Friday, April 24, 2015

CrowdRise Fundraiser: Queer Grace Website

I realized I was gay when I was fourteen years old. I had the massive fortune to be born into a family and a congregation that loved me, but even in that safety net I could not miss the vitriol and violence committed against LGBTQ people by supposed "Christians."  Trying to find my identity and my faith in the midst of a religion that continually fought over my worth wore on my soul, and there were times I thought about leaving the church.

Sixteen years later, the crisis of faith and identity among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual and gender minority people continues. Progress has been made, and the internet abounds with theology, interpretation, compassion, and compelling personal stories. But much of the information available is scattershot, sown throughout the web and often lost in google searches.

I have been dreaming for a few years of creating a web community where resources could be housed and shared to help LGBTQ people navigate the waters of faith and identity. Can one be Christian and gay, and what does that look like? What about transgender? What about bisexual or pansexual (and also, what do those terms mean)? Why would we say "queer" when for so many years it's been a violent slur? What does the church have to say about asexuality, or polyamory? How does Christian faith intersect not only with gender identity and sexuality, but also with sexism, racism, classism, and other systems of abuse?

There are incredible answers to these questions by authors and prophets far better equipped than me. What I am hungry to do is to create an encyclopedia of ideas, collecting the best the internet has to offer on the topic of Christian faith and LGBTQ identities. I've come to recognize that I can't do this alone -- nor can I hammer it out in a free weekend. This is going to take a lot of work.

So, on my 30th birthday, I'm asking: will you help? Will you chip in $5 or $10 to buy me a few hours worth of caffeine- and sugar-fueled website building?

I'm setting the insane goal of $1000 because I think it could happen. $200 would cover really really nice webhosting through SquareSpace for the next two years.  Some of the rest could fund ads on Facebook and elsewhere to boost visibility, or pay artists and photographers, or donate to already-existing organizations when I link to their material.  And, the rest would also create a stipend for me to work with.  Maybe it won't happen.  But maybe it could, and it's my 30th birthday; wanna make it the best one yet? :)

Queer Grace website fundraiser

Monday, April 13, 2015

Stories of faith in a world that wants proof: a sermon for April 12 2015 at Mercy Seat Lutheran

An opening reading.

By Ryan Grim and Nick Wing, published in the Huffington Post.

Here's A News Report We'd Be Reading If Walter Scott's Killing Wasn't On Video.

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer's Taser, authorities said.  The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

The incident occurred behind a pawn shop on Craig Street and Remount Road. Slager initially pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. During the stop, police and witnesses say Scott fled the vehicle on foot. When Slager caught up with him a short distance from the street, Scott reportedly attempted to overpower Slager. Police say that during the struggle, the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.

It was during that scuffle that the officer fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Scott.

“Shots fired, and the subject is down. He took my Taser," Slager radioed immediately following the shooting.

Slager “felt threatened and reached for his department-issued firearm and fired his weapon,” his attorney said in a statement on Sunday. “I believe once the community hears all the facts of this shooting, they’ll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this investigation.”

Saturday's encounter bears similarities to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which kicked off a national conversation about the use of force by police. Authorities there ultimately determined that Brown had attempted to overpower Officer Darren Wilson and run before turning back and charging the officer, who was forced to deploy his service weapon in the encounter.

Slager was placed on administrative duty, pending the outcome of the state investigation.

This article relies entirely on local news reports, which sourced their version of events to information from police, the attorney for the officer, "witnesses" and police statements. Many of those claims, when a video of the encounter was released, turned out to be lies. Slager has been charged with murder. 

First reading:  1 John 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Gospel reading:  John 20:19-31.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


There is an expression in the English language that is “the burden of proof.”  And no more have I felt the weight of that burden than this week.  Every time I turned on my computer or flicked through my Twitter feed or watched the news, when we were faced with, once again -- after month after month after month of questions and concerns about police brutality particularly towards black men -- now we have two events in the past week where police brutality against black men who were under suspicion, being pulled over, were left for dead.

For many months questions have arisen again and again: over Eric, over Mike, over Tamir -- the desire for proof.  The desire to see if institutional racism really is a thing.  If police brutality is really a concern.  The question has arisen over and over again and the answer has been “Unless I see, I will not believe.”  It has broken the hearts of many Americans and people around the world again and again, particularly the hearts of those in communities of people of color.

But should we be surprised?  Because we live in a world that asks for proof.

Unless I see your sexual orientation:  unless you perfectly fit the stereotype that does not challenge any aspect of my heteronormativity, I will not believe.

