O Jesus,
Image of the invisible God,
Word made flesh,
tired Stranger,
waiting in the noonday lull
at Jacob’s well.

Are we all
the woman with her waterjar,
bent on the chore of the moment,
angry memories in our bones,
our thirst for God
hidden in the business of the day?

Do you meet us gently too,
hardly recognized,
quietly leading our thoughts
towards the deeper waters,
where our souls find rest?

Probing too,
uncovering secrets
we would rather forget.
“Lord, you have probed me,
You know when I sit and when I stand,
You know my thoughts from afar.”

Is the woman,
sure and strong,
our reflection?
Sure but unsure,
strong but so weak,
seeking but afraid to find
our Saviour so close by?

O Jesus,
ouly faith can help us see.
Earthy, cautious eyes
miss the treasure in the field
in water and the bread
in faces known too well.
Only faith can help us see.

“If you knew what God gives”
you tell the woman.
No cleverness knows
or merit buys that gift.
Living water is Your gift.
You alone show us what God gives.

Say to our hearts:
“Come to the waters.”
Make us thirst again,
and ask, and seek, til we find.
How can we know
whose flesh and blood we are?
Or what it means to be born again?
Unless you help our unbelief

O Jesus,
who led the woman to believe,
lead us.

(author unknown)
——————————-

O Jesus, lead us with love for one another, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

O Jesus, lead us with mercy for those who despise us, as indeed you are showing mercy to Fred Phelps in this moment.

O Jesus, lead us as we minister to the sick, the hungry, the poor, and the hurting in our worlds.

O Jesus, lead the leaders in our world, as the Syrian war enters its fourth year, as the political situation in Ukraine deteriorates, and as in nations such as India and Russia and Nigeria and Uganda, governments enact laws that discriminate against and allow persecution of gender and sexual minorities.

O Jesus, lead us we pray, here in this place in these moments, that we would revel in Your love and mercy and in the peace that You bring.

O Jesus, who led the woman to believe, lead us.

I met Bruxy Cavey back in 1992 when I was involved in planting a new church in Brampton, Ontario. I was impressed with Bruxy’s enthusiasm for the gospel, his heart for people, and his non-judgmental approach to ministry.Image

A dear friend who now attends the church where Bruxy is lead pastor recently asked my opinion about this video.

Bruxy goes to great lengths to give clear Biblical guidelines about when it is appropriate to “divide” from other Christians (or from other religious people). I am not going to comment on the Biblical correctness of Bruxy’s ideas about this. I think that such rules of inclusion and exclusion are needed for human organizations to continue: the denomination that Bruxy’s The Meeting House church is a part of is just one such organization. Such organizations do not represent Christ (only people can do that); they do represent the people who are responsible for maintaining whatever religious structures exits. This does not make them good nor bad, they simply are. What might be good or bad is the impact those structures have on human lives over time.

For issues that do not come within the scope of the Biblical guidelines proposed by Bruxy for division within the body of Christ (paradox alert), Bruxy proposes a “third way,” whereby we can still be family with those with whom we disagree. He states, “I have to get to know them, get to know their heart;” this third way is to be used whenever there’s “a person who loves Jesus, loves scripture, and just disagrees, and we can be family together while we disagree.

It appears from the video that this third way approach has succeeded in helping The Meeting House to become a place where Christians of many different Christian beliefs have been welcomed, including gay and lesbian Christians. I thank God that there is such a place where LGBTI Christians can feel welcomed and accepted. The lesbian couple he interviews during on this video seem to cherish their memories of their time at The Meeting House, and they value their ongoing friendship with Bruxy.

Before I continue to respond to my friend’s question about this video, I want to first introduce The Riddle Scale. The Riddle scale is a very helpful way to assess attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. (I believe it could be a helpful way to assess attitudes towards any particular group of people who have a history of marginalization.) I like to add numbers to the scale, and a ninth attitude. So if I was designing the Riddle Scale it would be a continuum with the following stages 1-9:

1. Repulsion

2. Pity

3. Tolerance

4. Acceptance

5. Support

6. Admiration

7. Appreciation

8. Nurturance

9. Celebration

When it comes to attitudes to LGBTI persons, I believe the church in general has moved from maybe 1 to 3 on this scale over the last 40 years or so. So instead of being repulsed by and having pity for us, we now are tolerated and in some places accepted. I need to say here that I believe Christianity emphatically proclaims that God is at a 9 on the scale. Our Creator celebrates each one of us! (And that includes straight people too!) If this were not the case, I would have left my faith some years ago. (Indeed, if it weren’t for reading James Alison’s book On Being Liked, I probably would have abandoned my faith five years ago.)

