Remembering…

This weekend we visited the various cemeteries where family members are buried. It was a chance to put out flowers…to reminisce…and, in some cases, to mourn.

We also watched a couple of Memorial Day concerts on TV. One was our local “Celebration at the Station”–an annual event down at Union Station and the World War I memorial. That one is always a fun experience to watch. Somber at times…always including a recognition of those who are serving or who have served in the various branches of the Armed Forces…and ending with the 1812 Overture and fireworks.

We weren’t going to stay up to watch the repeat of the National Memorial Day Concert, but we got started watching it–and couldn’t turn it off. This one always has good music as well–but it’s also more somber, because every year I’ve watched it, there are stories of veterans and/or their families. The stories are told by actors–but the individuals whose stories are being shared are also there. They are stories that bring tears to my eyes–stories of love, of courage, of hope…

We had gone to most of the family graves on Sunday…but there was one to go to today–the Veterans’ Cemetery in Higginsville. We haven’t gone down there every year–the first couple of years it was too painful. But we went with our daughter this year–and our youngest grandson wanted to go as well.

He had had a close relationship with the cousin who is buried there–a young man who died on his 21st birthday. Jay had served in Iraq in the Marines. He had come back to the States but had not been home yet, although he was going to be home for Christmas. He was–but not how we had planned. His death was the result of some choices with tragic consequences, and while he was not actually killed in Iraq, he was every bit as much a victim of the war as those who were killed in action. His younger brother served in the Army–served in Afghanistan, and–thank God–has come back home in good shape. But he also mourns Jay.

As we visited Jay’s grave today–and looked over the many, many more since he was buried there–I thought about the stories I had heard last night. They are stories that can be repeated many times over. So many families have been impacted by the wars that have been fought over the years.

I may not always agree with the decisions that are made…think (and hope) that eventually we can find other ways of dealing with conflicts. But on this weekend–and this day–I choose to honor those who have made decisions to do their best to bring freedom.

Thank you…and blessings.

Hope deferred

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

I thought about this in light of a decision my faith community has just made. We were supposed to have a national meeting next year–preceding our international gathering the next year. This was to give us an opportunity to share and discuss issues related to homosexuality/marriage/ministry–issues that were raised at our last international gathering and discussion was postponed on….to wait for this national conference.

But now that’s been put off yet another year.

I think of my friends who have been hanging on, hoping for a resolution. In some ways they don’t even care which way the resolution goes–just for there to be a resolution so they can know where they stand in the church’s eyes. It’s not just members of the GLBT community who feel that–it’s also those who have a differing point of view.

But I’ll have to admit…my thoughts and concerns are more for my GLBT family and friends. They have spent years–in some cases a lifetime–waiting for my faith denomination to put into practice beliefs that have been preached for years:

  • the worth of all persons
  • the need to use the giftedness of all
  • God’s calling to ministry

We have a strong belief that those who are called to ministry are called by God–and that ministry accepted by their jurisdictions. But in actuality, the way we live it out says “God, you made a mistake. You can’t possibly have meant to call this person–they’re not heterosexual! So we’ll take care of the mistake for you.” What arrogance!

We have a strong focus on peace–and yet somehow we don’t see that by not making a decision, we are only creating less peace.

I do understand that there are different perspectives on this issue–different interpretations of scripture…and I realize that there is probably never going to be a complete consensus on that.

At some point, we’re going to have to make a decision–personally and corporately. When we do–whatever decision is made–it’s going to be difficult. But at least then we will all know what to expect. We won’t keep hanging on–sometimes by our fingernails–hoping…and then finding hope deferred again.

Raptured….or not

In many ways I feel sorry for the folks who weren’t raptured on Saturday. What do you do when you’ve staked everything on the end of the world…and it doesn’t happen?

But I also and frustrated and somewhat disgusted with those religious leaders who pore over the Bible as though it were a code that they could break so that they–and their followers–can be among the “special” folks…the only ones who “got it right.”

That’s not the purpose of the Bible!

