Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What if...?: Hard Questions for United Methodists

Author Anne Lamott has astutely noted that “the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty”:

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” (Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

As we United Methodists approach General Conference, I have been pondering this quote. I have asked myself, “Where has my certainty caused me to stray from faith? Have I been willing to engage in the hard questions regarding my own understandings as I expect others whose views are different from mine? Am I willing to wade into the troubled waters of our beloved church and be open to and surprised by the Spirit’s work?”

I have been especially asking myself these questions in light of recent statements by bishops within our church. The bishops of Africa addressed our denomination. They highlighted two major concerns, global terrorism and homosexuality. These bishops have a front row seat to the brokenness, injustices and death that terrorism has imparted, reminding all of us of “the massive human rights abuses against innocent”

However, the very next paragraph chides the church for “drifting” away from this high calling for “God’s reign of peace, justice and freedom to all” due to the church’s pastoral ministry with LGBT persons:

“Over the past four decades, from 1972 until the present, we have watched with shock and dismay the rapid drift of our denomination from this Holy call to a warm embrace of practices that have become sources of conflict that now threatens to rip the Church apart and distract her from the mission of leading persons to faith and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One of such practices is the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender).”

In the United States, one bishop, Scott Jones, offered an unprecedented exit strategy to Rev. Cynthia Meyer, a lesbian clergywoman. Should the 2016 General Conference retain current language prohibiting gay and lesbian clergy from serving openly, Rev. Meyer will be asked to surrender her credentials and “[I] will explain the process foundin ¶2548.2 to a church conference of Edgerton United Methodist Church . .. to assess their interest in withdrawing from the UMC and retaining Rev. Meyeras their pastor in a new denomination.” Bishop Jones is taking the GC 2016 theme of “Therefore Go” quite literally.

So I have been wondering, what if our certainty is preventing us from not only living fully into our faith, but also from recognizing how others are living into theirs as well?

I have been asking myself, as I prepare for General Conference, “What if I’ve been reading the Bible wrong? What if God really abhors homosexuality? What if it is a sin that automatically excludes one from participating in the life and ministry of the church? What if the loving relationships of gay men and lesbians are not reflections of God’s love?”

Now, to those who hold a view of homosexuality that is more restrictive than mine, you, too, must ask yourself the questions:

“What if I’ve been reading the Bible wrong? What if homosexuality is one more example of God’s creativity? What if homosexuality like heterosexuality really is a sacred gift, and those who are gay or lesbian are equal partners in creating God’s beloved community? What if loving relationships of gay men and lesbians are a reflection of God’s love?”

If I am wrong, what has been the cost in welcoming gay men and lesbians to the table as equal partners with straight men and women? How have I failed as a follower of Jesus?
If nothing else, by welcoming LGBTQ persons to the faith community, I have offered a group of people that have been kept at the margins a chance to experience the love of God. In addition, the church has benefited from the gifts of those who have participated openly in the life of the church (let’s be clear—the church has, is, and always will benefit from the service of lgbtq persons who are called to make The United Methodist Church their spiritual home. No amount of legislation will prevent the Spirit from calling people--including lgbtq persons--to ministry within our church).

However, for those who currently seek to maintain the restrictive policies regarding homosexuality and The United Methodist Church, what if you are wrong? What has been the cost in excluding gay men and lesbian from full participation in the body of Christ as found in the UMC? What have we lost? What has it done to the souls of lgbtq persons, and yours?

I, for one, would rather be faulted for erring on the side of grace.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

NO HATE IN OUR STATE: Decide to Love

Transcript of a speech given at a "No Hate in Our State" Rally, in response to the homophobic message of Franklin Graham, in Sacramento, CA March 31, 2016:

We are here today, because we want to show the world that Franklin Graham doesn’t speak for all Christians. We are here today because we are committed to a state and nation where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons and their families receive equal protection under law as straight and cis-gendered persons and families. We are here today, because we will resist evil, injustice and hatred in all the forms they present themselves, and we will fight back boldly and beautifully through the power of love.

The Christian faith I was born into and have committed my life to is one that embodies the great commandments that Jesus taught: to love God with all of who I am, and to love my neighbor as myself. We are to love God with all of who we are: in the fullness of our gayness or straightness, in the fullness of our whiteness or our blackness, in the fullness of our abilities. There is no part of us that should be held back or kept closeted, away from God. And we are to extend the love that we feel about ourselves to those around us, whether they are like us or not. To do anything less, is to fail to live into the faith that Jesus has set before us.

For God is love, and love is of God. When the church, when a faith leader, when Franklin Graham fails to see or recognize love, yes, even that love between two men or two women, I believe they have failed to live into the faithful example that Jesus embodied. Love is the heart of Christianity. It ought to be evident in the work we do, the positions we take, the relationships we build. It ought to manifest in breaking chains of hate and shame that have ensnared our brothers and sisters from living into their full selves.

