Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where are the Voices of Reason?

I have become aware recently of a "humorous" Christian product being sold around the internet...its available in shirts and hats and on teddy bears and it reads as follows:

Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8

How many people know what Psalm 109:8 and its completing couplet Psalm 109:9 actually say? Well, for the edification of our readers here are the two verses from Blue Letter Bible :

Let his days be few; [and] let another take his office. Psalm 109:8 KJV
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Psalm 109:9 KJV

Lest you think it is a quirk of the KJV translation, its not. Every version in BLB's extensive list says basically the same thing. Psalm 109 is one of the genre known as the cursing psalms. Not only is Psalm 109 one of these it is considered as one of the most horrible in the Bible. Don't be deceived, this scripture was chosen specifically and the intent was not to be humorous. There is an element within Right Wing American Christian Culture that is every bit as crazy and dangerous as anything within the Islamic Jihad movement. This passage is their battle cry.

It is because of this that I have been praying for the physical safety of our President ever since I found out that he would be the Democratic candidate. My concern at the time was the potential actions of some deranged racist. That concern unfortunately has expanded to include the potential actions of some deluded religiously motivated individual. I don't think it is that far fetched and I do think it is imperative that the leaders of the Religious Right in particular stand up and denounce this kind of thing when it crops up.

Right now the silence is deafening.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

World AIDS Day and the Marker Project

Marker Project Event Page on Facebook

Sunday I will be gathering with the Church at First Baptist on Poplar and Parkway to participate in a project that has become very dear to my heart. Each year for the last decade, in conjunction with World AIDS Day, the congregations at First Baptist and at Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist which sits just across Poplar join together and install thousands of red velvet ribbons on stakes in the yards of the two buildings. Each of those ribbons represents a person with AIDS from Shelby County who has died from the disease.

The focus of the World AIDS Day Marker Project is three-fold:

• COMMEMORATE the lives of those lost to HIV/AIDS
• CELEBRATE the lives of those who are successfully living with HIV/AIDS
• EDUCATE others to prevent further loss of life from HIV/AIDS

For me the focus is much more personal. For me it is about honoring the memory of four men...Jeffery Scott Shepherd, Michael Robinson, Charlie Leonard and Robert Michie. Each of these men were special to me and in a brief five year period in the late 80's/early 90's I lost each of them to AIDS. It is also about Laura Finn, my husbands childhood best friend, who we lost to AIDS less than 3 years ago. And it is about my friends who are HIV positive or living with AIDS. As I hammer markers into the ground, I honor their fight, I remember their lives, I mourn those who are absent and I pray that we as the Church will repent. We seem to have compassion for our brothers and sisters with AIDS in other countries but we show a glaring lack of that same compassion when it comes to our brothers and sisters with AIDS here. In our country. In our city.

This display of red ribbons, simple as it is, gives me hope that at least SOME in the church "get it". That the Fred Phelps of the world are not the voice of the church on the issue. That it is possible to both love God and love our GLBT brothers and sisters who ALSO LOVE GOD but who have been ostracized and marginalized by his church. I don't pretend to have the answers. My GLBT friends would probably tell you that I mess it up on a regular basis in knowing how the details of it all should work out. But I love them and they love me and we love God and try really hard to work out the details together. We have failed our brothers and sisters in the GLBT community in so many ways and one of the most glaring to me is our response to the AIDS epidemic in THIS country.

I have often wondered what kind of message it sends when we raise money to combat AIDS in Africa (a noble cause, don't get me wrong) and yet in this country our so-called leaders of the "religious Right" felt it appropriate to say stuff on national television like:

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." - Jerry Falwell

"I know one man who was impotent who gave AIDS to his wife and the only thing they did was kiss." - Pat Robertson

Rantings of whack jobs? Sure. But also the vocalization of the ignorant beliefs of far too many of their followers. And that's just the tip of the iceburg of the ignorance and ugliness that "christians" spew about GLBT people in this country. An ugliness that goes suspiciously silent when it comes to fighting AIDS in Africa.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for fighting AIDS wherever it is ravaging lives and families. I think that dealing with the epidemic in Africa is critical. I just wonder what it says about the American church when our priorities seem so obviously skewed to the foreign mission and our attitudes toward those struggling with the same disease in this country are so condemnatory. So if you want to be a part of something that isn't...something that represents the best of what the Church can be when she is showing her compassionate heart and you're in Memphis on November 22nd at 11 am come to 1st Baptist and worship and then join us in placing the markers and going to lunch afterward. See you there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

To Write Love on Her Arms

Today, and probably for the next several days since I chose to use sharpie markers, I will be going around with the word "LOVE" written on both my wrists. There is a reason for this beyond the little kid fun of writing on myself. Today is "To Write Love on Her Arms" Day. To Write Love on Her Arms is a movement inspired by the kind of action that I believe Unconventional Christians understand as the very purpose of the body of Christ.

