It has been a day for tears
A day unimagined
For most of my life
Has actually come
And I am reminded
That hope can surprise us
That from hard work and pain
Beauty can arise
And love sometimes can win
So I cry for joy.
And I sob for all who have been lost
Before this day
For the struggle has been long
And I cry for those who will still die
Along the way
For the journey is not done.
There is always a backlash
As we know all too well
Black churches are still burning
Even as a song of grace
Flows up from the grief
For those lost in Charleston
Cry me a river
Spirit of life
Hold us and heal us
Make our hearts larger
As joy and pain overflow.
Help us to rise
And stand once again
On the side of love.
I moved from Utah back to California at the end of June, partly to live in a state where my marriage would be recognized. The photo above is of our wedding cake. It has been nice. No issues come up when I introduce my spouse as my wife. No one even blinks an eye. Now, finally, all marriages are recognized in Utah again. Things have been bad there since the brief window where people married last December after a federal court ruling. The state officials continued to fight against equality in increasingly nasty ways. They are still trying to do so, but have to realize at this point that they really are on the wrong side of history. Blessings to all my Utah friends today. Your steadfast work in planting the seeds for justice is finally bring the harvest end. Congratulations! I won’t fly back for the celebrations, but my heart is with you today.
I recently moved from one of the reddest states, Utah, to one of the bluest, California. One of the reasons I moved was so I could live in a state where my marriage would be recognized. After almost 40 years together, it seemed like time. Two of our three adult children also live here, and it makes my heart glad to be near them again. There was also loss involved with the move. Hardest of all was to leave a ministry and a congregation full of people that I loved.
So what does it feel like to have made this change?
On the GLBT issue it feels totally great. I have noticed that while I still pay attention to the court cases on marriage equality, it is with much less emotion. They aren’t impacting me personally anymore. Utah’s Governor Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes can say all the hateful and bigoted things about GLBT people they want, but MY governor and attorney general are nothing but supportive. So are my neighbors and random people I meet in the street and the supermarket. Life is pretty good for GLBT people when the state is a blue one. The weather here in California is also delightful.
I also think the move is going to be good for me as a minister. I was beginning to feel very frustrated and almost bitter about Utah’s red state politics. It wasn’t just marriage equality, it was also their failure to expand medicaid, their love affair with guns, and their total disregard for the environment. I won’t even go into the corruption. Their last two Attorney Generals are being indicted for selling their influence to the highest bidder.
It does not serve a minister well to wear frustration and bitterness underneath a robe and stole. As a minister, I believe I must always serve something much greater than myself. I must always hold up hope for the people and the community I serve. I must help create a clarity of vision that is untarnished by any of my own personal angst. That was becoming less possible for me in Utah. I had done it for seven years; I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Since June 30, I have not been serving a congregation. How different that has felt. Even when I was on sabbatical, my heart and spirit were still entwined with all that was going on with the church that I would continue to serve. I was still their minister. This break has been different. I haven’t been anyone’s minister for almost two months.
That is about to change. I will begin with a new congregation in less than a week. It is in Berkeley CA, no less, one of the most liberal communities in this very blue state. I am extremely excited. I haven’t met any of them in person yet, just a video interview and a few emails, but they need a minister and I believe that I can serve them well. I am ready to love them and lead them as best as I am able. In a red state or a blue state, people need community, they need comfort when they are hurting, they need meaning in their lives, they need laughter and music, and a way to connect to what is holy in life. Life itself is sacred, but we need help sometimes to learn to live that way. Our liberal religion of Unitarian Universalism offers all of this.
Red and blue when mixed together make the color purple. Purple is a color that is associated with religion. Lighten it up just a bit and you have lavender. It is not a menace but a dream. Amen to dreams.
I haven’t posted in awhile. Transitions are funny things; it is hard to maintain a focus when surrounded by boxes and you aren’t quite sure of the time zone. We moved from Utah to California on July 1. The furniture came several days later, and then on the 12th, we left for a long planned vacation to Europe. Bad timing in some ways, but the trip was paid for before I decided to leave the church in Ogden at the end of June.
The house is coming together, but I don’t have my home office really set up yet and I don’t start at my new church until August 15th.
Changes. New things. Then again, it is also coming home, back to the house where we lived for 25 years and raised our kids. Some of the old neighbors are still here as are some of our favorite restaurants. Prices are much higher than Utah, for everything. California isn’t perfect, but it is so worth it to live somewhere my marriage is recognized without question, even by random people standing in line at the deli counter. (You can’t get Molinari Salami in Utah, and my comment about that started a whole fun conversation about why I had lived there and why I left.)
