaving his stepdad’s house. He also said that when he was allowed out of the bedroom, the stepfather would force him to stay sitting on the kitchen floor and would hit him and cut him with knives to intimidate him.

 

In an article by Clinical Social Worker Steven Procopio it is stated that:

Since it is assumed that “boys can take care of themselves”, indicators of abuse amongst boys often goes unrecognized. It is estimated that 50% of the children victimized by “commercial sexual exploitation of children” aka “CSEC” are boys. One in six boys in the US has a history of sexual abuse. While awareness of CSEC has gained momentum in recent years, legislation to protect trafficking victims, as well as recent and ongoing nationwide FBI busts targeting culprits, continue to focus nearly 100% of society’s attention on sexually exploited girls. First, there is a sense of shame and stigma about perceived as gay that keeps boys from self-identifying as sexually exploited. Secondly, they simply are not being asked. Even law enforcement and other service providers fail to assess young boys at intake under the guise that boys are not victims of CSEC. This leads to the belief that boys are not generally pimped. Furthermore the boys are viewed as deviants with a desire for quick sex and money. The reluctance to discuss the exploitation of boys is generated by a culture that is sometimes both hetero-centric and homophobic, causing these victims to be under-discussed and therefore underserved.

 

THE TRIPLETTES

A poor grandfather in Scotland was approached by a man who offered him a large amount of money to take his three boys and raise them. The grandfather thought that this would be a good opportunity for the boys. He didn’t know that the man ran a “puppy mill”…….(a place where young boys can be purchased for sex; it is named after the unethical practice of keeping dogs in cages simply to reproduce). They were only nine years old.

The man forced the boys to do whatever the clients wanted which was mostly sex. The boys were often forced to perform together for the clients viewing pleasure. Puppy mill boys are also used as assassins, and drug smugglers….they are expendable and easy to replace.

 

Since pedophiles consider it erotic to have sex with twins or triplets, the boys were in high demand and were sold and resold eventually being shipped to England. Finally they were sold to an organized crime syndicate, and imported to the United States. In all, they were shipped to 9 different locations.

After one of the triplets attempted to escape, his owner drove a bolt between the tendon and the bone in his leg, and chained him to the wall, after which he was beaten to death at 12 years old. While in the US the other two boys were separated one going to an even more brutal mill and the other going to a private home. After being brought back together because of the appeal as twins, they were eventually rescued at the age of 19.

 

Now I can no longer say I didn’t know.  7:30 pm till 8:45pm, story after story after story, all children under the age of 18 and many starting as young as 9.

I can no longer plead ignorance.  I can no longer be silent.  I can no longer stand on the sidelines.  My days can no longer be peaceful and uneventful until I have done my part to bring a bright light to this ugly secret, until I have done my part to bring to an end this exercise of “power and control” that is destroying generations of God’s little children.

 

So, now you know, what are you doing about it?

 

RESOURCES

 

4Sarah is a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Faith-based tax exempt organization whose mission is to empower change in the life direction of women and girls who are adult entertainers, prostitutes, escorts or victims of sexual exploitation by offering a holistic approach as well as an educational, emotional, physical and spiritual support system. 4Sarah will affect the life direction of women and girls involved in the sex trade industry by offering resources through our outreach, intervention and scholarship programs. We need volunteers for our outreach team, intervention team, care team, and scholarship committee members. To get more info or to get help please visit www.4Sarah.net or call our hotline: 470-362-8808 Email: 4Sarahinc@Bellsouth.net

 

Founded September 12, 1999 with the mission to serve, empower and equip women to make a positive difference in the lives of other women and girls, Circle of Friends has three main programs: Living Water for Girls serves girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been the victims of sex trafficking. Living Water Learning Resource Center serves girls and young women, ages 16 and older, who have had life challenges and/or survived violence, street life, or child sex trafficking. Living Water Training Enterprises serves the girls and young women from our two sister programs. We also serve the community by strengthening families, educating and training local and federal law enforcement, educational institutions, and religious communities, and inviting citizens to come together to combat this heinous crime and protect our children. Learn how you can get involved at www.cofcl.org or call 404-627-0225

 

