Inclusion

#MissionSummit2015

By Rev. Mindi

That’s an awfully a long hashtag. American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in using social media effectively.

American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in including our marginalized folks.

However, there was progress made at our biennial gathering in Kansas City last weekend. Besides more people tweeting this time, three out of the four general worship service preachers mentioned inclusion of LGBTQ folks. The first praised the SCOTUS ruling as a just and right ruling. The second said for far too long we have pushed LGBTQ folks out. The third said “If you have a problem with someone’s sexual orientation, go talk to Jesus.”

I know it made some people uncomfortable. I saw the walkouts. But I also recall sitting in far too many American Baptist biennial meetings and walking out with my lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender friends as they were told, from the pulpit, that they were an abomination, full of sin and bound for hell. I have walked out to comfort so many with tears from the pain and violence of exclusion. So for those who felt they had to walk out, I didn’t have much sympathy. As another friend said, “For now, we get to stay.”

For now.

We still have a long way to go. As Baptists, we believe in Soul Freedom, and that means that I cannot tell you what to believe, and you cannot tell me what to believe. It means that you and your church are free to determine your theology and your stances on issues, and me and my church are free to determine our theology and stances. That is how it should be. And at times it may be uncomfortable when we express our Soul Freedom in ways that bump up against each other.

But will this progress continue? Will the ending of exclusion actually happen? Will our LGBTQ friends feel safe in attending a Biennial gathering without worrying about the threat of vitriol from the pulpit?

We still have a long way to go. We claimed #BlackLivesMatter from the pulpit but have yet to come out with a unified voice to work on racism within our own congregations and communities. Many of us signed a statement pledging to work on anti-racism but met resistance from some who felt it didn’t do anything. Thank goodness our outgoing President viewed this as an opportunity and read the letter from the pulpit, and we can continue the work long beyond our Mission Summit. You can read the Epistle of Metanoia from the 2015 Mission Summit here.

We still have a long way to go. We have fabulous young preachers who shared their gifts in the Festival of Young Preachers and young seminarians getting ready to enter the search process, but so many churches are cutting back salaries and opportunities. There are pastors retiring but then staying on or taking another church in their retirement instead of encouraging congregations to take the opportunity to call a young pastor. And as I’ve shared before, our definition of “young” sometimes stretches well into middle-ages, leaving the truly young pastors still looking for a call.

We have made progress. I believe it. I left with a lot of hope for our future and actual excitement about attending our next Biennial “Mission Summit” Gathering as American Baptists. But until we call younger pastors, have younger leadership represented at our national gatherings and in our national leadership, and work to include those who have been pushed to the margins because it makes some of us uncomfortable, we still have a long way to go.

Hearing is Believing; Listening to Autism

By: J.C. Mitchell

 

It is impossible to be in someone else’s head, yet many people try.  People ponder motive and intention as if they can truly know what one is thinking.  It is often a cause of conflict between people and groups, because the perceived intention or motive is a reality to one, and all parties contribute to the confusion and delay, as they would say on the Island of Sodor, where Thomas the Tank Engine resides; bet you didn’t expect me to go there, but that is my point: people assume more than listen. 

All of this gets complicated for those on the Autism Spectrum, and thus I was intrigued by Jessi Cash’s Blog Post, “When I Overheard a Conversation Between My Son With Autism and His Brother”.  She was privileged to overhearing one son ask her other son, “…what is it like being you?” and the resulting conversation was very interesting and helpful.  So much so I will wait till you read it to go on….

Now you know why I referred to Thomas.   I would love to ask this question to my son; however, he is still struggling with communication.  Currently my son’s communication is limited to grunts, hand pulling, and his communication device, with an occasional verbal word; most, however, are a result of parroting or echolalia (scripting).  So if I asked my son such a complex question I would not at this time engage in an answer that would provide such insights, like that gleaned from the conversation recorded above.  

Nonetheless, yesterday as I was driving the car and searching for a radio station, I stopped on a song, for lack of anything better, and stayed on this unknown song.  It was in French, and sure enough I had stumbled on a French Canadian Channel.  The song was simply the opening for a talk show, and I kept on the channel since I was only minutes from home.  Having studied French in high school, and was even president of the French Language Club, I know some of the language.  I can usually understand simple conversations, and I will proudly tell you that I often confused those who are francophones when I worked at Les Trois Petits Chochons, but I couldn’t keep up the charade beyond basic orders and issues, and had to admit I was not fluent. 

So I listened to the conversation on the radio, and at times I knew what they were talking about; the weather, and a movie, but overall it was all a foreign language to me.   I could simply note when they were excited or reflective, but not what the subject was.  That is when I realized that this must be similar to what my son experiences.  He understands what we are saying in specific contexts and specific words, most of the same words I know in French (yes, no, ball, animals, colors, etc). 

I share this simple observation, because for that 10 minutes of listening to the program, I realized how frustrating it must be to hear the conversation, but not understand it, I too found myself wanting to the change the channel, but that is not possible for him.  He certainly understands more than he communicates, and this epiphany of empathy is essential for us all to attempt, even knowing the answer to “what is it like being you?” 



Practicing Inclusion

By Rev. Mindi

“Inclusive” has become a buzzword descriptor among churches these days. Perhaps you mean it to include LGBTQ individuals and families in your congregation. Perhaps you mean it to include people of different ethnic backgrounds. Maybe it means including people of different economic statuses.

Inclusion means including everyone. It doesn’t mean creating a special program for or a specific mission outreach to a certain group of people.  Inclusion means you actually include someone: you value, encourage participation, listen to and incorporate all people into your congregational life.

Inclusion is actually very difficult to accomplish. Most of us have the best of intentions but don’t actually follow through. Most of the time, our inclusion is actually under another buzzword, “Welcoming.” We throw together a welcoming statement and say we welcome all people. We might even go to the next level and say we welcome all persons regardless of age, gender expression, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic identity, economic status, ability, etc. etc. etc.  However, there are places where we specifically do not include people and we need to not only be aware but acknowledge this.

We often do not include children, whether it be in worship (though many churches do include children to a degree, but we still often send them out after the Children’s Message) or in church business. Sure, we might ask them their opinions or talk with them in children’s sermons about things happening in the life of the church, but rarely are they included in business meetings or given the right to vote (my current church is in the process of revamping its constitution and it still states that members have to be age 16 in order to vote).  We have our reasons—they are not old enough to understand, or they would just vote the way their parents did giving them twice the vote, or other reasons we pass off. We also don’t include homebound members (often still called “shut-ins” in the life of the church) because they are no longer able to attend.  Sure, we visit them now and then, but we don’t include them in the business of the church, or the worship, for that matter.

And we do not include people with differing abilities, usually. We assume persons who use a wheelchair or walker, or those who have long-term illness, mental or physical, cannot participate in the life of the church. Sure, we welcome them to worship and we may build ramps and make our restrooms accessible, but we often do not ask them about participating, assuming they cannot.

Can a person who uses a wheelchair still hand out bulletins and greet people? Can a child carry the offering plate? Can a person who is ill still help make decisions in the life of the church? Can a young teen have a mind-blowing idea that could change the church? Of course!

Look at your congregation’s practice of inclusion. First look at what you say about yourself. Then look to see what you are really doing. Who is in leadership? Who is involved in worship? Who is involved in outreach or other ministries? What is the diversity represented? Even if there is little ethnic diversity in your congregation, look for other diversities. Are people with differing abilities represented? Are people of different ages represented? Economic status? How do you include home-bound members and those who deal with long-term illness?

How are you practicing inclusion in the life of your church? Is it a matter of lip-service, or are you doing your best to include people from all areas of life?  If not, how could you improve?

Here are some recent examples from churches I have known that have made a change to practice inclusion better:

 

-Including a ramp for the choir loft so that singers of all abilities could participate.

-Moving the choir down to the sanctuary floor for the anthem so that others could participate who could not get to the choir loft.

-Inviting a young man using a wheelchair to collect the offering

-Including a teen with Asperger’s on the youth outreach committee

-Making all restrooms accessible and changing the signs to “Restroom” with no gender indication

 

What can you do to practice inclusion better as a church community?

Don’t Just Welcome--Create Belonging!

By JC Mitchell

I feel I am supposed to write on Sense of the Assembly Resolution 1327, “Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All,” that was passed at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and thus I will not.  Ok I will, but through another resolution that was voted on a little later that business session, 1322 “Hearing Accessibility for Participants,”  for the following reasons.  First off this resolution assumed the passage of 1327.  “What do you mean?” you may ask.  Well here are the first two “Whereases:”

WHEREAS, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) affirms the inherent worth of every person; and
WHEREAS, the Identity Statement for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) states “…we welcome all to the table as God has welcomed us”

See!  Everyone is affirmed and we welcome everyone.  I love that it emphasized exactly what 1327 emphasized, that all means ALL! 

Secondly, this is a much needed resolution to make our churches more accessible to all people, and the “therefores” that followed are simply statements that the General and Regional Assemblies, and local congregations, can be involved in including everyone at church.  It was truly a sense of inclusion at the Assembly with some great ideas for including the hearing impaired with follow up at the 2015 General Assembly.  I plan on bringing forth ways we have made our ministries more accessible to those with hearing impairments both in worship and on-line for the workshops for 2015 General Assembly as per the resolution.  

There are a lot of good ideas and help out there if you simply ask for help to include everyone in church.  But inclusion often stops at welcome.  Have you heard of the church that keeps voting down the access ramp, with the great reasoning they don’t need it because no one comes who uses a wheelchair?  (And actually they say “in” a wheelchair).  Well I have, just as I have heard churches that welcome everyone, including LGBTQI people, but say things like “we love the sinner but…”  We cannot simply include or welcome, we need to do the hard work of making people feel that they belong.  As Thomas Reynolds says, his test for inclusion is knowing that if someone is not present they are missed, and they miss the community; that is belonging.

So 1322 & 1327 were adopted, but we have work to do.  Did you know there was a Loop system at GA and Communication Action Real-Time (Captioning) available?  Did you know that some people were terrified of the ramifications of voting yes on 1327?  So get to work understanding there are many places we can improve making our table a table of Belonging!

I believe these Sense of the Assemblies are important only if we believe they do not end at the vote, and if we consider them all. Because all means ALL!

PS.  And I resolve myself to work on a Sense of Assembly, or perhaps an Item for Research and Study to challenge us all to make our table a table of belonging for people of all abilities, so if you are interested in helping construct that to challenge us all as these (and all the others adopted at GA) do, please contact me.  Thanks.

 

 

 

Let Us Pray for Belonging for ALL!  

Let Us Pray for Belonging for ALL!  

We Are the Church . . . Together

Rev. Kara Markell

There’s a not-so-old church song that says:

I am the church, you are the church
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

I believe it.  And most of the time, luckily, I feel it.  But right now I’m not feelin’ it.   I’ve been in conversation with many other clergy in my region, who, like me, will not be at the table when our church gathers nationally in a few months.  It’s not because I don’t want to go.  It’s because it has become financially impossible for me to do so.  And I don’t mean that I couldn’t raise the money if I wanted to.  I serve a financially stable church in the suburbs.  We’d probably be able to scrape the money together.  But what about my colleague who serves in another setting who doesn’t have the means of gathering those funds?  Are we really going to force our Youth to do one more fundraiser so they can be represented at the table?

The truth is, I kind of don’t want to go.  Mostly, because it’s not a good use of my, or my congregation’s resources.  It’s too expensive. I can’t justify staying in a fancy hotel for a week, paying airfare and meals, sitting in the air conditioning, listening to famous speakers, while I know that the table is incomplete, while I know that money could have provided food for  several families during spring break. And even more, I don’t want to participate in excluding.  Only some voices will be at the table.  Only some people will “be the church” at the assembly.  And this, to me, is unacceptable.

I suppose in some ways, it’s impossible, or at least improbable, to get every voice around the table. But that’s the goal, isn’t it?  And I pray that those who gather as a general church acknowledge who is not there.  Like Paul reminds us, “The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,” because “we are the church together.”   But, I think we’re saying it, without saying it.  In a year when a major resolution about inclusion is coming to a vote, will the voices of those we want included be there for discussion and prayer and voting?  I don’t know.  And if they’re not, we need to be honest about why that is the case and start a conversation about how, in the future, we can ensure that every part of the body of Christ is represented; how they are a part of the conversation and decision-making in our church.  

I am the church.  You are the church.  We are the church.  Together.

What kept me (a young adult) in the church

By Rev. Mindi

There have been a number of discussions, tweets, chats, blogs and other articles on why young adults are leaving the church.  The most recent was Christian Piatt’s blog post here.  He lists seven reasons to think about, but there’s another that has been nagging me for a while: authenticity. I grew up in a small startup church in Alaska, a church that I still have my name on as a member.  It’s a church that from the beginning did not imagine itself as a large, growing church, drawing in several families and youth.  It’s a church that set out to meet needs, starting as four families meeting together.  When my family joined a couple of years after it started, the church created its first Sunday School class for children.  Over the years, if kids came, there was a class, if there were no kids, there was not a class.  People didn’t panic when families moved or stopped coming.  The church simply molded into whoever we were at the time.

When I was in high school, we had a youth group for about a year, but then we didn’t for a while.  There were plenty of other churches offering youth activities and some families drifted there, and sometimes I just went along with my friends to other churches.  But the church recognized a need: there were few summer programs for kids in our area except for camps.  There was a camp our congregation supported, and the church decided that any kid who wanted to go to camp would go for free.  One year we sent 13 kids to camp—from a church of about 25 members!  But part of the reason we didn’t need a youth group, in my view, was that from an early age, we were part of the church.  We were encouraged to remain in the church service (the church actually stopped offering childcare during worship after my first few years there).  We were invited to participate in ways we were comfortable—lighting candles or reading Scripture or even preaching on occasion as we got older.  When I was baptized at the age of thirteen, a week later I was welcomed into the church and asked to serve on the Deacon board, the only board in the church.  There was no such thing as “Junior Deacon” in our church.  We were all part of the church together.

What I have learned from my small startup church over the years is to be authentic.  Too many churches try to be all things to all people.  They start up programs and ministries hoping to attract the kind of people they want, such as young adults, rather than just being themselves and embracing the community that they are.  As a young adult, I went off to college and attended a wonderful church where I felt the same kind of authenticity from the pastor and leaders.  They were glad some college students were attending, but recognized that we weren’t going to come every Sunday and that they weren’t going to be a big draw as the campus population was more evangelical and conservative.  But I do remember the finals week care packages they sent to each of us who came as we studied for exams.  I remember being given the opportunity to preach, both there and in my home church, recognizing my gifts for ministry.  I remember other friends preaching, leading music and book studies, working with children, or just attending worship and Easter brunch, because they were accepted as they were, and the church did not try to be anything but who they were.

My home church never became a big church, but there were young adults, older adults, and ages in between that have come over the years and call it their church home because it was an authentic church, and they were welcomed and affirmed as who they were, their authentic selves.

