Diversity

Worship: Making Space for Everyone

By Audrey Connor

It was the fourth and final day of the Gay-Christian Network Conference.  I was there, thanks to an invitation from a friend, to share in the leadership of the Women’s Retreat portion of the conference. I have never been around so many gay people in my life. Nor have I worshiped with so many evangelical Christians. There were many surprises in store for me through the weekend, but the biggest surprise for me was the final worship. They shared that this last worship would be “liturgical”.  I discovered that this meant worship closer to my tradition. As soon as it began, I was amazed by how much that worship allowed me to breathe in God.  For the first time during the conference, I felt myself let go of my surroundings and sink into the presence of God. The liturgy spoke to me in ways that I suspect the liturgy was speaking to the evangelical people the previous nights and mornings.  

Thank you God for this space, I heard myself murmuring to God through my personal prayer. I accessed parts of myself that are normally difficult to bring to my own consciousness, and I worshiped God with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    This is worship, I said to myself.

I am home from the conference and trying to make sense of those four days. As a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, I am grateful for the ability to say to LGBTQI people with authority that God Loves You, No Exception.  (This became an unofficial motto at the last congregation I served as Family Life Minister.)  I am also grateful as a lesbian Christian for a mom who inculcated me with this theology from a young age.  I shared with the women at the conference that for me, coming out was difficult enough without a spiritual landscape that condemned me as sinful.  The spiritual maturity to claim my identity as a beloved child of God and as a gay person would have been much more difficult.

At the same time, I feel incredibly disappointed by my denomination.  So often my beloved mainline denominational saints both clergy and lay will say things like:

 “We don’t want to be the gay church.” 

Or 

“If a person needs a church like that [meaning LGBTIQ affirming], then he or she should go to _______ congregation in our community that is Open and Affirming (or More Light or Reconciling or Welcoming or Whatever-language is being used for that place).”

    Or

“We are not ready for telling people that it is okay to be gay – maybe in time…  The older generation would not be pleased.”

And I want to believe they are right.  

I want to believe that the Spirit is greater than our resistance.

I want to believe that God will help us figure it out.  

I want to give permission for people to discern at their own speed.  

And I want to give thanks for those churches that have figured out how to minister to the gay niche, and to believe that it is enough.

        But it gnaws at me.  I know it isn’t true.

I knew it wasn’t true when I ministered at one-of-the-only open and affirming churches in Lynchburg, Virginia.  People often came to me as the minister of the open and affirming church wanting help.  They needed help learning how to read scripture and accept themselves as gay and Christian.  This was the pattern: such said person would come to church, find people to be in conversation about this topic, find books to read, discern with other Christians on the journey, and then – they would leave.  

    Worship just does not feed me, I heard once from a person.

    There is no one my age, another person said.

And ultimately, they would dissolve somewhere into the body of Christ – but not my congregation.  I ran into one of these people who later confessed to me that she really preferred a more evangelical worship.  She said there was no place in town she felt comfortable worship in her style so she stays home Sunday mornings.  There is no doubt, worshiping with a Hymnal is not the same as with a Stephen Curtis Chapman song.

    And here is the thing – as a minister, I knew it did not necessarily mean my congregation needed to change its worship.  In fact, there is nothing I wanted to change in our worship per se. I knew that the church I served agreed upon the worship that fed them.  I could tell you the people who loved the organ.  I knew the members who loved the choir, and I knew how many people loved the ritual (including me).  I knew that making ourselves more “free” in worship would not serve our needs.  This is how I made sense of those people and their comments: I decided that ministering to people with questions about sexuality and faith was simply part of our church’s mission in the world.  And like serving people at the soup kitchen, the point was not to put people in pews; instead, it was to share God’s love and exercise our faith.  I gave thanks for the ones who found their way into our community and our pews, but I refused to measure the mission of reaching out to that population by counting their membership.

*****

    It was on that Sunday morning of the GCN Conference that I finally got it. I always feel like a bonehead when I hear God speak; God’s message is usually so very obvious.  Here is what I heard God saying:

 If the church is really going to minister to LGBTQI people who are wounded by the church itself, then all the church must make public welcome for LGBTQI brothers and sisters in all congregations.  We can’t confine Christian welcome to the handful or one church in town that we know is welcoming to our LGBTQI brothers and sisters.  We must extend the welcome to everyone.  Otherwise we are missing the boat.  

Here is why: Worship is the place congregations are uniquely called to practice the living relationship with God and God’s community.  When our worshiping communities do not extend welcome to LGBTQI people, they will be absent.  And that is sad for them as well as the church.  They need to come face to face with themselves and God, and their church families need their growth to grow too.  The lone Open and affirming churches cannot be all things to all LGBTQI people.  There must be as many churches as there are as many kinds of LGBTQI believers.  Because here is the thing – sexuality is not a Disciple of Christ thing, it is not a Presbyterian thing, a United Church of Christ thing, a Unitarian-Universalist thing, a Methodist thing, an Evangelical thing, or a Catholic thing… Sexuality is part of all of us.   We all have non-heterosexual members struggling with how to live in a homophobic world. And most of us have non-heterosexual members wishing we had a church community with which to share that struggle.  While O&A Disciples can minister to evangelicals, it doesn’t mean they can make them Disciples.  While some Presbyterians can find a safe space at an Metropolitan Community Church, it does mean that those Presbyterians will ever really feel fed in that MCC worship.  And while I wished to God I could get into the evangelical worships the first three days of the conference, it was the last day that I finally felt at home with my Christian brothers and sisters (no doubt a lot of those people hated it!).  It made me both thankful for a local congregation I can worship, and ever-aware of the loss so many LGTBQI brothers and sisters experience who have none.

