Relationships Begin in the Restroom?

From Robert’s Round Table

IntersectionsI am enjoying our Easter Season Intersections Sermon Series. The topics represent some of the most commonly stated reasons people 18-35 say they are not attending a church. This week’s theme of sexual identity and faith is one of the most sensitive reasons young people refrain from being part of the church. In short, the church’s judgmental attitude of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity ranks high on the list for millennials who “just say no” to church. Of course, no generation is homogeneous in their beliefs and values, but overwhelmingly younger adults reject the notion that God rejects persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Most young adults do not believe that a person chooses their sexual orientation or their gender identity and that even if they do, a God of love, mercy and compassion would not banish them from eternal life based on those factors alone. Most young people believe that our sexual identity is part of our genetic make-up, not a social choice. And, increasingly so do older adults.

Human sexuality has always been a “hot button” issue for communities of faith perhaps because of the socialized intimacy associated with sex or because our sexuality brings us as close as we may to being co-creators with God, the Creator of the universe. With genetic research and cloning this notion is changing somewhat, but throughout time the human reproductive miracle has stirred debate among the faithful. Humanity has evolved in our understanding of the miracle of birth from the blessings or curses of idols to the mythical stork of children’s tales to the invention of contraception and ever closer to genetic selection which allows would be parents to select the gender or other characteristics of their child. I know, the last one is a bit scary when you think about the possible consequences for society as a whole. Regardless, we are not as under informed as our ancestors were when it comes to sexuality and reproduction.

The Bible is full of stories, poems, and decrees about human sexuality. Many people believe that scripture is anti-sex, or at least anti-sexual enjoyment and that in the perception of the Bible sex is equivalent with sin. A light reading of scripture will surely point a person to the potential perils of our sexuality and to many holiness codes about sexuality, but should also reveal the blessed and joyful role of human sexuality in authentic relationships built on trust. As always we do well to remember the social and historical context from which the writers of scripture took their clues for understanding how faith and sexuality intersect. The ancients had little understanding of conception or the functions of our human anatomy without the aid of microscopes and ultrasound technology. The holiness codes of Leviticus, which go on and on for chapters about the “do’s and don’ts” of sex, were primarily designed to do two things: 1. To set apart the people of one God from the people of many gods 2. To provide healthy standards of sanitation based on the ancient understanding of the functions of the human body. A third understanding from scripture has to do with sexual morality, which often has to do with the denunciation of rape and the building of healthy, authentic relationships.

Currently, we are in a debate in our nation concerning gender identity and access to public restrooms. The Bible has nothing really to say to us directly on this issue, for the ancients had little knowledge of the privacy we demand in bath rooming today. The current debate has been the result of the broader issues of faith and sexual orientation and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender) human and civil rights. Truth be told, transgender folks have been using restrooms of their choosing for just about as long as restrooms have existed. And despite the fear mongering represented on cable news networks, statistics show no reason to fear the practice.  This debate has led to a local ordinance in another state not only making transgender bath rooming illegal but also punishable by jail. And, the hate-filled rhetoric of the debate has resulted in renewed fear among the LGBT community. Here is an article to help us understand the fear.

Fear is powerful and irrational fear is the worst kind of powerful. The advancements we enjoy in our homes and public places have only been around for about 150 years and continue to evolve. Before private bathrooms and stalls, humanity was a much more public affair with conversation and even relationship building in public baths and yes, toilets (the non-flushing kind). They literally had nothing to hide. Now it is considered bad etiquette to speak to someone while using the restroom. In our quest for privacy we have walled ourselves in and others out to the extent that we no longer know each other, and this of course only begins in the bathroom and now extends to every part of our lives. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for some to condemn others who are not like them in some way. Perhaps this is why we live in fear and suspicion of almost everyone these days, because we don’t know them, which means we no longer have authentic relationships based in trust. Jesus didn’t avoid those who were different in any way. He sought out the outcast and they sought out him. He built relationships of mercy and grace. He listened and didn’t cast stones. He didn’t reject or condemn. He cared. We do well when we do the same.

The Devil, Lucifer & Evil Myths

Yesterday, I preached a teaching sermon on the devil, Lucifer and evil myths. As people of faith, we often create collages in our minds of sayings, historical events, myths, scripture and other literature when we are attempting to understand the nature of topics such as evil. During the sermon we visited a few texts from scripture: Luke’s report of the return of the seventy boasting about their ability to cast out demons in chapter 10, Isaiah’s oracle of doom upon Nebuchadnezzar whom the KJV names Lucifer, in chapter 14, and the consummation of the cosmic battle between the evil empire of Rome and Jesus of Revelation 20. We very briefly surveyed the contexts of the epic works of Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost as we moved from the middle ages and enlightenment understandings of the universe to modern and post-modern views of the universe.  We even stopped by the early days of psychoanalysis as we tried to make sense of all the demons in scripture. Hopefully, we arrived in present times where devils with pitch forks and horns are more about costume fun than some scary reality. I think the survey was worth at least a quarter of a credit in seminary. I share these words from the closing of the message:

We do live in a world where Evil is present. And, Evil Powers continue to cause hurt and harm in our midst. David Felton & Jeff Proctor-Murphy in their book Living the Questions help us understand the powers of evil in our midst. According to them the Devil, Satan or demons are “human conditions of hatred, spirits of injustice, attitudes of jealousy, and structures of destruction.” Systems of oppression and practices of Greed and Deception are the real devils of our world.