Susan Norris is the author of the must-read Rescuing Hope: A Story of Sex Trafficking in America. She is an outspoken advocate for the protection of victims of child sex trafficking, speaking across the United States and internationally on sex trafficking and empowering women. Susan works alongside other organizations to address child sex trafficking, while lobbying for stronger laws to protect victims and investing herself into the lives of rescued girls. Susan@susannorris.org www.susannorris.org

 

The mission of Out of Darkness is to reach, rescue, and restore victims of commercial sexual exploitation, that the glory of God may be known in the Earth. We reach through jail ministry, medical trainings, and a weekly street outreach called Princess Night. We rescue by operating a 24-hour hotline and picking women up when they call for help. And we restore by taking rescued women to a safe home where medical, emotional, and spiritual needs are addressed. www.outofdarkness.org For more information, email Jeana at info@outofdarkness.org

 

Street Grace is a faith-based organization leading churches, community organizations and individual volunteers on a comprehensive path to end domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) through awareness, empowerment, engagement, and social change in Metro Atlanta and throughout the United States. Street Grace is helping end DMST through training, lobbying, feeding vulnerable children, and collaborating with the Governor’s Office of Children and Families, Department of Education, and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. Through the Father’s Against Child Exploitation (FACE) program,

Street Grace is developing a platform for empowering men with a “male focused” program aimed at ending demand for DMST. To learn more about Street Grace, visit www.streetgrace.org or call 678.809.2111.

 

Synchronicity Theatre activates communities toward social change through powerful, transformative theatrical experiences. In collaboration, Synchronicity supports women artists, forges long-term and effective community partnerships and develops new work. Now in its 16th Season, Synchronicity offers cutting-edge plays for adults, a renowned Family Series and award-winning educational programming, including Playmaking for Girls (PFG). Created in 2002 to uplift the voices of 'at-risk' (we prefer the term 'with hope') girls, the PFG program has expanded to include two-day workshops at Regional Youth Detention Centers and group homes, an after-school program for middle-school girls, designed to impact their lives before they get into trouble, and a summer public performance by girls on probation, presenting plays created in the workshops alongside poetry, music and dance. This performance is FREE and open to the public: join us this year on June 7. These three components provide a continuum of service that seeks to empower young women's voices and break the cycle of those who are often without a voice. www.synchrotheatre.com

 

Tapestri helps immigrants and refugees that have experienced domestic violence or human trafficking. We provide direct services to trafficking victims, including assistance with basic needs and immigration relief. Tapestri also partners with agencies to provide direct services to trafficking victims in HHS Region IV. Our domestic violence advocates help survivors with emergency assistance, translation, and legal assistance. Our Family Violence Intervention Program offers classes for batterers. Lastly, we conduct outreach by speaking to various groups and providing material printed in 22 languages. We encourage interns and volunteers that can give at least 10-20 hours a week- please fill out the application on the website. https://www.facebook.com/TapestriInc www.tapestri.org office: 404-299-2185

 

The Mercy Project seeks to open the hearts and minds of our community to the growing problem of modern-day slavery both here in metro Atlanta and worldwide. We seek to unify Christians and pursue true worship of God as talked about in Isaiah 58:6-7 by freeing the chains of those unjustly enslaved. We strive to accomplish this with educational outreach, anti-slavery partnerships, financial contributions, and direct service to victims. We are dedicated to ending one of the greatest human tragedies of our time.” www.themercyprojectatl.org

 

VOICE Today is a non-profit organization breaking the silence and cycle of child sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness, prevention and healing programs. Tragically 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday and only 1 in 10 ever tells.  Between 80-90% of children sexually exploited have been sexually abused at an early age. Even more alarming is that 93% of abuse is by someone the child knows. The VOICE Today awareness programs help adults understand every child is at risk, the educational training programs educate how to predict and prevent CSA and the healing programs give aftercare in community. VOICE Today offers support groups, healing

  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Saying…



 
For the person of faith (in this case Christian) there is this standard which says we are suppose to be fair, merciful and be humble in our walk with God (Micah 6:8). 

Jesus taught the greatest love one can express is to lay their life down for another.

Jesus in his entire ministry only gave one command: “A new command I give you, to love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus also spent almost all his time in his active ministry eating with, partying, healing, loving, visiting, and embracing all those folks that the powers of the day and the really anal folks (conservative then Tea Party today) didn’t like and said were a travesty before God.