We who are religious leaders have a responsibility to let folks know that they are beautiful, just as they are, and never beyond God’s loving embrace.

Franklin Graham is not leading with love when he calls marriage equality “detestable”. He is not leading with love when he says that when lesbians and gays live out their love openly it is “moral corruption.” He is not leading with love he claims that lgbt rights and advocacy are the works of Satan.

I will say this: Franklin Graham, who is on a Decision America tour, is right: it is time to make a decision, America, but not the decisions he thinks:

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we continue to fan the flames of racism or will we live into the beauty of diversity found in the human family?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we ignore the cries of the poor or will we seek economic justice?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we allow transphobia to become legislated into law, or will we seek to ensure that every person be allowed to live into their full gender expression?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we roll back the great legal strides that the lgbtq community has made, or will we remain vigilant, so lgbtq children can grow up without fear, without shame, without bullying or violence?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we build walls that divide, or will we build crosswalks of hope at the intersections of oppressions?

I will not allow hate to fester in our state. I will stand up and speak out, on this day and every day, for justice, for hope, for love.

Will you stand up and speak out with me?

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Spiritual and the Political: A Reflection on the Colorado Springs Vigil

After Friday’s horrible shooting in the vicinity of a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, a vigil was held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church to remember the victims and to stand in solidarity with Planned Parenthood.  The senior pastor of the church, Rev. Nori Rost opened the vigil with these words: "We're here to honor the lives of those who were killed yesterday in domestic terrorism. We're here to honor thework of Planned Parenthood and stand with them in solidarity. We're here tohonor the amazing response of the Colorado Springs police and other responders.But we're mainly here to find comfort in each other's company. Together, we canchange the world."

Other speakers shared in their remarks about the need for stricter gun control laws and to protect the reproductive rights of women. One person in attendance got up from her pew and said to those in the church, “I thought we were here to grieve and mourn and not makepolitical statements." With that, she walked out of the church.

As a pastor, I have been thinking of the woman’s statement: was it appropriate to look to solutions in the midst of grief? Was the vigil the right time and place to talk about gun control and women’s reproductive rights?

When a loved one has died due to illness, accident, or old age, it seldom requires political and/or moral reflection—part of the cycle of life is birth and death. It is expected that we will eventually lose those we love—even our own life—through the passage of time. However, a death caused by willful intent is another story. Domestic violence—where one is no longer safe in the sanctuary of one’s home—or domestic terrorism—where someone seeks to inflict the most amount of harm to the greatest number of people, whether they are attending a church or seeking a medical procedure that is protected by law—has political and moral implications.

It is natural, even necessary, at times like these to seek, in the midst of our communal grief, communal answers to preventing future acts of violence. These moments, when we feel deeply the loss and see clearly that such loss could have been prevented, place us on  the sacred ground upon which our commitment to heal the brokenness within our community rests. It is imperative that as we grieve we find ways to move through it in ways that empower us. We need not be held hostage to evil that seeks to harm but instead we can live into our own power to join with others and find pathways to further peace, wholeness, and right relationships.

Make no mistake—all this has political ramifications. And perhaps it can be the most constructive thing we can do with our grief and the most loving act we can do to honor the legacy of those whose lives have been cut short to violence, especially at a vigil.

Liturgy, the ritual of worship, has as its origin:


"The Public work of the people done on behalf of the people." If our vigils are to have any true honoring of those who were massacred, it is that we join in the work that makes for peace in our communities so no other city will have to come together to mourn the loss of  so many. Let us end the unholy litany that continues to grow:
Newtown, CT
Aurora, CO
Colorado Springs, CO
May our vigils inspire us to honor the dead by seeking safe communities for the living.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pausing Before the Turn of the Page

Pausing before the turn of the page

As the New Year beckons, unwrapped

     May you see the potential of empty spaces on the calendar 

Not to be mindlessly filled with Musts





But as the places--

                              almost womblike in their hallowedness--










Are given the 

                         Breathing room

     to flourish in your life. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014



The events of this week are making it hard for me to face Thanksgiving. It’s hard to settle into the warmth of hearth and home when the world outside is filled with violence and injustice. I’m finding it hard to shut out the cries around me.

Seeking comfort, I found myself turning to a most unusual scripture for this time of year. It is one which is read right after Christmas day. And I mean right after. We barely say the Amen on “Joy to the World” before we encounter a most disturbing historical account of violence found in Matthew 2:13-23.

