Monday, November 24, 2014

A Gut Cry to God After Fergusson

Some friends and I at Fuller Theological Seminary were so grieved by the shooting of Michael Brown and the difficulty of conversations around it that we started to practice a monthly day of prayer for this year on the 9th of the month.  We are doing it on the Quad, Fuller's online community I helped create.  Our first prayer was led by Jeanelle Austin.  My prayer was in response.

I don't normally pray in public as Jesus warns against the temptation to self-aggrandizement. But I've decided to post it here as a way to say something honest in public about these events.


Dear God,

I come to you and confess that my white culture taught me to fear black men.  I pray as a white person who has benefitted from access to privilege, power and money to the degree I’ve been unconscious of it most of my life.

I confess that my family made money on black labor in the same same sawmill town that made James Cone rise up and challenge the white church. A challenge to face its infidelity to Jesus in their tacit support of and the lynch mob and the jail beating.

I confess that I have doubted the stories of my black friends about their experiences with the police.  It took youtube and going to church together to make it possible for me to see past my insular reality.  Every black person I’ve asked since I started believing has a story.  Even off duty black officers.

Please be with the families of black men who have been killed by the police this year.

Please be with the the boys in their teens watching the way our society is willing to let them die.  Kindle hope in their hearts and stern resolve to outlive and subvert those expectations.

Wake us up to the subtle and unconscious ways that we turn away and explain away violence done to black people that would hit us differently if happened to white people.

Weave our families together with people from the other side of all the boundaries that divide and sub-divide the places we live.  Call us to feel the danger that our neighbors feel.

Use your scripture and your preachers to show us how the practice of enslaving humans has consequences for generations that can’t be erased by a few decades of legislation.

Open our ears to the blood crying from the ground.

Use your pastors to create space for our brothers and sisters in law enforcement to talk about the impossibility of carrying and using guns, tazers and clubs on our behalf perfect.

Inspire us with the stories of faithfulness to the way of Jesus embodied in the leaders of the civil rights struggle.  

Awaken in our hearts and our conversations a call to bear witness that the gospel demands a response to this deep sickness buried in the heart of our culture.  

Let us who have ignored or had that history hidden from us come with humility and learn it from our black brothers and sisters, in print and over meals.

Open our eyes to the the way the gospel shines light on the needs and the areas where folks are kept away from what they need to thrive. In Pasadena and Altadena.  Call us to move into tough neighborhoods and listen for Jesus knocking.

Give us wisdom and insight into how we can use the power we have in the communities and pulpits we have to confront and dismantle the policies, narratives, fears and suspicions that are literally deadly.

Teach me that guilty feelings are not penance.

Teach us that how we act is more important to you than how we feel.

Teach us that how we act, specifically toward those with the least power, individually and collectively, is more important than how we feel.

Teach us that the sacrifice you desire is not white guilt, but concrete acts of love, inclusion and empathy.

Inspire us to see where those can fit into the lives and relationships we have today.  Where they don’t fit, pry us open.

Make new cracks in our defenses.

Graft us into the communities who are suffering.  Make their suffering our suffering until we are one body bearing witness to your oppression, your torture and death at the hands of the state police.

Lord, take off the masks our culture and our history have hung on us.  Let us recognize each other and see ourselves the way we really are.

We ask these things in the crucified name of Jesus.
This prayer is an invitation to add your prayer to my own, where you live, in your church, in your town. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gay People, the Bible and the Church:

How the Bible and the Communities who Interpret it Face Social Change Faithfully

 Fireside Class

For the past few years I've had the privilege of leading a weekly adult bible study class at my church, Altadena Baptist.

The Fireside class meets in the basement by a non-functioning fireplace Sunday mornings 9:45a to 10:45a.  We share prayer requests, pray and try to learn more about God each Sunday.

We've worked, together, to make room for the kinds of that don't always fit in Sunday school classes --the kinds of questions I call burning questions.  The ones that really matter.  The ones that don't go away with quick, glib answers.