Jesus has reportedly said that if someone strikes us we should turn the other cheek.  He also said that if we want to kill (capital punishment) someone we ourselves have to be without sin.

Jesus also says that if we really want to be allowed into the Kingdom of God we need to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.  By the way there are no if’s ands or buts’ about this list.  It is pretty straight forward and has no exceptions.

Not to mention in a post resurrection appearance Jesus very pointedly told Peter to mind his own damn business. (John 21:20-23)

So if we can all agree these are the major, moral imperatives of the faith, then a few questions need to be asked.

How can the State of Georgia House of Representatives and Senate (Many of whom loudly proclaim their Christian faith) say to my partner and I who have been in a blessed and holy relationship (marriage) in the eyes of our church (see GA. Law about what makes a church) for 31.5 years we are not married?


How does Governor Bobby Jindal (A convert to Christianity) with a straight face say, “No church or church-affiliated organization, or individuals whose business is run in a manner consistent with their faith practices, should be required by the state to take steps in conflict with their religion. Nor should they be legally punished for how they treat marital arrangements outside the teachings of their faith. …”  So I guess we can view this two ways if you take into consideration my first question, but I digress.


How do those who call themselves good loving Christians allow for laws and city ordinances that turn homeless folks into criminals?

How are the good bible Christian folks in this country not simply outraged that the Olympics are being held in a country where LGBT people are being hunted down? Is it not interesting how Russia's, Putin, is waltzing around Sochi promoting his Olympics just like Hitler did during the German Summer Olympic games of 1936.

Hitler was all the while plotting ways to get rid of the LGBT people in Europe. The atrocities that took place against the LGBT community in the 30s and 40s by Hitler are now continuing to occur in Russia.  By the way in this land it is not only my people in trouble as this is a land where the President laughs at our 1st, 2nd, 4th and 13th amendments, so no one is really safe.

Final question:  Why did a good Christian from GDOT order the bull dozing of an entire tent city of homeless men, women and children? 

Oh OK, one more question, Why did any good faith claiming, bible believing Christian even get onto the bulldozer?

Actually the answers are all in the book which these folks claim to live by but apparently have never read this part.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.”  (Matthew 23:1-36 from the New International Version)

Just saying, yep just saying!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ten Reasons to Own Your Faith


Writing these days seems to be somewhat challenging for me.  Then my editor over at “Whosoever” the Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge re-posted an article I wrote for them and in looking it over even though it is almost 2 years old it is worth looking at again.  Hopefully this will jump start my writing and folks will hear from me every couple of weeks.  So without further delay;

Since it is the start of the year and everybody seems to be doing a list. I thought I would jump in with one of my own. Please understand, I am writing this from my point of view as a follower of Jesus. If that is not the path you follow I pray after you have finished reading some of the arrogant sting of the so-called Christian faith will have been removed. The Creator of this universe is far bigger then any self described human made faith or set of beliefs.

Now it has been said my writing style is not the warm comforting and cuddly stuff but rather more "in your face," "take it or leave it style." This list will be no different.

For far too long the institutional church has taken the position they own the faith and simply rent it to us. They give us traditions, pronouncements, laws and creeds and if we do not live by them since we are nothing more then renters we get evicted, or as the Roman Catholic Church has done for centuries ex-communicated.

A quick read of Matthew 23 makes my point about the institutional church pretty clearly. To my brothers and sisters in the clergy all I can say here is if the shoe fits…

It is pretty apparent Jesus knew and said the everyday people were being sold a bill of goods. They were being forced to rent their faith.

So without further delay, here are the 10 reasons to own your faith rather then rent it.

10) There is no "Hell" to be sent to.

The institutional church has used this bogus concept for centuries to keep our fear button pushed in all the way. Hell by translation and definition is a "state of being" not a place. Further, it is a state one places themselves in through their own action. By definition "hell" is the total absence of God. God's biggest desire is to be in relationship with that which God created. It stands to reason, then, that God never wants to be totally absent to us. Why else would Jesus warn of that "blasphemy of the holy spirit" was only unforgivable sin? The only way that could be accomplished is if one was totally absent of God to begin with. That absence would be our choice, our action, not God's. Own the fact that when we die we will be with God. Further, all the biblical discussion around hell is simply drawing a picture of what it must feel like to be totally absent of God not a place to be found on a map or geological survey.

