Browsing articles in "FAITH"
Aug 30, 2016

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

I am a white, straight, male pastor in the United Church of Christ. From 2008-2014 I was the only one in the entire state of Utah. All the other UCC pastors were female, minority or LGBTQ. Among UCC ministers it is not unusual that the white, straight, male is the odd one out and I enjoy the ride very much. If you are uncomfortable by now, you know I am writing this for you. The important issue of skin-color and race I will have to address another time. Lately I have had multiple people ask me about “the gay question”. Sometimes it’s worded, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”

My initial reaction is usually: “The Bible” doesn’t say anything. Because the Bible is not a book but an entire library with dozens of books in it. They were written over the course of 1,000 years in three different languages on two different continents. The Bible has contributions from nomadic peasants and highly educated scholars. There is no way they all can possible give one and the same answer to a single question.

Overall biblical authors are not very interested in questions of homosexuality. There are a few examples that are told in a matter-of-fact way without raising an eyebrow: King David addresses his lover Jonathan saying, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26) The author of the Gospel of John tells of his affection for Jesus, “One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him.” (John 13:23) Yes, the Bible tells stories of men loving men without question.

Then there are negative voices from times when God’s people were under attack. The Holiness Code commands, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22) And the Apostle Paul mourns, “And in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)
The Holiness Code was written by priests who were deported during the Babylonian Exile. God’s people were afraid they couldn’t keep their cultural identity alive. It is during this period that circumcision and the Sabbath become identifiers of the Jewish people. Deviation from the norm seemed scary because those were anxious times. Similarly, when the earlier church was a minority in the largely hostile Roman Empire, Paul warned to not live like the Romans. Instead he asked the early Christians to remain distinct in their practices.

Today in North America God’s people are not under attack. We are not in a situation where we need to be afraid of the culture that surrounds us. We don’t have to hide our worship services in the Roman catacombs but can be open about our Christian faith. We don’t have to develop a rigid corporate identity because religious freedom is protected. Literally hundreds of times the Bible says: “Do not be afraid”. The Bible says that we need to tell stories of all kinds of love and celebrate them.

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Aug 23, 2016

Three Ways That College Freshmen Do Faith Differently

At the beginning of a new school year Beloit College publishes a Zeitgeist list. The incoming class will graduate in 2020. They are mostly 18 and were born in 1998. On the 2020 Mindset List that makes them stand out in significant ways. As a pastor the following three points stand out from the original sixty:

8. Cloning has always been a mundane laboratory procedure.
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I remember back in the 90’s cloning felt like rocket science. When sheep Dolly was cloned the whole world seem to shift. Anything was possible now. As revolutionary as advances may have seemed, the reality is much less grandiose. The Clone Wars that eventually lead to Star Wars remain science fiction. Medical advances based on cloning a real and save lives every day though. Young people entering college this fall have never lived in a world without cloning technologies. The ethical questions surrounding human reproduction remain complicated. But for the most part cloning has been unquestioned mainstream practice their whole lives. There is nothing scary about reviving endangered or extinct species – unless of course our Jurassic Park fears from the 90’s are revived as well.

15. They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time.
On-Demand
I am old enough to remember that you had to go the the living room at a set time and sit down and watch a program that was running at that point in time. If you are entering college this fall, this was not necessarily the case. This generation could always stream or DVR whatever they wanted to watch. Everything is on demand. For one reason or another the church still thinks it is wise to make everybody sit down in the pew at the same time and share an experience in the same space. With school being mostly online these days, church and movie theater are about the only places you have to attend on a schedule. That is a very high expectation.

24. Catholics and Lutherans have always been in agreement on how to get to heaven.
justification
Radicals have always used nuances of their believes to fight each other. The great in-fight of Christianity started in 1517 with the beginning of the Reformation and ended in 1999 with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Since then there has been permanent peace between the two major branches of the church universal. New college students have never known a world where Christians had major disagreements on how God’s love reconciles us. They are not old enough to remember that warring fractions wanted to be better than the church next door. In their world it makes no sense that people would kill each other over issues of faith. And they are right about that: Persons of all faiths want to live in a peaceful world. Religion that focuses on being different from or better than another does not make sense.

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Aug 9, 2016

Who is in charge of preaching?

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Our congregation just had a meeting where the entire membership approved financial reports. That’s the way we conduct ourselves as a church. There is no higher authority than the gathered congregation. Did you know that that is true particularly as it comes to preaching? Here is how that works: The congregation builds its own pulpit. Then they hire a pastor and she or he is then in charge of preparing and delivering sermons on behalf of the congregation.

