Saturday, April 18, 2015

Region 1 What?

At a fundraiser for the youth at my church
photo credit: LeeAnne Krause

I am so thrilled to be a part of the work of ReconcilingWorks as the new Regional Coordinator for Region 1, a volunteer position.

So what does this mean?  It means I get to meet and work with the local people who are on the ground in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, to help deepen and expand the Reconciling in Christ program in ELCA Lutheran churches.

We will work together make more churches welcoming to the LGBTQ community, and to dismantle injustice based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity and other categories through a Lutheran lens.

Why is this still important?  Why does this matter to me?

Passion. Love. Hope.

Passion:  When I hear the personal stories of friends who have been kicked out of churches, estranged from families, bullied, assaulted, or told they cannot have a relationship with God, it makes me so angry.  I believe that God created a beautiful diversity, and that God loves each of us passionately, no matter what, just as we are.  I want to help create a world in which everyone is loved, where the worth and dignity of everyone is celebrated.

Love: I am grateful to have had church experiences where I have known God's love, where my family and friends have been able to walk with me on my own journeys through divorce, depression, joys, and transition.  The love of my family, friends, and church gives me strength.  I want to help create a world in which everyone is surrounded by loving community.

Hope: Honestly, sometimes I feel hopeless in the face of whatever latest crisis or assault is on the news.  I try to keep my candle flame of hope still burning in the midst of the whirlwinds of injustice, fear, and devastation.  My hope survives because of the stories of faith and courage that I hear, in your stories! I also find hope in God, and in the stirrings of the Spirit.  I see the Spirit moving and healing in the world, and so I keep on keeping on.

I'm new to this role, and I'm still learning. I have many people to meet and stories to hear. And at the end of the day, I look forward to all of us working together to bring love, hope, and peace to our world.

Thank you for walking with me.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Friday - Crucify!

A meditation I delivered for Good Friday:
Mark 15:1-20  As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do* with the man you call* the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters*); and they called together the whole cohort.And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Were you there when the crowds shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Jesus has been sentenced to death, and the crowd refuses to let him go free. I can picture this crowd, loudly pumping fists in the air, cheering and jeering, stirred up by any variety of emotions – anger at Jesus for not being a heroic liberator, bored and bloodthirsty - looking for entertainment, full of religious zeal that Jesus is a blasphemer and should suffer and die. Regardless of intent, the crowd will not be appeased by the release of Jesus, but instead demands – “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Then the soldiers beat him, mocked him and stripped him.

I am reminded of November 16, 1989, when the Jesuit theologian Ignacio Ellacuria and seven others were assassinated by the military in El Salvador, because they stood up for the poor.

Ellacuria had coined the term “the crucified people” to describe the Latin American poor, for as he described it, an unjust society means death – through institutional poverty, repression, wars, and the stripping away of peoples’ culture. It is a challenging image, the poor on the cross, because it brings the crucifixion into contemporary times and opens us up to be implicated as those shouting “Crucify!”

Ellacuria also reminds us through this imagery that God is present on the cross with Jesus, present when the people turn on him and demand his death. God is present in the suffering of those facing poverty, war, and repression.

Also in the tradition of Ellacuria’s theology, James Cone draws comparisons between the cross and the lynching tree. The crowds shouting “Crucify him!” are parallel to the white mob’s cry of “lynch him!” Though they are not identical, the cross can help us understand the lynching tree, and see that when the crowd lynched a black man, they were lynching Jesus. This is a vivid and grotesque version of Matthew 25:40, “as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.”

The cross reminds us that God is present with those who suffer violence and degradation. God have mercy.

This week has also been full of news stories of political, religious and cultural battles in the US. At least 26 states are debating legislation that would allow for discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people on the grounds of protecting religious freedom.

Passions are high on these bills. A pizza place in Indiana was quoted on air saying it would refuse to serve their food at a gay wedding, and there was so much fury on both sides of the question. Negative internet reviews were used as a platform to mock the restaurant and protest their comments. In counter protest, an online fundraising account was set up by a conservative media outlet and has raised almost a million dollars in a little over a day by people supporting the restaurant owners. I cannot help but hear this story, read the comments, and picture the chief priests and the crowd scene with Pilate: Ugly shouting and angry cries for justice on both sides.

Around the country there are also a bills being proposed that would criminalize trans people for using the bathroom for the gender they identify as. It is dehumanizing to have one’s need to pee questioned, and to be marked as suspicious and perverted.