I have seen too many churches try new programs—if we move Bible study to a different time, they will come.  If we have a praise band play every 4th Sunday, they will come.  It’s like a Field of Dreams for mainline churches—and I distinctly remember the moderator of the first church I served saying, “If we just open the doors, they will come.”  But it doesn’t work that way.  This is reality, not fantasy.  And the best thing we can do in the church is to be authentic.

Stop pretending to be something you are not.  Stop trying to cling to a dream of the past when every pew was filled and you had multiple Bible studies occurring at the same time.  And please, stop targeting young people in the hopes that young people mean young families which means more children who can grow up and carry on the legacy you remember from your own childhood.  We can all see right through that.  Instead, remember that church does not start at the doors, but that we as the church must go outside.  We are the church in the pew or in the coffee shop, in Bible study or in the office, in the beauty salon and in the seat on the plane.  We are the church wherever we are.  If we start remembering that and start being ourselves, we can grow the body of Christ.  And we can definitely reach out to young adults, and to all sorts of people, if we are authentic in the world and inside the walls.

The "Family" Unit

Ever since this article by Tony Robinson came out in June, I have been reflecting on the church as family. Growing up, that is how I felt about my church—they were an extended family. In my ministry, I have often referred to the church as “The Family of God.”  There are still good uses of the metaphor of family.  However, I agree with Robinson that it’s time to rethink that metaphor, especially of how it has been mis/used in church circles. First, we have to understand that the concept of family and household has changed throughout the Bible and throughout our own human history, so to think that today’s definition is the same as it was even a few generations ago is a false assumption to start on.  Yet I hear many Christians objectify the “family”—the idea that there is a husband who is the provider, a wife who is the caregiver, and children who are cared for by the mother.  Every Sunday I hear of people who share about the morning’s worship service that praised the family and where the pastor taught that we need to protect the family.

Frankly, this is contradictory to the Gospel and to the New Testament.  Jesus certainly didn’t provide for or care for his earthly family (save in John’s Gospel where he asked the “beloved disciple” to care for his mother, who, probably widowed and without support would have needed someone in that culture to provide for her given the cultural barriers).

Jesus taught that “whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister and my brother” (Matthew 3:35)

Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:47)

And Jesus even proclaimed, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

The family unit was something never upheld by Jesus.  This doesn’t mean the family unit is contrary to Scripture or to faith—it means that it is not nearly as important as we might think it is.  This is Good News.

This is Good News to the stepfamilies, the same-sex families, the grandparents who raise children, the single moms and dads.  This is Good News to those who do not have children.  This is Good News to those who live together, friends that share homes, multiple families in one roof.  This is Good News to married heterosexual couples with children, interracial and multicultural families.  Because it’s not about how we live together, but that we are part of God’s Community together.

In the Old Testament, we do hear of God being called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but later God is called the God of Israel.  This is not the God of one person or of one family, but this is the God of the Community.  God is not just present with one individual or one family, but when multiple families and individuals and all people come together as a community.  In the New Testament, Paul often speaks of “households” which included not only the biological family unit, but the servants and caregivers and others associated with the family.  When one person became a follower of the Way, as in Acts 16 with Lydia, the rest of the household was assumed to also be followers of the Way, as often the whole household was baptized into the faith.  The act of faith was not one of the individual or the individual’s family, but of the community the individual belonged to, greater than themselves and family.

Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).

Jesus said this in the context of discipline and forgiveness within the community.  When we are in community, we need to be conscious of how our lives affect the well-being of the community, how our actions and decisions affect others.

In the question of equal marriage, posed in several states this election year, including my new home state of Washington, we would do well to remember this: it is not about the family unity, but how we live in community with each other.  When we limit rights to one kind of family unit, we disallow not only homosexual families but we are making a statement that there is no other kind of family unit that is acceptable.  It is clear that Jesus would stand against this hypocrisy.

Speak Christian to a “T”

This London Olympic coverage of course includes some joking about how the English language across the pond does not match what Americans call English.  Having lived in Northern Ireland, I can attest to these differences.  I remember on my first or second day going into a restaurant to eat.  I was confused about the layout and went and talked to a waitress.  I could not understand a word she said to me, so frustrated, I just left.  Not my usual way of dealing with someone speaking a different language, but we were both speaking English. I acclimated quite quickly and fully, as most people thought I was from south of the border, The Republic of Ireland.  There were certainly other instances of miscommunications. My flat mate was from Newcastle, and honestly many of the Irish had a hard time understanding her accent as well.  I remember one night about 6 pm she asked, “Would you like some tea?” and I said “no” thinking to myself I want something to eat.  About 15 minutes later I went into the kitchen to see she was preparing dinner.  I asked if I could have some, and she said, “I asked you if you wanted some.”  See, at that time of day, asking if you want tea referred to a meal, for I should have known that generally when someone was offering the beverage tea, you would be asked, “Do you want a cuppa?”

I am sure you know stories of miscommunications, which would have made the writers of “Three’s Company” consider them, but these miscommunications within the same language are frustrating.  This is what happens in Christianity often, and we assume we are speaking the same language.

Let me remind you that English on both sides of the pond works well, even if their petrol pedal is on the opposite side of the vehicle.  So why do some Christians that I know shy away from certain words in our tradition?  Evangelism, salvation, righteousness, sacrifice, etc. are example words that I sense have been dropped from many pastors’ lexicon.  I understand there are strong connotations, for some of these words do require careful use out of the Body of Christ, the church.  For instance, I will not go and greet someone by saying, “Hi I am from my Church’s evangelism team, and I want to make sure you understand the sacrifice Jesus made for the world’s salvation from violence, and we try to live a righteous life, so I hope you join us for worship.”  There is way too much baggage in those terms, and I am very aware of that.

You may say we need to reclaim the terms--I know I have said that myself.  Upon reflection, that attitude demonstrates defining my Christianity against another.  I just need to use the terms as I have learned from Biblical and theological study, while being aware when I am talking to those that know only the fundamentalists or media’s language of Christianity.  Let us be comfortable with our own speech.

If we are comfortable with our language, we are able to answer the questions and hang in there in dialogue with other Christians who are using a language that seems “foreign.” I know there are people filled with hate using that language, and I do not recommend anything but a smile and prayer for those individuals, but I have seen time and again Christians that explored the deeper and complex meaning of our traditional key words--they may talk the talk, but they also certainly walk the walk.

The best way to be comfortable is to use these terms without apology, while knowing these same words will have different meanings to other Christians.  Hopefully, we will find each other at the same table drinking from the same chalice or cup.

Father's Day Dreams of Dance

I have so many dreams for my son: theologian and New Testament scholar are on the list as well as swimmer and ballet dancer.  The first two are because that’s the family business, since my wife and I are both ministers.  The swimmer is because he loves the water and he has flippers for feet.  The dancer is because he loves music and loves to dance, and spends hours in front of his reflection trying to get the choreography (sometimes his own) just right.  To be completely honest, I am also a very big fan of the ballet, not that I ever was a dancer, but I like to dance.

I was pondering these dreams for my son as I rode my motorcycle to a clergy gathering, and then pondered how the ballet dancer has something to say about the role of clergy.  As an ordained minister I am constantly reading and discussing the Bible and theology-- it is my vocation, just as a dancer lives and breathes dance.  Good dancers train and have great discipline, as do good clergy.

I want to be clear that the art form of ballet is not the same mission as the church.  It is quite different, yet the art of dance is something we all should do in some form.  We do have professionals that give their whole life for the performances.  Many of are influenced by music and great themes within humanity, and some even by the Bible.  To this day, my favorite interpretation of Luke 15:11-32, “The Forgiving Father” was created by George Balanchine with the music by Sergei Prokofiev and titled the “The Prodigal Son.”

As a fan that is moved by such powerful performances by the dancers and choreographers, I am influenced to dance in my own life as well, to read body language and to move to the music, all of which is important to life.  I would be so proud if my son became a ballet dancer.

Without these professional artists we would not have the great performances that remind us of the great beauty of the human body and music.  That is one role of the clergy.  We are to demonstrate the beauty of the divine--but I do not simply mean during worship, as if it is a performance.  While I am pretty proud of my latest sermon and worship service, my greatest work last week was being with a woman who died with her family and friends surrounding her.

I was present and demonstrated love of God, mainly with the help of the Spirit, but my words and stance help me open to the Spirit: it is a dance. I must admit these pastoral moments are very emotional and very difficult, and the more I experience and even practice for such events the more graceful I become.

I think of the dancer’s pointe shoes.  The first time, she (or he, but usually a woman) wears pointe shoes, the pain is probably the only thing she feels.  Slowly it becomes part of them and they are able to dance and experience the grace and movement greater than the pain.

As ministers (laity and ordained) we are called to demonstrate the Grace of God despite the pain of life and death. I can picture the “Father” God of Luke 15 dancing to his son, the same God at the table where everyone is invited. Our ministry must be on pointe, that we need to show grace and affirmation to everyone, which includes the LGBTIQ community, for the church has caused much pain, stayed silent to many deaths.  We need to move beyond casually observing to actively participating in the dance, and to participate means to include everyone.   It may be painful for the clergy to say this (we may be afraid of losing membership, financial contributions, or other fears) but we must lead the church to the Grace of the Table, now.

My dream is to see my son dance.

Reframing "Choice"

Hilary Rosen’s comments last week about Ann Romney never having “worked a day in her life” may have created controversy but there has been a larger debate going on in the public political sphere for the past year, namely the “War on Women.”  From Maryland, where a few lawmakers wanted to cut Head Start funding because “women should be married, at home with the kids”  to Wisconsin where equal pay legislation was recently repealed and where one legislator wants to make it illegal to be a single parent and blames single mothers because it is the “choice of the women” and it is a “mistake” to the recent debates about birth control with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh’s comments in the media, to the number of anti-abortion and restrictive legislation that has been proposed across the country, from transvaginal ultrasound bills in Virginia and Texas to personhood law proposals in Mississippi and my current state of Oklahoma, including this legislation that was first attempted in 2010 and is currently under debate –originally designed to protect doctors from being sued for failing to disclose abnormalities found in prenatal screenings, the later version was part of the recent personhood bill as well. One of the key words in this debate/war/attack/whateverthehellitis is choice.  Framed by the Right, choice is negative if it comes to anything having to do with a woman’s body, privacy, or reproduction.  Choice is only positive when it comes to choosing something over the woman’s personal life: choosing family over career, choosing to stay at home rather than work, choosing to care for an elderly parent or sick child over other activities.  Choice is only positive when the woman is in the caregiving role and gives up of herself from that framework.

The truth is that for many women and many families this concept of choice as framed by the Right does not exist.  Many families need two incomes simply to make ends meet, to pay a mortgage or rent, to pay student loans or medical bills—these are necessary expenses, not bills like cable or gym memberships.  For most families this is not a choice, but a necessity, to have both parents working.

Some of the “choices” are framed by our society still running on outdated conservative views: it is still more difficult for a father to stay home and raise children than a mother.  In the first year and a half of our son’s life, my husband was in part-time ministry and I was full-time, so he was home more than I was.  We shared in child-raising and housekeeping duties.  However, if one needed to go out and run errands, it is much easier to find a changing table in a women’s restroom than it is in a men’s.  Play and social groups are often mothers with children; I know from the experience of my husband and of other male friends that even today that men who take part in these activities with their children are often either eyed suspiciously or viewed disapprovingly.  For my male same-sex friends with children, they are often hit with the double-standard of being both male and gay when trying to interact with traditional mom’s groups on the playground.

From my own personal experience, I am outraged over the proposal in Maryland to cut Head Start funding.  My family moved to a very rural location where we had to make ends meet on one full-time income (my husband’s) and I work part-time.  I work part-time because in this economy I have found it difficult to find a full-time job, especially as a female minister in a predominantly male-led social location (that is another article for another time).  As we recognized that our son had unique needs and was later diagnosed with Autism, we found that the best program for him was our local native Head Start program.  They provided the structure and resources necessary for his development, something I could not provide at home.  Many of the children in Head Start programs across the country are not there because their parents dropped them off so they could work and have more things; they are there because they have special developmental needs that cannot be met by a parent staying at home, nor can a parent afford a full-time daycare for their child’s social needs.  Head Start provides valuable resources for children with developmental delays such as my own.

Very few of the women I know ever chose to become a single mom.  Most had marriages or relationships that fell apart.  Some are widows.  This is not their choice.  The idea of enacting legislation to punish single parents who have already been punished by society is sickening.

Women don’t choose to be raped.  They do not choose to be abused by uncles and fathers.  They do not choose to become pregnant and have their own health or life threatened.  They do not choose to become pregnant and have their health insurance or job stripped from them.  They do not choose many of the circumstances that lead to a woman having to make a difficult decision to end a pregnancy.  And in all my years working with pregnant women in crisis, none of them have ever used abortion as a form of birth control.  It has always been a heart-wrenching painful decision.  I would not call it a choice because if there was a better alternative for their health and life—medically, psychologically, and otherwise—they would take it.

For many women, birth control is a choice for the betterment of their own health, and often it is a choice made with their partner/spouse.  It is a choice made for the family, a decision about whether or when to have children.

None of these are “choices” to be made by lawmakers, let alone self-proclaimed moral leaders.  It is sickening to think that a woman chooses to take birth control just so she can be promiscuous (what Rush Limbaugh accused Sandra Fluke, a respected law student, of doing).  It is disgusting to think that a woman should choose to make less because “men enjoy making money more” (one of the arguments used to repeal the Equal Pay legislation in Wisconsin).  It is horrifying to think that a woman would have a choice in becoming pregnant by rape or incest and then be forced to have no choice in remaining pregnant.

We need to be aware of the way the word choice has been used in the public discourse, but especially the way the Right has framed the definition of choice, used positively only in supporting a woman’s decision to remain home (which very few women actually have the choice to do) and negatively in any other scenario in which she might actually have a choice.  Of course there is no need to portray staying at home in a negative light—if one parent could stay at home with children, regardless of whether it is a mom or a dad, single or coupled—it would be wonderful for most.  It is one of the most important jobs in the world, to parent a child—but one can be a great parent at work or at home.  I know for my son, having Autism, staying at home all the time is not what he needs developmentally.  He needs to learn from social groups and have other adults interacting with him, speech pathologists and therapists and special aides to help him learn and grow so he can participate in society.  Thank God for programs like Head Start.  Thank God that I do have choices, though not framed in the way the Right would frame them.

We need to call out the framing of the word choice, the way it is used and defined by society and by the Right, and remember that the best way to have true choice is to strip away society’s old barriers (start by installing more changing tables in men’s bathrooms and/or having more “family” public restrooms—you can do this in your church!) and call out the way the Right uses the word choice.  Let us give the power of choice back into the hands of women, so that they can make the best choice for them and their families.