Who decides what is preached every Sunday?
In too many churches pastors decide what they want to preach about. That way you usually end up with her or his favorite passages and topics. Or they are trying to please their church but telling them what they want to hear. As a liturgical church we follow the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary provides the biblical readings for each Sunday and Holiday. In most mainline Protestant churches you will hear a sermon on the same passages of Scripture on the same Sunday. When you are travelling or moving you fit right in and can pick up where you left off.

With the new school year right around the corner I want to bring these two strengths of our tradition together: On the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 pm our Bible Study group will be discussing the lectionary texts for one of the following Sundays. Everyone is welcome! Just because you are reading this invitation here today you are qualified. It means you care about what is going on at the church. That also makes you responsible for its preaching. So please join the conversation. It all starts on August 23 at 6pm.

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Aug 4, 2016

The Labyrinth – A Spiritual Rock Drill

Next semester my Doctor of Ministry class will go on a silent retreat. Sometimes a labyrinth is part of the experience. I first learned to appreciate the practice of walking a labyrinth at La Foret. From there I have taken it on the road and set one up for my Soldiers wherever I can.

Here is a photo from last year’s annual training along with the meditation guide I provide:
labyrinth
A labyrinth is not a maze. It has one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost in it. There are no dead ends. It is a symbol for life: It may seem chaotic but it moves forward steadily.
As you enter please imagine how you are descending into darkness. A labyrinth has dungeon qualities to it. Ancient cultures have imagined all kinds of creatures in those caverns. It can be a dangerous and deadly place.
Just like the path of life leads to death so is your way into the labyrinth. As you step in you step from light into darkness. The light fades away more and more the deeper you get into it. As you enter please imagine your journey as the challenges and hardships you face in life: the turns you are forced to make, the dirt you have to walk through.
A labyrinth has a center. Once you are in the center stay there for a while. Rest. Celebrate your arrival. You made it through all of life’s troubles. If you are religious person consider this the end state of your existence whether you call it heaven or Nirvana or however you name it. Maybe for you it’s just the great emptiness.
When you are ready make your way out again. Take with you the strength of having been there before. As you walk out remember how you overcame all those troubles. After all you are walking back towards the light. Find signs of hope along your journey. Remember resources for personal strength that you can tap into. From my Christian perspective I call this part resurrection life. Out of death back to life. From darkness back to the light.
This is a spiritual exercise. If you have an urge to walk really fast get some physical exercise first and come back when you are ready to walk slowly. This exercise works best in total silence. If that does not work for you right now please come back when it does. Find your own pace. Some of the images that may pop up along the journey may make you slow down, some may make you want to speed up and run away. Find your own pace, yet be mindful of others.

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Jul 10, 2016

Caring Neighbors

I had the nicest sermon planned out for this Sunday. It tied in beautifully with today’s passage of the Good Samaritan. It would have been about a neighborhood up in arms because the women’s center wants to build a low incoming housing unit in the area. The kids of these battered women would have attended the nice middle class elementary school. I would have compared the women that were beaten by their men to the poor fellow in the ditch that Jesus is talking about. I would have compared various neighbors in their rejection with the priest and the Levite. Their refusal to help comes from a similar place. It would have been a nice, challenging sermon.

But I am not going to talk about that today. It has been almost a month ago that 49 LGBT persons were shot dead in Orlando. Now this week happened: Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Alton B. Sterling was shot while being arrested. Wednesday evening in Falcon Heights, Minnesota: Philando Castile was shot during a traffic stop. Thursday night five Dallas police officers, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, were killed by a sniper.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” That is still a very valid question in our day and age and so I want to take Jesus’s lead in telling the story as if it were meant for us, because it is:

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. It just so happens that we are talking about a young black man in his early twenties. Now by chance a well-intentioned white person happens to come down that road. Do you even stop your car? After all, this fellow is probably a gang member. Maybe there are still more bad guys around. One of his kind will come and help him for sure, sooner or a later. You may slow down. But the odds are you are not going to stop.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. She is all dressed up: short skirt and high heels. Chin bone and chest give away that this woman was born a man. Here pulls up a minivan with a soccer mom with the kids in the car, doing the right thing for her family. Will you stop? She and her husband are working hard to keep their marriage strong and raise their kids with good values. She wants her kids to be normal, raise a family similar to the one they have now. Being exposed to this trans person would confuse or even scare the precious little ones and mommy herself would be very uncomfortable. The good mother hits the pedal and presses on.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. His uniform is soaked in his own blood. This police officer was certainly trying to do the right thing and keep this community safe. Along comes a young black man in his twenties. Seeing the officer in the ditch he has flashbacks of that horrible night when his nephews were caught in the crossfire and shot by police a few years ago. It feels like yesterday. Actually seeing this bleeding officer it feels like right now. What if they find me bent over his dying body? I better make a run.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. He just came back from the mosque, his stomach full after breaking the Ramadan fast. His long beard is drenched in his own blood. A good Christian man comes by while he is doing a food drive in the neighborhood. You know we need to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We collect canned goods for children in need in our own neighborhood and we send Christmas presents to those kids in Africa with their big teary eyes. I would really like to help that guy in the ditch, because I am a very loving and caring person. But honestly I can do more good by collecting some more cans from my neighbors. And by the way: It was people like him who blew up the World Trade Center and keep killing our Soldiers in the Middle East. Why do we need Muslims in our neighborhood anyway?