You see, Herod, who was a front man of the Roman empire, ruled over Israel. When Jesus was born, word got to him that others were calling Jesus the King of the Jews. He sent wise men to see the boy. Herod told them it was so that he could honor him, but really he wanted to know his whereabouts so he could kill him. The wise men, after laying their gifts before Jesus, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and Jesus’ father Joseph is always warned in a dream to flee with his family. When Herod learned that he had been outwitted, he ordered the murder of every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two. This is known as the Slaughter of the Innocence and fulfills the prophesy of Jeremiah:

A sound was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
    Rachel refusing all comfort,
Her children gone, dead and buried

Rachel, weeping for her children who are gone, dead and buried.

There is a steady drumbeat of violence in this country. A war has been declared in America, and the enemy has been labeled by skin color. A war specifically being waged against black and brown men. Ferguson or Fruitvale, New York City or St. Louis or Los Angeles or San Jose. Too many black and brown men have lost their lives by the very ones who are supposed to protect them.

I can’t get out of my head the sound of Rachel, Rachel who will not be consoled. Rachel who is weeping for her children who are gone, dead and buried.

How can we comfort Rachel? How can we push back on the pandemic of racism in this country, one that was literally written into the constitution? Earlier this fall, Glide’s Associate Pastor Angela Brown and I had a meeting in Little Rock, and we stopped into Central High School, a National Historic site where the Little Rock 9 broke down a color barrier and ignited a fire storm, simply by going to school. It was at the visitors center that highlights of the Constitution were presented, a reminder that from the very birth of this nation, racial inequality was the law of the land.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed this fact out in 1967, and his words are hauntingly true nearly 50 years later: “When the constitution was written, it declared that the Negro was 60% of a white person.  Today, another formula seems to declare that he is merely 50% of a person.  Of all the good things in life he has approximately one-half those of whites, of the bad he has twice those of whites.”

There continues to be a racial divide in this country, and it remains just as deadly as it did from the start of this country. If you don’t believe it, if you no longer pay any mind when another young man of color is gunned down, just listen for the cries of Rachel,  for her sobbing is all around us.

This is specifically for my white brothers and sisters: because for many of us who live comfortably and even blindly with the privilege that comes from our white skin, too many of us want to stick our head in the sand and pretend that we live in a post-racial society. We hear our black and brown brothers and sisters tell of their racist treatment and we often interrupt and say, “It’s not really like that any more.” Or “You should see what happened to me.”

Thank God that prophets like Jeremiah, who help us remove our blindfolds and unstop our ears, still are walking around in our day and age, because we need them more now than ever before. Hear these words from one of the great prophets of our day:

Racism isn’t an inconvenient social construct.  It is a deadly way to control others. Herod killed the babies of Bethlehem because he was afraid, afraid of Jesus’ power. So he killed innocent ones to keep himself feeling safe.

When we refuse to hear the truth of the lived experiences of others, we become Herods, exercising power over others as a way to keep ourselves safe. And as a result, there are a lot of Rachels weeping over the deaths of their babies.

I will never forget the day I realized that my walk in the world was different from that of my friend of color. In college, one of my professors (yes, one) was black. Every day he came to class dressed so dapper. In an era when jeans and flannel shirts were the rule, he stood out by his three piece suits and hat, even though he was only about 5 years older than the students he taught. He told us about how not once, not twice, but nearly every time he drove through the town to get to work, he would be pulled over by police. This wasn’t Birmingham in the 50’s, it was New Jersey in the 70’s. And whether with a colleague or his children, he would suffer the indignity of the police asking him to step out of the car for questioning. His crime? Guilty while driving black.

This busted open my world. Made me see my own privilege, and began my commitment to be an ally in the dismantling of racism.

But we still have so much work to do and it will require all of us.

From Birmingham of the 50s to New Jersey in the 70s to San Francisco in the 2010s. Just a few months ago I was nearly to the door of Glide when a taxi pulled out and one of our church's matriarchs--who is black--literally fell into my arms sobbing. I asked what was wrong and she said she had been standing at the curb at the Ferry Building for 45 minutes, trying to hail a cab. Literally hundreds passed her by without stopping. Finally, a white man noticed what was going on and asked if he could help. He raised his hand and immediately a cab stopped.

Rachel is weeping. Rachel is weeping.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had an interesting perspective on why the struggle for racial equality seems never ending while the gains in lgbtq equality have seem to leap forward in a relatively short time span. She said:

“Once [gay] people began to say who they were, you found that it was your next-door neighbor or it could be your child, and we found people we admired,” she said. “That understanding still doesn’t exist with race; you still have separation of neighborhoods, where the races are not mixed. It’s the familiarity with people who are gay that still doesn’t exist for race and will remain that way for a long time as long as where we live remains divided.”

Some have noted that while once the most segregated time in America is no longer Sundays at 11am, but it is noon lunch hour at work.

Proximity doesn’t breed contempt, distance does.  Proximity  breeds a familiarity that gives birth to  empathy.