Shaping Authentic Ministers

A few weeks ago I wrote about why I as a young adult stayed in the church—because my small hometown church was authentic.  They knew who they were and didn’t pretend to be something they weren’t.  They didn’t go all out in trying new programs and investing in recruiting young people—they simply tried to meet the needs of the people already within the church, as well as recognizing the needs of the larger community they were part of.  I also reflected on the church I attended in college, how while I was there they recognized the best way to reach out to the college students was to be authentic—to welcome the students and their gifts and abilities, to not pressure students to come every Sunday, but to welcome and invite students to participate in ministry with their gifts and time as they could, and to care for the students in their needs.  For me, I remember not feeling guilty about skipping church during finals—instead I remember a wonderful gift basket during final exams week with snacks and a note of encouragement.  I have never forgotten the care and compassion. I was asked in response to that article what role authenticity in those congregations played in shaping my call to ministry.  As I think back to my home church that included me from an early age and to the church I attended in college, here are some ways being in a church that valued authenticity helped shape me in my call to ministry:

1. My home church recognized and valued my call to ministry.  I felt God’s call to ministry when I was thirteen, sitting in my grandfather’s church in Pennsylvania, and felt something inside me say “That will be you someday” as I listened to my grandfather preach.  When I shared this with my pastor a few months later, he was delighted, and made a point of including me in the worship leadership throughout my youth, in varied ways.  I was invited to preach on occasion, and not just on a special Youth Sunday or when we came back from summer camp (although I was asked to preach then).  In the church I attended in college, I was not only invited to preach, but asked back after my initial sermon which I know was terrible.  I was given another chance, and I remember my religion professor who attended that church telling me how much I had improved.  My first sermon there really was that bad, but this church loved me, encouraged me, and kept inviting me back.  They truly were authentic in who they were, and they were loving, forgiving, encouraging people.  Maybe my first sermon wasn’t as bad as I remember, but I know I was anxious and nervous, and this church continued to see a call from God in me and nurtured that call.

2. I learned first-hand about the challenges facing small churches and the reality that many mainline churches face today.  I was asked to serve on the Deacon board in my home church when I was thirteen years old, and I already understood how many who serve in the church as laity become overworked and burned out.  But I also learned how to become refreshed and that sometimes we take church life way too seriously and need to step away for a breather.  We do have a life outside of church, laity and clergy.

3. Church does not have to happen in an old building that has been in the same spot for 200 years.  Church can take place in a rented church space, in the basement of a house, in the back booth of a coffee shop, in the bowling alley, in the kitchen of the pastor’s house (where we made excellent homemade pizzas as youth).  Church happens where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name.   My home church changed locations a few times before settling in their current location (a house that they purchased and converted into a Meetinghouse; several AA groups and other organizations also use the building as part of the church’s ministry now).

4. Vision is something to be embraced, and vision can be renewed.  In my home congregation we went from trying to be a church in the traditional sense, of looking for land to buy and a building to construct, to renting space in another church and deciding that maintaining a building was not part of our ministry, to a future where in a nearby town we did decide to own a building and give space to other ministries.  But the vision continues to grow and change.  It made me less afraid of the major changes a church may go through in deciding to sell a building or move or changing its vision of pastoral ministry.  It’s just part of the vision process, part of change that all churches must go through and it is not necessarily negative and can be quite positive when the congregation embraces the process of co-creating vision with Christ.

5. Bending/breaking “the rules” and taking risks are necessary parts of the journey of ministry.  Chucking the sermon and having a genuine conversation.  Suspending/ignoring the bylaws because they don’t work anymore and no one remembers anyway.  Having church at the home of your eldest member because they can’t drive in the snow to get to your place of worship.  Being spontaneous and moving worship outdoors because the day is just too beautiful to spend inside.    Letting go of an idea for youth ministry and instead supporting another church’s youth outreach because it is effectively meeting the needs of the youth in the community.  Abandoning plans to buy property and build a church because you recognize the needs of mission and ministry are done beyond the walls of any one building, and yet are often done within the walls of the homes of the members of the church community.

These are just a few of the ways growing up in authentic community helped shape me.  To sum it up, I learned that by being authentic, there is little to be afraid or ashamed of.  Instead, all moments can reform vision, create new opportunities, and encourage spiritual growth.  It may sound cliché or even too enthusiastic to say that, but when people, a congregation, a church, is authentic, they are not afraid to voice both their concerns and their hopes and dreams, both their worries and their prayers and new ideas.  Authentic vision is created and something new is given root.  Even if that authentic vision leads to a church closing, resurrection is always possible—something new can be born.

All too often, churches put on blinders.  For churches that have existed for many years, a decline in attendance or membership can lead to panic or anxiety that leads to creation or adaption of programs without vision.  Often this manifests itself in creating programs to attract young adults or young families in hopes of recruiting the next generation to take the place of the declining generation.  It is a true bait and switch—the church puts out the message that they are welcoming of families and young adults but then wants them to conform to the ways they have always been.  It’s not always conscious it does this, but I have seen many churches attempt to grow by just trying to reproduce what they have always had.

The other most popular way I have experienced this is in churches that have tried to take on contemporary worship when it obviously does not fit.  If your church has primarily used the organ for the past one hundred years and within a few months you want to switch to guitars, I can tell you most likely it will not work.  Mainly because you are fooling yourselves.  Now if your congregation has been experimenting with different kinds of music over the past few years, it might not be such a jump.  But more importantly, if you have young families attending your worship already, it is not so much of a stretch to assume that they might actually like the traditional music.  And even if they don’t, they obviously don’t mind it so much as to leave and find another congregation—they have come to your congregation for a reason.  Find out why.  I can guess that it is probably because they have established relationships there—authentic relationships with others.

As a pastor, I have done my best to be authentic in my ministry, to not pretend to be something I am not and to not portray a church as something it is not.  But one thing I have consistently done is sought out young people who have gifts for ministry and encouraged them in using those gifts, both within and beyond the congregation.  I have encouraged preaching and worship leading among my youth and not just on Youth Sunday.  I have invited youth to attend pastoral visitations with me.  But more importantly, I have encouraged the congregation to embrace these young ministers as ministers—not just youth who are dressed up cute and have a nice message to give—but as called by God to be ministers.

I was one of three straight-from-college young seminarians during my first year.  Over my three years of seminary there grew to be more of us, but I found from talking with my peers that few of them were nurtured in a call from their home church.  They may have felt the call as a teen or even as a young child, but their home church did not give them opportunities for ministry.  They were taken out of the service to be with the other children because they weren’t old enough.  They were invited to participate in worship as a teen but only on Youth Sunday.  Their pastor rarely talked to them except to ask them what college they were going to.  So many felt called by God, were inspired by their churches, but then were not given the opportunity—and so they assumed maybe they weren’t called.   Went to college and tried something else.  Fortunately, a lot of them made their way back to seminary and ministry, and some of them made their way back to church.

We need more authentic churches, not only for the sake of Christian ministry in the future, but for the sake of nurturing authentic pastors and ministers.  Kids see right through us when we aren’t authentic.  When we say “Jesus welcomed all the children” and then shuffle them off to another program, we aren’t authentic.  We have blinders on.  We are baiting and switching.

Look to your children and youth.  Where do you see ministers?  Where are they ministering?  Open up the opportunities for them.  Encourage them.  Invite them to grow on the journey.  Remind children when they dream of what they want to be when they grow up that ministry is a great and wonderful calling, and that chances are, one of them is called to be a minister.  Be real, and real ministers will blossom.

RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

(Blue Text is an internet link)

(The first version of RECLAIMING CHURCH was published June 3, 2010) (It was the first [D]mergent article by Doug Sloan)

(all scripture references are NRSV)

Have you seen or used the following sermon illustration?

Firmly, I place my hand on the wall of the sanctuary. Loudly, I proclaim, ......"This is not the church!" ......"The building is not the church." ......"It is the people who are the church." ......"Amen."

Do we have any idea what was really just said?

Do we have any idea what it really means?

If the building is not the church, then why do we spend so much time and effort dealing with this physical structure? If the building is not the church, then why is the building so important to us? After our hand-on-the-wall proclamation, have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought even further?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, ......where moth and rust consume and ......where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ......where neither moth nor rust consumes and ......where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, ......there your heart will be also. ........................Matthew 6:19-21

No one can serve two masters; ......for a slave will either ......hate the one and love the other, or ......be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. ........................Matthew 6:24

As he was setting out on a journey, ......a man ran up and knelt before him, ......and asked him, ............Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus said to him, ......Why do you call me good? ......No one is good but God alone. ......You know the commandments: ............You shall not murder; ............You shall not commit adultery; ............You shall not steal; ............You shall not bear false witness; ............You shall not defraud; ............Honor your father and mother.

He said to him, ......Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ......You lack one thing; ............go, sell what you own, and ............give the money to the poor, and ............you will have treasure in heaven; ............then come, follow me.

When he heard this, ......he was shocked and went away grieving, ......for he had many possessions. ........................Mark 10:17-22 ........................Matthew 19:16-22 ........................Luke 18:18-23

What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage amount) and sanctuaries with high vaulted ceilings and proper acoustic resonance and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and fully equipped kitchens and sculpted altars and carved pulpits and custom-built communion tables and decorative carpet and imported floor tiles and comfortable color-coordinated congregational seating and vast paved parking lots and meticulously manicured lawns and lavish landscaping have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do multiple annual fund-raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and stress and time and finding workers and managing schedules and obtaining gaming licenses and liquor permits and additional liability insurance have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do praise bands and church orchestras and bell choirs and octaves of tuned bells and multi-rank pipe organs and grand pianos and synthesizers and drum sets and adult choirs and children choirs and choir auditions and choir robes and music folders and the search and review and selection analysis and purchase of new music and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and live broadcasts and recorded broadcasts and hours of rehearsal time and church bulletins and church bulletin art work and church bulletin paper and designer fonts and newsletters and mailing lists and advertising and advertising placement and multi-media web sites and visits by unique IP addresses and the use of and the presence on new media and follow-spots and theatrical lighting and entertainment values and spectacular presentations have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and tithing pledge totals and expected bequests and sustaining endowments and liturgical employees and non-liturgical employees and salaries and benefits and committees and committee meetings and committee responsibilities and church boards and church board agendas and church board votes and the consequential and unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

Much of what we call successful church and successful worship and being a successful congregation has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and ......began to drive out those who were selling and ......those who were buying in the temple, and ......he overturned the tables of the money-changers and ......the seats of those who sold doves; and ......he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

He was teaching and saying, ......Is it not written, ............My house shall be called ............a house of prayer for all the nations? ......But you have made it a den of robbers. ........................Mark 11:15-17 ........................Matthew 21:12-13 ........................Luke 19:45-46

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and ......the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, ......he drove all of them out of the temple, ......both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and ......overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ......Take these things out of here! ......Stop making my Father’s house a market-place! ........................John 2:13-16

Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of largeness instead of largess; once we begin to think of our faith in terms of measurable success or significant achievements or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or congregational models or appropriate budget processes or cash flow direction or generally accepted accounting practices or independent audits or administrative requirements or procedural transparency or proper leadership roles or managerial responsibilities and boundaries or membership trends or effective organizational structures or current and accurate and relevant identity/purpose/vision/mission statements or strategic and tactical plans or valid and useful performance metrics – at that point, we have become money changers and temple authorities, we have deformed from a community into an industry that requires exclusionary individualism. At that point, we have lost our faith and our spiritual direction and we have wandered off the narrow path. At that point, we are colluding with and siding with the Empire instead of the Kingdom of God and we deserve to be rebelled against and driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News. We have become that which the Good News opposes and seeks to replace.

But if it is by grace, ......it is no longer on the basis of works, ......otherwise grace would no longer be grace. ........................Romans 11:6

Yet we know that a person is justified ......not by the works of the law ......but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, ......so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, ......and not by doing the works of the law, ......because no one will be justified by the works of the law. ........................Galatians 2:16

But God, ......who is rich in compassion, ......out of the great love with which he loved us ......even when we were dead through our trespasses, ......made us alive together with Christ – ......by grace you have been saved – ......and raised us up with him ......and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ......so that in the ages to come he might show ......the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness ......toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, ......and this is not your own doing; ......it is the gift of God – ......not the result of works, ......so that no one may boast. ........................Ephesians 2:4-9

Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors. ........................The Shack”, William P. Young, pp. 188-189

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.

By living the Good News: We promote and provoke the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God. We search for and find the .....hungry .....thirsty .....naked .....ill and hurting .....lost .....oppressed and enslaved .....excluded .....imprisoned and, both immediately and permanently, they are .....fed .....quenched .....clothed .....healed .....found and rescued and restored to participatory liberty .....freed .....invited and welcomed and included .....provided justice with a life repaired through rehabilitation and restoration ..........and, it is critically important that this is always included, .....all who are served are treated as members of the Community. We define ourselves as Individuals with .....inclusive hospitality .....joyous generosity .....healthy service to others "healthy service" means we understand and engage in .....healthy rest .....healthy nourishment .....healthy education .....healthy solitude .....healthy worship .....healthy relationship with those we serve ..........which does not include suffering or participating in or enabling ...............war ...............murder ...............abuse of others ...............self-destructive behavior ...............enslavement ...............the satisfaction of useless whimsical requests. In this way, we choose, join, become, live, share, and exude the Kingdom of God here and now.

What would happen if church universal assets – every congregational and regional and national property, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were consolidated with church investments and church cash to establish a trust fund endowment to support the services we provide to those whom we are called to serve?

When you want a new status quo – a new status quo so different that the current status quo will be relabeled as "old" – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical counter-cultural transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you want to end the oppressive Empire ethos of piety, war, victory, peace - you are asking for the Empire to be dismantled and replaced with the Good News, you are asking for revolution. When the church is consumed and possessed by mortgages, capital campaigns, membership numbers, qualifications for membership or deacon or elder, the variety and format of financial reports, redecorating, ordination policies, the proper delineation of committee responsibilities, the aggregation and strengthening and protection of church hierarchical authority, the preference for political associations and prominence instead of being a voice and influence for justice and compassion, seasonal vestment colors, the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and provoking and living and sharing the Good News, the continual choosing and preoccupation with better organization over better outreach, or what styles of worship are to be offered – then it is time for an earth-shaking, stone-rolling, curtain ripping, hurricane-strength, fiery and noisy transformational revolution that will resurrect the Good News in the body and spirit of communities and individuals.

"Doing" has to be the new sole definition of faith. A "new definition of faith" will not be statements of identity/purpose/mission/vision or offering a variety of worship styles at various times and days or hosting church fund raisers that have achieved the status of popular civic events. "Doing" our faith will not promote isolation from people in need or from the present time or from planetary stewardship by valuing hope for an escape into a future post-mortal existence instead of being the response to the divine call to be justly and compassionately involved in the present reality of life. "Doing" our faith will not be glossy advertising campaigns; bigger capital campaigns; better communication and contacts between congregations and local, regional, and national governing boards; on-line seminaries and colleges; common language licensing/ordination policies; new carpet; or more affordable baptistery maintenance contracts. It will be specific activities; specific ways of gracious and grace-full living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity or Meals on Wheels or the Mental Health Association will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and it will be definitive of who we are. Supporting a free health clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless or hosting a community garden will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Taking a publicly visible and vocal stance of opposition against and non-participation in institutional or legislated injustice will not be an exceptional or cautious action; it will be a bold and expected response arising from a communal personality that yearns for and demands justice and compassion from all public institutions. Worship will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News - and it will be no less true and no less sacred because there are only 2 or 3 - and it will be no more true and no more sacred because there are more than 2 or 3. Indeed, "doing" will be about living and being the Good News. Worship can be and should be less of a scheduled repetitive activity and more of a community gathering to share and become better acquainted with the presence of God and to mutually seek a better understanding of the Good News.