9) Forgiveness is the only way to experience total freedom.

The only way to stay in a relationship with God is to forgive as God forgives us. To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with those whom God created. It is only through setting aside our anger, our hurt feelings, and our indignity that we find our happiness, peace and our dignity.

Remember the first words of Jesus from the cross were, "Father, forgive them." If he does not do that then there isn't any resurrection, dead is dead. If we do not find a way to forgive there is only death and destruction to follow. Own your life, don't rent it and lose it.

8) God is a lot more creative than God gets credit for.

I remember a great piece of theology from one of the original Star Trek shows, where aliens explain to Captain Kirk why they appeared as humans rather then their natural state. They said, "We appeared to you humans as you would understand us."

It certainly explains why there are so many different faiths, races and cultures. Everyone and everything is at a different place of understanding and learning and God meets us wherever that place or understanding is. Own the fact that God is greater then the limitations we place on ourselves by renting our faith.

7) Our relationship with God is far more important then any sin we commit.

I think the best example of this being true is in the story of the "Prodigal son" from Luke 15:11-32. Jesus tells this story to give us an idea of what God and heaven are like. There are three very important points here: 1) the son desired to be in relationship. 2) "When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him." 3) "But the father wasn't listening" Get it? When we desire to be in relationship with God, God runs to us, finds us embraces us, our shortcomings (sin) don't matter. Own your relationship with God, don't rent from sin.

6) The Bible is not the infallible, inerrant word of God.

"The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God's punishment, and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the 'literal and inerrant word of God,' I always ask, 'Have you ever read it'?" Episcopal Bishop John Shelby

The Bible contains an understanding of the will of God, but parts of the Bible do not reflect God's will. Every injunction, instruction, prohibition, etc. in the Bible needs to be analyzed carefully to determine whether it was directed to a specific culture at a specific time and place, or should be applied to all cultures and all eras.

Further, the Bible was written by individuals to promote their own evolving spiritual beliefs. Many of the authors were severely limited by culture and their lack of scientific knowledge. I believe that it is important to recognize that many biblical passages contain factual errors and that many do not reflect accurately or consistently the will of God. Of course, in order for one to know this or conclude this, one has to do the hard work of studying the Bible for oneself. Own your Bible; don't rent it from the church. In addition, this means one needs to read a variety of scholarship on this collection of sacred text as well. This can be a difficult challenge since many people are like lightning and take the path of least resistance.

5) God is all about inclusion not exclusion.

We only need to look as far as the life and ministry of Jesus to see that everyone is invited, some may choose not to come but everyone is invited. There are some who would say Jesus was exclusionary and cite the story of the rich man. However, over the years, the story has gotten twisted into meaning that wealth is bad. In reality it was about the heart. Where was this man's heart in relationship with God or his riches? God, or Jesus, didn't exclude him - he excluded himself. This is what makes owning one's faith a difficult task, it requires we take responsibility for our choices.

4) No one can be denied a place at the Lord's Table.

This has been a major point of power and control the institutional church since it has assumed the power to say who is in and who is out. Jesus said "as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me." There are no strings attached to this, no dogma, no creed, no formula for belief, no magic words. Just a simple act of memorial designed to remind us what we have been taught by Jesus. When one owns their faith they can never be denied a place at the table. It is only when we rent our faith we get tuned away.

3) God is a "Chess Master" not a "Puppet Master."

Over the years Fundamentalism has turned God into the ultimate magician. God will fix that, do this, and heal this or that. This alone has set up the war between faith and science. God created us with a mind and the ability to think. As we learn and grow we can, and will, do more things that seem astounding. Jesus is quoted at one point saying, "These things I have done you will do and even greater things." Yup, that will happen when we use our God-given brains to think.

God is not a puppet master. If anything, God may be a chess master. This game of chess is a little different. God is not interested in taking our King, because God has already given us God's. So it is all about the moves that are made in the game (life). We make a move; God makes a move in response. This is the way we prepare for our next spiritual step. It is called growth. Growth does not come without experience, choice and the consequences of those choices. Owning one's faith lets us take responsibility for our actions without playing the blame game or having a puppet master.