And in California, even though the initiative will likely not even collect enough signatures for the ballot, a lawyer has submitted a petition that would call for gays and lesbians to be shot in the head. It doesn’t matter if it will not pass, it lies heavy on the heart, especially when people such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas tries to defend the religious freedom act of Indiana by arguing that at least it’s not Iran, where they hang gay men.

I don’t bring these stories up to be political. While Lutherans should be involved in the public sphere and I support healthy discourse and hard conversations about how laws are written and which should pass, I bring this up because of a comment posted by a friend on facebook who writes: “I'd just like to say that as a gay person, listening to the public squabble over my rights as a person and other's rights to treat me as less than equal is exhausting. If you have LGBT friends, give them a little extra love today because this stuff is soul sucking.” I appreciate that Bonnie Beadles-Bohling wrote that post. It has been a tough week to watch the back and forth attacks that have dehumanized and vilified people on both sides of the issue. It has been tough to be afraid of discrimination and hate growing in our world.

Biblical scholar Raymond Brown highlights that the chief priests gave Jesus over to Pilate out of jealousy, and the same Greek word, phthonos points to both envy and zeal. Brown writes that by warning us of the envy and zeal that lead the chief priests and crowds to crucify Jesus, the gospel writer Mark is cautioning the early church and us of “a divisive competitiveness among groups struggling for their own view point.” Sound familiar?

The same zeal that can inspire us to do good things can also cause us to try to out-do one another in our supposed faithfulness and holiness. It can lead us to forget the cross and the people we crucify.

Ignacio Ellacuria draws our attention to the poor in Latin America, James Cone draws our attention to racism in the United States, Bonnie Beadles-Bohling draws our attention to the experience in the LGBT community.

Were you there when the people chose to free a murderer and crucify Jesus? Were you there when we did not value his life, but sentenced him to die?

And when did we not value the life of another based on ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, education, income, or family status?

We need love, but we are surrounded by cries of Crucify! And we are about to crucify the one who is love, Jesus.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday - On Fear

This is the second of two meditations I gave tonight at our Maundy Thursday service.

Mark 14:66-72 - While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt.* Then the cock crowed.* And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.
Were you there when Peter lied about knowing Jesus? Peter was not a bad person. Earlier we heard about how he wanted Jesus to wash not just his feet, but his whole body, so earnest was he about following Jesus. But then his teacher had been arrested and convicted as Peter looked on. Now he is being confronted about his association with the arrested man, and Peter lies. I think he was afraid, exhausted, and probably full of adrenaline.

Fear turns us against our best selves, and can turn us against one another. There is fear in our world today over adequate water and oil, fear about jobs and crime, fear of sickness and death, fear of discrimination and rejection, fear of being overrun by those on the other side of the political spectrum, whichever that side may be… Fears can overwhelm us.

What resonates with me in this story is not whether or not Peter said he knew Jesus. For me, it is not about being willing to admit I am a Christian. In today’s political climate, one’s willingness to be called Christian can feel like a loaded statement, and it may not have the same meaning for me as for the one who hears it. What really strikes me is that Peter responded out of fear and impulse in a way that went against his own planning and intent.

Up to this moment, Peter thinks he has what it takes to stand firm as a disciple of Jesus, and has even stayed nearby during the trial. Didn’t Peter say that he would never betray Jesus? And then it happens so quickly, and before he realizes it, he has denied even knowing his teacher and friend.

Where have I let fear get in the way of speaking the truth? Where have I chosen the easy way out instead of risking hard conversations and building relationships?

Peter is afraid, angry, and upset. I am too. I weep with him. There are times when has my heart been just too broken, when has hope failed, and I have quit trusting in God. With Peter, we may weep when we realize our own fear overrides the message of the gospel, when we deny God’s abundant and passionate love.

Tonight, may we find the strength and the courage to be prophetic and instead of fearfully silent. May we be faithful to Jesus’ reminder of love and servanthood in the breaking of the bread, and the washing of feet. May we find the motivation to stand in solidarity with all who are crushed by the weight of poverty, illness, discrimination and hate. May we seek ways to build relationships, bridging divides instead of creating barriers.

And at the end of this dark night, though we watch our teacher and friend led away to face crucifixion, though we face all which causes us anger and despair today, may we remember that we can’t fix this on our own. We will fail, but God is faithful. God’s power is present in weakness, even our own.

