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.

 

Monday, December 2, 2013

A PRAYER FOR WORLD AIDS DAY



PRAYER FOR WORLD AIDS DAY
Loving and gracious God, as we begin this observance of World AIDS Day, we pause to gather our spirits together as One. We are a people who have walked through the wilderness of disease and uncertainty, of loss and grief.  In the years since HIV/AIDS first impacted our world, we have had our hearts broken in more ways than we can count. We have companioned loved ones through their final days, holding them, crying with them, tending to their needs with great love and tenderness.
We ask you to share your love and tenderness with us. For even as tremendous strides have been made in battling this disease, there are times when we, too, need a loving touch, a warm embrace, a word of hope.
We come this day to remember: we remember those early years of the epidemic when it felt like all we were doing was going to funerals; we remember the many friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short too soon, whose names are inscribed on our hearts; we remember the strength of a community that found its voice and power, to not only care for the dying but fight for the living; we remember in spite of the fear those who acted up and spoke out to get the attention of a nation that preferred to ignore the disease; we remember courageous lives, moving through their final days with dignity.
We come this day to renew ourselves, to sit in the tranquil beauty of this place and remember that life and death and new life are a continuous cycle found not only in the natural world but also the spiritual world. We come bringing our sighs that are too deep for words into this observance, knowing that here our weary souls might find rest; we come to gather again as a community that has learned the truth: that we can do more good in the world together than we can alone.

Through remembering and renewal, we find the strength, power, and inspiration to recommit ourselves in the battle against HIV/AIDS, for there are still so many who suffer. Because of fear and bigotry, because of poverty and politics, too many face this illness alone, without the support of loved ones, without education or needed medications. We come together to stand in solidarity with those around the world, who are in need of the work of our hands and the labors of our hearts.
We remember this day the child in South Africa, the young person in Brazil, the woman in Southeast Asia, the man in the Tenderloin. For them, for all those who have passed, for those who live with HIV/AIDS, for at-risk and vulnerable communities, we know that we must continue to make education and health care accessible and affordable for all, to work for a world of zero discrimination, zero new transmissions, zero aids related deaths, and to eradicate of the stigma of AIDS.
Be with us as we honor the heroes and sheroes among us, knowing that there are countless, nameless others who have lived lives of service and compassion without hesitation or reservation. May we, too, stand as tall and strong as the trees that surround us, may we allow our light and love to shine in the darkest places, rekindling connection and hope. In this way, may healing and wholeness spill from our hearts to those in need.
Our Holy Friend and Comforter, we pray in the assurance that you hear all our prayers, whether spoken aloud or held in the quiet place within our hearts. Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Welcome, Everyone?

When I was the associate dean at Pacific School of Religion, I attended Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley. It was an odd thing to move from the pulpit to the pew and be a worshipper rather than a leader. It provided a perspective that I am grateful for, now that I have moved back to parish ministry.

I hadn't realized how hungry my soul was for spiritual nourishment, which was usually fulfilled within the first five minutes of worship, when the children came forward and sang, "Welcome, everyone, to the love of God!"

I was so grateful to be a part of a church that truly embraced these words. God's love was extended to a diverse congregation that included people of all races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities. Families of all sorts were welcomed to be a part of this faith family. And, after one glance around the sanctuary by the end of the song, all knew that they were embraced by the love of God.

This week was not a good news week for The United Methodist Church. Rev. Frank Schaefer, a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, was tried, convicted and sentenced for extending the love of God to his son. There is a cognitive dissonance that runs deep in that last sentence. One of the greatest joys of a parent is to see their child get married. That joy is heightened for clergy parents, who sometimes get the great honor of performing the ceremony. All that a parent has tried to convey about God's gift of love is wrapped up in that moment when their child says, "I do."

Welcome, everyone, to the love of God.

While most pastors would get a round of congratulations from their bishop and colleagues for officiating at their child's wedding, Rev. Schaeffer got slapped with a complaint which led to the trial, simply because his son happens to be gay.

The language the prosecution used this week has done nothing to extend the love of God and neighbor. In fact, fear has replaced love as the blessed tie that binds United Methodists together: the prosecution requested that the jury consider a penalty severe enough "so that other clergy fear breaking the covenant."

Any covenant that rests on fear instead of love deserves to be broken. Covenants--whether between two people bound together in marriage or clergy uniting to an Order--are always grounded in the love of God. The purpose of covenant is to help us remain rooted in this love and to help us express it in all that we do. Using fear as a way to force another to conform to a certain behavior has nothing to do with covenant and everything to do with abuse.