It’s a record of people’s interaction with and understanding of God. Sometimes it’s positive…sometimes negative. Sometimes–actually often–those understandings have changed as people have discovered more about the world they live in…and as they’ve been willing to open their minds to new ideas.

People have been looking for the end of the world for years, even before Christianity. But somehow, there’s something about the Bible that has caused many who consider themselves to be followers of Christ to want to be “special”…to not have to worry about the rest of life. They’ve missed something, though…

Actually, I think they’ve missed a couple of things!

  • Christ himself is recorded as having said that only God knows when the end of time is. Not him…not the angels…and certainly not us!
  • His focus wasn’t on teaching people to be “right” so that somehow his followers could escape the problems that come from living in this world. It was on transforming this world into God’s world of shalom–wholeness.
  • We’re called to live each day as though it was going to be “the end”–and then, whatever happens, we’ve done our best.

And finally…

  • We’re to love God with all our being…and to not set anyone else in God’s place.
  • We’re to love other people as we love ourselves…and that (to me, at least) implies that we don’t set ourselves apart as someone “better than” them.

Maybe one of these days we’ll finally get it right.

Abomination?

I’ve been intrigued recently (again!) by how freely the word “abomination” is thrown around in any discussion dealing with homosexuality. It is often seen as the “conversation stopper” that ends any further discussion of understanding scripture in context.

Today “abomination” is defined as “a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc.” or “corruption, depravity.” But is that the meaning intended when it was used in Leviticus? I don’t think so.

There it is part of what has come to be called the “Holiness Code.” That has an interesting background, too. According to its location in the scriptural writings, Leviticus developed as a set of rituals and rules that the people–fairly newly freed slaves!–needed in order to know how to relate to each other and to God. They had been a people used to someone else telling them what they had to do every hour of the day. Now they were free to choose for themselves…how were they to choose wisely?

In their travels they made connection with other societies as well as bringing the Egyptian traditions with them. What was to keep them from being swallowed up in those other traditions?

According to the scripture, they were to “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The rules and regulations in Leviticus were to set them apart from the cultures around them. And so, how were they to do this?

The website http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh2.htm has an interesting article dealing with this question. It points out that the Holiness Code permits slavery (25:44). It requires

  • a child to be killed if they curse their parents (20:9)
  • persons guilty of adultery to be killed (20:10)
  • a priest’s daughter who becomes a prostitute to be burned alive (21:9)
  • a priest’s bride to be a virgin (21:13)
  • ritual killing of animals…cattle, sheep, and goats (22:19)
  • keeping 7 feasts: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles (23)
  • killing a person who takes the Lord’s name in vain (24:16)

Seems to me that if we believed this to be applicable today, there’d be a lot fewer people around!

The Holiness Code prohibits

  • heterosexual intercourse during a woman’s time of menstruation (18:19)
  • harvesting a field completely, even to the corners (19:9)
  • eating fruit from a young tree (19:23)
  • cross-breeding livestock (19:19)
  • sowing a field with mixed seed (19:19)
  • shaving or getting a haircut (19:27)
  • tattoos (19:28)
  • letting even a mildly disabled person become a priest/minister (21:18)
  • charging interest on a loan (25:37)
  • wearing clothes made from a blend of fibers (i.e., cotton and polyester today) (19:19)
  • eating non-kosher foods (which would include shrimp) (20:25)

Many of us would be out of luck here as well.

We are called to be people who follow God as we understand it. But in my faith tradition we also have a song that has been a favorite for many years whose last line is “The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.” Maybe…just maybe…it’s time for us to let God do just that–and for us to understand that all scripture grows out of specific times and specific situations. There are general principles that can be understood from those specific laws…but, in my understanding, those can (and should) be based on the foundation of the two great commandments that Jesus gave. (This version of Matthew 22:37-40 is from a contemporary English translation, The Message):

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Music – the spice of life!

This last weekend I went to two different–but exciting–concerts.

The first one was a fusion of two groups that one would normally not think about putting together…Quixotic Fusion and the strings and percussion of the Kansas City Symphony. I really didn’t have any idea what to expect–but had a fantastic 80-minute multi-sensory musical experience! The music flowed seamlessly from classical to fusion and back…there were dancers who danced solo, in groups, behind a scrim with animation…and there were incredible aeralists who interpreted the music with heart-stopping moves.