So this is my plea to all ministers and lay-leaders in every denomination and each congregation – please remember that this struggle for inclusion in the church for LGBTQI brothers and sisters is yours.  It is not just something that can be passed off to the progressive United Church of Christ church in your town, or the progressive Episcopal church in your city.  I guarantee there are many whose hearts will only be yours and depend on your openness to the Spirit.  And if your congregation does not have the courage to confront the resistance of fear and the misreading of the Bible, those LGBTQI members’ hearts will ache and most probably not find a home in another church family.  I write to you to ask you to consider if you were banished to worship with Christians that you do not jive with – would you show up Sunday morning?  And if you wouldn’t, how would that affect your life?  Your family?

Just imagine if we, who love the church, found the courage not only to love God out-loud, but to love all of our neighbors out-loud.  I believe our church would be changed, and our brothers and sisters who need to hear the love of God would find the space to journey with a real relationship with God in community.

 

Recommending Wilderness Blessings

By: Rev. J.C. Mitchell

Not that many years ago, my wife and I went for an ultrasound which left us scared, and we were given an appointment for another ultrasound at the hospital with a skilled doctor who simply analyzes visual pictures created by sound waves.  The worry was that there were two markers of Down syndrome.  Being clergy, we shared this fear in prayer at the church we attended together in the evening, after working at our respective morning churches.  A retired minister came up to me in fellowship time and was pastorally navigating this raw situation.  This wonderful man, David, was sharing very carefully that all people are people, when I said to him we are not mourning having a child with special needs, we are mourning the loss of our perfect dream and admitting we are scared, for no matter what, this is our child.  He smiled and said, “You will be good parents.”  At that hospital appointment, we found out that there was no reason to be concerned, but I am glad we had that moment, for I believed it helped us as parents to deal with our son’s autism which became obvious when he was about 18 months.  We had this cathartic moment to remind us that our fear is ours, not our son’s.  

There are many stories of children with special needs and often I share from my experience, but today I want to recommend a book by Rev. Jeffrey M. Gallagher, Wilderness Blessings: How Down Syndrome Reconstructed Our Life and FaithThis is the story of a pastor whose son Jacob was born with serious heart issues and Down syndrome.  Looking back through the Caring Bridge entries during the two surgeries of his son’s first year, he shares what it means to see the Body of Christ to include everyone through the lens of differing abilities.  Gallagher asks, and then admits by answering his own question, “So what makes Jacob’s story so special then?  Nothing.  And everything. And that’s exactly the reason why I felt so compelled to write this book.” (163)  I am so thankful that this very specific story shared is understood to be also a universal story for people with different abilities.

I must admit that I have been obsessed with Theology of Disability since Gallagher’s editor and mutual good friend, Rev. Dr. Beth Hoffman, introduced me to his way of thinking at the same seminary Gallagher attended (he graduated the year I began). Now having a son with different abilities and a new ministry that upholds creating a loving inclusive culture no matter of ability, I would of course read this book.  Also, having had a sister that was born with a heart condition that required surgery when she was a young child, I was compelled by this story of” J-Dawg’s” (Jacob’s) surgery.  However, I do not simply recommend this book to people that have children with Down syndrome, or other different abilities, nor for people that know what it is like to have a child need serious surgery.

I recommend this book to those that do not, as well as those that do have a child with different abilities. So often I talk about the theology of disability to pastors and lay people at conferences or coffee shops (or anywhere I go), and generally the response is to reply “that is interesting.”  Then they tell me some sort of success story they know, either in their church or another.  I listen intently because I love success stories, but I try to bring it back to why it is important to actually understand what it means to be an Open and Affirming church, which is not simply to be for equal marriage.  Don’t get me wrong--I like the success stories, but I recall once when serving in Massachusetts a youth saying we are not racist in that state because we elected Deval Patrick governor.  I know that is a success story, but I also know there are still systemic racism in the Bay Colony. 

Jeffery Gallagher engages the reader through this very tough first year in the raw entries from the Caring Bridge page.  He also brings in other future events up to the current reality, and leads the reader to understand what it is to have a child with special needs.  While not all have such life threatening surgeries, it is a story that resonates with the reality of raising a child that has different abilities.  Gallagher admits, “Looking back on these posts has revealed just how much of Jacob’s journey at the hospital is a metaphor for the life that we have lived with him.” (137)  There are steps forward and steps backward, the uncertainty that is the only certainty, and advocacy is needed throughout Jacob’s life. 

Gallagher writes this story in a very compelling narrative for those that know nothing about having a child with special needs.  You will be drawn into a wonderful story of vulnerability and love, and gently introduced to the theology of disability, which will only enhance one’s appreciation of the church as a place of belonging for everyone. 

To purchase this wonderful book please go to Chalice Press Website.

Gallagher, Jeffery.  Wilderness Blessings: How Down Syndrome Reconstructed Our Life and Faith.  Chalice Press: St. Louis, Missouri, 2013.

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REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to... .........be free and independent; .........think; .........be curious; .........be intelligent and wise; .........value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge; .........be creative; .........grow and mature; .........live long healthy satisfying lives; .........live non-violently without vengeance; .........be generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - PDF FILES - to download and print REFORMATION II - poster size --- 11" x 17", 1 page (appropriate size for posting on the doors of churches and other institutions)

REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

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BIOGRAPHY Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English