"Doing" our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant, fearless way of living. Our faith is not to be institutionalized. Our faith is not to be measured by or expressed as largeness, cultural pervasiveness, political influence, authoritarianism, or a social or managerial hierarchy. Our faith is not to treat people with: conditional inclusion, tolerance, shame, scorn, ridicule, shunning, rejection, exclusion, or condemnation. Our faith is not to hate people. Our faith is not to ignore people or God. Instead, our faith is to value the presence of God and to value all people and to value God and people together as one community or, better yet, as one family. Our faith is to value knowledge over ignorance and value compassion over knowledge. The way we embrace and treasure and grow our faith is personal and intelligent and loving and divine. The way we "do" our faith is to be personally and intelligently and lovingly and divinely humane. Our faith is to be constantly centered in the love and grace that is the persistent presence of God. The ancient writings of our ancient faith ancestors are to be regarded as human expressions arising out of human experiences with the divine and the profane and the ordinary. Those ancient writings are to be neither considered worthless and ignored nor considered controlling and obligatory. Those ancient writings can be considered instructive and inspirational; providing examples of living either to emulate faithfully or to avoid strenuously; a foundational starting point upon which we build, reach out, move on, and grow beyond the original ancient understanding. Our faithful "doing" is to be rendered and delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committees or collectives. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and presence and not with more communication technology that is newer, faster, more pervasive, more invasive, environmentally expensive, and is used to increase personal remoteness and detachment and decrease personal involvement and presence.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; ......and he had compassion for them, ......because they were like sheep without a shepherd; ......and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, ......his disciples came to him and said, ............This is a deserted place, ............and the hour is now very late; ............send them away so that they may go ............into the surrounding country and villages ............and buy something for themselves to eat.

But he answered them, ......You give them something to eat.

They said to him, ......Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, ............and give it to them to eat?

And he said to them, ......How many loaves have you? ......Go and see.

When they had found out, they said, ......Five, and two fish.

Then he ordered them to get all the people ......to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, ......he looked up to heaven, ......and blessed and broke the loaves, ......and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; ......and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; ......and they took up twelve baskets ......full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. ........................Mark 6:34-44 ........................Matthew 14:14-21 ........................Luke 9:12-17 ........................John 6:4-13

In those days ......when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, ......he called his disciples and said to them, ...........I have compassion for the crowd, .................because they have been with me now for three days .................and have nothing to eat. ...........If I send them away hungry to their homes, .................they will faint on the way— .................and some of them have come from a great distance.

His disciples replied, ......How can one feed these people with bread ............here in the desert?

He asked them, ......How many loaves do you have?

They said, ......Seven.

Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; ......and he took the seven loaves, ......and after giving thanks ......he broke them ......and gave them to his disciples to distribute; ......and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; ......and after blessing them, ......he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; ......and they took up the broken pieces left over, ......seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. ........................Mark 8:1-9 ........................Matthew 15:32-39

They devoted themselves ......to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, ......to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; ......they would sell their possessions and goods and ......distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, ......they broke bread at home and ......ate their food with glad and generous hearts, ......praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. ........................Acts 2:42, 44-47

Now the whole group of those who believed ......were of one heart and soul, and ......no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, ......but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony ......to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and ......great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, ......for as many as owned lands or houses ......sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, ......and it was distributed to each as any had need. ........................Acts 4:32-36

This way of living as a community of mutual sufficiency and support did not originate with the early church. It was a very old idea - first described in the written Torah.

There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. ........................Exodus 12:49

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; ........................Exodus 22:21-23

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate. ........................Exodus 22:25-27

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ........................Exodus 23:1-11

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ........................Leviticus 19:9-18

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites—houses sold in a city belonging to them—shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. ........................Leviticus 25:23-38

Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. ........................Numbers 35:10-15

“I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” ........................Deuteronomy 1:16-17

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ........................Deuteronomy 10:17-19

As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ........................Deuteronomy 14:27-29, 15:1-11

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ........................Deuteronomy 15:7-11

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ........................Deuteronomy 16:18-20

When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God. You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. ........................Deuteronomy 24:10-22

These are only some of the verses from the written Torah that are concerned with and advocate and demand and require inclusion, justice, forgiveness, and compassion. These are not the only verses – the entire scriptural collection, the Jewish Bible and the Christian Testament, repeatedly speaks of the same concerns, avocations, demands, and requirements. In this light, the scriptures are constantly calling us forward to a better and enlarging and more inclusive and maturing understanding of the will of God for us and for this world. God is always calling us from Exodus to the Promised Land. God is always calling us from Exile to return home.

The “will of God” – what God wants for us – is 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 Hospitable ......Be Generous ......Do No Harm ......Provide Justice as Healing and Rehabilitation and Restoration ......Be Forgiving ......Promote and Provide and Protect Reconciliation ......Be Good Stewards of all Resources ......Live Here as One Family ......Live in Loving Relationship with Grace-full God ......Be Transformed through Resurrection ......Be the Kingdom of God here and now

So how do we reclaim the Good News as the sole purpose for church? How do we reclaim the church for and as the Good News? How do we reclaim the church as a community and not as a scheduled activity with secondary social consequences? How do we reclaim the church as a community and not as an Empire organization based on and filled with hubris, sloth, and idolatry? How do we reclaim church as a place where people expect to grow and thrive emotionally, intellectually, theologically, and spiritually? How do we reclaim church as a community with a culture of love, grace, justice, compassion, affirmation, and encouragement for each individual?

There was a time when our choir, after singing the anthem, would leave their seats at the front of the sanctuary, move out into the congregation to be with their family, remove their full-length choir vestments, and sit down. A common tongue-in-cheek observation was that we were the only church in town (county? state?) where you could go to a worship service and watch people disrobe in public.

One way that the church can reclaim the Good News is to strip down to the bare necessities (deliberate song cue) - to start again with only God, Community, and Individuals. Remove burdensome structure - both administrative and physical. Remove all ecclesiastical hierarchy and all religious institutions. Remove all authoritarianism. If only for a month or two, meet for worship as a small group in the home of a member - and each week meet in the home of a different member. Collect offerings only for outreach. Eliminate the church governing board and board meetings. As detailed by Derek Penwell in Killing Church Committees and Other Reflections on Church Organization, eliminate committees and committee meetings. It is time to seriously consider eliminating: musical groups and instruments and rehearsals, fund-raisers, capital campaigns, financial systems, buildings, properties, employees, clergy, and membership rolls. This is not a denial of their "practical" benefits - it is an acknowledgement of how they too easily, even inescapably, become worldly consumptive replacements for the fulfilling and regenerative divine Good News - of how they too easily, even inescapably, become fatal distractions to our living and being the Kingdom of God.

Regardless of the physical and organizational implementation of church reformed and redefined...

Always Imagine Church as worship, studying, sharing in word and service to each other and to the world.

Always Imagine Church as always living and being the Good News as individuals and as community.

Always Imagine Church as the Kingdom of God in this world here and now.

Amen

Autism Sculpts Divine Desire (ASDD)

Have you ever had to run to the store for diapers?  Well for the first 20 months or so of our son’s life we used cloth diapers, so it was never for diapers that I ran to the store.  At about that time he grew out of the cloth diapers we owned, we figured we would use disposable diapers until he was potty trained instead of making a large investment.  Of course we were quite optimistic, and continue to be.  It truly was not out of the question, for he was already learning things quickly and was sitting well on the thrown.  Little did we know that 22 months later he would still not be potty trained which we attribute to his development of autism. Now I keep a standing order of disposable diapers online so I save money, but this night we were too low before the next delivery, so I went out to Walmart.  It was late evening and busy, but not crowded.  I found myself walking through the section of Christmas items on sale, which was what we packed away earlier that day, since Epiphany had arrived.  Around the corner was another aisle of toys that were on sale.  I began to look for a toy on sale for my son.  I thought I could find a bargain and surprise him.  I must have taken ten minutes looking at all these fun toys that were on sale, but I could not find anything.   I could find many items that were age appropriate, many items that were fun, but none seemed right.

I then remembered that there were still two wrapped presents under the tree that we took down that afternoon.  They were both for our son, and it was not that he had an excessive number of presents.  This three-year-old had really no interest in Santa, or the reindeer.  He met that jolly man three times during Advent, was never scared, but also never interested.  We learned he liked the lights, the tree, and the song “Jingle Bells” (it may help that Elmo utilizes the tune for all his songs).  AJ’s stocking had a few presents, and that included his two favorites: chocolate peanut butter cups and a DVD with the Wonder Pets on it.  After that he was done; the bubble machine was loud, the books were fine,  the clothes fun for his parents, but the change of routine to rip paper off boxes was simply uninteresting to him; honestly he seem annoyed we kept showing him these wrapped items.

I should not have been so surprised, for 5 months earlier at his birthday party, his first present was a book he loved.  He opened it, saw an open place on the couch, ran from my lap where he was the center of attention, and sat right down amongst his party guests to read his beloved book.  We had to give up on him opening presents and had his “friends” open the gifts as he read his book.

Of course as a parent I am responsible to teach him, and have him taught. Of course there is the cliché that children teach us grown people, as well as Jesus telling adults to be like children.  However, there is something unique a child (a person) with autism can teach all of us, especially the church.

I believe there is a theological anthropology which helps our understanding how the Divine works with us messy humans.  An important part of this theological anthropology includes the theory of mimesis.  This theory is based on the fact that humans are social beings and our individuality and desires are based on the desires of others.  Even babies develop by mimicking their caregivers.  “It is made concrete in the imitation, learning, and repetition which is what enables an infant to become a socialized human being” (Alison 28). However, as humans develop we are socialized through  imitation and modeling, which is evident by the draw of a baby to the adult caregivers. “We all take such a draw, such a movement, for granted, though of course it isn’t automatic, as is evidenced by autistic children, who lack precisely the attraction, the draw the movement toward an adult” (Allison 27-28) I agree that my son proves that human beings are socially as well as biologically reared to adulthood, as we are struggling to teach and demonstrate the importance of the draw of socialization, especially communication.  Mimetic Theory  truly has great implication for our development of religion and our salvation through Jesus the Christ, who does not deny these desires, but wants us to model them after the perfect Divine:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

However, our socialization is based on the mimetic relationship with other humans, and not inherently the Divine.  The end result is violence.  This violence can be direct, but often results in scapegoating that happens because humans desire the same object, position, etc.  This violence is exactly what Jesus found Himself hung on a tree from, but is exactly what He saves us from.  Our desires should line up with the new age opened by the Resurrection.  However, we still have one foot in our world that our individuality is formed by the desires of others and often comes into conflict. This, though, brings up the issue of how a child with autism models someone that can avoid mimetic violence.

Walmart does sell basic items for life: fruit, vegetables, and coffee; yet much of the items depend on our desire to have items we do not truly need, but because we desire to be like others, we end up buying these items.  Of course I am not immune, which was very evident when I kept searching for a toy for AJ.  Now a lot of children have enough toys, or more toys than others, but for AJ it is that he does not fully participate in mimetic desire.  He is also still young, but generally a boy approaching 3 ½ years will want toys and not just the box (and he doesn’t even want a box either).  I watched all but one other child in his Headstart class (another boy on the spectrum), get excited and communicate their desires to a wonderful man dressed up like Santa.  That time we did get a good picture of our son with Santa, for in his stocking was an apple.  He was enamored at the apple, for he likes apples and he explored the smooth red surface as we snapped pictures, no idea he was the center of attention, nor was he going to sit with the man in the red suit.

AJ’s desires are not based as clearly on the reflection from others as a neurologically normal child.  Let me be quite frank, it is difficult, heart wrenching, scary, sad, and wonderful.  Wonderful, I write, because he makes us wonder about life.  I realized that I had been sucked into needing to buy a toy, because my desire is influenced by others and I desire to be like others.  That realization came from my son’s modeling of developing his identity with much less care of other’s desires.  What a great lesson.

The work ahead of us is to keep some of the special and unique advantages of his thinking while encouraging socialization and communication.  Honestly, I believe the best way is for those of us that are socialized to realize our desires can be based on the model Jesus suggests, which is the action of love, and that is the one desire my son has, and he has for every human being.  He is consistent and perfect like the Divine parent.  We all learn from our children; yet I believe those with the unique take on mimetic desire can teach us, as we teach them to communicate.  My prayer is that I can teach AJ to communicate, and yet still keep the desire of love the first priority; for if we model Jesus’ love, will that not be the social normative?

Work Cited:  Alison, James. The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. New York:  Crossroad, 1998

Invisible Scars

Here is the last post in our series of “best of” articles for 2011, which first appeared on September 1.  It was written by J.C. Mitchell.  Enjoy!

I was walking my 3 year old boy, Anselm John “AJ,” into Headstart the second week of his program.  Another family was just paces ahead of us and I overheard the young boy say to his mother, “that boy is in my class,” and he turned back to say “Hi AJ”  and we kept walking. I knew that the young boy knew AJ would not respond.  I then heard the mom say, “I don’t think he is in your class” and the boy said “he is” and then she said sternly, “then why did he not respond?”  I came to that little boy’s rescue, “AJ does not communicate, that is why he is in this program.”  She responded, “oh.”

AJ is well loved by children.  There are those in church who always try to engage him and my favorite are those on the playground who met him for the first time and follow him around.  Often, they ask why he doesn’t talk and I would respond “he is two” (all the way up to his last birthday) and I should add AJ is quite tall for his age.  I feel the children understand that he is a very loving and fun boy.  He is bright as well, but he does not use words to communicate.  He is not great at eye contact or pretend play.  If you want to know a letter, he’s your boy.  There are also a growing number of words he can spell and he will count up and down, and ignore everyone in the room.  Nap time is a chore for the aides for he would rather recite letters and spell words and not do so quietly.

Many tell us not to worry, and I am pretty sure we the parents are not worrying, beyond the normal worry parents do, right down to checking on them before going to sleep ourselves.  A lot of people, who don’t know him well, tell us he will grow out of it, and I am sure he will, but it may take some special help.  I had special help for my dyslexia.  This week he is being tested by numerous professionals to determine if he is autistic.  I assume he will be “on the spectrum.”  I am fine with that, and I know he is fine with it, especially if he has a book with letters in it.

Church needs to be a place where we understand differences, especially differences that make us uncomfortable.  I realize from the numerous conversations I have people either want to ignore and deny it, or they want me to be confident it is going to be fine.  Both make me feel angst.  I want to scream, but I don’t--I am the preacher.  I would scream that we the parents mourn the loss of the idealized child and every parent will eventually have that experience (or at least should) let us have that experience.  It’s normal.  Or we know there is something different--we live with him, he has had some tests, let us have our new normal--yes it is fine, and he is himself.  The children are the ones who get it; AJ is different, but he is their friend.  The children see him as part of their group, even if he doesn’t talk to them, or play with them.  They are happy even if he only engages for a moment.  I remember one older child who never heard AJ say something, come running to my wife to tell how he said something, and they know to celebrate his progress and encourage it.  They are his best teachers.