We tend to pick a focus for the year and spend our weeks working through it carefully with lots of room for conversation and perspectives from the very different people who come to the class.  Last year we worked through the question: "What did Jesus do in the Cross and in the Resurrection?"  Before that it was, "Who is the Holy Spirit and how do we Hear from God?"  Before that: "Where did the Bible Come From and How to we Read It?"

This year (we finished the Cross and Resurrection late), the majority of the class has asked to talk about Gay people.  Specifically, as one class member put it, how it is that her gay family member can see herself as both a Christian and a gay person when it seems so contrary to the way she reads her bible.

About this Class

We announced the class in our bulletin and many people decided to join.  Many more who read our bulletin wrote, concerned about what we might be teaching and what resources we are using.

In part, I hope this post will make that more clear.  I also wanted to share my outline with the class as it evolves (I never get it ready in time to print it up before Sunday morning).

No Foregone Conclusions

A word or two about how I prepare for this class: 
First, this is not the sort of class where I'm going to tell you what to think.  I believe we learn best when we study with people who don't already share all of our opinions.  Further, I think God uses encounters between people who don't agree to open up fresh possibilities for both.  I have in mind Peter and Cornelius in the book of Acts.

I am not aiming for a particular answer or destination other than getting deeper into scripture, the Christian tradition, past and present, that is working to interpret it faithfully.  I like to present the breadth of what people striving to follow Jesus have come to understand and then hash out how that hits each of us in our own context.

Conversation Not Indoctrination

I want this class to get at our burning questions because those are often rooted in what we most value about our faith.  This means that I like to lay out a general outline for how we are going to look at the topic and modify it as we get into it and I get more familiar with what the class members needs and goals are.  That's a big reason I wanted to do this here, so that I can modify and update the outline as it evolves.  I'll do my best to tag updates as they happen, but we'll see how it goes.

Comments on the Post

I'm tentatively welcoming comments on this post but I'll prioritize my responses to class members.  If you do want to comment, please read section I. of the outline and keep it in mind when writing.  It's my blog so I reserve the right to decide if you are trolling or just not entering into the conversation with sufficient goodwill to justify our attention.  That said, some class members were excited about a space to ask questions outside of Sunday morning.

The Outline

I'll put the date and comments on each session below the content we covered that session in italics after the fact.  I'll highlight the most recent week's updates.

I. How we talk about this and how do we listen? In ways that are faithful to Jesus’s character?

A.  Agreement of humility and respect

  1.     Integrity: Do you know anyone personally who is Gay? Lets imagine they are in the room with us and talk the way we would talk if they were here.
  2.    We are all trying to follow Jesus: No one's commitment to the Faith or inclusion in the Church is in question.
  3.     The Golden Rule: Listen and interpret with the same charity that you would want to others to listen to you with.  When in doubt, assume the best, until you can clarify.
  4.     No ultimatums: "Either you believe this or you we can't talk." We are here to explore our differences and learn from one another.  This kind of talk stops that process.
  5.     Make room for minority perspectives.  Avoid ganging up.
  6.     What you say matters: "I feel" and "I think" doesn't mean people can't ask questions or ask you to explain or explore what you've said.
  7.     Our pasts matter: periodically we will devote time for people in the group to share their personal experiences that have shaped their perspective and questions on this issue. 
  8.     Own your statements, judgements and interpretations of others: "What I'm hearing you say is…" instead of "You're saying…" and "I feel insulted when you say…" instead of "you're insulting me when…" make room for us to clarify misunderstandings gracefully.

    Week 1: 3-16-14In our first session we layed out some ground rules for the conversation as this issue is so divisive.  We know we want to be careful in how we listen and talk.

B. What are our Goals? 

  1. Decide whether I would officiate at a church wedding if a friend asked me to.
  2. What do you want to answer for yourself?  For your friends and family?  What do you want to get out of this?

  1. Week 2: 3-23-14
    The class had a wide variety of goals and questions I attempted to combine and synthesize below.  Forgive me if I've not grasped the heart of your question.  Better yet: let me know.