More poetry will come again I know, but for now, I just wanted to explain my rather long absence.
Marriage equality and my emotions go up and down, up and down, bouncing like a red rubber ball. It made me think of this song.
THE CYRKLE- “RED RUBBER BALL”
They say that justice is a journey, and the arc of the universe bends toward it. Well, Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said that and Martin Luther King repeated it – a lot. The last several months, however, have been more of a roller coaster. Judges rule, marriages happen, stays are issued, benefits are given and then taken away. Adoptions granted and then suspended. Who says they care about children? Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Idaho, etc, etc. There are too many states to name where the emotions and lives of GLBT are being batted around like a tether ball. Waiting to hear from Oregon today. It is time to untether the rope and let freedom fly free. Hit it out of the park. Follow the arc. May it be so.
Sometimes justice requires a wrecking ball. The walls and structures of oppression need to come down. Of course those in power want to maintain it. Of course they are upset when courts don’t rule in their favor.
Utah is like that. They are grasping at straws as the walls of their carefully constructed culture come crashing down around them. Young Mormons are leaving the church in droves because of the rigidity of thought. Thank you, internet, for enlarging their world.
The state’s case against marriage equality is truly bizarre. It would be funny if real people weren’t being hurt. If children were not being denied the right to have two legal parents, simply because their parents are of the same gender. Utah does not allow anyone who is “co-habiting” to adopt. It doesn’t seem to matter what is best for the children.
From the court case:
*See full news article (here)
“To allow the “difficult policy choice” about marriage rights to be made by “judicial fiat” would not be akin to the “narrow” decision that ended bans on interracial marriage, but instead would unleash “an unprincipled judicial wrecking ball hurtling toward an even more important arena of traditional state authority,” the state said.”
“That wrecking ball would impose “novel” and “corrosive” principles about marriage and parenting and would undermine state sovereignty, according to the 120-page reply brief the state submitted to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals just minutes before its midnight deadline Friday.”
The arguments and images sound like hyperbole because they are, and they also show just how terrified the Utah state officials are of any change at all that might threaten Utah’s patriarchal theocracy. They then name the risks of marriage equality:
“Those risks include: fewer and shorter heterosexual marriages; an increase in fatherless and motherless parenting; reduced birth rates and more out-of-wedlock births; less “self-sacrificing” by heterosexual fathers; and increased social strife, the state said.”
Utah’s birth rate could stand to drop a bit, not that marriage equality would help with that. Those 10 kid families put a real strain on the schools – which our legislature barely funds. I am really not clear how letting LGBT people get married can do any of the things listed. And, nothing like trashing all the single moms and dads out there, most of whom are doing fine jobs parenting their kids.
Same gender marriage does threaten the patriarchal norms of Utah, however. A marriage of equals runs totally counter to the culture here. It might make heterosexual women think they can challenge the status quo even more, that they can have a real voice in the public square and in their marriages. Some of those women might even start asking to be admitted to the LDS priesthood. Oh, that is already an issue.
Racism, sexism, homophobia have got to fall – even if it requires a “judicial wrecking ball.”
Read an earlier post on Utah’s “Gender Diversity” (here)
I read this blog post by Myke Johnson this morning. I needed it. It was a good reminder.
“A young lesbian woman carried another poster that said, “Your signs are mean but we love you anyway.” No matter what happens next, such love releases an inner power that is indestructible. I think that is part of what Dr. King was talking about. It was visceral and immediate. By tapping the power of love through non-violent action, he felt first hand a new way of being in the world. He fully experienced his own dignity and the dignity of his people. After that, what else could matter? He had been to the mountaintop.”
Sometimes hurt, pain, and especially anger can get in the way of love. Yesterday was a difficult one for me. An article was published in our local newspaper about my decision to leave my ministry here in Utah and return to California. One of my reasons for leaving is the lack of marriage equality in Utah. Read it (here) The article was fair , and I have a long and very good relationship with the reporter.
The headline read:
“Activist Ogden gay rights minister fed up with Utah, moves to California,” which set up a certain tone that I do not think accurately reflects my feelings about leaving. I would have been happier if the words “fed up” were not included. Tired maybe, sad definitely, but there is much about Utah that I love. My leaving is about going to a place I will be happier, not escaping a place I hate. I am not leaving in disgust, I am going home. I also understand that being able to move is a privilege that is not available to everyone. Many people have family here that they do not or cannot leave. Most of our family is in California. We have no relatives who live in Utah. Other people stay here because of their jobs. Ministry however, by its very nature, is a profession where periodic geographic mobility is the norm. I promised the church I would stay five years, and I will have been here seven by the time I leave. While some ministers stay longer than that, seven years is by no reasonable measurement a short-term ministry. I know that I am very lucky to have the option of moving.
