Archives for July 2011

Camp Osiris

I wrote about Camp Osiris when it was just starting. We were still in the dreaming and planning stages. Now that dream is about to become a reality. I leave tomorrow afternoon for the inaugural camp. We have 7 youth coming from a couple of different states for this camp. We are really excited about having this time together.

My dream is that this camp will continue to grow. That God will bring us the youth that need to be here. That this camp will become a place for people to heal from past wounds, to delve into the Scripture with new eyes, and to leave empowered to shake things up in the community that they come from.

I want this camp to be a place where young activists will come to get refreshed and learn new skills. I want these folks to be able to share ideas and stories and inspire one another. I want this to be the beginning of communities of people dedicated to change being connected all across the United States, not just in urban areas but in rural areas as well. I want youth from Indiana and Iowa to know they can make just as much of a difference as youth in New York and Minneapolis.

This weekend we are going to focus on making the Scriptures come alive again. We are going to try to let the text and the experiences seep under our skin and infuse us with new life. We want the youth to embody these texts. We also want them to know their physical bodies; flesh, skin, sexuality, as beautiful and holy. We want them to leave feeling empowered to do work in their communities and feeling equipped for that work.

Please send good energy and prayers our way. Here are some specifics: For the safety of the youth traveling to get here. For Caidin and I as we direct this camp; that we will have wisdom and energy. For our two counselors that they will have patience, grace, and stamina. That our time will be healing for all involved. That the youth will connect with one another. That we will all leave changed in some way.

If you’d like to support the work of our camp, attend next year, apply to be a counselor, or just learn more, please go to the website.

Call for A Queer Theology Synchroblog

Recently Jules Kennedy offered an idea for a conference that’s led by and featuring queer people talking about their own experiences. She has updated what’s in the works for the gathering on her blog. Brian Gerald Murphy issued a call for a Queer Theology. Today I’d like to offer an idea as well, but first I want to offer some thoughts on why these ideas and proposals are important.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I keep getting stuck in the same conversations. I’ve been having my energy sapped by people who are more interested in playing it safe and keeping the status quo than they are about living into their own fullness. Are you feeling that way too? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

These conversations are stalling tactics. These conversations are being used by people who want to see things stay the same. They are used to keep us exhausted so that we don’t have the energy to do the real work.

I’ve been realizing how often I don’t say what I’m really thinking. How often I try to soften my words. How often I say, “I think” when in reality I know. I don’t want to do that anymore.

I am tired of asking for permission. I am tired of waiting for approval from the gatekeepers and the ones with power. I am tired of being told to wait a little longer, to “let us deal with this issue first”, to respect the people who are having trouble (without ever actually calling on those people to change).

NO MORE.

I refuse to apologize or to keep silent. I refuse to wait until the time is right (right for whom?). I refuse to play it safe, to tread lightly, to play the game.

Stop trying to slow things down. Stop trying to fight. You don’t have to participate. If you don’t want to follow, then at least get out of the way.

The world needs us to step up and speak. The world needs to hear our voices (even though they may not know it yet).

I am tired of being told by people that I base too much of my identity on my sexuality or my gender identity. I am tired of being told by people that they just want to see me as a whole person when in reality they want me to be silent about a large part of who I am.

The truth is that my life experiences, my theology, my thinking is shaped by my gender identity. It’s not all that I am, but it definitely plays a huge part. If you really want to know me and be in relationship with me, then you need to talk about that as well.

I am no longer going to fight with people who are more interested in keeping the status quo than they are in changing the world. I am no longer going to fight with people who are more interested in keeping their power and their privilege than they are about fighting for justice. I am going to let them keep doing what they are doing but I am not going to participate. I will, however, actively work against anyone who seeks to marginalize or harm my community.

Instead I am going to start living into a new world. I’m going to start doing the real work. I’m going to spend my energy creating the structures that need to exist instead of fighting the ones that don’t.

People will either join in or they’ll be left behind. The world is changing. The church is changing. You can either be a part of the change or you can get left behind. The way we’ve been doing things isn’t working anymore. We’ve been moving too slow. We’ve been making too many excuses. We’ve been protecting the privileged and the powerful at the expense of those who are most vulnerable.

