Monday, June 22, 2015

Midday Sermon for June 22, 2015

I don't usually write manuscripts for my midday homilies at Grace Cathedral, but to get my words closer to where they needed to be, I did today. Here it is.

Matthew 5.1-7

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?

Very often part of this gospel passage is quoted as a way to encourage having grace. I support that.

Sometimes this passage is quoted as a way for not having to do an evaluation, a measuring of actions compared to values. I do not in the least support that.

Note that Jesus doesn’t only say not to judge. No, he says to first and foremost start by judging ourselves, to wonder what we’re doing well and what we’re failing to do.

By now we’ve probably already heard about the white supremacist, terrorist massacre that took place in an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC last week.

By now we may’ve already heard a sermon about the event, read some articles about it.

By now we may be wish that we could just move on, could get over it, could stop talking about it.

Do we, beloved, notice the logs in our own eyes?

On June 18, the day after the murders, Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire said,

“We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was…It is not an isolated incident, not if you consider history as something alive…Think about what happened. Think about why it happened. Talk about what happened. Talk about why it happened…The country must resist the temptation present in anesthetic innocence…

“If people do not want to speak of it, or think about it, it’s because they do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads. It’s because hey do not want to follow this crime all the way back to the mother of all American crimes, the one that Denmark Vesey gave his life to avenge [slavery].”

We may be tempted to say — as I know many close friends and family are — “I didn’t own slaves. I had nothing to do with that,” but that is to ignore the status quo of how black people are treated in the United States.

On twitter, @LeftSentThis offers this list of rules for Black people: No hoodies. No toy guns. No breathing. No listening to music at a gas station. No asking for help after a car accident. No praying at church.

Those are all actions and behaviors that have led to Black people being killed by agents of the state, vigilantes, and people who just don’t like Black people. We are here, gathered around Word and Sacrament, not fearing for our lives because of the color of our skin. Dylan Roof violated the safe place of Church, a specific church that inspired and gave hope to Black people freed from slavery and still under the thumb of white oppressors in the 19th Century.

Jesus the Christ directs us to not judge others for we will be judged according to the standard we use — and then he challenges us to use a standard for ourselves. As Episcopalians we have vowed to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. Today, every day, and especially in light of one more attack against Black people based on the color of their skins.

Jesus is nudging, pushing, shouting for me to ask myself, “Why have I marched at Pride, and picketed at immigration court, but only tweeted that black lives matter? Why haven’t I taken to the streets for my sisters and brothers with darker skin?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

But our silences and our wonderings and our inactions are not the end of our stories beloved. I exhort you, as Paul exhorted those he wrote to not lose heart or feel this is too much, that we cannot make a difference individually, that death — particularly senseless deaths of Black people — is the status quo, to never change.

We have come through Christ’s death, and we have been joined to his resurrection in the font where we promised not only to strive for justice and peace, but to continue in the breaking of the bread. We came through the water and come to the table not only for solace, but also for strength; not just for renewal, but for pardon of our sin.

When we leave this place, we’ll go out to do the work we’ve been given to do, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. God will not hold us guiltless for our silence and inaction, but the Spirit empowers us to do the work that Jesus the Christ calls us to do.

Let us not judge others, lest we be judged, but let us look for the planks in our own eyes, our own actions and inactions that blind us.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Ground rules for asking gay Christian acquaintances about their faith when you don't agree with them — Part 1

Over the last six months I have gotten almost as many emails / Facebook messages (at least it feels like it — it's at least four) from someone from whom I haven't heard in up to ten years asking about Christianity and queerness. To be fair, two of these were from advocates / allies who needed language they hadn't worked out for themselves. However, this is an alarming message to receive from someone — be they friend or "foe" (used loosely). In the most recent reply I laid down some ground rules, and I'd like to share those over a blog series with anyone who wants to read it.

Rule 1: Don't ask.

As a general rule, don't ask someone you haven't heard from in years how they understand their lives relative to the importance of Scripture. It is a height of hubris to expect someone to essentially have to defend themselves to you when because of time, space, or a variety of different life factors your relationship has deteriorated. More likely than not, despite how close you once may have been, they are now somebody that you used to know.

It is completely unfair to ask an essential stranger / nominal acquaintance about their lived experience of an intimate part of their life, particularly if you're speaking of it as "an issue," while knowing almost nothing about who they are now. You may likely changed much in time since you know them, and they likely have too. In my context — having from come from Alabama — accepting my queerness was very difficult. Being asked "How do you justify homosexuality and the Bible?" feels like an attack even if it isn't one (see Rule 2 in another entry for more on that).

If you're interested in their perspective, reconnect. Get to know them as a real human, not that person you used to know who is gay now. While having a personal connection to an area with which you are unfamiliar might be helpful to you, a personal connection requires a deeper relationship than an out of the blue Facebook message. It can feel awesome to get a message from an old acquaintance that starts "Hey, I need your help," and it can be nerve wracking to get one that says "I know you haven't heard from me in a long time..."

If you really want to know and don't feel like building a relationship that acknowledges your old acquaintance as more than who they have sex with or are married to, try googling Gay and Christian. The results giving you the information you might want would surprise you. That person you used to know who is gay now may be the only person who comes to mind of queer Christians for you, but they aren't the only queer Christian. There's even a whole network of them.

I have actually written some follow-up rules because some people will ignore rule one. Or maybe they don't know that it exists. I — because of who I am — have replied to all of these emails. None of them has been explicitly abusive, and I work to assume goodwill. However, I don't owe strangers basically strangers an explanation about one aspect of my life without much qualification about anything else. An amalgamation of my replies will be posted following the ground rule.

What ground rules do you think applies to this kind of situation?