Maundy Thursday - On Racism

This is the first of two meditations I gave tonight at our Maundy Thursday service.
Mark 14:53-65 - They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.
Were you there when people with power were looking for any way to get rid of Jesus and silence is his teaching, healing, and hospitality? They were so desperate to kill him that they brought forward many witnesses with contradicting statements and false testimony.

In the end, Jesus’ own identity convicted him. He acknowledged that he was the Messiah, and was condemned to death. He was sentenced to death for being a threat to the status quo, and threatening the power structures of oppression. Were you there?

Were you there in 2015 when black men were labeled thugs and terrorists to justify violence against them by the police and vigilantes, when unarmed Latinos were shot because of a falsely perceived threat? Were you there when their very existence as people of color made them scapegoats within a system of institutionalized racism and oppression?

Where have we been complicit in our silence and false testimony in a country where black men are confronted by the police, profiled, presumed guilty of a crime, and suffer violence, often to the point of death. We live in a country where people of color are far more likely to be pulled over and frisked, given longer jail sentences for the same crimes, and where the color of the skin impacts housing, educational opportunities, lending practices and economic stability. In 2015, racism is still alive and thriving, sometimes hiding just under a polite veneer, but more and more it is making a loud noise amidst the animosity of a distracted, divided country.

Perhaps we have been like Peter, sitting near the guards so we can see what is happening, worried, and scared, but silent?

Were you silent when the national conversation on race got lost in the buzz about the latest media sensation? Were you silent in the presence of racist jokes? Did you cross to the other side of the street, or make an assumption about economic means or criminal intent when you saw a man ahead of you, merely because of the color of his skin?

Where have we seen in ourselves these pieces of racism and been ashamed or horrified? Where have we not even noticed when we treat people differently?

Racism is not an all-or-nothing sin, where bad people are racist, and good people are not. Jay Smooth suggests that instead of thinking of racism as something that can be removed once, like an appendix, our anti-racist work must be done daily, like brushing our teeth. Each day, we must remember our baptism. We start anew with grace, but also with searching and repentance, drowning our sins, including the sins of racism. Then we rise again in newness to live out the good news of this Jesus who stands on trial for speaking truth and love.

Jesus tells the authorities that he will be seated at the right hand of the Power. But in the passion he does not comes into power the way we expect, but in love and weakness. He was spit on, blindfolded, taunted and beaten. Can you not see that scene played out today as one of the frequent assaults on people of color?

Jesus stayed in that moment of the trial out of love for us in our wounded places, as well as in our sinful places. Jesus is present with those who are condemned by silence and lies, and by their very existence. God is present in Jesus with those who are marginalized and oppressed by cultural and political systems. Jesus is with them in their suffering and with their protest.

Where are we?

A Guest Post from Carl Dahlquist

Adam, Carl, Leo and Logan cleaning up after the RIC Service
A Guest Post from Carl Dahlquist:

This Lent, Carl was asked to deliver a meditation during our church’s midweek service. The theme for this Lent was Deeply Rooted, Branching Out. What follows is a transcript of the story he told as part of this service. He shared this meditation on Wednesday, March 18th.

Romans 15: 5-7
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Deeply Rooted, Branching Out
by Carl Dahlquist

When I was young, I attended a more conservative, evangelical church. In many ways, I was the epitome of what it meant to be a strong Christian. I was involved with the church; helping out in drama productions, teaching Sunday school to 3rd and 4th graders, going on mission trips around the state and country, and attending youth group regularly. And I was deeply invested in the church.
I learned a lot about what it meant to be a Christian in the Foursquare Tradition. I learned the importance of prayer, bible study, and evangelizing. I also learned what was considered acceptable and unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord. This caused tensions later in my life.

During this time I never doubted the love of God. It was one thing that every pastor, youth leader, and Sunday school teacher emphasized. God loves us all. We learned verses that spoke of the love God has for the people of the earth. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him, will not parish, but have everlasting life.”

The church I grew up in emphasized the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus. The part of John 3:16 about believing in Jesus in order to be saved was a large part of the beliefs of my church. Not a single service went by without a chance for people to confess their faith in Jesus, and accept him into their lives. When we had special services at Easter and Christmas, the success of the service was measured in how many people “came to Christ.”