We need to move on. Create something amazing. Create something so beautiful that people who are tired of the same old same old will join our cause.

Do you want to be a part of this new world? Do you want to have energy for the real work instead of getting tied up in the same old conversations? Do you want to build something awesome?

Than let’s do it. Let’s do it now. No more waiting. No more weighing our options. It’s time to take a leap of faith and do it. It’s time to be radically inclusive. It’s time to start taking care of one another. It’s time to put politics aside and get work done.

God is calling us to something bigger than what we’ve been doing and I believe that if we step out the path will appear.

I believe that we can be full human beings; that our sexualities and our gender identities are important and beautiful and have something to say to the church and the world. I believe that my queerness isn’t a liability but a powerful expression of God’s creativity.

I am not ashamed of being a transgender man. I am not ashamed of being queer, and I will also call out oppression. Telling me that naming my oppression is “claiming victimhood” is yet another stalling and derailing tactic.

What is your dream for the community in which you live? What do you wish you could be doing if only you weren’t facing resistance from people? Those are the things you should be doing.

Where are people telling you to slow down, to think things through? Those are the areas in which you should be charging ahead.

If we want to see a church where queer people are not only welcomed but integral to the life and theology of the church then we need to build it. We need to withdraw our support from churches that are dragging their feet and create something new.

If we want to see conferences where there is actual diversity, where people who have a stake in the issues being discussed get to have the microphone then we need to create those conferences and withdraw our support from conferences that don’t do these things.

If we want to see resources that actually represent the truth of our lives then we need to create them and stop passing around resources that do more harm then good.

Does this sound extreme? Good. For too long we have been satisfied with things that are okay instead of things that are excellent. We have been satisfied with the crumbs off the table. We have been satisfied to be invited, but not to speak. We have been happy to be welcomed but not affirmed. We have been content to allow other people to talk about us instead of speaking for ourselves.

No more.

Will this cost you something? If you have power and privilege it might, but like Tracy Turnblad says in “Hairspray”, “If my friends can’t dance on television then I don’t want to either!” If you feel the same way, then what you lose will be so much less then what you gain.

I’m not going to fight for a place at the table, I’m going to find my own table and invite others to join me.

The church is becoming irrelevant. We’re concerned about our buildings and our denominations. We’re concerned about losing members. We’re concerned with our book deals and speaking gigs. We’re concerned about what will happen if we welcome women and queer folks and people of color. We’re concerned about not losing donations. We’re concerned about making sure that we still have jobs in the church world. We’re concerned with preaching to the choir while the world burns down around us.

No more.

This vision of the church isn’t working for me anymore. Fighting the church to change isn’t working for me anymore. It’s time to start something new.

I see a world where small groups of people are committed to their communities both in cities and in rural areas. Where churches are known for the good that they do instead of the fights that they are having. I see a world where we spend less money on buildings and salaries and more money investing in local communities, empowering people to be entrepreneurs and to take charge of their own lives. I see churches where queerness is not just accepted but celebrated.

Are you with me? Do you want to get your community on fire wherever it is that you live? We can support one another across the miles in doing the hard work of changing the world. But we’ve got to stop getting involved in these losing battles. We’ve got to put our energy into the things that really matter. We’ve got to share our truth with the world honestly and without apology.

To that end I am calling for a synchroblog on Wednesday August 10, 2011. On that day I want people to blog about what queer theology means to them. I want you to share your story of how reading the Bible queerly has changed your life. I want you to talk about how your sexuality or your gender identity has brought you deeper into relationship with God. If you’re straight and interested in solidarity I want you to share how being in relationship with queer people has deepened your faith and spiritual practice.

This is part of the Santuary Collective Empowerment Project.

This synchroblog is NOT ABOUT apologetics. This isn’t about taking on the clobber passages or explaining why it’s okay to be queer. It’s time to move past those conversations. This day is also not taking the place of the conference Jules is calling for. This is a day, though, that will hopefully show people what that conference can look like. This day will give a hint of the beautiful stories that can be shared; of the amazing ways that queer folks read and delve into the Scriptures.

Will you participate? If so, when you’ve written your post, leave a comment with your name and a link to the post in the comments. On that Wednesday the 10th I’ll compile a post with the entire synchroblog. Here are a number of banners that you can put on your blog if you are participating. Please spread this around to folks you think might want to participate. We need your voice.