I cannot help but think about how Thomas needed to see the scars to know the resurrected Jesus.  The theologian and sociologist, Nancy Eiesland, who died at 44 on March 10, 2009 was what we often label “disabled” from a congenital bone defect.  She would state that she would hope she would still be disabled in heaven.  "The reason, which seems clear enough to many disabled people, was that her identity and character were formed by the mental, physical and societal challenges of her disability. She felt that without her disability, she would ‘be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God.’”(NYT March 21, 2009)

When Jesus appears in the locked room, He displays his scarred hands and His side to identify Himself. The disciples would have known Jesus' face and voice as this was their teacher, their friend, their Lord, yet Jesus displays his wounds. It must be important. He did not erase those wounds even though He conquered death itself. He comes to the disciples to identify himself as scarred and perfect, and us today as well.  Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples directly.  The church was created and "called-out” with this breath.  Thus Jesus is telling us who we are with His scarred hands. We are the Body of Christ with our own scarred and perfect bodies. We participate in the resurrection with our differently able bodies, though not all of our differences are visible.

For my son is perfect even if he struggles with eye contact and communication, even if he ends up “on the spectrum.”  There may not be a physical scar, but he is differently abled.  How as a church do we recognize that our Lord not only showed His hands to show who He was to Thomas, but who we, the followers, are as well.  Like I said above, I came to the rescue of the little boy, who knew AJ was in his class, who knew that AJ would not respond, who said hello with the hope AJ may engage him, for the boy that will probably, among others, help teach AJ to communicate better.  I rescued this boy who was being questioned by his mother by being blunt: “AJ doesn’t communicate.”  I did not come to the rescue of my son.  He will be perfect, if we as a church and society can understand what children understand.

RECLAIMING QUEERS

Here is the fourth in our series of “best of” articles for 2011, which first appeared on October 7.  It was written by Doug Sloan.  Enjoy!

a resource document of support

RECLAIMING HOMOSEXUALS GAYS, LESBIANS, BISEXUALS, TRANSGENDEREDS and ALL PERSONS WITH ANY TYPE or ANY LEVEL OF QUEERNESS

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Bible verses are NRSV

As a self-proclaimed act of obedience to the laws found in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible / the written Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), there are those who supported the military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) and Proposition 8 (PROP 8) in California and who continue to support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and restrictive state legislation such as the proposed marriage-definition amendment  to the Indiana Constitution. Such support generally includes actual or approved legal and cultural discrimination against and exclusion of those with a non-heterosexual orientation. The specific justification is that such support is an act of obedience to a specific unambiguous prohibition found in the Torah.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. ..........Leviticus 18:22

Yet, in spite of the professed obedience, usually there is neither mention of nor advocacy for the specific unambiguous penalty found in the Torah for men who have sex with each other.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:13

The following extended quote is excerpted from an article by Richard Elliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky, authors of The Bible Now:

We are scholars, not politicians. Our job isn't to score points for a side, push an agenda or to re-size the Bible to fit our personal views.

So here's the text and a summary of the evidence:

"You shall not lay a male the layings of a woman; it is a to'ebah" (offensive thing) ..........Leviticus 18:22.

"And a man who will lay a male the layings of a woman: the two of them have done a to'ebah (offensive thing). They shall be put to death. Their blood is on them" ..........Leviticus 20:13.

We acknowledged that many people have recognized that these two texts pretty clearly do prohibit at least some kinds of male-male sex ... The law really means what pretty much everyone has taken it to mean for centuries. Whatever view one takes, one must address the law fairly in terms of what it says.

So we sought to contribute another perspective that we believe can be helpful on this subject. The text identifies male homosexual acts by the technical term to'ebah, translated in English here as "an offensive thing" or in older translations as "an abomination." This is important because most things that are forbidden in biblical law are not identified with this word. In both of the contexts in Leviticus (chapters 18 and 20), male homosexuality is the only act to be called this. (Other acts are included broadly in a line at the end of chapter 18.) So this term, which is an important one in the Bible in general, is particularly important with regard to the law about male homosexual acts.

The question is: Is this term to'ebah an absolute, meaning that an act that is a to'ebah is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise? Or is the term relative -- meaning that something that is a to'ebah to one person may not be offensive to another, or something that is a to'ebah in one culture may not be offensive in another, or something that is a to'ebah in one generation or time period may not be offensive in another -- in which case the law may change as people's perceptions change?

When one examines all the occurrences of this technical term in the Hebrew Bible, one finds that elsewhere the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that, if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, they should say that they're cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (to'ebah) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites or Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians don't eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (to'ebah) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and don't find it offensive. See also the story of the Exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (to'ebah) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.

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Now, one might respond that the law here is different because it concerns an offensive thing to God -- and is therefore not subject to the relativity of human values. But that is actually not the case here. The Bible specifically identifies such laws about things that are divine offenses with the phrase "an offensive thing to the LORD" (to'ebat yhwh). That phrase is not used here in the law about male homosexual acts. It is not one of the laws that are identified as a to'ebah to God!

If this is right, then it is an amazing irony. Calling male homosexual acts a to'ebah was precisely what made the biblical text seem so absolutely anti-homosexual and without the possibility of change. But it is precisely the fact of to'ebah that opens the possibility of the law's change. So, (1) whatever position one takes on this matter, left or right, conservative or liberal, one should acknowledge that the law really does forbid homosexual sex between males but not between females. And (2) one should recognize that the biblical prohibition is not one that is eternal and unchanging. The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive. This could involve arguments and evidence from specialists in biology, psychology and culture. They are beyond our range of expertise as Bible scholars. Our task here has been to make the biblical evidence known.

..........Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal? ..........Richard Elliot Friedman, Shawna Dolansky ....................(authors of "The Bible Now") ..........Huffington Post ....................posted 8/1/2011 04:52 PM ET ....................retrieved 9/16/2011

Using this understanding of the text; people who are offended by homosexuality, as an act of obedience to the Leviticus texts, should demand their state legislature classify the act of men having sex with each other as a capital offense. Of course, to be fully compliant with the Torah, the prosecution of this crime would require at least two (2) witnesses of the illegal act.

If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. ..........Numbers 35:30

On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. ..........Deuteronomy 17:6

A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. ..........Deuteronomy 19:15

The execution has to be by stoning because the penalty must be imposed by the community and the witnesses.

The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 17:7

To be perfectly obedient to the Torah, such legislation would prohibit only sex between men. In the Torah, there is no legal prohibition of sex between women - lesbians are allowed. This lack of attention to women having sex with each other is understandable because in that ancient time it was thought that only men initiated new life, only men carried the seed for new life. To the people of that ancient time, a woman only provided a womb which is a "nest" or "fertile ground" or "incubator" - a place where the seed of a man could grow. Women carried life and nurtured life, but they contributed nothing to its inception. The understanding was that the seed of a man, once "planted" in the woman, only grew (not developed) until the woman was "delivered of her burden." If a woman could not have a baby, it was never a problem with the man's seed. Always, it was because her "nest" was "barren" - unsuitable for the growth of new life. In an extension of the same self-serving logic, if a woman did not give birth to sons, it was her fault and never the fault of the man even though he was the only source of "seed", the only source of new life. Such a hegemonic understanding contributed to and sustained the self-serving patriarchal importance and power that any man could lord over any woman.

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One of the hallmarks of the seriousness and importance of this prohibition of sex between men is that the punishment is death - a public execution - a punishment that the Torah requires only in 19 other situations.

1. MURDER Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution. ..........Exodus 21:12-32

2. KIDNAPPING Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:16

If someone is caught kidnapping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 24:7-8

MISTREATMENT OF A PARENT BY A CHILD -- 3. Physical abuse Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:15

-- 4. Verbal abuse Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:17

All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:9

TROUBLESOME CHILDREN -- 5. Prostitution by a daughter of a priest When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. ..........Leviticus 21:9

-- 6. Stubborn, rebellious, disobedient son If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ..........Deuteronomy 21:18-21

ASSAULT -- 7. Assault with a weapon or intent But anyone who strikes another with an iron object, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a stone in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a weapon of wood in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood is the one who shall put the murderer to death; when they meet, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence. Likewise, if someone pushes another from hatred, or hurls something at another, lying in wait, and death ensues, or in enmity strikes another with the hand, and death ensues, then the one who struck the blow shall be put to death; that person is a murderer; the avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death, when they meet. But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home. These things shall be a statute and ordinance for you throughout your generations wherever you live. ..........Numbers 35:16-29

-- 8. Assault of a pregnant woman When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. ..........Exodus 21:22-24

MAGICIANS -- 9. Female sorcerer You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live. ..........Exodus 22:18

-- 10. Medium or wizard A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:27

11. DEATH BY OX GORING When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. ..........Exodus 21:28-32

12. ADULTERY If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. ..........Leviticus 20:10

If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. ..........Deuteronomy 22:22

If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her. ..........Deuteronomy 22:23-27

13. MARITAL FRAUD BY A WOMAN Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 22:13-19

14. INCEST The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. ... If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. ..........Leviticus 20:11-12, 14

15. BESTIALITY Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 22:19

If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:15-16

16. WORK ON THE SABBATH The LORD said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” ..........Exodus 31:12-17

17. GIVING OFFSPRING TO MOLECH Say further to the people of Israel: Any of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone them to death. I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech, and do not put them to death, I myself will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people, them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech. ..........Leviticus 20:2-5

18. WORSHIPING OTHER GODS If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, and transgresses his covenant by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden—and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 17:2-9

19. DISOBEYING A PRIEST If a judicial decision is too difficult for you to make between one kind of bloodshed and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another—any such matters of dispute in your towns—then you shall immediately go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose, where you shall consult with the levitical priests and the judge who is in office in those days; they shall announce to you the decision in the case. Carry out exactly the decision that they announce to you from the place that the LORD will choose, diligently observing everything they instruct you. You must carry out fully the law that they interpret for you or the ruling that they announce to you; do not turn aside from the decision that they announce to you, either to the right or to the left. As for anyone who presumes to disobey the priest appointed to minister there to the LORD your God, or the judge, that person shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again. ..........Deuteronomy 17:8-13

By the metric of the punishment required, the other capital crimes should be taken as seriously as the prohibition of men having sex with each other. Of the two executions recorded in the Torah (Leviticus 24:10-23, Numbers 15:32-36), the first was a man who "blasphemed the Name in a curse" and the second was for working on the Sabbath. To be consistently and continually obedient to the Torah, we must demand legislation that will prohibit work on the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) with the penalty being death by stoning. This applies to all people regardless of their religion or citizenship.

Sabbath is from sunset on Friday to Saturday nightfall when three stars are visible, approximately 40 minutes after sunset. Preparation for the Sabbath usually begins by 3 PM on Friday afternoon. On the Sabbath, there must be no driving, no shopping, no professional or amateur or personal sports, no using the Internet, no activity that causes the closing or the use of an electrical circuit, and no moving of any object outside the home.

The Torah does not prohibit "work" in the 20th century English sense of the word. The Torah prohibits "melachah" (Mem-Lamed-Alef-Kaf-Hei), which is usually translated as "work," but does not mean precisely the same thing as the English word.

Melachah generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment. The quintessential example of melachah is the work of creating the universe, which G-d ceased from on the seventh day. Note that G-d's work did not require a great physical effort: he spoke, and it was done.

The word melachah is rarely used in scripture outside of the context of Shabbat and holiday restrictions. The only other repeated use of the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its vessels in the wilderness. Exodus Ch. 31, 35-38. Notably, the Shabbat restrictions are reiterated during this discussion (Ex. 31:13), thus we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat. From this, the rabbis concluded that the work prohibited on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. They found 39 categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary:

01. Sowing 02. Plowing 03. Reaping 04. Binding sheaves 05. Threshing 06. Winnowing 07. Selecting 08. Grinding 09. Sifting 10. Kneading 11. Baking 12. Shearing wool 13. Washing wool 14. Beating wool 15. Dyeing wool 16. Spinning 17. Weaving 18. Making two loops 19. Weaving two threads 20. Separating two threads 21. Tying 22. Untying 23. Sewing two stitches 24. Tearing 25. Trapping 26. Slaughtering 27. Flaying 28. Salting meat 29. Curing hide 30. Scraping hide 31. Cutting hide up 32. Writing two letters 33. Erasing two letters 34. Building 35. Tearing a building down 36. Extinguishing a fire 37. Kindling a fire 38. Hitting with a hammer 39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain. ..........Mishnah Shabbat, 7:2

All of these tasks are prohibited, as well as any task that operates by the same principle or has the same purpose. In addition, the rabbis have prohibited handling any implement that is intended to perform one of the above purposes (for example, a hammer, a pencil or a match) unless the tool is needed for a permitted purpose (using a hammer to crack nuts when nothing else is available) or needs to be moved to do something permitted (moving a pencil that is sitting on a prayer book), or in certain other limited circumstances. Objects that may not be handled on Shabbat are referred to as "muktzeh," which means, "that which is set aside," because you set it aside (and don't use it unnecessarily) on Shabbat.

The rabbis have also prohibited travel, buying and selling, and other weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat. The use of electricity is prohibited because it serves the same function as fire or some of the other prohibitions, or because it is technically considered to be "fire."

The issue of the use of an automobile on Shabbat, so often argued by non-observant Jews, is not really an issue at all for observant Jews. The automobile is powered by an internal combustion engine, which operates by burning gasoline and oil, a clear violation of the Torah prohibition against kindling a fire. In addition, the movement of the car would constitute transporting an object in the public domain, another violation of a Torah prohibition, and in all likelihood the car would be used to travel a distance greater than that permitted by rabbinical prohibitions. For all these reasons, and many more, the use of an automobile on Shabbat is clearly not permitted.

As with almost all of the commandments, all of these Shabbat restrictions can be violated if necessary to save a life. ..........Judaism 101 - Shabbat ..........also see: English!nfo - Shabbat

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. ..........Exodus 20:8-10

The LORD said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 31:12-17

You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day. ..........Exodus 35:3

It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute forever. ..........Leviticus 16:31

But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. ..........Deuteronomy 5:14

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.” The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. ..........Numbers 15:32-36

The biblical concept of work melakha [work] applies to work involving the production, creation, or transformation of an object. ..........Rabbi Abraham Chill, The Mitzvot, p. 37 ..........as quoted by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, p. 599

In the defense of modern Sabbath practices, we are directed to the Gospels telling of Jesus "working" on the Sabbath.

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. ..........Mark 2 :23-28; 3:1-5

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. ..........Matthew 12:1-13

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. ..........Luke 6:1-10

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. ..........Luke 13:10-17

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this. ..........Luke 14:1-6

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. ..........John 5:1-16

“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” ..........John 7:19-24

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. ..........John 9:1-14

So, with the simplest of methods for gathering the simplest of nourishment and with a few acts of healing, we have justification for abandoning: one of the ten commandments, a substantial body of religious law, a defining cultural activity and for setting aside all the spiritual and secular reasoning for honoring and holding sacred a day of rest and reflection - and replace it with professional sports, athletic competitions for children, travel and recreation, cultural activities and being open for business 24/7. If it is so easy to ignore a major and substantial religious practice repeatedly uplifted, enshrined and required by the Torah and by all the scripture that follows, why is it so hard to let go of two verses that have substantially less biblical mention and support and no contemporary justification?