How can we comfort the crying Rachels and make a world of opportunity and life for all people, including black and brown young men?

I was speaking at a conference recently, and one of the other speakers was from Zimbabwe. He told me about the traditional greeting in Zimbabwe which he says has no real English (and I would dare say American) equivalent. It is called “Chabadza” and it is always said when you pass someone and it means something like, “Hello, can I help?”

Unlike here, where we say without even meaning it, “Hi, how are you?” in Zimbabwe they mean it. He said to me,  “When we say Chabadza, what we mean is ‘Greetings! Let me stop a while and help you with what you’re doing. We will work together and we’ll talk a bit and then I’ll be on my way.”

Chabadza is the sharing of a moment, a participation in the task at hand and an acknowledgment that life is best when it is shared.

Life is best when it is shared. As long as we live in silos that separate us by our differences, we don’t get to enjoy the best of life and in fact life turns deadly for those who are feared because of differences.

What would it mean for you to practice chabadza in your office, in your community, as you walk down the street. How would your living change if you took the time to look others in the eye and say "Let me join you, side by side work with you, so I can learn from you and make your walk in this world a bit easier."

This is what it means to comfort the Rachels who are crying. This is our task as we work for racial equality. This is what we must do to stop the flow of blood of our young men. This is what is required of us as children of God.

Chabadza. Hello. How can I help?



Monday, May 12, 2014


Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

And so they laid down for a good night’s rest
Terrorists came in, they were taken in the night
Who will be their voice, who will put up a fight?
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

 Two brown kids walk home from school one day
Their undocumented parents work hard and pray
When they get to their home, Something’s not right
 Their parents are gone, they were taken by ICE
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

 A child is bullied in the school playgroundToo dark, too light, to gay, too round
The words they hurt, they cut like a knife
The only option she can see, is to take her own life

Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

A child is hungry and dreams of meat
But the cupboards are bare there is nothing to eat
This isn’t just happening so far away
There are hungry children in the US of A
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
here is the village?

We are the village!

A child now lives with a great deal of fright
Because her dad comes to her room at night
The very one who should try to protect her
Has now become a monster by being her molester

Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

There are kids in your apartment or living down the street
Their future already feels so obsolete
Won’t you take a moment, to let them know you care
It’s the simple things we do that wash away despair
Where is the village?
Here is the village!
Who is the village?
We are the village!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What a Difference a Decade Makes!

What a difference a decade makes!

Ten years ago today, I received a call from one of my parishioners who gave me the most surprising news: the City and County of San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses! He barely took a breath before informing me that he and his partner were on their way to City Hall and then asking if I would meet them there and marry them.

When I arrived at City Hall, it was as if I was stepping into a dream world: A line had begun to form as word got that legal marriage was now available to gay and lesbian couples. Gay couples, lesbian couples and straight couples were taking their places throughout the building to exchange vows. The joy in that building was overwhelming.

San Francisco was transformed during our “Winter of Love.” So many of our neighbors and friends were married. Many of the couples had been together for years, had even had civil and holy unions. Yet it was not until they received their marriage certificates that their relationships gained equal footing with straight couples: families who in the past referred to their son and his “friend” proudly claimed him now as a son-in-law. Co-workers who were indifferent after holy unions quickly put together wedding showers for newlyweds. It was clear that marriage was an
Officiating at the first legal wedding for a gay couple
 in a United Methodist Church
important step in the long road to equality.

By the time that window of legal marriage was over in San Francisco, I had married 9 couples related to my congregation. I had the privilege of officiating at the first legal marriage between a gay couple to be performed in a United Methodist Church. Our congregation joined the rest of the City in celebrating the way the love between a couple spills out into the larger community to bless us all.

As a theologian, I couldn’t help but see God…EVERYWHERE. The scriptures tell us that “God is love, and love is of God.” With the amount of love that was celebrated in San Francisco during that brief legal window, God was simply busting out all over!

Not everyone saw it that way. I soon had an official ecclesial complaint filed against me, for performing the marriage in a church. Mayor Gavin Newsom was derided as a renegade. The rest of the country simply shook their heads, “Those crazy folks in San Francisco…”

Ten years later and the Defense of Marriage Act is dead. Marriages have resumed not only in San Francisco and California, but in states across the US, with the number of states offering marriage to all loving couples increasing exponentially. And a review of Gavin Newsom’s political record has changed from labelling him a renegade to a progressive, forward-thinking Democrat.

The complaint against me was dropped, but now other colleagues in other states bear the heavy burden of choosing to be a pastor to all their parishioners or obeying an unjust church law that forbids pastors from officiating at the weddings of their gay and lesbian parishioners. For me, it was and continues to be no contest: I will always choose the side of love, for that is where God resides.