UPDATE:

The Queer Theology Synchroblog is now LIVE!

Conversations I Keep Getting Stuck In

Lately I feel like I’ve been having the same conversations over and over again. Well-meaning folks keep asking the same questions, raising the same issues, and involving me in the same round and round conversations. So in an effort to help preserve my sanity and hopefully to start to move us to a place where new conversations can happen I’m doing two things.

One, I set up a resource page. There are lots of categories and lots of information. If people ask a question that is answered on that page I’m going to point them there. I reserve the right to change my mind on a case by case basis but for the most part, this is a resource, please use it. If you see something that you think I should include, let me know. If you have a question that isn’t answered, let me know and I’ll try to find some resources.

Two, here are some of the conversations that I’m having/hearing a lot lately and my responses to them:

* But I don’t know these things (about homosexuality and the Bible, about what it means to be trans*, about any number of things) and how can I move past the 101 conversation unless I get my questions answered?

If you really want to work in solidarity with me you need to learn to do your own research. I get that you have questions, but I also get that there are a ton of resources out there that are a simple google search away. If you’re serious about being in solidarity with me, then you need to be serious about learning. Now, it’s even easier. Click over to that resource page and dig in. Read the books and articles listed. Watch the movies. Do your homework.

I’m beginning to think this insistence on queer people educating straight people is a derailing tactic. If people can keep queers having the same conversations over and over again. If people can keep queer people simply defending their right to exist, then they can keep queer people from getting to work on changing things. And people in power don’t want things to change because they benefit from the status quo. I’m not going to buy into this derailing and enabling behaviour anymore. If you want to be in solidarity with me, step up your game. If you refuse to do the work, then I’ll know you’re not really serious about being in solidarity.

* Can’t we just move past this whole conversation about sexuality and gender identity? I mean, really, I think we’re making too big a deal of it. After all in Jesus there is no male or female. Can’t we all just be one body?

It’s easy for heterosexual and cisgender (meaning not trans) people to say that there is too much focus on sexuality and bodies. I have had to fight and struggle my entire life to come to terms with my body as holy. My gender has been fought for and hard won. There are people murdered every day because people are upset about their genitalia. When we say that these aren’t the important things or the interesting things it dismisses the struggles of a lot of people. But even more than that, I think that reading the Bible queerly, understanding that there are characters in the Scriptures that violate gender norms, etc. has something to teach to the larger church. And not just about transgender or gay and lesbian people. I believe that my struggles to come to terms with my body can be applied to all people who struggle with their bodies. I believe that reading crucifixion and resurrection as a transgender narrative (you can read more about what I do with that here: anarchistreverend.com/trans-passion-narrative/ if you’re interested) can open up a whole new world to other people who have suffered trauma of many different kinds. That to me is both exciting and beautiful. For me it’s not talking about transgender and GLB issues just to talk about them or to make a big deal out of them, it’s my firm belief that they have something to teach the whole church. That when all people can live into their own fullness that something really outstanding can happen.

* At least we’re talking about these issues, why are you nitpicking that gender identity isn’t included in the welcome statement? Why are you being so negative about the people that are speaking publicly?

This comes down to, why don’t you just shut up and be thankful we’re talking about you at all. But the issue is that; you’re talking about me and my community. I’ll keep saying it because people don’t seem to be hearing it: we need queer people to speak for ourselves! I believe there is more harm done by speaking about queer people and issues badly then there is in remaining silent. I would rather someone say nothing at all about my community then to have them say something that’s harmful.

And when you don’t include gender identity in your welcome statement it creates an issue for me and for my community. I want to know that I am welcome and more than that that I am safe (not emotionally although that’d be nice too, but in a real physical sense). Can I use the restroom without being harassed? Can I shower safely and with privacy? Will my pronouns be respected? Will I be laughed at behind my back? Will there be people who will want to do violence to me? These are valid questions for trans* people in new spaces, even in the church or in religious spaces. If you don’t want to commit to making a space physically safe for a trans* person that’s one thing, but we should know that we are being excluded from the welcome statement not as an oversight but because you really don’t want to make the commitment to have us there.