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To be obedient to the Torah, we must demand that death penalty sentencing laws be amended to allow for the execution of any child who is rebellious, violent with a parent or verbally abusive to a parent, or a church leader’s daughter who becomes a prostitute or any daughter who is not a virgin when she marries the first time.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ..........Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:15

Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:17

When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. ..........Leviticus 21:9

Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 22:13-19

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To be obedient to the Torah and in compliance with the rest of the Bible, the legalization of slavery must be reinstated. The Bible has neither a prohibition nor a condemnation of slavery. In the Bible, slavery is an unquestioned and normal part of life as reflected in the 279 mentions - from Genesis to Revelation - in the history, narrative, poetry, psalms, proverbs, prophecies, parables and letters of the Bible:

Genesis 9:25-27; 12:16; 15:3; 16:1-8; 17:9-13; 20:14-17; 21:10-13; 24:35; 25:12; 30:43; 32:5; 43:18; 44:9-10, 16-17, 33; 47:19-25; 49:15; 50:18 Exodus 2:23; 6:5-9; 9:20-21; 11:5; 12:44; 13:3, 14; 20:2, 10, 17; 21:5, 7, 20-21, 26-27, 32; 23:12 Leviticus 19:20; 25:6, 39, 42, 44, 46; 26:13 Deuteronomy 5:6, 14-15, 21; 6:12, 21; 7:8, 8:14, 12:12, 18; 13:5, 10, 13, 15, 17; 16:11-12, 14; 21:14; 23:15; 24:18, 22; 28:68 Joshua 9:23; 24:17 Judges 9:18 1 Samuel 2:27; 4:9; 8:16-17; 25:41 1 Kings 2:39-40; 9:21-22 2 Kings 4:1; 5:26 1 Chronicles 2:34-35 2 Chronicles 8:9; 28:10 Ezra 9:8-9 Nehemiah 5:5; 7:67; 9:17, 36; Esther 7:4 Job 3:19; 7:2; 31:13 Psalm 105:17 Proverbs 17:2; 19:10; 22:7; 29:21; 30:22 Ecclesiastes 2:7; 10:7 Isaiah 14:2; 24:2; 49:7 Jeremiah 2:14; 25:14; 27:7; 34:9-16 Lamentations 5:8 Ezekiel 34:27 Joel 2:29 Micah 6:4 Nahum 2:7; 3:4 Zechariah 2:9 Matthew 6:24; 8:9; 10:24-25; 13:27-28; 18:23-33; 20:27; 21:34-36; 22:3-10; 24:45-50; 25:14-30; 26:51 Mark 10:44; 12:2-4; 13:34; 14:47 Luke 7:2-10; 12:37-47; 14:17-23; 15:22-29; 16:13; 17:7-10: 19:13-22; 20:10-11; 22:50 John 4:51; 8:33-35; 18:10, 18, 26 Acts 2:18; 7:6; 10:7; 16:16-17 Romans 6:6, 16-22; 7:6, 14, 25; 8:15 1 Corinthians 7:21-23; 9:19, 27; 12:13 2 Corinthians 4:5, 11:20 Galatians 3:28; 4:1, 3, 7-9, 22-25, 30-31; 5:1, 13; 6:5-6, 8 Philippians 2:7 Colossians 3:11, 22; 4:1 1 Timothy 6:1 Titus 2:3, 9; 3:3 Philemon 1:16 Hebrews 2:15 1 Peter 2:18 2 Peter 2:19 Revelation 6:15; 13:16; 18:13; 19:18

The importance and acceptance of ancient slavery is demonstrated by the laws of the Torah that govern or prohibit certain types of slavery as well as how slaves are to be acquired and treated.

If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 24:7

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. ..........Exodus 21:20-21

When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. ... If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. ..........Exodus 21:26-27,32

These are the ordinances that you shall set before them: When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. ..........Exodus 21:1-7

If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. If resident aliens among you prosper, and if any of your kin fall into difficulty with one of them and sell themselves to an alien, or to a branch of the alien’s family, after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them, or their uncle or their uncle’s son may redeem them, or anyone of their family who is of their own flesh may redeem them; or if they prosper they may redeem themselves. They shall compute with the purchaser the total from the year when they sold themselves to the alien until the jubilee year; the price of the sale shall be applied to the number of years: the time they were with the owner shall be rated as the time of a hired laborer. If many years remain, they shall pay for their redemption in proportion to the purchase price; and if few years remain until the jubilee year, they shall compute thus: according to the years involved they shall make payment for their redemption. As a laborer hired by the year they shall be under the alien’s authority, who shall not, however, rule with harshness over them in your sight. And if they have not been redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year. For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 25:39-55

If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. You shall do the same with regard to your female slave. Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do. ..........Deuteronomy 15:12-18

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her. ..........Deuteronomy 21:10-14

Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them. ..........Deuteronomy 23:15-16

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Yet, with this unambiguous scriptural support for a ban on work on Sunday and for the execution of troublesome children and for the death penalty as punishment for incest and adultery and non-virgin first-time brides and for the reinstatement of slavery, there are no national movements, no referendums, no court challenges, no legislation and not even one proponent on FOX news.

Why is the biblical concern for honoring the Sabbath and maintaining the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship so unimportant and inconsequential? Why is the biblical acceptance of slavery not embraced? Why are we so squeamish about executing children when the Torah has no such reluctance? Why are the two verses prohibiting sex between men so important that it justifies huge expenditures of money, time, effort, emotion, creative energy and political capital to maintain a last-ditch tangential enforcement of those two verses in a way that will inevitably be deemed unconstitutional? Whatever caused the deathly fear of sorcerers and wizards and mediums and Molech either does not exist or we have replaced the irrational fear with understanding and knowledge. It is not that we have realized only for ourselves that slavery is wrong; it is that we have realized that slavery has always been wrong. It is not that we have realized only for ourselves that infanticide and the execution of children is wrong; it is that we have realized that such killings have always been wrong. As well-illustrated by these two immoral situations – slavery and the killing of children – our understanding of right and wrong and worship and faithfulness has matured and moved beyond the understanding held by our faith ancestors. As the scripture encourages us to do, we are moving from the tribal justice of Genesis 34 through the individual responsibility legalism of the written Torah to the Good News of love and grace, hospitality and generosity, compassion and service, and forgiveness and justice as taught by Jesus.

We are not citizens of the ancient nation of Israel or any ancient nation; we are not members of an ancient culture or people – and it is impossible for us to be them – it is impossible for us to live like them, to think like them, to believe like them and to perceive like them. And it was impossible for them to be us, a people of their unseen and unforeseeable future – thus it was impossible for them to live like us, to think like us, to believe like us and to perceive like us. Since that ancient time, we have discovered and constantly live with: Chaos Theory – and Quantum Theory – and the Theory of Relativity with its E=mc2 and time as a pliable dimension – and the accelerating expansion of a universe of dark matter and dark energy and black holes and trillions of stars and trillions of light-years – and nano-technology – and nascent space travel – and solid state programmable devices – and electricity – and mass communication via print, wire and electro-magnetic radiation – and global travel by land, water and air. We calculate and catalogue and understand ourselves and the world and the universe using DNA-based and cellular-based medical science that includes detailed macro- and micro-knowledge of our anatomy and biological functions – and the physics of the Newtonian laws concerning motion and gravity – and calculus – and parallel-processing super-computers – and the Internet and the Web – and decimal and binary and hexadecimal and octal numbering systems that include a zero digit and use positional notation – – all of which are knowledge and methods that so pervasively inform our existence and are so intrinsically woven into the fabric of each individual paradigm – it imbues us with an inescapable world view and an inescapable sense of perception and an inescapable way of thinking. It is a world view and way of perceiving and way of thinking that was unknown and incomprehensible to our ancient ancestors – and the lack of such knowledge and technologies and methods and processes gave our ancient ancestors a world view and a way of perceiving and a way of thinking that, in too many important indiscernible ways, is unknowable and unverifiable. To a large extent, ancient people and contemporary people are mutually incomprehensible.

Wizards and sorcerers and witches and warlocks and mediums and magic and Molech and other gods do not exist - and so it is that many ancient feared intangibles do not exist. In December 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted the APA position and all AMA professional policies include a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the well-researched and well-considered professional opinion of American psychiatrists and physicians, in and of itself, homosexuality is neither pathological nor abnormal. This means that, in and of itself, as a sexual orientation, homosexuality is both normal and healthy. Every AMA psychiatrist and physician has a professional and ethical obligation to conduct their practice in accordance with this policy. While a layperson may hold a differing personal opinion, that opinion does not qualify as either a valid or rational argument – that would require a mountain of contrary peer-reviewed published research. Minus such evidence, no argument can be made against the normalcy and healthiness of homosexuality as a sexual orientation.

In its June 26, 2003 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence v. Texas made several important decisions.

1) Because it was a violation of the Due Process Clause, the Court overturned the Texas statue that made it a crime for two people “to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct”.

2) It overturned the Supreme Court decision made and the legal reasoning used in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case that had upheld state sodomy laws.

3) “The Bowers Court was, of course, making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral, but this Court's obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code.”

4) It is unconstitutional to ban or restrict the rights of homosexuals because they are homosexual. The Court affirmed “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.”

In the suit to have Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional (Perry v. Schwarzenegger transcripts) (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision), the defendants faced and did not meet their difficult legal challenge. The defense did not provide a rational basis for Proposition 8 and did not provide any evidence that Proposition 8 would harm opposite-sex marriages. “Instead the evidence shows beyond debate that allowing same-sex couples to marry has at least a neutral, if not a positive, effect on the institution of marriage and that same-sex couples’ marriages would benefit the state. Moreover the evidence shows that the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or same-sex couples will remain unaffected if the state ceases to enforce Proposition 8” (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, pp. 125-126). “But proponents, amici and the court, despite ample opportunity and a full trial, have failed to identify any rational basis Proposition 8 could advance. Proponents, represented by able and energetic counsel, developed a full trial record in support of Proposition 8. The resulting evidence shows that Proposition 8 simply conflicts with the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear of unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples” (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, pp. 131-132).

Opponents of homosexuals freely exercising their constitutional rights sometimes choose to remove themselves from organizations that will not support or embrace their opposition. Opponents do so to avoid associating with homosexuals fully participating in the roles and opportunities of the organization. What the opponents do not realize is – it is too late, it is already unavoidable. It is not that homosexuals have appeared or arrived. Homosexuals have always been here and always participated. It is not that homosexuals are more visible on television and in movies and plays and musicals. It is that homosexuals are unavoidably visible in everyday life and many organizations allow or accommodate, if not encourage, their participation and contributions. Every doctor – every general physician, obstetrician, pediatrician, urologist, gynecologist, oncologist, ophthalmologist, every medical specialist you can think of – has a professional responsibility and obligation to accept homosexual patients and to extend professional courtesies and cooperation to homosexual physicians and medical technicians and to treat their homosexual orientation as healthy and normal. Businesses need people with productive and problem-solving skills as well as people who are creative and innovative. Businesses have found that it is an unacceptable, even counter-productive, expense in terms of monetary and talent cost and in terms of the potential contributions to a competitor to discriminate against potential valuable employees because of their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. Trying to avoid association with homosexuals or organizations who welcome homosexuals is a guaranteed losing strategy. It is choosing to be left behind.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. ..........Matthew 18:1-6

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. ..........Matthew 19:13-15

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ..........Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” ..........Luke 18:15-17

Jesus loves the little children All the children of the world Black and yellow, red and white They're all precious in His sight Jesus loves the little children of the world Music: George Frederick Root (1820-1895) Lyrics: Clare Herbert Woolston (1856-1927)

The song came to the forefront of popularity in 1970 as the opening lyrics for “Everything is Beautiful” composed and performed by Ray Stevens. The song was a #1 hit single in the United States, Canada and Australia. Either or both songs became staples of children’s music in many Sunday Schools. Guess what – our children got it. Our children accepted it and ran with it and extended it. Inter-racial couples? No problem, no big deal, it is a normal part of life. Same-sex couples? No problem, no big deal, it is a normal part of life. Our children know and live the truth of “Jesus loves the little children of the world.” As our children gain their maturity and independence – at school, in college, on the job, in relationships – they will see for themselves that love has no boundaries. Love is not restrained by abilities or appearance or race or sex. Homosexuals are a normal healthy 1% - 2% of the population. That is 1% - 2% of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – and the children of our cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow church members. It will be a sad day for opponents of homosexual participation when they realize that their children have chosen inclusion over exclusion and that in this area of life, they – the opponents of homosexual participation – have been, as were the opponents of racial integration, left behind by their own children.

Opponents of homosexual participation, in attempting to segregate themselves from homosexuals and those who associate with homosexuals, ignore the diversity and creativity it takes to make professions and businesses succeed. The following incomplete list names and links to corporations that have diversity policies that explicitly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or support GLBT employee resource groups or have earned awards for supporting GLBT inclusion:

AFLAC Alcoa American Electric Power Anheuser-Busch AT&T Caterpillar Chrysler CISCO ConAgra Foods Disney DOW Duke Energy Dupont ESPN Ford Gannett General Electric General Mills General Motors Google Harley-Davidson Hersheys Hewlitt Packard Honeywell IBM John Deere JP Morgan Chase Lilly Mahle Marriott Microsoft MillerCoors NBA Oracle Progressive Prudential Sears Holdings (Sears / Kmart / Craftsman / Kenmore / Lands End) Shell Sprint State Farm SuperValu (Jewel-OSCO) 3M US Steel WellPoint

There has been a drive to ask presidential candidates to sign a pledge that they will oppose legal recognition of Sharia law. The problem with the pledge is that it is inadequate; it is neither strong enough nor wide enough. There is no room and no justification for the civil recognition of the law of any religion or to give the law of any religion any legislative or enforcement weight or influence or power regardless of whether that religion be Islam, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Why? There are two reasons? 1) Those ancient religious laws were not written by us, for us, to us or about us. Those ancient laws neither compel us not control us and do not and should not have any legal standing. Specifically, in regards to the Torah, we are not citizens of the ancient nation of Israel – a nation which is long gone and will never return to exist as it did in the Hebrew Bible. 2) It is neither the age nor the irrelevance that nulls the "clobber" verses, it is the hypocrisy by which they are proclaimed and honored. To lift up those two verses – above all others – is to commit idolatry and trivialize the Good News message and the entire Bible.

The time has come, when we are confronted with the clobber verses, to reply, "SO WHAT?!"

The time has come, when we are confronted with the clobber verses, to ask:

“If the law of Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 is the word of God, what about the other 600 laws?”

"Why are these two verses so much more important than all the other laws and all the other scripture?"

"Why are these two verses so authoritative and powerful that they can be used to exclude and control and limit other people in a way that is illegal, unconstitutional and has no medical basis?”

"The scripture about love and grace and compassion and service and hospitality and generosity and forgiveness of sins and debts and justice as restoration – why are these laws and verses of lesser or no importance?"