    Class Goals: 
    1. How do we talk about faith with our gay neighbors?
    2. How does the conflict many gay people and many churches feel between one another effect gay peoples' ability to relate to God?
    3. How do we reconcile our perception of God's focus on judgement in the Old Testament (as in stories prescribing death by stoning for gathering sticks on the sabbath) with the New Testament's focus on grace and forgiveness?
    4. How does the Church obscure, hide or distort the gospel while trying to be faithful to it?
    5. How can we show God's righteousness and standards and still show the God's grace in a way that is welcoming?
    6. Since our feelings about our sexual identity are so strong, how can we be sure we are reading the bible faithfully and not in a selfish, self-serving, or self-justifying way?
    7. Are some sins worse than others?  To God? To us? If so, what are the criteria?
    8. Is being gay a sin?  Are sexual relationships between people of the same gender sinful?
    9. What does science have to teach us on this?  Does knowing more than the communities who authored scripture make us more or less responsible to use that knowledge?

C. Defining our terms

    1.  What do we mean by Gay?  LGBTQ(IA)?
Week 3: 3-30-14

    2.  What is gender? Sex?
Week 4: 4-6-14

 Week 5: 4-13-14
    Gender Continued: the challenge posted to gender as binary by intersex people born with ambiguity in their biological sex which leads to ambiguity in their psychological, social and cultural gender identity and often their sexual identity.  This can come from errors in genetics, missing or extra chromosomes, or simply a body in which the receptors for androgens, the hormones that trigger male sex charateristics to form in utero and throughout life, simply don't function.  Between 1/1000 and 1/2000 babies is born with some ambiguity in their sex and gender.  An retired neonatal nurse in our class confirmed that she saw these issues regularly, perhaps even more often and that parents often want to push the child into one sex or another based on what they can see in the external genitalia, but that this isn't always a reliable way of even discerning genetic sex.

We talked further about the current neuroscience research that shows different neurological formation in utero along gender lines.  Male and female brains are observably different in their internal structure.  This complicates gender formation further because the hormones present in the mother's uterus in the second trimester play in shaping the baby's brain's development across a spectrum that corresponds to more stereotypically female, male a spectrum in between.

Though culture and language often push us into seeing gender as an either / or or a binary option, there have always been people with us who don't fit easily into either.  Some identify as intersex, others as gender queer, still others as transgender.

These are among the people we want to pay attention to because our culture has not and because they are speaking about their experience in ways they've not been able to prior.

    3.  What is marriage?
    4. Issues to investigate: Gender, Sex, marriage, homosexuality
    5. Other Issues? We'll take these Issues and the definitions we flesh out forward.

II. What does the Bible say about these issues?

III. What does the Christian Tradition in the PAST say about these issues?

IV. What does the Global Church TODAY say about these issues?

V. Implications

A.  marriage
B.  ministry leadership
C. Christian unity
D.  Adoption
E.  Separation of Church and state
F. Theology of Sexuality

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gospel & Narrative Exhibit Featuring My Work

The Exhibit

Some of my larger visual art pieces have been included in an exhibit. Fuller Seminary’s Brehm Center for theology and the arts is hosting their annual Brehm Lectures focused on the theme: Gospel and Narrative.

My friend and neighbor, Maria Fee invited me to contribute some pieces I’ve been doing focused around the narrative of my Father and how his life intersected mine. Regular visitors of this site will have seen one or two of the pieces but at least one hasn’t been posted online.

We are hosting a reception on Tuesday. I and some of the other contributing artists will be attending. They have some strong work and each contributor is working with distinct media and methods.

The Gospel & Narrative Exhibition

October 29, 6:00–8:00PM
David Allan Hubbard Library
135 N Oakland Ave, Pasadena

Parking Map: You can almost always park free in the lot near Travis Auditorium.
The library is located in the Southwest corner of campus.

I hope you will drop by and say hello. I’ll be happy to talk about any of the pieces, the different processes I used to make them and what stories I think they tell, though I’m just as eager to hear how they hit you in your own story.