And one more resource: Here’s why I think we should move away from talking about “allies”.

8 Ways for Your Church to Be Welcoming to Trans* People

These are some initial thoughts I have about making worshipping spaces welcoming for trans* and gender non-conforming people. This is just a beginning list; some of the first steps people can make. I’m sure I’m missing things and I hope that you’ll include your own answers in the comments. I also know that since I’m not genderqueer there are things that I’m not thinking of; please add to this list! I want this to be a resource for people who are beginning the process of making trans* people welcome in their churches.

I should also note this is the BARE MINIMUM a church can do to make trans* people welcome. This also assumes that your church is at the very beginning of this process. If you can look at this list and check things off that you’ve done, that’s great. But the work isn’t over.

* Make sure there are safe bathrooms. Make sure there are gender neutral bathrooms that are within easy access of the main parts of the church (meaning, don’t make the gender neutral bathroom impossible to find, tucked into a closet in the basement, or completely out of the way.)

* Respect people’s pronouns and names.

* Offer rituals and observances for transition: Name change ceremonies, rebaptism, transition ceremonies, etc.

* Make sure if you have gender specific groups that they are open to ALL people who identify with that gender. Consider starting new groups that are not gender specific.

* Tell the stories of trans* and gender non-conforming people from the pulpit. (There are even trans* and gender non-conforming people right there in the Bible!)

* Make sure church volunteers are trained in gender identity issues. Make sure church nursery workers and Sunday school teachers are trained to respect and celebrate gender diversity in children.

* Buy a copy of My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis for your church library and church nursery. Read it to the children.

* Start to de-gender your church. Meaning, start eliminating things that make people choose a gendered space. Make sure that there are groups for folks who don’t identify in a binary manner.

What has your church done to become a welcoming place for trans* and gender non-conforming people? What questions do you have about this process? What would you like to see your church do? Is there something I missed that you think should be included?

Dreaming Church

I’ve been dreaming for a long time about starting a church. Some people ask why anyone would bother to start a new church; there are so many churches out there, can’t you just get involved in one the already exists? Or, you only want to start a new church because you think it’ll be perfect and no church is perfect. Or, you know that costs a lot of money, we can’t afford to start another church. To all of these reasons I say bollocks!

I want to share with you my dream for a church in the Twin Cities. I know that it won’t be perfect. I know there are others who are doing similar work. But I also know that there is something unique about the vision I have for a new church.

Here’s what I dream of:

* A church that is radically queer inclusive. One that welcomes queerness and celebrates it. One that understands that queer spirituality has so much to teach the world.

* A church that strives to have a healthy understanding and relationship with ALL bodies and ALL sexualities. A church that is working toward healthy, consensual relationships. A church that begins to unpack the baggage our culture has given us around our bodies and our sexualities.

* A church that celebrates women; that has women at all levels of leadership. That doesn’t just put women up in front to look good and not listen to them any other time.

* A church that is dedicated to the hard work of reconciliation in all its forms. A church that isn’t about “diversity”. But (and I speak as a white male) that does the hard work of rooting out internal racism, that works for justice for all people. I want an open table, but not a cheap open table. I want us to be working toward reconciliation, facing the hard parts of ourselves and working to not only get right with one another, but to then learn from one another and to live in real community with one another.

* A church that is rooted in liberation theology, that understands God’s preferential option for the poor. A church that takes seriously the anti-empire (and I would say anarchist) ramifications of the Gospel. A church that believes that queer theology, black theology, feminist theology, post-colonial theology, etc. all has some vital to teach the church. And that people who come from all different backgrounds and lives are a gift to the larger body of the church.

* A church that is dedicated to the community in which it resides (and reflects the community).

* A church that is liturgically grounded and yet also liturgically creative. A church that values the arts: Theatre, music, visual arts, and incorporates them into the life and worship of the church. A church that is experiential in its worship.

I have decided the time to act is now. I can feel God calling me to this work and I believe there are people with whom this dream will resonate. I’m asking you to commit to supporting this work either prayerfully, financially, or by getting involved here in the Twin Cities (or by doing all of the above). Will you dream with me?