The prosecution and trial jury has made it clear: not everyone is welcome to the love of God. How can a church, which is founded on an understanding of the depth of grace and the wideness of God's mercy, live with this distortion of our theological heritage? 


I stand with thousands of other faithful United Methodists, who will continue to live into the fullness of a love-based covenant. I will continue to be a pastor to every member of my congregation, to help them experience and express God's love in their lives and relationships. I will marry couples who have found God's blessings in the love they share together. I will not allow fear to destroy covenantal love. 

Today, I am so grateful for the children who sang to me every Sunday at Epworth: Welcome, everyone, to the love of God. They remind me why this work and witness is so important.They give me strength for the journey. Let the children lead us again!

Welcome, everyone, to the love of God.

Monday, October 21, 2013

THE MASKS WE WEAR

A little preview for Sunday's sermon:


Are you ready to give up your mask and live into your best self yet?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A PRAYER FOR THESE DAYS





God of our weary years, God of our silent tears
 
God of Trayvon Martin, God of George Zimmerman, God of countless brown and black men who have been profiled, gunned down, locked up.

We are weary O God and we have wept too many tears. It is a nation’s shame when justice is meted out to some but not to all. It is a nation’s shame when the killer of an unarmed teenage boy is not only given his freedom but his gun. It is a nation’s shame that there is not more outrage in our streets, in our political chambers, and in our churches.

We know that each one of us is created in the image of your image, O God, your  fingerprint resides on every face of every race in every corner of this earth. With your strength, we commit ourselves to protecting the dignity and worth of every child of God, and we will not rest until liberty and justice for all is not just a lofty dream but a reality in this land.

We will continue to march, to speak out, to protest, to show up, to tell the stories of racial profiling and oppression. We will continue to cross lines that have divided us from each other, so that together we can push back the evil isms that destroy beloved community.

We will lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with harmonies of liberty.
 
We will not forget Trayvon Martin, and all the unnamed young people lost to violence. We will continue to work for justice,

We will march on till victory is won. Amen.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A LOVE GREATER THAN LAW

On Monday, May 6, 2013, a New York Times article reported on the complaint against Dr. Tom Ogletree for performing his son's wedding. What should be reserved as a day of celebration has turned into a charge of disobedience because Dr. Ogletree's son is gay: The United Methodist Church forbids pastors from performing "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions."

A "clear issue of simple justice" has become convoluted double-speak for the church, The church cannot call for lgbt equality and justice in the world and give the same group of people second class status in the church. But that is exactly what the church has done. And as lgbt equality is fast becoming the law of the land, the church is growing increasingly out of step with a world that values dignity, diversity, and right action.

As I write this, Delaware has become the 11th state to legalize marriage between same sex couples, and Minnesota is poised to be number 12. Currently, 48% of Americans live in states that offer legal rights/protections for gay and lesbian couples.  As more politicians come out in favor of marriage equality and more than 50% of Americans support this movement, it is clear that the tide has turned in the US, and marriage equality will eventually be the law of the land.

It doesn't take a statistician to predict that this will result in more gay and lesbian United Methodists asking their pastors to officiate at their wedding and that more and more pastors will say "I will".  No church law can stop love. There will be more and more Tom Ogletrees, clergy of glbt children who will turn their back on the church's injustice and without hesitation will officiate at their child's wedding. And there will be more and more United Methodist pastors who will consider it yet one more vocational honor, to bless the union of two committed people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.


The Wedding of Dan & Bill 2004
Bethany UMC San Francisco
The crisis in the church is not that people are breaking the "law". Jesus models to us that laws that cause harm to God's people are to be disregarded.  The crisis is that the church is failing to understand how it has perpetuated harm against God's glbt children. Bullying, physical violence, emotional violence, spiritual violence, murder, and suicide are all related to the church's inability to embrace fully lgbt persons.  As long as The United Methodist Church has "laws" on the books proclaiming lgbt persons "incompatible with Christian teaching" it will continue to have blood on its hands.

The deeper crisis is the church's failure to recognize God in the midst of love. Scripture tells us that God is love. When marriages were legal in San Francisco in 2004, God was EVERYWHERE! I, who have been trained as a United Methodist elder, had never before encountered God so fully as those beautiful weeks when love was celebrated, covenanted, blessed and licensed! The City was brought to a whole new level of joy, as complete strangers stopped to give flowers to newlyweds, as offices shut down to throw wedding showers, as parents dropped everything to fly into SF to be at their children's sides for the most important day of their lives.


If the church can't recognize this as something holy and true, one has to wonder: what in God's name is wrong with the church?