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"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." ..........Matthew 5:17-19

"But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped." ..........Luke 16:17

When Jesus proclaims that not a letter of the law will be dropped, he is not talking about the punitive legalism of the Torah, he is talking about the justice of the Torah – justice as compassion and restoration and forgiveness and love – and administered by judges who are fair and even-handed and independent – and due process is administered with integrity and truth – and available to all and applied to all without exception. (in the following verses, red emphasis has been added)

Then God spoke all these words: I. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

IV. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

V. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

VI. You shall not murder.

VII. You shall not commit adultery.

VIII. You shall not steal.

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. ..........Exodus 20:1-17

I. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

IV. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

V. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

VI. You shall not murder.

VII. Neither shall you commit adultery.

VIII. Neither shall you steal.

IX. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

X. Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. ..........Deuteronomy 5:1-21

There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. ..........Exodus 12:49

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; ..........Exodus 22:21-23

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate. ..........Exodus 22:25-27

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ..........Exodus 23:1-11

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ..........Exodus 34:6-7a

He shall do with the bull just as is done with the bull of sin offering; he shall do the same with this. The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. … All its fat he shall turn into smoke on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of well-being. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven. … He shall remove all its fat, as the fat is removed from the offering of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar for a pleasing odor to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven. … You shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the sheep is removed from the sacrifice of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, with the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. … And the second he shall offer for a burnt offering according to the regulation. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. … Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for whichever of these sins you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. Like the grain offering, the rest shall be for the priest. … And you shall make restitution for the holy thing in which you were remiss, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. The priest shall make atonement on your behalf with the ram of the guilt offering, and you shall be forgiven. … You shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, or the equivalent, as a guilt offering; and the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the error that you committed unintentionally, and you shall be forgiven. … The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby. … And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him. … ..........Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7, 22

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ..........Leviticus 19:9-18

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin : I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. ..........Leviticus 19:33-36

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 23:22

You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 24:22

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites — houses sold in a city belonging to them — shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. ..........Leviticus 25:23-38

Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the passover and according to its regulation; you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native. ..........Numbers 9:14

“ ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression’ ” ..........Numbers 14:18a

Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked” ..........Numbers 14:19-20

An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. ..........Numbers 15:14-16

The priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the Israelites, and they shall be forgiven; it was unintentional, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error. All the congregation of the Israelites shall be forgiven, as well as the aliens residing among them, because the whole people was involved in the error. … And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them – you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. ..........Numbers 15:25-26, 28-29

This shall be a perpetual statute for the Israelites and for the alien residing among them. ..........Numbers 19:10b

Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. ..........Numbers 35:10-15

But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home. … Nor shall you accept ransom for one who has fled to a city of refuge, enabling the fugitive to return to live in the land before the death of the high priest. ..........Numbers 35:22-28, 32

“I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” ..........Deuteronomy 1:16-17

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ..........Deuteronomy 10:17-19

You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. ..........Deuteronomy 14:21a

As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ..........Deuteronomy 14:27-29, 15:1-11

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ..........Deuteronomy 15:7-11

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ..........Deuteronomy 16:18-20

You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. ..........Deuteronomy 23:7

When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God. You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. ..........Deuteronomy 24:10-22

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments” ..........Deuteronomy 26:10-13

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” ..........Deuteronomy 27:18-19

These are the verses concerning and advocating and demanding and requiring inclusion, justice, forgiveness and compassion – just from the Torah. These are not the only verses – the entire Bible speaks of the same concerns, avocations, demands and requirements.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” … Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died. ..........Genesis 2:16-17; 5:5

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. ..........Genesis 4:8-15

For the needy shall not always be forgotten, .....nor the hope of the poor perish forever. ..........Psalm 9:18

In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor.....let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, .....those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. Their mouths are filled .....with cursing and deceit and oppression; .....under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; .....in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; .....they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; .....they lurk that they may seize the poor; .....they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. They stoop, they crouch, .....and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, .....“God has forgotten, .....he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; .....you will strengthen their heart, .....you will incline your ear to do justice .....for the orphan and the oppressed, .....so that those from earth may strike terror no more. ..........Psalm 10:2-3, 7-11, 17-18

“Because the poor are despoiled, .....because the needy groan, .....I will now rise up,” says the Lord; .....“I will place them in the safety for which they long.” ..........Psalm 12:5

You would confound the plans of the poor, .....but the Lord is their refuge ..........Psalm 14:6

But the meek shall inherit the land, .....and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows .....to bring down the poor and needy, .....to kill those who walk uprightly; ..........Psalm 37:11, 14

Happy are those who consider the poor; .....the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. ..........Psalm 41:1

Father of orphans and protector of widows .....is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; .....he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, .....but the rebellious live in a parched land. ..........Psalm 68:5-6

May he judge your people with righteousness, .....and your poor with justice. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, .....give deliverance to the needy, .....and crush the oppressor. For he delivers the needy when they call, .....the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, .....and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; .....and precious is their blood in his sight. ..........Psalm 72:2, 4, 12-14

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; .....maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; .....deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” ..........Psalm 82:3-4

O Lord, .....how long shall the wicked, .....how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; .....all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, .....and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the stranger, .....they murder the orphan ..........Psalm 94:3-6

Bless the Lord, O my soul, .....and all that is within me, .....bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, .....and do not forget all his benefits – The Lord works vindication and justice .....for all who are oppressed. The Lord is merciful and gracious, .....slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins, .....nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, .....so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; ..........Psalm 103:1-2, 6, 8, 10-11

They have distributed freely, .....they have given to the poor; .....their righteousness endures forever; .....their horn is exalted in honor. ..........Psalm 112:9

He raises the poor from the dust, .....and lifts the needy from the ash heap, .....to make them sit with princes, .....with the princes of his people. ..........Psalm 113:7-8

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, .....and executes justice for the poor. ..........Psalm 140:12

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, .....in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth; .....on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, .....whose hope is in the Lord their God, .....who made heaven and earth, the sea .....and all that is in them; .....who keeps faith forever; .....who executes justice for the oppressed; .....who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; .....the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; .....the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers; .....he upholds the orphan and the widow, .....but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever, .....your God, O Zion, .....for all generations. Praise the Lord! ..........Psalm 146

The field of the poor may yield much food, .....but it is swept away through injustice. ..........Proverbs 13:23

Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, .....but happy are those who are kind to the poor. A truthful witness saves lives, .....but one who utters lies is a betrayer. Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, .....but those who are kind to the needy honor him. ..........Proverbs 14:21, 25, 31

The Lord tears down the house of the proud, .....but maintains the widow’s boundaries. Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, .....but gracious words are pure. Those who are greedy for unjust gain .....make trouble for their households, .....but those who hate bribes will live. The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, .....but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil. ..........Proverbs 15:25-28

Better is a little with righteousness .....than large income with injustice. Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; .....all the weights in the bag are his work. ..........Proverbs 16:8, 11

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; .....those who are glad at calamity will not go unpunished. One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, .....but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend. The wicked accept a concealed bribe .....to pervert the ways of justice. To impose a fine on the innocent is not right, .....or to flog the noble for their integrity. ..........Proverbs 17:5, 9, 23, 26

A false witness will not go unpunished, .....and a liar will not escape. A false witness will not go unpunished, .....and the liar will perish. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, .....and will be repaid in full. What is desirable in a person is loyalty, .....and it is better to be poor than a liar. A worthless witness mocks at justice, .....and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity. ..........Proverbs 19:5, 9, 17, 22

To do righteousness and justice .....is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, .....you will cry out and not be heard. When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, .....but dismay to evildoers. Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness .....will find life and honor. All day long the wicked covet, .....but the righteous give and do not hold back. A false witness will perish, .....but a good listener will testify successfully. ..........Proverbs 21:3, 13, 15, 21, 26, 28

The rich and the poor have this in common: .....the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, .....and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, .....for they share their bread with the poor. Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, .....and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, .....or crush the afflicted at the gate; .....for the Lord pleads their cause .....and despoils of life those who despoil them. ..........Proverbs 22:2, 8-9, 16, 22-23

A ruler who oppresses the poor .....is a beating rain that leaves no food. Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, .....but those who keep the law struggle against them. The evil do not understand justice, .....but those who seek the Lord understand it completely. Better to be poor and walk in integrity .....than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich. One who augments wealth by exorbitant interest .....gathers it for another who is kind to the poor. The rich is wise in self-esteem, .....but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose. When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, .....but when the wicked prevail, people go into hiding Like a roaring lion or a charging bear .....is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor; .....but one who hates unjust gain will enjoy a long life. Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, .....but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. ..........Proverbs 28:3-6, 11-12, 15-16, 27

The poor and the oppressor have this in common: .....the Lord gives light to the eyes of both. If a king judges the poor with equity, .....his throne will be established forever. ..........Proverbs 29:13-14

There are those whose teeth are swords, .....whose teeth are knives, .....to devour the poor from off the earth, .....the needy from among mortals. ..........Proverbs 30:14

Speak out for those who cannot speak, .....for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, .....defend the rights of the poor and needy. ..........Proverbs 31:8-9

Wash yourselves; .....make yourselves clean; .....remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; .....cease to do evil, .....learn to do good; .....seek justice, .....rescue the oppressed, .....defend the orphan, .....plead for the widow. ..........Isaiah 1:16-17

Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, .....and the widow’s cause does not come before them. ..........Isaiah 1:23

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, .....who write oppressive statutes, .....to turn aside the needy from justice .....and to rob the poor of my people of their right, .....that widows may be your spoil, .....and that you may make the orphans your prey! ..........Isaiah 10:1-2

For you have been a refuge to the poor, .....a refuge to the needy in their distress, .....a shelter from the rainstorm .....and a shade from the heat. ..........Isaiah 25:4a

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, .....and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant shall be no more, .....and the scoffer shall cease to be; .....all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, .....who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, .....and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. ..........Isaiah 29:19-21

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; .....therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; .....blessed are all those who wait for him. ..........Isaiah 30:18

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, .....my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; .....he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, .....or make it heard in the street; .....a bruised reed he will not break, .....and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; .....he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed .....until he has established justice in the earth; .....and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, .....who created the heavens .....and stretched them out, .....who spread out the earth and what comes from it, .....who gives breath to the people upon it .....and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, .....a light to the nations, .....to open the eyes that are blind, .....to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, .....from the prison those who sit in darkness. ..........Isaiah 42:1-7

Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, .....and do what is right, .....for soon my salvation will come, .....and my deliverance be revealed. ..........Isaiah 56:1

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, .....to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me .....and delight to know my ways, .....as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness .....and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgements, .....they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, .....and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel .....and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today .....will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, .....and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: .....to loose the bonds of injustice, .....to undo the thongs of the yoke, .....to let the oppressed go free, .....and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, .....and bring the homeless poor into your house; .....when you see the naked, to cover them, .....and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, .....and your healing shall spring up quickly; .....your vindicator shall go before you, .....the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; .....you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, .....the pointing of the finger, .....the speaking of evil, .....if you offer your food to the hungry .....and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, .....then your light shall rise in the darkness .....and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, .....and satisfy your needs in parched places, .....and make your bones strong; .....and you shall be like a watered garden, .....like a spring of water, .....whose waters never fail. ..........Isaiah 58:1-12

For I the Lord love justice, .....I hate robbery and wrongdoing ..........Isaiah 61:8

But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; .....they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, .....who gives the rain in its season, .....the autumn rain and the spring rain, .....and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, .....and your sins have deprived you of good. For scoundrels are found among my people; .....they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; .....they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, .....their houses are full of treachery; .....therefore they have become great and rich, .....they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; .....they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, .....to make it prosper, .....and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, .....and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this? ..........Jeremiah 5.23-29

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, .....if you truly act justly one with another, .....if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, .....or shed innocent blood in this place, .....and if you do not .....go after other gods to your own hurt, .....then I will dwell with you in this place, .....in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors .....forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, .....make offerings to Baal, .....and go after other gods that you have not known, .....and then come and stand before me in this house, .....which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” – .....only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, .....become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. ..........Jeremiah 7:5-11

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people .....not been restored? ..........Jeremiah 8:21-22

Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, .....do not let the mighty boast in their might, .....do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, .....that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, .....and righteousness in the earth, .....for in these things I delight, says the Lord. ..........Jeremiah 9:23-24

To the house of the king of Judah say: Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord: Execute justice in the morning, .....and deliver from the hand of the oppressor .....anyone who has been robbed, .....or else my wrath will go forth like fire, .....and burn, with no one to quench it, .....because of your evil doings.

Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, .....and speak there this word, and say: Hear the word of the Lord, .....O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David – .....you, and your servants, .....and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, .....and deliver from the hand of the oppressor .....anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence .....to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, .....nor shed innocent blood in this place. ..........Jeremiah 21:8; 22:1-3

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, .....and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, .....and does not give them their wages; ..........Jeremiah 22:13

Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink .....and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; .....then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord. But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, .....for shedding innocent blood, .....and for practicing oppression and violence. ..........Jeremiah 22:15-17

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, .....when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, .....and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, .....and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ..........Jeremiah 23:5

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; .....and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ..........Jeremiah 33:15

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: .....she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, .....and prosperous ease, .....but did not aid the poor and needy. ..........Ezekiel 16:49

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right – … .....does not oppress anyone, .....but restores to the debtor his pledge, .....commits no robbery, .....gives his bread to the hungry .....and covers the naked with a garment, .....does not take advance or accrued interest, .....withholds his hand from iniquity, .....executes true justice between contending parties, .....follows my statutes, .....and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully — .....such a one is righteous; .....he shall surely live, says the Lord God. ..........Ezekiel 18:5, 7-9

The princes of Israel in you, .....everyone according to his power, .....have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; .....the alien residing within you suffers extortion; .....the orphan and the widow are wronged in you. … In you, they take bribes to shed blood; .....you take both advance interest and accrued interest, .....and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; .....and you have forgotten me, says the Lord God. … The people of the land .....have practiced extortion and committed robbery; .....they have oppressed the poor and needy, .....and have extorted from the alien without redress. ..........Ezekiel 22:6, 12, 29

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, .....and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, .....and I will bring back the strayed, .....and I will bind up the injured, .....and I will strengthen the weak, .....but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. ..........Ezekiel 34:15-16

Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, .....and bring righteousness to the ground! … Therefore because you trample on the poor .....and take from them levies of grain, .....you have built houses of hewn stone, .....but you shall not live in them; .....you have planted pleasant vineyards, .....but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, .....and how great are your sins – .....you who afflict the righteous, .....who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. … Seek good and not evil, that you may live; .....and so the Lord, the God of hosts, .....will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, .....and establish justice in the gate; .....it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, .....will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. … I hate, I despise your festivals, .....and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me .....your burnt offerings and grain offerings, .....I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals .....I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; .....I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, .....and righteousness like an everflowing stream. ..........Amos 5:7, 11-12, 14-15, 21-24

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, .....and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; .....and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, .....and practice deceit with false balances, .....buying the poor for silver .....and the needy for a pair of sandals, .....and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” ..........Amos 8:4-6

With what shall I come before the Lord, .....and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, .....with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, .....with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, .....the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; .....and what does the Lord require of you .....but to do justice, .....and to love kindness, .....and to walk humbly with your God? ..........Micah 6:6-8

The faithful have disappeared from the land, .....and there is no one left who is upright; they all lie in wait for blood, .....and they hunt each other with nets. Their hands are skilled to do evil; .....the official and the judge ask for a bribe, .....and the powerful dictate what they desire; .....thus they pervert justice. The best of them is like a brier, .....the most upright of them a thorn hedge. ..........Micah 7:2-4

So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – .....therefore judgment comes forth perverted. ..........Habakkuk 1:4

The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, .....show kindness and mercy to one another; .....do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; .....and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. ..........Zechariah 7:8-10

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness .....against the sorcerers, .....against the adulterers, .....against those who swear falsely, .....against those .....who oppress the hired workers in their wages, .....the widow and the orphan, .....against those who thrust aside the alien, .....and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. ..........Malachi 3:5

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; .....and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, .....for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, .....for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, .....for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, .....for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, .....for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, .....for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, .....for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those .....who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, .....for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you .....when people revile you .....and persecute you .....and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. ..........Matthew 5:1-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” ..........Matthew 11:2-6

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” ..........Matthew 19:12

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” ..........Matthew 19:16-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ..........Matthew 23:23-28

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. ..........Mark 10:17-22

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” ..........Luke 4:16-21

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, .....for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, .....for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, .....for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, .....and when they exclude you, revile you, .....and defame you on account of the Son of Man. ..........Luke 6:20-22

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” ..........Luke 7:18-23

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.” While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. ..........Luke 11:33-42

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” ..........Luke 14:12-14

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. ..........Luke 18:1-8a

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. ..........Luke 18:18-23

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” ..........Luke 19:1-10

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. … If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? ..........James 2:1-9, 15-16

It is important to remember that the purpose of the law is not itself. The law is not the final response or the final answer or the final act or the final word of justice and compassion. The law is not the last stop in the development of our morals or our relationship with God. The law is only a single step in our faith journey – a journey that extends beyond and away from the law.