Sermon on the Ethiopian Eunuch

“A Strange Baptism”
preached by the anarchist reverend
july 10, 2011

Acts of the Apostles 8: 26-40

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

When approaching a new text I think it’s helpful to start with the question, “What stands out to you? What do you notice?” And so I think it’s fair to start by saying, I notice this is a weird text. First an angel of the Lord appears out of nowhere and commands Philip to go down a wilderness road. Without question Philip goes and finds an Ethiopian Eunuch riding in a chariot who just happens to be reading Isaiah. And then at the end of this whole encounter Philip apparently has the gift of teleportation and finds himself in a new place leaving the newly baptized Ethiopian Eunuch by himself. What do we do with a text like this?

The book of Acts picks up right where the Gospels leave off. Some have even called it the 5th Gospel. Unlike the rest of the Second Testament, which is very much about the theology of the fledgling Christian movement, Acts is very much an action novel. It follows the stories of the nascent Christian community (who were still calling themselves “Followers of the Way”) as they struggle to form a group identity. They were a small community who were being heavily persecuted. The story of the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch comes right after Stephen has been stoned to death for proclaiming Christ. This story begins a series of healing and conversion narratives. Right after this story we read about the conversion of Saul who would become Paul. The book of Acts is trying to explain the expansion of this new movement. It’s a time when old rules about who were in and who were out were being challenged. And so we come to this text. Philip finds an Ethiopian Eunuch, an officer in the court of the queen, reading aloud from the book of Isaiah.

It’s interesting that Phillip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” and the Eunuch responds, “How can I unless someone guides me?” There is a reason that we don’t baptize children in private. It’s about more than just allowing the congregation to coo over their adorableness (although that’s nice too!). We baptize as a part of a community because we are making a vow to help guide these children as they grow into their unique faith expressions. The role of faith formation doesn’t just fall to the parents or to the teachers tasked with teaching Sunday School; it falls to the entire community.

How do we as a community understand the Bible? How is it that we approach this text? For some of us, this collection of writings has been used as a weapon against us, and so we either abandon it all together or we read it so that we can form it into a shield to protect us. For others we have read this text so many times that it has ceased to bring us any new revelation. For some we haven’t approached the text at all; it either holds no relevance to our lives or else we simply have not had the opportunity to engage with it. My hope is that we can all begin to unpack our baggage around this text and begin to engage it with new eyes and open hearts; so that when these children begin to read it on their own, we can guide them and allow them to guide us.

One of the most significant parts of my spiritual journey has been relearning how to read the Bible. I have had to find new ways to let these words speak to me and to move in my heart. I have had to find ways to make the text sing again while also keeping my mind and my intellect engaged. So how do we read this text with new eyes? What about this story still speaks to our lives and our community today?

I wonder what it was that led this Ethiopian Eunuch to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Clearly there was something in him that was compelling him to seek out a place of worship. But this person would not have been welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem. His status as a Eunuch, someone who had either been castrated or born with ambiguous genitalia, would have prevented him from being able to even enter into the Temple. We don’t know what compelled him to go to Jerusalem, what he had hoped to find there, or what his experiences were. But I think we can safely assume that he wasn’t allowed to participate. And now he was returning home.

Some of us have had this experience of going to a church and hoping to worship and instead being turned away. Or of being allowed to attend and yet being made to feel uncomfortable; maybe because we weren’t wearing the right clothes, or we didn’t know when to stand or kneel, or because of our gender identity or sexual orientation. And we have left church with a heavy heart, maybe crying on the way home because we had so desired to worship and had been prevented.

I wonder if the Ethiopian Eunuch was experiencing some of those feelings as he traveled toward home? And yet, Philip finds him reading the Scriptures. Maybe he was trying to find out why he had been rejected. Maybe he was looking for solace. I wonder if he had turned to his favorite passage to reassure himself that he was a beloved child of God. A couple of chapters after the passage he’s quoted as reading in our Acts narrative we read these words: “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say “the Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant. I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” What powerful words! And words that stand in such contradiction to the law in Deuteronomy that says, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted into the assembly of God.” These are words that would have crushed his spirit. Words that would have been used by others as an excuse to keep him out of the Temple. These words are still in use today to keep transgender people out of the house of God. But in spite of these hurtful words, the Eunuch was also able to find words that affirmed him and gave him hope. Words that he may have been turning to in his time of rejection.