I get the impression that if I were attending The Meeting House, as an openly gay man, I would be accepted. I would be judged as acceptable because it is clear that I am sincere about my faith, and I love Jesus. I would be supported because I have a right to be a part of the kingdom of God. (However, they might have difficulty tolerating my unorthodox view of scripture.) This is how Bruxy seemed to approach the lesbian couple he interviewed. In fact, I believe that Bruxy even admired them too: as result of applying the principles of “the Third Way”, Bruxy had gotten to know them and the friendship he developed with them has become stronger than any theological differences that might get in the way. Alas, I would have to say that Bruxy even had an element of appreciation for his lesbian friends. Why not? They agreed to be a part of his show, even though he apparently cannot support their choices. So, I would rate Bruxy in the 4-7 range on the Riddle Scale.

In the video clip, Bruxy also interviews Laurence, a policeman and a “just-war Christian” (The Meeting House is apparently part of a “peace” church, adhering to a non-violent approach to justice issues in the world). Apparently, Laurence and his family were supported by the church when they were in Haiti for three years on some form of Christian mission, in spite of the theological differences around non-violence. Of course, I wondered whether he would have received that support had he been an openly gay man going to Haiti with his husband. Whether or not any openly LGBTI Christians in The Meeting House would be trusted in leadership roles in the church is an important question, and one that glaringly was not addressed in this video.

So what do I think of Bruxy’s so-called “third way”? It is very similar to the way proposed by Andrew Marin in his book Love Is An Orientation. A third way approach is needed if the church is to become a safe place for LGBTI Christians to seek truth and ask deep questions at the intersection of faith and sexuality. Indeed, if I had found a church like The Meeting House ten years ago, it would have been perfect for me: It is a place that honours the Bible, appears to put some emphasis on holiness, and still would have welcomed me as I struggled to unlearn years of living with internalized homophobia. However, there would have come a time when I would have needed to move on to a higher level on the Riddle Scale.

To truly experience the love and grace of God, I need to be in a place where I am nurtured and celebrated just as I am. I need a place where I can move on from the questions of identity that proliferate at the intersection of faith and sexuality, to a place where I can simply get on with living my life. From the interviews on the video, Laurence was able to get on with living his life while being a part of a third way church. I’m not sure that LGBTI people could. Indeed, there was little evidence to suggest this, both with the interview with the lesbian couple and with New Direction’s Wendy Gritter.

Bruxy made it pretty clear in the video that there would be conditions for him reaching the level of celebration on the Riddle Scale. He clearly states his (or his denomination’s) expectations of gay people:

      “…God does not affirm gay marriage; we believe that same-sex attracted people are called to singleness and celibacy as       eunuchs for the kingdom, and we believe that’s another version of awesome. We are willing to admit that there are good and godly Christians who have come to a different conclusion  and we don’t automatically treat them as heretics or outside of the family to us and so we create that space to be challenged and work through it together.”

Excuse me while I throw up. Thanks for telling me what my calling is. And letting me know it’s awesome (just in case I had doubts about that). If it is so awesome to be a eunuch, why are castrations not at the top of the list of elective surgeries? We’re not “automatically” treated as heretics? What does the inclusion of that adjective mean?

No, Bruxy, I could never place myself under the leadership of someone who thinks they know how I should live. If this is a place where it is safe to have a conversation, then replace “we believe” with “I think”, or “what do you think about this”? That’s a true conversation. When the person in authority declares a quite rigid position, that tells me that the conversation that follows will be little more than lip service. The only interest is the appearance of unity, not a genuine desire to hear and to understand and to demonstrate Christlikeness.