There are so many reasons not to help. Life is complicated. Answering the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus yells NO IT’S NOT COMPLICATED! Your neighbor is the person lying in the ditch!

Every day people shoot each other dead. The main reason is fear. Fear what would happen if I were to stop and help that person in the ditch. Making the world a better place involves taking risks. If we allow fear to put a lid on love we will just continue to blow each other up.

In 1963 Martin Luther king said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Amen.

(In collaboration with the Rev. Mirjam Haas-Melchior)

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Jun 28, 2016

A decent respect to the opinions of mankind

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The Fourth of July is often interpreted as a breakup story: Abusive mother Britain hurting her children in the colonies. Eventually the kids hit puberty, become rebellious and as soon as they find the willpower and strength they move out. The Declaration of Independence lists a host of grievances, abuses and usurpations of power. Having listed all the wrongs they had to endure our forefathers “solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States”

But guess what: Moving out of your parents’ house after graduation does not disconnect you from them emotionally or culturally. They are still relatives. You still relate to them. Case in point “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” still uses the same tune as “God Save the Queen”. You cannot not relate to family. You may become rebellious and cut them off but that only cements the relationship. The Declaration of Independence naturally addresses “our Brittish brethren”.

Israel’s forefathers share a similar story where Abram and Lot go separate ways. Genesis 13 lists a host of grievances, abuses and usurpations of power. Having listed all the wrongs his shepherds had to endure Abram said to Lot, “Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Despite their physical and economic – political if you will – separation Abram and Lot remained together it what the Bible calls “covenant”. The mutual bonds of a covenantal relationship do not go away just because you declare independence and create your own nation. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence showing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The goal of the Declaration of Independence is to remain well connected to the world community: to share reason and power and passion with them, to strengthen the covenant of humanity. Like Abram we are going to be over here on this pasture but we will join the world community in all its major organizations and stay the closest and strongest ally of “our Brittish brethren”. May this 240 year old document continue to inspire us to show “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”.

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Jun 14, 2016

Support Houston Pride

GMP_Rev_Dr_John_C_Dorhauer
The General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ issued a statement mourning the loss of those murdered, calling for prayers for their families, and expressing horror and frustration over how commonplace this kind of tragedy has become. The incident happened early Sunday morning June 12, when a gunman killed 50 people and injured at least 50 more in a crowded gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, in what law enforcement is calling an act of terrorism.

For us in the Greater Houston Area it becomes evermore important to support the Houston Pride Week. When terror strikes America rallies together and stands up united. The Houston LGBT Pride Celebration® is still scheduled for Saturday, June 25, 2016 in Downtown Houston. Pride Houston® will be honoring those who lost their lives in Orlando, FL — and around the world in our fight for equality — prior to the start of the Houston Pride Parade®.

Here is the text of Rev. Dorhauer’s complete statement:

“The United Church of Christ mourns the tragic loss in the aftermath of what is now believed to be the largest mass shooting in the U.S. We are mindful of the many family members whose grief will be deep, and will linger for some time. We lift every one of them up in prayer.

We are grateful to President Obama for the swift action suspending HIPAA laws so that loved ones can be with their injured spouses and help make decisions about their care — an often overlooked right that many in the LGBT community cannot take for granted.

While it is too soon to speak about motives, the United Church of Christ nonetheless calls upon all leaders of religious and political bodies to end the constant rhetoric that demonizes same gender loving people. Our speech has consequences, and this is not the first time violence has been directed at the LGBT community with very tragic consequences. It is long past the time that we end this, including tolerating what amounts to hate speech and homophobia masquerading as religion. It is also long past the time that America enacts sane gun control legislation. Our souls and spirits cannot abide for long when this kind of tragedy is commonplace; and when no substantive action is taken in response to these mass shootings. Our grief, all too real, is not assuaged by what can be the redemptive act of doing all we can to reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again.”