Many us of have favorite passages that we turn to in time of need; For some it might not be a Scripture passage but a favorite poem or novel. Maybe there is a song that speaks to you in the midst of your pain or joy.

Philip enters into the story in the midst of rejection and confusion. He sits beside the Ethiopian Eunuch. He answers his questions and tells the story of Jesus; this person who was recklessly hospitable. A man who ate with sinners and touched lepers. A man who purposefully made himself unclean in order to call attention to arbitrary rules about who was in and who was out. Jesus wanted to challenge ideas about who was acceptable. I imagine these words would have sounded sweet to this Ethiopian Eunuch. Confirmation of what he already knew in his heart.

And then they came upon water and the Eunuch says, “Look! Here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

And Philip, who would have known the rules preventing eunuchs from worshipping, who would have know that this person he had been talking with was considered to be unacceptable says nothing. Philip just gets into the water and baptizes him. This evangelist baptizes a gender non-conforming person who had been excluded from worshipping life of the community. But after this moment he was allowed to go on his way rejoicing. This is a passage that speaks to the power that happens when we let down our walls and allow the Spirit to move. She will lead us deeper into communion with God and with one another.

There is something beautiful in what we do when we baptize children. We welcome them into the family of God first thing. We tell them that they are acceptable and pure and a part of the larger body. And we commit to walking with them on their journey. But it’s also an easy thing to baptize a beautiful infant. It’s easy to welcome a beautiful child into our family.

It can be a lot harder to welcome flawed and fragile adults. Or surly teenagers. It can be a lot harder to live into our baptismal vows when we were too young to remember that they happened. What does it mean for us to walk through the world as people who have been baptized? What does this symbol of water mean in our daily lives? Do you remember your baptism?

I grew up in a tradition that practiced adult baptism and so I do remember my baptism. However I have walked a long way since being submerged in those waters. Many of us have walked a long way since our baptisms; through different religious traditions and denominations, through crises of faith, through death and through transformation. Our baptismal memory fades.

What is the big deal about baptism? In Colossians 2:12 it says, “When you were buried with Jesus in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.” It seems shocking to talk about death in our rite of baptism, especially in the context of baptizing a child. It doesn’t make sense to talk about baptism being a death to an old way of life. But baptism isn’t just about what happens here with children.

Some of us are finding our way back to the church after years of being away. For some it takes courage just to walk inside these doors on a Sunday morning because of the years of abuse that have happened within church walls. For some of us we have become complacent in our faith and need to feel the breath of the spirit moving in us once again. For others we have remained in the church but maybe we are feeling tired and need to be renewed. Can you remember your baptism?

Jesus had a pretty remarkable baptism story. When he came up out of the waters of the Jordan the heavens opened and God’s voice said, “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” I wonder if he thought back on that moment in the trials that were to come; when the religious leaders were hating him, when the Romans were bearing down on him. He must have struggled with his faith, wondered if he was doing the right thing. But he could always look back to that moment of baptism and say, “yes. I am God’s beloved.”

Can you remember the waters pouring over you? The voice of God claiming you as God’s own beloved child with whom God is well-pleased? Does that sentiment ring in your heart? If not, why not?

This is why we baptize in community: So that we can remind one another of our baptisms. When these children grow and struggle with their faith we can say to them, I remember your baptism. This is why we exist in community so we can turn to one another and say, I remember your baptism and God is well pleased with you. This is what allows us to approach the Scripture with new eyes and with open hearts, allows us to engage with these ancient words again and feel the Spirit breathing new life into us and recharging us for our work in the world.

“Look, here is water! What is to prevent you from being baptized?” The institutional church cannot keep you out, the law of the land cannot diminish you. It is only what is inside you that can keep you from these waters. Can you let go of the pain an approach the water? Can you lay down your shame and approach the water? What is preventing you from being baptized?

Today if you are having trouble remembering your baptism; if you are grappling with doubt; if you cannot hear the voice of God saying to you that you are beloved, I say, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent you from being baptized?”