My church was very clear about their motives in the area of being accepting of others. The church made the claim that all were welcome. And they were, but once they “converted” they were expected to conform to the picture of “true Christian.” At the time, I didn’t really question this. My thought was that this was something that all Christians had to do. Even though I had been saved by God’s grace, and had accepted Jesus into my heart, I believed that the level of my salvation was dependent on how good of a Christian I was. The best Christians, the most righteous, were going to have the best place in heaven.

They also emphasized the price of disbelief. That those who did not believe would suffer in the pit for all eternity. And though they claimed that all sin was equally deplorable in the eyes of the Lord, it was definitely implied that some were worse than others.

So, why am I describing some of the doctrine of the church I grew up in? Because it helps to lay the groundwork for the rest of my story.

During the election regarding Measure 36 in 2004, the measure to define marriage as one man and one woman in the Oregon Constitution, I started to notice what my church really meant by “All are welcome.” We were told that being LGBT was a choice that was against God. That we shouldn’t associate with those that went against God’s will. That we should witness to those that live in sin, and bring them to repentance.

This is when the seed of doubt was planted in my mind. I knew very few people who were LGBT, but I knew that the God of love that I knew couldn’t be the same God that would condemn people based on love. It took me a few years to be able to articulate this idea, and by that point Proposition 8 had taken place in California.

In 2006, I graduated from high school, and that fall I started attending Pacific Lutheran University. I believe that going to PLU for college was one of the best decisions I could have made. I was away from the expectations of my church and family for the first time in my life, and I was able to start really thinking about my faith, and to figure out who I was as a person. During this time, I realized something that I had been keeping from myself. I am gay.

This realization created a struggle within me. My understanding of the world was, in many ways, based on my faith. This struggle pitted my faith in God against my sexuality. I still believed that LGBT people weren’t accepted in God’s family. How could I be both gay and a Christian? The only thing I knew for sure, was that I didn’t choose to be gay.

How could someone who is raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin, something of the devil, choose to be gay? It was this question that made me know that there was nothing I could do that would change who I was. So I did the only other thing that I could think of. I distanced myself from the church. Sure, I continued to play the part of a church going Christian to appease my parents, and to not let on that anything was different.

When I went home to visit my parents, I went with them to their new church. During one of these visits, the pastor preached on the evils of homosexuality, and how we must “protect ourselves from their evil.” This was when I truly realized how much hate existed in the church, and my experiences didn’t really lead to me believing that there were churches that embraced the true love of Christ.
This realization solidified my belief that I, as a gay man, didn’t belong in the church. I decided to make a clean break. I stopped attending any church, except when at home and couldn’t get away with it. I couldn’t understand how people who believed in the saving grace of Jesus, and the eternal love of God could possibly believe that God would condemn someone just because of who they loved.

Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It was studying these verses that lead me to my current understanding of the kind of love that we are called to embrace. A love for all peoples, regardless of who they are. It was here were I started to take root in my faith again. My very understanding of the nature of God’s love, and the commandments God gave us had been drastically altered. I looked into it some more. Jesus preached about love. The love of God, as well as the love that humans should have for each other. If Jesus taught love, then how can it be that pastors will teach hate? How can we allow hate to fester, choking away the very nourishment that God intends for our spiritual growth? I have seen how hate can grow like a weed, choking away all of the good works that God intends for our lives.

I knew then that I always had a place in God’s family. But I didn’t think that I would be able to find a church that would accept me for who I was. So I continued to drift.

Here’s where you [the people of St. Andrews ELCA in Beaverton, OR] come in. During my junior year at PLU, I took a term off from school. I needed to figure out some funding issues. I wanted to keep taking voice lessons while I was away, so I started taking lessons from Jacob Herbert, a pervious music minister here at St. Andrews. He offered to give me free lessons, if I agreed to sing in his church choir. At first I used this as an excuse to not have to go to my parents’ church, as well as get free voice lessons. It didn’t take long for your welcoming manner, and general good natures to win me over though.

During that time, I had felt something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. A sense of belonging in a church body. I was amazed by how accepting everyone was, even after I told people that I was gay. And even more amazing to me, was that you called a lesbian pastor to minister at your church. I was astounded. The very idea that an openly gay person would be allowed to even attend a church was amazing, but to call an openly lesbian pastor was quite another. I knew at that moment that I had found my new home.

To bring my experience back into the metaphor of grounded in faith, I was a deeply rooted, strong plant that happened to be in the wrong soil. And with the love and support of everyone here at St. Andrew, I was able to be transplanted into the nurturing soil of a church that means it when they say “All Are Welcome.”