A “third way” approach would have been a welcome stepping stone in my journey to fully accept and celebrate who I am. I believe this approach can probably be found in many open minded churches today. But it falls short of the gospel. The gospel that declares “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The gospel that says, “neither do I condemn you…”  (John 8:11). The gospel that shouts, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

I attend a church where LGBTI and straight people alike are celebrated and nurtured, just as our hetero siblings are celebrated and nurtured in most other churches. I tell people I go to a “gay church”. Maybe it would be better to say that I go to a church where all God’s children are nurtured and celebrated. God’s love is not conditional on our sexual or gender identities, not how we express our genders and sexualities. God’s love is not even conditional on whether or not we want to have a conversation about this. God is for us. And God likes us. And God’s love and mercy is for us. All of us.

One of the things I love about my experience of church at the moment is the questions. Most of the questions, for me, are of the contrast of what I once experienced as church, and what I experience now as church.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

This Saturday is the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which started in 1978 as a political march for gay rights. Back then, homosexual sexual behaviour was illegal in New South Wales, and Mardi Gras began as a call to end discrimination against people of diverse sexualities and genders. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news, and my father reacting to it. I don’t remember what he did or said, except that it was negative. Maybe he turned the television off. Maybe he said something about “what is the world coming to.” Whatever it was, I knew it was inappropriate as a 12 year old Christian boy for me to be curious about whatever that news story was about. As the years went by, and Mardi Gras eventually became an annual event, my curiosity piqued: I wanted to see the scantily clad men marching in this parade. I wanted to understand what this was about. I wanted to figure out why i was so drawn to this event, and so scared of it too. I dared not appear interested, however. I was a Christian, in love with God. I wanted most of all to please God and He certainly did not approve of this social change that was taking place. And He certainly wouldn’t approve of the wanton displays of sexual energy that were appearing on the television screen in our home.

Fast forward 30 years.

I now attend a church that each February holds a service called “Blessing of Mardi Gras”.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

“Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday,” referring to Shrove Tuesday – or pancake day, as I learnt to call it while living in Canada. This year’s “Blessing of Mardi Gras” fell on the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday, the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent, of course, is the time of “giving up” or fasting that takes place after the celebrations of Advent and Epiphany (Christmas). Shrove Tuesday was the day to end the time of celebration by using up all the fatty foods you might have around, hence the tradition of Pancake Tuesday.

So here we are at the time in the Christian calendar when we are called to be reflective, to sombrely look forward to the Cross, towards Good Friday and the crucifixion. Yet as a church composed largely of LGBTI people, we are more intent on looking forward to the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. A time for us to celebrate who we are, to say to the world that God loves gay people too. To say to the gay community that God really does love us and have a place for us.

As we reflect on the overlap of Mardi Gras with Lent, I am filled with awe at my God. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? To turn our mourning into dancing? Jesus gently rebukes those who would throw stones, refusing to let us listen to those who would say we have no right nor reason to celebrate. I hear my earthly father’s voice of disgust when he sees those early Mardi Gras parades on the late Saturday night news. And I hear the voice of Christ, gently questioning those who would throw stones, and giving power to the weak. I somehow believe that were my dad still alive, he would be find in his heart to be the follower of Christ he always strove to be. He would find a way to graciously accept and to somehow be proud of me. He would find a way to put aside his prejudice, his theology and his hermeneutic, and celebrate that his son and his granddaughter are going to march together in Sydney’s Mardi Gras. I would like to think that he would have begun to see that this celebration is one of freedom: the same freedom proclaimed by John the Baptist, the same freedom Christ came to offer. Freedom to be ourselves.

For the Blessing of Mardi Gras, we sing together the words written by Lee to TobyMac’s City on Our Knees:

As a family we are gathered here

Celebrating Mardi Gras right now

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

With the blessing take this time right here

To commit to make a change somehow

From a single action love builds

Fill the churches fill the world

Love of Jesus comes to save us all

Tonight’s the night for the sinners and the saints

Two worlds collide in beautiful display

It’s all love tonight, when you step across the line

We can sail across the void to a place where Jesus is

As we fall upon our knees

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Create in me a Clean Heart?