Wild Goose Synchroblog

In case you want to read what other folks are saying about the Wild Goose Festival, you can check out the other posts here. All opinions are the opinions of the poster. I don’t agree (or disagree) with all of them.

The Wild Goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Last month, the first Wild Goose festival was held near Chapel Hill, NC. This festival is a North American arts, music, justice and spirituality festival. Inspired by Greenbelt in the UK, the festival hoped to provide a space to deepen growth for those who want to connect faith and justice, and provide inspiration and energy for fresh expressions of Christianity in today’s world.

For more information about the festival check out The Wild Goose blog.

The July synchroblog is an open invitation for stories, thoughts, experiences and impressions that emerge from The Wild Goose Festival.

Of course, we’re looking for lots of stories from those who participated in the Festival. But we want to hear from you whether you were there or not! We still want to hear your story of how the Wild Goose (holy spirit) has made herself known in your life. Or, another option might be to write on why you wish you’d gone to the festival yourself. As always, we are looking for as many perspectives as possible!

Preaching

I am preparing to preach on Sunday. This will be the first full sermon I’ve given in a while so I’m a bit nervous. That, coupled with also teaching a Bible study and still coming down off of/recharging from the Wild Goose Festival means that this post might be a bit shorter than usual. I had planned on writing a long post about ordination, but I just don’t have the energy to put into it right now.

I think instead I’ll talk a little bit about my process for preaching. I grew up in a tradition that didn’t use the lectionary so I don’t always preach on a lectionary text. I also don’t preach every week so I have the luxury of being a bit more flexible about the texts that I choose. I did go to the lectionary first but nothing really captured my attention in those texts. Since this is my first full sermon at this church I feel pressure to make sure it’s a good one.

In the past I have had a topic that I wanted to preach on and gone from there. Now I tend to find a text first and go from there. On this particular Sunday there are three baptisms happening and so I need to take that into account. It will mean that the sermon needs to be a bit shorter. It also means that there will be a lot of visitors.

I am preaching on the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8. I’ve been sitting with the text for several days now; and will continue to sit with it for a while longer. I tend to be a marinater. I’ll marinate on the text for quite a while; trying out ideas, tossing things out, pretending to preach various portions, and then, usually the day before I preach, I sit down and in one long burst write out everything that I’ve been stewing over.

Here is the text:
Acts of the Apostles 8: 26-40

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

I am definitely a manuscript preacher. It goes against everything I was taught in my public speaking classes, but I am an introvert and I don’t always think well on my feet. I need to be thoroughly prepared. Also, I tend to make jokes when I get nervous. And they’re not funny jokes. So in order to spare everyone I write out my sermons.

With this text I am spending some time delving into the act of baptism. I come from a tradition that doesn’t baptize infants. We did child dedications but the belief was the baptism was a public sign that you were choosing to be a follower of Jesus. So I have had to spend some time wrapping my mind about what it means for a community to baptize an infant. Why do we do that? What does it mean to the child, to the parents, to the congregation? How do we read adult baptism narratives in the light of an infant baptism?

Why is this story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in the text? What message does this story have for the larger community? And why in the world does Philip seem to have the gift of teleportation??

Those are some of the thoughts and questions I am grappling with this week. As you read the text, what sticks out to you? What doesn’t make sense? What strikes you?

I will post my sermon here once I have preached it so you can see what I ended up doing with the text.

Book Review: The Last Report on the Miracles At Little No Horse

Today’s book review is of: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse: A Novel (P.S.) by Louise Erdrich.

This is a fantastically rich novel. Erdrich writes the story of a woman who, after a tragedy occurs, disguises herself as a male priest and goes to live among the Obijwe as a missionary. Erdrich weaves together the tales of the people on the reservation as well as the past and present of Agnes/Father Damien. The language of the novel is beautiful and the characters are rich and nuanced.

There are a lot of time shifts in this book which can occasionally make it hard to follow. Events overlap and collapse in on themselves and you have to really pay attention. At times the book reads as a collection of shorter stories with an overarching theme.

I loved the character of Father Damien; his interior life, the letters he writes to the Pope, the things he feels about falling into a calling that wasn’t his own. The book has really interesting things to say about gender, about missionary work, and about the relations between First Nations people and white people.

I really loved this book. I would highly recommend it to others.