2) "Do not commit murder" applies to the courts, the state, the feds and most assuredly all people.

Jesus could not have been clearer when he is recorded as saying, "Let the first one without sin cast the first stone." Sin is recognized as any thought, word or deed that separates you from God. Well who has not done that? There is no twisting this folks; we are not supposed to be in the business of killing folks. We can give all the excuses we want, however it is pretty clear renters of the faith can justify killing, owners of the faith cannot. Couple this teaching with the whole concept of forgiveness and my point is made.

1) Ultimately we will be measured by who we feed, dress, give drink to and/or visit, not by some "sinner’s prayer."

I am amazed at the smoke and mirrors the institutional church has used over the years. They have come up with all kinds of rules to be obeyed, directives to be followed and even prayers to be said to get into heaven. This completely ignores what the man they claim to follow said about the subject. Read Matthew 25:31-46 for yourself, but suffice it to say when one owns their faith this will be the focus of their life rather then a whole host of things which grab us now.

So as we move through how can you (we) have a much better year despite the challenges? Tearing up the rental agreement we have with our faith and taking ownership of it would be a good place to start.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

We are not Three-fifths of a Human Being


Marriage Equality, those two words have become the center of the final battle for gay rights. 

 

How far we have come and how far we have yet to travel.  I remember when I was much younger and first coming to understand my sexual attraction and orientation the thought of marriage was not on my mind.

 

In fact, my first long term relationship didn’t consider getting married as most of who we were in fact was considered illegal.

 

 

The majority of our life was spent trying to get housing which was safe, not to be fired from our jobs and not get the crap kicked out of us for daring to live together.

 

The early “gay affirming” church called the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches” had a liturgy that was called a “Holy Union”.  This pretty much copied the traditional church wedding ceremonies’ and changed the pronouns to fit the same gender couple.

 

For a hot second that was enough, that is to have a church recognize your relationship and hold it as blessed in the eyes of God.

 

Of course the longer we were together with our partners the more we found out that while God may love us and embrace us, no one else was and especially the law.

 

We had no visitation rights for our partners when hospitalized, because we weren’t married.

 

We had no rights to our partner’s body when they died, because we were not married.  In the late 70’s and mid 80’s people were dying at an alarming rate.

 

We had no rights to pass on property without it being contested by family members, because we weren’t married.

 

If our partner had something catastrophic happen to them, we had no say in their treatment or care, because we were not married.

 

We could not have children, because we were not married.

 

We could not adopt children, because we were not married.

 

We could not be considered for credit together, because we were not married.

 

The longer a couple was together and the everyday obligations of living life became more and more complicated because we were not married.

 

As a couple we suffered at the hands of the IRS and tax breaks and credits because we were not married.

 

The list of discriminatory practices used against gay couples simply because they were not married amounts to thousands of laws both on a federal and state level. 

 

Of course if a couple had an endless stream of cash flow, they could find a good lawyer to write up all kinds of legal documents for protection of the relationship that may or may not hold up in court, because wait here it comes; we were not married.

 

Thus began the fight for equality. 

 

Now, I could write page upon page of horror stories of what has happened to couples in the 31 years my partner and I have been married in the eyes of our church.

 

In this journey of time one has heard all the arguments for and against allowing gay people to be treated equal in the church and in the eyes of the law.

 

We have heard all the negotiations for giving couples some rights by calling our relationships “civil unions”, “holy unions”, “domestic partnerships”.

 

We have seen the definition of marriage defined, re-defined and re-defined again.

 

Thanks to straight people the definition of marriage does not hold the same personal life time commitment of fidelity, integrity and love that I am sure we all want it to. 

 

With divorce for first time marriages approaching 50% and 60% of 2nd marriages I failed to see how the gay community gets pulled into the argument of re-defining marriage.

 

This does not even take into consideration of the new reality TV shows for putting a man and women together or the lunacy of the Las Vegas marriage.  The straight community hasn’t needed us to destroy marriage; they have done very well on their own.

 

We have more than our fair share of folks in our own community who do not believe marriage is the ultimate goal for our community simple because straight people have been less than good role models of marriage at the minimum and total hypocrites at the worst.