The story is available here: TWLOHA My Space

A decade ago I met weekly with a young girl who self injured. I always felt helpless in the face of her pain. A decade ago there were few resources out there and even fewer people who were talking about the reality of the hurt our kids cope with in the best ways they can. We muddled along. I don't know how much I "helped" her but I know that to this day she knows, unquestioningly, that I love her.

Today I have the word "LOVE" on my arms and I am hoping that people will ask why. When they do I will tell them about those who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide...and I will point them to TWLOHA and to hope. Isn't that what the church is supposed to do in the world? Create a space for people to ask questions about why we do what we do and point them to HOPE?

Unfortunately we seem too often to cause people to wonder the wrong thing. Not why we love...but why we hate. Today I have the word LOVE on my arms because I believe in a God who says he IS love and who tells us to be known in the world by our love. May He forgive us when we are not and help us to change that. One act of love at a time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Church As Just a Community Center?

I love the church. I love the church with passion. I love the church TOO much. This is a big part of why I don't really go to church anymore.

You see, if I didn't love the church, I wouldn't expect anything of the church. I would not expect the church to be the people of God. I would not expect the church to remain honest in the midst of a political campaign. I would not expect the church to love people instead of labeling them and judging them. I would not expect the people to gather around the wounded and pray for them instead of ridiculing and devouring them.

If I did not love the church, perhaps I could just go... participate in the things that are beneficial, and just be too concerned when the unthinkable and unbelievable is perpetrated on the unsuspecting. I would not be sensitive to truth being sacrificed for tradition or applause.

I haven't been to church much in the past 3-4 years. I miss praying together with other Christians. I miss worshiping with a group of believers. I miss the encouragement and bearing of burdens. But when I look back on it, there wasn't much of that really happening at church, and when I do go to church occasionally, I don't see much of that happening. I get more of that at Kroger or online or right out on the street than I was experiencing at church. I am able to give that to people right out in the neighborhood without violating any programs, agendas or tight schedules or egos.

So, lately, I've been missing church again. I realize it started when I saw all the Halloween party pictures posted online. I miss getting together and decorating and dressing up and eating each other's culinary creations. I really am going to need somewhere to go sing Christmas songs and hang tinsel and see a Christmas play. As these thought go through my mind, I think.... "I got all that in school, as a child. I know some people get that at community centers... where can I be a part of the seasonal fun?"

I've always valued community... needed community, wanted community. So, is it possible I could just approach church with a "community center" mind set? Could I just go for the party, but not be heartbroken over the times I see people rejected because they just don't fit in? Could I just go for the pumpkins and not notice the dirty politics? And could I handle the "tick tock" approach to fellowship... move it move it move it people...what's the hold up..." lady, why are you crying, get out of the way we've got important stuff to do here," attitude that seems so pervasive to me when I do enter a church?

The insane thing is... right now, I honestly want it so badly. Why do I feel like an addict confessing to an illicit craving? My family is sure it would not take much to cure me. Still, I keep thinking... "If I could just pretend it doesn't matter... maybe..."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Micah 6:8 Ramblings

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This verse has come up over and over and over again in recent weeks. It was the theme for Youth Encounter Weekend at my church in August. Robyn mentioned it in her intro for this blog. I actually had considered, before I decided not to put a verse in the subtitle, using this verse there. While I was away on vacation I read a staggering variety of things, not all of them remotely religious in nature, yet somehow this verse figured in all of them. I can be a bit thick at times but when God puts something in my path, over and over again, it usually means that He wants me to pay attention to it.

Act Justly

Love Mercy

Walk Humbly

I think those of us here who have been hurt by the institutional church would agree that the failings we have experienced would fall broadly in one of those three areas. By the way, I use the distinctive "institutional church" rather than simply "the church" because I believe with all my heart that there exists a Universal Church, the one spoken of in scripture as "the Bride of Christ" that transcends all denominational lines and quite probably several lines between major religions as well. It is this Universal Church that I am coming to care more about identifying with. I see in the parable of the sheep and the goats that there will be those who have spent their lives believing themselves to be acting on the behalf and in the name of God who will find out that they were not. Interestingly enough in this parable the failures they are specifically called out for are those that would also be failures in light of Micah 6:8. If you don't know the story check out Matthew 23:31-45.

Could it be that it really all boils down to these three? Act Justly (or Do Justice as another version puts it), Love Mercy and Walk Humbly. Jesus said that the two great commandments were to Love the Lord with heart, soul, mind and strength and to love thy neighbor as thyself. Which also looks a lot like what we are told to do in Micah 6:8. Because loving God looks a lot like walking humbly and loving our neighbor looks a lot like doing justice and loving mercy. Seems to me this might be important. What do you think?