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Jun 7, 2016

Remember!

hmhorg

“Zachor!” is a Hebrew commandment usually translated as “Remember!” The problem with the Western word “remember” is that it relates to the past: bring back to memory what once was. That is not the intention of the Biblical authors. They want to speak into the present of God’s people whenever and wherever that may be. When the people receive the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai we are not supposed to remember that as history long gone. We are supposed to stand there with them. Remembering in a biblical sense is acknowledging God’s presence in our present time!

As the world remembers D-Day this week, it has to be clear that we do not (only) remember a past event. We have to retell these stories as if they mattered today because they do. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” in 2001. It remembers the story of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Over ten episodes we join the soldiers from their preparations leading up to D-Day to the end of World War II. Along the way Easy Company liberates one of the Kaufering concentration camps which were subsidiaries of Dachau.

As I rewatch Band of Brothers I remember (zachor) that D-Day is not just a response to Pearl Harbor, not just an act of self-defense or retaliation. D-Day is the faithful response to the horrors that Nazi Germany afflicted upon the world – especially the Jewish people. These crimes are usually remembered as the “Holocaust” which is a reference to biblical holistic offerings, where an entire animal is burnt as an offering to God – not just some parts. It is a very expensive and rare kind of offering (Exodus 20:24). Jews prefer to not be remembered as animals slain on an altar. The term Holocaust implies that an offering is pleasing to God which the concentration camps where totally not. The proper term is “Shoah” which means destruction (Zephaniah 1:15). How we remember and what words we use matters.

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May 24, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend

veterans memorial armed forces days

This weekend we will remember those who lost their lives serving the people of the United States. In the sanctuary you will see a “Fallen Comrade Table”. This is a common tradition in Veterans’ organizations and at military functions. It is set in a special way:

The white tablecloth draped over the table represents the purity of their response to our country’s call to arms. The empty chair depicts an unknown face, representing no specific Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, but all who are not here with us. The table itself is round to show that our concern for them is never ending. The black napkin stands for the emptiness these warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends. The single red rose reminds us of their families and loved ones. The red ribbon represents the love of our country, which inspired them to answer the nation’s call. The yellow candle and its yellow ribbon symbolize the everlasting hope for a joyous reunion with those yet accounted for. The slices of lemon on the bread plate remind us of their bitter fate. The salt upon the bread plate represent the tears of their families. The wine glass, turned upside down, reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast or join in the festivities of the day.

Please, take this weekend to say a prayer like the following one by the Rev. John Gundlach, former Minister for Military Chaplains in the UCC:
Gracious God, on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember and give thanks for those who have given their lives in the service of our country. When the need was greatest, they stepped forward and did their duty to defend the freedoms that we enjoy, and to win the same for others. O God, you yourself have taught us that no love is greater than that which gives itself for another. These honored dead gave the most precious gift they had, life itself, for loved ones and neighbors, for comrades and country – and for us. Help us to honor their memory by caring for the family members they have left behind, by ensuring that their wounded comrades are properly cared for, by being watchful caretakers of the freedoms for which they gave their lives, and by demanding that no other young men and women follow them to a soldier’s grave unless the reason is worthy and the cause is just. Holy One, help us to remember that freedom is not free. There are times when its cost is, indeed, dear. Never let us forget those who paid so terrible a price to ensure that freedom would be our legacy. Though their names may fade with the passing of generations, may we never forget what they have done. Help us to be worthy of their sacrifice, O God, help us to be worthy. Amen.

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May 16, 2016

Confirmed!

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The window named “Baptism” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Email has made communication so much easier and faster. On the downside sometimes people just say they never saw your message. When I send something very important I ask for confirmation of receipt. The church has done the same thing with Baptism. Most of us were baptized as babies and do not remember a thing about it. So we created at the brink of adulthood a chance to confirm our parents’ decision to have us baptized as a child. Teenagers say yes to the yes that their parents spoke on there behalf over a dozen years earlier.

What is confirmed in confirmation is not the baby status where you were helplessly held over the font of Baptism. No, here is an emerging person growing into adulthood, firmly standing on their own two feet. What is confirmed in confirmation is change:
I am no longer that little baby, I have grown up.
I do no longer believe like a naive child, but I can think critically.
I am no longer here to do as I am told, but I am capable of laying out my own path.
I am not following Jesus literally anymore as if he were still on Earth,
but I know that he ascended to heaven and I have to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The window named “Baptism” at St. John’s United Church of Christ features a dove as representation of the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder of Jesus’s Baptism where a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Baptism holds a message of comfort: I am a beloved child of God. With all the flaws I know about myself. Even from God’s perspective who knows me inside and out. God loves me no matter what.

Baptism holds a message of challenge: Everybody is a beloved child of God, whether I think they are okay or not. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome to the waters of Baptism.

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