The second concert was an organ performance by Vincent Dubois,  a young (31 years old) performer who is the Director of the Conservatoire National of Reims and also the titular organist at the Cathedral of Soissons, Soissons, France. He played his entire concert from memory and literally danced up and down the keyboard with music by Bach (of course!), Schumann, Liszt, Franck, Dupré, and Saint-Sæns as well as an improvisation on two submitted themes (the hymn-tune Hyfrodol and “‘Tis a gift to be simple”).

They were very different concerts and yet they both reminded me how important music is to my life. It feeds my soul and provides the spice that life needs.

Perseverance…

That’s been a recent “word of the month” in our local school district. It’s a good word–an important one. One dictionary definition is:

steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement

We’ve probably all heard the thought expressed in some way as we grew up. “Stick with it!” “You started it–you need to finish it.”

We experienced it if we started lessons of some type–and wanted to quit as soon as they started being difficult.

We’ve also heard it at church. I remember hearing my dad often quoting 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

But I must admit…I wonder sometimes why some of my friends have persevered in their faith in the context of faith traditions that have called them “abominations”…what have wished them gone. I deeply admire them; I’m not sure I could be that strong.

I can’t imagine living every day, wondering if I could get through it without being hurt–mentally, emotionally, or physically. I can’t imagine living without companionship…of having to hide a significant part of who I am. I can’t imagine not being able to put a picture of my family on my desk for fear of losing my job. I can’t imagine being told that just my existence is “an abomination”–even if I keep totally to myself and deny myself the opportunity of loving someone.

How dare we call any part of God’s creation “abominable”? How dare we deny anyone the opportunity of knowing God’s love? of being able to share in community fellowship? of being able to offer ministry?

There are faith traditions that have stepped up–sometimes after many years of discussion and uncertainy–and have said “We can no longer deny the presence of God’s spirit moving in the lives of members of any community” and who are welcoming all who wish to come, all who feel the call to ministry.

If–as in my own faith tradition–we believe that God calls, then who are we to deny?

I am thankful for those who have persevered through the years…who continue to persevere…

Reaching out can be a challenge!

We had an interesting day at church yesterday…a day when the pastoral team was busy dealing with what seemed almost like one crisis after another during the service.

We are a congregation whose focus is on outreach to those who are “unchurched”–who have little or no experience with God or who have been estranged from God and/or the church for various reasons. Many of the folks who come are folks who would not feel comfortable or (unfortunately) be accepted in a more traditional congregation.

Despite that, many weeks our services are not all that different from what you would experience in many congregations. But not yesterday!

One of our pastors spent time visiting with a young man who hadn’t really wanted to come to church with his wife but came anyway. He was angry because the biological father of his stepdaughter has not returned the child from visitation…and so threatened the grandmother. However, he acknowledged that he should not have done that because he really doesn’t want anything bad to happen to the girls’ family.

A couple of our homeless members warned that another member of their community who came was “bad news.” And he created some challenges! He took a swing at one fo the ministers before church…kept trying to get the preacher’s attention (mine!) to verbally respond…and about a third of the way into the sermon, took out his bottle to take a big swig–and was hustled out for counseling. He was at least tipsy if not also high.

We a nurturing a young couple with a baby who have so many issues to deal with because of their ages…

A couple of the people who were scheduled to take part in the service didn’t show, and so their parts had to be covered…

We have several members who are dealing with significant health issues…

Add to that the normal chaos of our children…the other dysfunctional family situations we deal with on a regular basis…preparations for a major budget fundraiser this week…and I’m reminded that outreach can be challenging!

However, I’m also reminded that Jesus came to reach those who in many ways were not accepted or acceptable…and I’m sure that at times he was involved in situations that were challenging…perhaps sometimes chaotic. So maybe we’re not doing so badly. We are seeing changes for the better in peoples’ lives–and isn’t that what ministry is all about anyway? Even–perhaps especially–when it is challenging?