Tonight in church we sang this song by Keith Green. I was introduced to Keith Green by my high school mate, P, and this song was probably one of the first I heard of Keith’s. For years I was a “died in the wool” Keith Green fan. I owned all his albums. I tried to mimic his piano playing. I mail-ordered and shared all the tracts produced by his Last Days Ministries organization (there was one on homosexuality… I now have NO idea what it said). I wanted to be holy, as Keith undoubtedly was.

As my journey towards self-acceptance has progressed over recent years, I’ve shied away from songs like this one. To me, they represent the struggle to be someone I’m not. This song is based on Psalm 51, written by King David after his sin of adultery was found out. Until now, every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was imagining David repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba. Every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was praying for forgiveness for my own sexual sins. No, not just for my sins, but for my temptations. For my desires. Create in me a clean heart meant “please make me straight”. Please make me desire my wife. Please make me the person I think you want me to be. Cast me not away from your presence, oh Lord meant that if I wasn’t straight, I could very well end up in hell. Take not your Holy Spirit from me represented the fear that if I wasn’t straight, I could no longer be Christ’s servant in this world.

So I find myself tonight, in my new church, surrounded by gay and lesbian and other queer and not-so-queer people who accept me as I am… It all seems rather normal. And I’m wondering, why are we singing this song? I’m no longer sure what it means to have a “clean heart”. I’m not even convinced that there is a hell, apart from the hell that exists here on earth for many of God’s children. And I believe that as Father/Mother, God gives good gifts to his children. And he doesn’t take them away.

In some way, the rest of this psalm still resonates:

Renew a right spirit within me. The spirit of Christ, whose genuine love and acceptance and raw honesty changes the world forever.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. Let me experience anew the joy of knowing the presence of God in me.

….

As we took communion, I smiled as I watched a couple take communion together. These two men kissed each other on the lips as they walked back to their seats. I believe it was their first time in our church. Maybe it was their first time taking communion as a couple? I wondered what their journey to this point had been. What was it like to find a church where they can be open about the love they have for each other? Where their love can be celebrated publicly during that most somber of sacraments?

While this was happening, the worship leader was singing a different song:

Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, Why stand alone.

No need to fear, Love sets no limits,
No need to fear, Love never ends.
Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, trust me again…

This song, by Sr. Deirdre Browne, describes what I believe to be the heart of Christianity. It is how Jesus lived and loved. It is what the church is called to say and to be. This is the new wine, replacing the old wine. This is grace fulfilling the law, thus making the law obsolete. This is love overcoming fear. This is the freedom Christ brought to each one of us. Our shame might bring us to the cross, but our loving Maker takes our shame onto that cross and gives us each a clean heart, a right spirit, and gifts us with The Holy Spirit. We no longer need to fear, as David did, that we will be “cast away” from God’s Presence. It is finished. We are his. Just as we are.

Just as I am.

Naked Pastor, David Hayward, recently posted this cartoon:

http://www.nakedpastor.com/2011/03/09/cartoon-waiting-for-a-miracle/

I’m sure this cartoon resonates with most of us, but in different ways. My sister waits and believes for the miracle of being healed of cancer. My friend waits for the miracle of winning the lottery. For years, I waited and prayed for the miracle of becoming straight. To be gay just wasn’t good enough. For me, the miracle did arrive, gradually, as I learnt of the God who loves – and even likes – me, just as I am. This wasn’t the miracle I was waiting for – and as long as I allowed the values of others dictate what my miracle should be, the more I became a skeleton on my knees. There is a miracle for each of us: it’s the miracle of knowing that you are okay. Trying to change who you are isn’t going to change that. As Richard Rohr put it, “It’s all about becoming who you already are.”

I heard this story today… it so describes how many of us (particularly gay Christians) live.

On meeting a student on the road to Mecca the fabled Sufi teacher, Mulla Nasrudin, was greeted and asked:
“How are you, Mulla?”
“Perfectly, thank you. I’m travelling incognito” answered Nasrudin.
“Oh! As what are you disguised?”
“I am disguised as myself”
“Don’t be silly. That’s no disguise. That’s what you are!”
“On the contrary, it must be a very good disguise, for I see it has fooled you completely.”

I loved listening to CBC radio when I lived in Canada. I just logged on to their website, and found this program about how advertising has been used to change public opinion. There’s even a short segment about an Ikea ad – aired only once – that featured a gay couple. Have a listen.

http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/

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