Unless I see street harassment:  unless I see that catcalls and shouts from car windows are not unwanted compliments but arise out of a culture of objectification and fear, I will not believe.

Unless I see your mental illness:  unless I am convinced that there is truly something wrong with you more than just what’s “in your head”, I will not believe.

And unless the world embodies a perfectly good and just God so that karma is dealt out in exactly the proportion that I believe it should be, I will not believe.

The world wants proof.  And the stories we are given are stories of faith.

And poor Thomas.  We turn him into this example, for two thousand years in the church, of “doubting Thomas.”  The finger wagging and the scolding and the eyebrows raised in shame that we should not be like him.  We should be grateful that we have not seen but have believed.  As if the poor guy didn’t just want what all the disciples had already gotten.  To see the Lord, in the flesh.  To break bread with him, we know, from the gospel of Luke when he meets the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or later in the gospel of John when he meets them on the shore and eats fish and bread with them.  All Thomas wants to do is see.  Everybody else got to.

But what we are given and what is handed down to us over two thousand years are stories not of proof but of faith.

And when we turn Thomas into that doubting caricature, that stereotype, that example, we miss the depths that his doubt takes him to.  That he is the one who looks at Jesus with his wounded wrists and feet and side and says “My Lord and my God!”.  To confess that Jesus is Lord and God is ordinary language for people who have been raised in or regularly come to church.  But when you read the gospel closely, it is not there.  It is a dangerous claim to say that someone is God, and there are hints and implicit weavings; and Jesus is made equal with the Father, or Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and the Father is also the vine, but this -- this moment:  when Thomas has gone so deep in his doubt, is the moment when Jesus is revealed as God.

So why these stories?  Why are we given stories of faith in a world that asks for proof?

Well, see what the text says:

“But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  Life.  Elsewhere in the gospel of John, Jesus promises abundant life, overflowing, ridiculously overboard, like a sower scattering seed so generously that he doesn’t care if it falls on road or rock or bad soil.  Abundant.  And life extravagantly diverse, like the roots of a tree.  If they all grew exactly the same, exactly the same place and cell division, they would fight each other, strangle each other and die.  Diversity and change and a little bit of breathing room are inherent to life.  So these stories offer us life.

See what else the text says, that the letter of John -- which was probably not written by the same guy who wrote the gospel, very complicated, apparently some people have the same name as others -- “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”  Complete.

Joy is a tricky word.  We can use joy to describe the feeling when our beloved gets down on one knee and says, “Will you marry me?” and we can also use it to describe the feeling when the season three trailer for Orange is the New Black is released.  It’s a tricky word.  Which is probably why the writer of the letter says complete joy.  Deep and full and wide and lasting and transforming and life-changing and so awkwardly and offensively ours.  Not so that your singular joy may be complete or that my individual joy may be complete but that our collective, embodied, brought together, one body joy may be complete.

This is the awkwardness of the promise that Jesus brings us.  That we belong to each other.  That the atoms that make up my body and your body and this floor and streets in India are the same atoms that existed at the moment the universe was created.  That we have all known each other from that moment.  That when we become members of the body of Christ we’re being re-membered into the body that has always had us.  That we are made for, as the writer of the letter of John says, “fellowship with each other and with the Father and with Christ the Son.”

We are offered these stories, these frustrating stories of faith instead of proof because we are made to read and listen and doubt and believe in community.  We need each other.

We need someone to go for the groceries so we can have Sunday night dinner, and accidentally miss the return of the Savior.  And we need eleven waiting behind, hidden in a room, so that God can break in.

We need each other for that life and that joy.

So how do we live in a world that requires proof when we are given stories of faith?

We ask questions.  We listen.  We trust enough to believe that the experiences and stories of others will not destroy us.  That change will not tear us apart.  That questions and doubt and truth are good.  Because God has not made us for destruction but for life and for joy.

We know our own truth.  We listen to ourselves.  We live into our stories.  We fight for our own space, our life, our air to breathe.  God has not made us for fear and hiddenness but for life, and for joy, and for each other.

And we finally, frustratingly, can accept foolishness:  that maybe things are not always as they seem.  Maybe we and the ones we love are not exactly what we predicted.  And maybe, just maybe, death does not have the last word.


(A note about this sermon:  I left my manuscript at home.  This is the transcript of what was preached off a hastily scribbled twenty word outline.  The conclusion I preached was not as solid as the one I planned; most upsettingly, it didn't loop back to talking about the murders of Walter Scott and Eric Harris, and the importance of believing each other's stories, as well as I wanted to.  For that, readers and hearers, I apologize.)