The first purpose of the law was to serve as a call to ancient Israel to leave behind the tribal justice practices of that ancient time.

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl to be my wife.” Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came.

And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.” The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.”

Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his family. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These people are friendly with us; let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters in marriage, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will they agree to live among us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us.” And all who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” ..........Genesis 34

The law of the Torah is a radical response to and a revocation of tribal justice and calls Israel away from those practices and points to a different way of living and to a future of justice and compassion. The law is less about how and when to be punitive and more about how to live with each other, at least as mutually respectful citizens and preferably as members of a compassionate God-loving community. Through the entire law, there is a consistent and repeated admonition that the law is to be used to provide fair and even-handed justice through the inclusion of aliens and strangers and widows and orphans, through due process imbued with integrity and truth as administered by fair even-handed independent judges, through forgiveness of sins and debts, and through compassion for those without property or food or self-sufficiency. This is the law that Jesus wanted upheld. This is the law that Jesus did not want to go away. Providing universal justice and compassion is true faithfulness to the law. Used in this way, the law can still inform, inspire and guide us.

What if prisons were places of refuge and restoration and life instead of places of vengeance and retribution and death?

What if shelters for the homeless, food banks, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity and mission trips to disaster areas were sacred inward and outward journeys, the means by which we become the hands and arms and legs and sweat and exertion of the body and presence of Christ, an outward manifestation of an inner truth and light, the bringing and building and living the Kingdom of God here and now instead of an actionless worthless meaningless hope for a future occurrence and existence, instead of being a burden or being an obligatory but pious sacrifice of our time and resources?

Clearly, there is more to the written law of the Torah than two verses about men having sex with each other. There is more to Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 than their literal prohibition. The immediate context is that they are a very small part of a collection of over 600 laws that governed an ancient nation that existed 2000 years ago and those laws do not and should not govern us. The next larger context is: how do we live in relationship with each other as a natural extension of our loving relationship with God? The largest context is: what is the nature of God?

We criminalize murder and assault and kidnapping because we have determined for ourselves in our time that it is wrong – and not because it says so in the Bible. We choose to criminalize adult prostitution as a health and abuse issue – and not as a religious or moral issue. We have determined that infanticide and the execution of children and the use of children for sex is immoral – an immorality that is universal and timeless. We have determined that slavery is immoral – an immorality that is universal and timeless. We have determined that witches and warlocks and sorcerers and wizards and magicians and magic do not exist and never did. We have determined that as a sexual orientation, homosexuality is healthy and normal. We have determined that any two consenting people, regardless of race or sex, have the right to a private intimate relationship. It would be a good and faithful small step to determine that any two consenting people, regardless of race or sex, have the right to establish a legal monogamous family relationship. There is no rational or medical or legal or biblical reason to discriminate against non-heterosexual people or to deny them any of their constitutional rights. Recognition and affirmation of those constitutional rights would be true obedience to the law of the Torah – true obedience to the spirit and direction and purpose and message of the law – true obedience to all the covenants with God – and true obedience to the intent and will and passion of God.

For a PDF of this article: RECLAIMING QUEERS Size = 217 KB

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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan are 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 ..........REFORMATION II ..........GOD IS - an update ..........RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE ..........RECLAIMING EXODUS ..........RECLAIMING EDEN ..........RECLAIMING THE ISSUES

Time to take Christ out of Christmas?

Spending my second Advent and Christmas season in the South, I’m still a bit taken aback by Christmas.  I knew that there would be a perceived “War on Christmas” when I moved here.  I still don’t understand why saying Happy Holidays, which originally emerged as a shorter way of saying “Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” along with Season’s Greetings, and now is a way of including Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa or any other holiday (Yule or Solstice, anyone?) is such a bad thing to say.  I get that people are worried about Christmas being left out, but with all the lights, carols, and traditions, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

But you probably know all that.  What surprised me most by moving here was the prevalence of Santa, shopping and, well, Christmas outside of Christ.  It’s not that much different than most of America, I suppose, but I was prepared for an anti-Santa and therefore anti-commercial Christmas.  But I found the opposite.   There is still much talk about needing Jesus but I hear more talk about shopping and Santa lists than I do about Christmas Eve services.

I took the above picture the March after we first moved here.  What I have come to realize is that the signs “Keep Christ in Christmas” which appear all over the billboards on the highway this time of year don’t really mean that.  What they mean is “Celebrate ONLY Christmas.”  And Christmas can include everything here from Santa to Yuletide, shopping and commercialization.

What does not seem to constitute Christmas is anything that takes away from the consumerist hold on the holiday.  Saying “Happy Holidays” does not imply a need to purchase a gift, whereas “Merry Christmas” does.  So therefore, school functions, parades, community events and businesses that use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are antithetical to the consumerist drive of the season.

I get that the word “Holiday” can be overused and misused.  Calling a Christmas Tree a “Holiday Tree” really makes no sense to me since trees are part of our European-American Christmas tradition from Germany.  Cookies that are shaped like trees, ornaments, bells and candy canes are clearly Christmas cookies and “Holiday cookies” is just an absurd generalization.  But overall, “Happy Holidays” should not cause the ruckus it seems to do every year.

I once heard a pastor say that it may be coming time to take Christ out of Christmas rather than keeping Christ in.  As much as we love the carols, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” does not really correspond with “Joy to the World!”  Most of our traditions are related to midwinter festivals that took place even before Christ was born and were not associated with the celebration of Christ’s birth for hundreds of years.

At my previous church, we celebrated “Christmas in July.”  Often an attempt to boost slow summer sales by department stores, our “Christmas in July” was without the gift-giving list-making present-wrapping craze.  We sang the Christmas carols of Christ’s birth.  We celebrated suddenly, without preparation, as if Advent had happened every day and suddenly it was Christmas.

I don’t think we could ever get away from December 25th.  And I still love watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and singing the silly songs of the season with my son.  But trying to connect it all with Christ is perhaps not necessary.  Maybe instead of trying to fit Jesus’ birth in by the Christmas tree and Santa coming down the chimney, we should consider a return to Epiphany celebrations, of Jesus’ manifestation to the world—away from the commercialization and craze.   Then instead of worrying about saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” we can say, “Happy Epiphany!” and not worry about the confusion with the commercial world, whose sales are done by then.

We really should not be threatened by “Happy Holidays.”  There are many who celebrate Christmas who aren’t Christian and don’t connect the date to the birth of Jesus anyway.  But I sense that in general, there is a deeper desire to get away from the commercialization and get back to celebrating a season of peace and charity, goodwill and celebration.  This more general seasonal, communal feeling is not necessitated by sales and shopping.

Perhaps it is time to take Christ out of Christmas, or at least take away the connection of Christ to consumption.  I think Jesus would be far less concerned with us saying “Happy Holidays” than our Christian acceptance of consumerism tied to the celebration of His birth.  Rather, I think growing the celebration around peace, charity and hospitality for all people would be more in tune with the message of John 3:17 of Christ coming so that the world might be saved through Him, instead of condemning those who say “Happy Holidays.”

Home Improvement

(The following appeared in an earlier version on Rev-o-lution.org) Confession: I am an HGTV junky.  It probably stems from my old rainy-day Saturday afternoon habit with my dad of watching “This Old House” with Bob Villa when the weather kept us inside.  I love watching home improvement and design shows, I enjoy reading Better Homes and Gardens and I can go up and down the aisles of any department store in their home decorating section and spend hours thinking about the ways I can change the décor of my living room to match the season (the latest manifestation of this obsession is finding the site Pinterest—if you value your free time and have an addictive personality, do NOT go there!)

However, there are times when I watch a home improvement show or read an article about a house remodel and my stomach will turn in knots, or I will feel the blood rush to my face and my brow furrow in anger: when the owner or buyer complains about their “dream home becoming a nightmare” because their choice of flooring isn’t in, or the wrong sink was installed from what they ordered.  It’s when the couple gets angry and yells at the contractor or storm out of a conversation because the design they had chosen won’t work and they act like it’s the end of the world.

Why should it bother me when it’s their home and their money?  When I hear those complaints, I start thinking of the homeless families we have known.  Back in Massachusetts, I met a family of five whose apartment flooded and they had no place to go and were sleeping in the basement of a church.  Both parents were working, all three kids were in school and doing well, and they were homeless.  I think of the family of three that moved for a new job only to be let go within the first week because the contract spoken over the phone was not the contract given when they arrived, and they could not afford the rent.  I think of the families here that moved in with friends and in Red Cross shelters after the tornadoes this spring.

But I think not only of the homeless, but all those families who have aspired to own their own home over the years but could not do so.  They could not afford the down payment, even though the monthly mortgage is less than the rent they are paying.  I read an article a few years ago about a woman in the Washington, DC area, who had lived in the same apartment for sixty years, and a family member had gone through her finances when she became ill and realized she could have paid the mortgage twice over—if only she had the money for the down payment.  In our part of Southern Oklahoma, we have more families living below the poverty level in rental homes, and few truly “homeless” people, yet these that live in run-down rental homes, in my mind, are still homeless, in that where they live is not a home, especially when the landlord does not care and the tenants have no idea if they can afford to live there one month to the next.

As I’ve shared on my blog at times, I get a little disgusted the greed of some people in trying to create a “dream home.” For many people, the dream is simply to own their own home, and due to the cost of living that is not possible.

But the other concern I have comes from the Home Improvement industry that has increased dramatically over the last twenty years.  I remember as a child going with my dad to the yearly Home Show.  All of the vendors from around the state would be there with their logos on yardsticks and measuring tapes and paint stirrers—fun trinkets to collect as a child!  Now, though, many of those vendors are out of business.  The last time I was home in Alaska, I was talking to my dad about how the small lumberyards and hardware stores have all gone out of business with the advent of Lowes and Home Depot coming to town—even to our small town in Alaska.

My dad started out as a finish carpenter–doing cabinets and countertops, but now he leaves the houses he builds unfinished. He figures every buyer is so picky these days that he won’t choose something and have a potential buyer not like the choice in cabinet or countertop, so he sells the house, without carpet or hardwood or laminate, without countertops or cabinets, without paint or ceiling tile–just unfinished. Thanks to the Home Improvement Industry, the rest can be taken care of by the buyer, because my dad doesn’t want to deal with people like I watch on the TV, changing their minds and complaining that their dream home is a nightmare.

I love home design and improvement—I love that the skills and knowledge I’ve learned from my dad have carried over into confidence of improving our own home that we bought this summer in Oklahoma.  But I’m a little sad that people no longer call up my dad to do new cabinets or renovate rooms in their house, or that he doesn’t have the confidence to even finish a house to a customer’s liking, because they can get a contractor at the mega home improvement store to do most of that for them now.

We may have lost out on the small hardware stores and local lumberyards in most areas, but we have not lost the ability to help others achieve the dream of owning their own home.  I’ve volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in the past, giving families a chance to not only own their own home but also to take responsibility of their own mortgage payments.

I still love watching design and home improvement shows. But I could do without the people complaining, who will still get a beautiful home once it is all said and done even if it is not exactly the way they wanted or imagined it. They still have a home that is theirs. They still get their American Dream. But there are ways we can turn away from the industry of home improvement to really improving the lives of those who desire to live in a home of their own.  There are housing organizations in local communities that work to help families with down payments and closing costs. You don’t have to go on Extreme Makeover to get a hand.  Families still have to make payments and upkeep and take responsibility for their home, but they get that little help needed to move from renting forever to ownership.

Back in May, my husband and I became homeowners for the first time.  For me, as a Christian home ownership goes hand in hand with hospitality: we may have come to a place in our lives where we feel we have “earned” it or “deserve” to own a home; however, we also have earned the right and responsibility to take care of the home we live in and to share the space when we are called by Christ to do so (read my reflections on Hospitality here).

Reflecting on home ownership has drawn me into these three realizations: one, that we are called to the right and responsibility of home ownership, to be part of the community we live in, to offer hospitality when we feel called by Christ to those in need; two, that we are called to speak on the justice issue of homelessness, especially family homelessness, but also to speak to the housing issues of the poor who have the dream of owning their own home but prior credit or the cost of funding a down payment have kept them out of home ownership; and three, I cannot help but think of Jesus, the son of a carpenter.

We don’t know much about Joseph in the Bible—he is there for a few fleeing scenes of Jesus’ birth and the one scene in Luke 2 of Jesus’ childhood.  We know that Jesus is called the “carpenter’s son” in Matthew and Mark.  In the Old Testament, the carpenters are referred to as the skilled workers whose craftsmanship was important to the construction of the temple and of David’s palace.  In Jesus, I see the carpenter becoming the one who builds the reign of God.

How are we working to build the reign of God in light of homelessness and housing for the poor?  The cries of those who didn’t get the right countertops in their dream home can capture the commercials for home improvement shows on TV, but the cries of those children who move from church basement to church basement, or apartment to apartment, who long for a roof over their heads that is more permanent—these are the cries that call us to action.  There are ways for you and your congregation to be involved, through Habitat for Humanity and other organizations working to cover the gap between can’t affording the down payment and home ownership.  Get involved, and follow the Carpenter who is building the reign of God on earth.