 

So what is really at the bottom of this snake pit of fiery rhetoric and endless court battles? 

 

Equality!  However, it is not equality the way it is being discussed and debated.  The issue is not about what the church will have to do or not do, accept or not accept. 

 

It is not even about laws that allow for people to live their lives in relative safety and the pursuit of happiness.

 

What it is about is whether or not our straight counter parts see gay people as equal to them as human beings.

 

When I saw the movie “Lincoln” there is a piece of dialogue which clarified what actually is going on with “Marriage Equality”.

 

At some point in the movie Lincoln is in a conversation with a political ally about getting the 13th amendment passed.  The ally is trying to explain to the President what the real challenge of the 13th amendment is. 

 

The challenge it turns out is not putting an end to slavery but rather the country with the passage of the 13th amendment will have to give the “negro” the vote.  In other words once one could not hold people in slavery, one must recognize they are full human beings with all the rights and privileges that go with that.

 

Now I know that didn’t come till much later (100 years to be more exact) but this little piece of prophecy set the stage for the civil rights movement and the definition of “human rights”.

 

This struggle for “Marriage Equality” is the final argument of whether or not gay people are fully human, are on equal footing with the rest of this creation we call human.

 

It is the 3/5 of a human being all over again debate all over again.

 

Oh, I know the religious and political right have not used this exact language, it has been carefully avoided under the cover of morality and ethics of faith dogma or what is natural or not natural.

 

However, that is exactly what is being said to us.  As long as we are denied marriage equality the so called right can rest in the blessed assurance we are not fully human and therefore do not have to be treated equally under the law.

 

The conservatives within the Black community say this is not a civil rights issue and our community has taken heat for arguing for what we called our civil rights. 

 

Of course for all the wrong reasons they are correct, this argument, this fight, this pitched battle has never been about civil rights, it is in fact about being seen as fully human, yes that is correct human rights!

 

My brothers and sisters in my community have gotten sucked into the wrong conversation.  We have been fighting for the right to not get fired, the right to live where we want in relative safety, the right to medical care etc.  Yet, even if we get all of that we will still be considered 3/5 of a human being because our love and expression of that is not equal.

 

We can now serve in the military, but we are not equal.

 

We can set up partnerships, but we are not equal.

 

We can serve in churches, but we are not equal.

 

We can have our jobs as long as we don’t claim to be equal.

 

The political and religious right is saying they are 6 foot tall and we are only 3.6 feet tall, so we can never fully have what they have.

 

They will give us civil unions, but that is not fully equal.

 

They will give us domestic partnerships, but that is not fully equal.

 

We can spend thousands of dollars to get legal paper work done, but it will not hold up because we are not fully equal.

 

We can fight and win the right of job protection, but we are not equal.

 

We can have hate crime laws passed, but we are not equal.

 

As long as they can say our relationships are not a marriage, they can continue to say we are not equal.  The religious and political right will find comfort in the phrase from the book “Animal Farm”; all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

 

I think our adversaries know the moment they let us say “I do”, they have lost the battle.  So they will fight us tooth and nail by giving us a crumb here and there, but not anything beyond 3/5 of a human being.

 

Understand this; DOMA says we are 3/5 of a human being.

 

Georgia’s State Constitution says we are 3/5 of human being.

 

When insurance companies can deny your spouse coverage they are saying you are 3/5 of a human being.

 

When families can step in the middle of a medical crisis or death and take over it is because by law we are 3/5 of a human being.

 

Let us no longer be fooled by the crumbs of these so called rights they will eventually give us, but never the full banquet.  

 

We are fully human, and “Marriage Equality” puts us on equal footing with our adversaries.

 

My partner (husband) and I (also husband) have been “married” for 31 years come June 25th.  In that time we have paid our taxes, voted, served our country,  one in the military, one as a pastor, contributed to our countries economy, played and officiated in the sports world, owned a home, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, given drink to the thirsty, and visited the sick and imprisoned.

 

In this country that means we have long since passed the expectations of the vast majority of marriages.  I think it is more than past the time of being seen as 3/5 of a human being and being recognized for what we are; fully human in the eyes of God, the church and the law!