There was a video of the interview that was posted by the article, but most people didn’t seem to watch it. Or maybe they did. Virtually all of the people who actually know me, who had met me face to face and in person, expressed simple sadness that I was leaving. They also understood that I was not disparaging the all Mormons by criticizing the actions of its hierarchy. Many faithful LDS people have the same opinions about those actions as I do.
It was people who don’t know me who felt compelled to call me a quitter, to say they were glad I was going, or to make disparaging comments about my weight. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I admit that it was painful. Many of comments were just mean and almost all were anonymous as well. I’d like to say to them, “Your words are mean, but I love you anyway.” I, too, have been to the mountaintop. I know that the Divine Spirit loves us all, just the way we are. Would that we all could understand that, and treat each other accordingly, to treat everyone with dignity and respect, especially when we disagree. I hope that my time and work here has served to bring that day just a little bit closer. If that is at all true, I am well satisfied.
Video of the sermon (click here)
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene Chapter 9
When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her.
But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.
Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things. He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?
Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?
Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.
But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.
That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.
And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.
Music Video: Macklemore Same Love (Click here)
No more crying on Sundays is how that music video we just saw ends.
Sorry, but I can’t promise that. Tears are good, and in times of grief or disappointment letting them flow can be very healing. We cry when are hearts are touched, and Sunday worship should touch our hearts. It is the same reason people cry at weddings. I cried at my own wedding celebration a little over a week ago, and I suspect there were not many dry eyes among the 120 or so people who witnessed our vows.
But people also cry in churches because their church is hurting them, telling them that they are somehow less than worthy, less than whole. They are told that God doesn’t love them just as they are if they are gay. They may also be told that they are less than worthy if they happen to be female. It is in the Bible after all.
This morning’s sermon title is “The Gospel Truth?” Did you notice the question mark? I gave a version of this sermon a number of years ago, but I think it might be especially useful again just now. It might help some of you dialogue with or resist anyone who might be beating you about the head and wounding your heart with their literal interpretations of scripture.
The word Gospel comes from the Greek word, euangélion, and means quite literally “good news.”
It did not mean absolute fact, something that can’t be questioned, although the word has taken on that meaning in our language today. In ancient Greece when a city-state was at war, and soldiers were far away engaged in combat, the people at home worried, just as we do today when our sons and daughters are at risk in foreign lands. After a battle, a runner raced back home, hopefully to bring the word of victory, to spread the gospel, the good news. That is the earliest evidence we have of how the word gospel was used.
When the early Christians were writing in Greek, they used the same term with the same meaning because they believed that the message of Jesus, the message of a loving God, of hope for the poor and oppressed, was very good news indeed.
Now we all want good news to be true. There is nothing so upsetting as to think something wonderful has happened and to find out there was disaster instead. We found out this last week how quickly things can move from joy to despair. I really did not think the Supreme Court would put our marriages on hold. But then again, I am still amazed that Shelby’s decision was implemented for even a few days.
You know that feeling when you have struggled to park in the last tiny spot on a crowded street or parking lot, and then while walking away, you discover a small no parking sign? We want good news to be true. We want to park our cars, our lives, someplace good, and not have to move them again. We don’t want to be required to read the fine print.
So it is with the Bible. If you read the fine print, if you study it, you find that while it may still be good news, and it certainly contains much wisdom, what it says is not literal fact. My Old Testament professor in seminary, a delightfully droll Franciscan priest, was fond of saying that the Bible is not history and it is not science, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
The Bible, he said, is a collection of the stories of a people and their struggles to be in right relationship with the divine, with God. It is full of metaphor and full of inconsistencies. It wasn’t written down all at one time; and God didn’t dictate it.
Biblical scholars, using modern methods, have determined that the bible is in fact a collection of stories, many of which were originally oral traditions, and most of which were edited and changed over time.
The word Bible actually means library and comes from the name of the town Býblos, a Phoenician port where papyrus was prepared. And there is not just one Bible, a fact that many Biblical literalists don’t know. The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of 24 books in three divisions: the law (or Torah), the prophets, and the writings. The Protestant Old Testament contains all the same books, but arranges them differently in order to make a theological point. The Roman Catholic Old Testament is larger than the protestant version; containing 15 additional books also known as the apocrypha, which means literally “hidden away”. The Greek Orthodox Church includes even more, and the Ethiopian Church yet again more.