The power of the demonic is the power of us – power to reject God and to thwart the emergence of life, love and potential. – Living the Questions

We too often point and blame before taking any responsibility for the evil in our midst. We need to seek healing of our need to be blameless and to seek help to see the ways we participate in unjust systems and communal sins such as racism, sexism, ageism and all forms of prejudice and oppression.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray,  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from Evil.”

We pray to one who endured the pain and suffering of Evil in this world – who died at the vicious hands of power and greed, who was executed by systems of oppressive power in the hands of a few.
We pray to one who did not return his tormentors evil with evil,
with vengeance or revenge.
We pray to one who forgave the many who were complicit in his own torture and death.
We pray to the one who forgives us still today.
We pray to the one who invites us, in Paul’s words to
“not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”

After the sermon, we received our newest member into the love and care of the congregation. She later told me she was grateful for the message and we are in a dialogue about questions she continues to discover. I’m certain I do not have the answers and I’m convinced there are many more like her who would love the opportunity to live the questions of faith in the 21st century. I’m grateful for the conversational journey and look forward to walking forward in faith.

All in All, God is Still God

On a recent Thursday morning as we were trying to prepare the newsletter and I was busy with last minute details for the Regional Assembly, the electricity went out. Fortunately, only one computer file was damaged beyond repair, the newsletter, of course. We were forced to let go of the deadline for that newsletter and resolve to begin again later, frustrating as that was.

Friday morning I loaded my car to travel to Normal, IL. As Vice Moderator of CCIW, the Regional Assembly was my responsibility. After nearly two years of organization and planning, the Assembly was scheduled to kick off on Friday afternoon. I started the car and Low Tire on my dashboard remained lighted. Sure enough a front tire was low on air. My arrival time would have to wait, but eventually I was on the way.

On Friday evening we honored congregations who have added new members and gave to Disciples missions, and recognized individuals whose life of commitment to CCIW has been exceptional with Disciples of Merit awards. After the scrumptious banquet we gathered in worship led by the spiritual gifts of many Disciples from across the region including an awesome hand bell soloist, flag drill team, praise band, singers and a dramatic presentation of scripture. Then, the Rev. Dr. William “Bill” Lee proclaimed the truth of the good news, that whatever our journey, wherever we are on the way, we have a Cosmic Companion who walks with us, indeed carries us along the way.

In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness [humanity] has cosmic companionship. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Saturday we adopted a new Constitution and By-laws to re-organize our region for mission and ministry in this time and place, we approved a budget for 2013, elected new officers for the next two years, renewed our Global Mission Partnership with Guatemala, and participated in Holy Conversations led by our youth as we seek God’s guidance for the future of CCIW.

I was impressed by the youth leadership and the healthy conversations. Formerly a three-day, two night event, the 22hr assembly concluded on-time and we were sent to join Jesus on the Way!

Upon my return, it was time to prepare for Sunday worship and a Monday funeral. And, I was briefed on the tragic event that had unfolded in our community while I was away. We may never understand the why’s of evil that takes place in our midst. Murder is a senseless act. And yet, as disciples of Jesus we walk with God, who mourns violence and tragic death with us. We face this, not alone or dependent on our own strength. We lean on the everlasting arms filled with mercy and love. May God’s peace be with all who suffer as a result of this tragedy.

At the end of October we explored the Faith of Job. We heard how when confronted with the prevalent understanding of the cause or nature of suffering, you get only what you deserve, Job resisted the notion that he was accountable for his suffering. Job remained faithful, trusting in God which allowed him to protest his suffering. God’s response in this pre-modern parable was to remind Job that he was not God. Nothing more was available to the author(s) of this attempt to explain why presumably good people suffer as do presumably bad people.

Perhaps most valuable for us today is the wisdom that while we may be able to explain much of the suffering in our post-modern world as a consequence of economics, environment, genetics, social ills, psychological maladies, etc, we are not in control of every variable in life. Faith grants us the assurance of God’s good-will and love for all of God’s creation; God does not will suffering in a post-modern understanding of the world. God’s promise to humanity through Jesus is to be present in our sufferings. Contemplate the Gospel characters Jesus was always reaching out to (prostitutes, oppressed women, ethnic minorities, physically and mentally differently abled), bringing restorative healing, abuse ending mercy, and vision creating hope. God is with us in the person who stands next to us at the graveside of one we have loved, in the surgeon who reroutes our arteries and saves our lives, in the teacher who inspires our love for learning and understanding, in the garbage maintenance person who removes our trash and prevents the potentially hazardous growth of bacteria. God is present when we enact care, compassion, love and justice with and for other humans. God is not our adversary, the accuser, or a deadbeat creator. God desires a relationship with us. And in the end as in our beginning, God is God.

As we prepare for a season of discerning God’s will for the future of our congregation, we will be invited to journey together in the presence of God, seeking vision for the future God desires for us.

Eventually, everything needing to be done on that stubborn Thursday was completed, even the newsletter and I was reminded once again that my plans are not controlling the universe! Thank goodness! And, sometimes we need to step out of the way and let the Spirit of God lead us through the frustrations, delays, losses and game changers into the new life God desires for you and even me.