So when someone tells you that they follow what is in the Bible, it would not be at all unreasonable to ask, “Which one?”
The official version of the bible and the books included in it is often referred to as the canon.
Most of the books have also been edited. Some are clearly combinations of different earlier versions. The Torah, what Christians call the Pentateuch, is composed of the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scripture: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Scholars have determined that there were originally as many as five separate and distinct written versions of the material in the Torah that were combined at a later time. They are referred to as the J, D, E, and P versions; P is for priestly and the style is rather dry and formulaic. The D source is found mainly in Deuteronomy.
J and E refer to two different Hebrew names for God. Scholars are still arguing about which source came first and the actual number of different sources, but they are in full agreement that the Torah was not written by Moses.
Have you ever wondered why there are two versions of the creation story in Genesis? Genesis one describes creation as happening in seven days and God creating both man and woman in his image at the same time. It is in Genesis 2 that God takes a rib from Adam to create Eve.
From the story of the flood to the tales of Abraham and Sarah, from the parting of the Red Seas to the listing of the Ten Commandments, there are both repetitions and differences in what the Bible says. So if someone tells you they believe what the Bible says, after they tell you which version, you might want to ask, which part of that version?
You also might want to ask them, if they say the Bible is the literal truth, so then do they think men really have one less rib than women. Did anyone else ever try to count their ribs and those of an opposite gender friend or sibling? I did. It was very confusing. It also wasn’t particularly easy and I don’t remember even getting a firm number. Pull out an anatomy textbook later, or ask your doctor if you still aren’t sure. We aren’t going to engage in rib counting this morning here in church, but if you want, you can do that later, in the privacy of your own homes.
The New Testament Bible was created in a similar fashion. It is a collection of stories and letters about Jesus and the early Church, some of which are repeated and inconsistent with each other.
Most scholars agree that some of the letters attributed to Paul were written earlier than any of the actual Gospels. They agree that Mark was the first gospel written; at least of the ones included in the canon, and that the authors of Matthew and Luke had access to Mark when they wrote their versions of the life of Jesus.
Many believe that they also had copies of another text, possibly older than Mark, which contained various sayings of Jesus. That document is referred to as “Q”.
There was much controversy in the early church over what writings should be included. There was a lot of very diverse material floating around for the first four centuries, as well as different oral traditions. People argued about what should be included and what should be left out. Even as late as the protestant reformation Martin Luther argued that the book of James should not be included in the canon.
Some writings were lost for more than a thousand years, but scholars were aware of their existence because of historical records that made reference to them. Many of these texts were found in modern times. You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which Catherin read a portion of earlier. Often referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, more than 52 ancient Christian writings were discovered in 1945 in Egypt.
These writings that are still being studied by scholars, give us a lot of clues about the diversity of Christian belief in the earliest years.
So, when someone tells you women should be silent in church because it says that in the Bible maybe you might want to quote from the Gospel of Mary where Levi calls Peter hot headed because he does not want to believe what Mary is saying.
You might also ask them why Paul felt the need to tell women they should be quiet. Most likely they were speaking up and he wanted to silence them.
The Gospel Truth really is a question mark. I haven’t even gone into the whole issue of translations, but it is pretty clear that Jesus didn’t speak King James English. He didn’t even speak Greek. Anyone who speaks more than one language well knows that literal translations often result in distorted meanings.
Once while in a fairly impish mood, talking to someone who said that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuals, I quoted from the King James Version, Luke 17:34. The verse reads, literally:
“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.”
Now, when you interpret that verse literally it is pretty clear that at least half of the gay people go to heaven, isn’t it?
I don’t actually suggest that you leave here today and go out and start arguments with biblical literalists. But if it interests you, do some reading about biblical scholarship. If you want some recommendations, let me know. There are a lot of very good books out there, some very academic and some easier to read and digest.
But what I most want to leave you with today are some questions. What is your holy text, and what good news does it contain? Do you find it in scripture; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or perhaps another tradition? Do you find it in poetry, in nature, in connections with other people?
Each of us must find our own truth. We find it in our own lives and in the lives of others that we come to know. We find it in the world around us. It is helpful to read, to study, and to learn what others believe to be true. But in the end, we must each make our own peace with the meaning of our own life, and our own peace with whatever we mean when we say the word God. There is some gospel, some good news, however, even if there is not just one “gospel truth.” We don’t have to do any of this alone. There are other souls around engaged in similar journeys. Maybe we can learn from one another. Maybe we can stop using sacred texts like the Bible to justify our own bias and bigotry. Maybe love will finally find a way to vanquish hate.
Amen and Blessed Be. Can we have a hallelujah too?