Archive for September 2016
“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”
This phrase has been used countless times by some Christians to pretend to offer welcome to LGBT people while condemning the natural consequence of the way God made them. It speaks for a shallow kind of love at most: one that claims to be okay with a person’s same-sex orientation while stigmatizing its fulfillment. This noxious phrase also summarizes the underlying attitude of many people of other religions towards sexual minorities. It is a phrase whose time has come – and gone. More than ever, it needs to be excised from the vocabulary of faith, once and for all, as it pertains to homosexuality.
What happened in Orlando can be interpreted in many ways and at many levels. One of them surely is as an act of unspeakably violent hatred against gay people, motivated in part by a twisted interpretation of a religion. This horrifying massacre happens against the backdrop of a backlash against increased acceptance of LGBT people in American society: hundreds of anti-LGBT laws have been passed at the state and local level in the last few months. This mass murder and this rash of legalized bigotry remind us that religion continues to be part of the homophobia problem.
Things are changing fast. Young people who have grown up in evangelical churches are increasingly mystified that their pastors still believe homosexual sex to be sinful. Fewer and fewer of these young evangelicals are going with the “culture war” program, as more and more of them maintain friendships with lovely, caring LGBT people who are in obviously healthy same-sex sexual relationships. And more and more of these young evangelicals, both straight and gay, are getting disgusted with the faux welcome that their pastors and churches offer to LGBT people. There is a category of evangelical churches that take great pains to appear culturally relevant. They look and feel like places that would be LGBT-friendly, and make no mention of homosexuality in their sermons and websites. But eventually both gay and straight folks discover that these churches claim to love the homosexual sinner but hate the sin of homosexual sex. Mosaic Church in Hollywood is an example. You have to probe deep into the internet to discover that this groovy congregation with hipster decor and Hollywood production values is really a Southern Baptist church. Its pastor, Erwin McManus, in an LA Times interview, described homosexuality as a “lifestyle”, which is fundamentalist code language for a “choice” rather than something intrinsic to a person’s very being.
Fake love and empty welcome need to be named for what they are. Let’s save gay people and their straight allies the pain and hassle of going to churches that pretend to be what they aren’t. It’s time to love Christian homophobes while outing them for their homophobia. And it can be a genuine love, because homophobia is not part of who they are. It really is a choice! Abstaining from homophobia deprives them of nothing but delusion for themselves and pain for others.
There’s at least one thing that progressive Christians can do right now to go public with a truly loving form of the faith. A simple thing: posting all-gender signs on our church restrooms. Let’s show America that we have gone beyond the bathroom wars, and that we stand for full LGBT inclusion and affirmation. Through Progressive Christians Uniting, you can order the signs at a deep discount, and get publicity for it at a national level. Click here for details.
These past few months, we’ve been learning from our friends, Cindy and Laurie from PG&E, about how to save energy to help lessen our environmental impact and also to lower our monthly costs to boost our own finances, I thought we would enjoy reading this perspective of contributing to both a healthier environment and a stronger, more just economy through the simple aspect of how we handle our personal clothing.
The bread which you store up
is the bread of the hungry;
the garment hanging in your wardrobe
is the garment of him who is naked;
the shoes you do not wear
are the shoes of the one who is barefoot;
the acts of charity that you do not perform
are so many injustices that you commit.
~ St. Basil the Great
When people think about being more environmentally responsible, the first topics that come to mind usually involve transportation habits, utilities usage and food consumption. These are all very important. However, there is another area that we often overlook: Clothing. Almost every decision we make about clothing can have an impact on other people as well as on the earth we all share.
In honor of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, I offer the following. These are all very practical suggestions, but they can also be a gateway to a deeper spiritual exploration. See in these tips a nudge to focus, simplify, contemplate and rest. They can help us tune in better to our relationship with the earth and with our fellow humans.
1.Buy Fewer Clothes.
This is a hard one for Americans. We have become accustomed to accumulate–let’s get more and more. But ask yourself–do you really enjoy all of the outfits you own? Like most American men, I use the same half dozen shirts and pants while many other items hang in my closest and rarely see the light of day. I spend more time just managing all this extra stuff in storage than I do actually using it. Clothing is very resource intensive. The cotton grown is sprayed with more pesticides than most food crops and synthetic materials are petroleum based. Most clothing is also made by people exploited for barely subsistence wages. We can do better.
- Donate Clothing.
It is easy for me to hoard. Sometimes it is the quote from St. Basil above that helps me let go. I have possessions taking up space when there are poor people who could benefit from them. I keep some mementoes for nostalgia, and I try to purge the rest. It helps to think of it as just sharing it with someone else rather than truly letting it go.
- Buy Second Hand Clothing.
It’s not just ecological; it’s not just economical . . . it’s also fashionable! Why spend $30-60 on a pair of pants when you can get virtually the same item for $5? You may end up with a stylish retro wardrobe. It may take some hunting and pecking in order to find the right items, but you have to do that at retail stores, too. I know people who dress themselves almost entirely from thrift stores and they look every bit as sharp and stylish as people spending more money for the same items at retail prices. We can live smarter.
- Consider Organic/Fairly Traded Clothes.
This one is hard, as the availability of these items is still pretty low and the cost is often high. However, we must ask ourselves not why these items are so expensive, but rather why is most clothing so cheap? Chances are, that cost is being paid for in damage to the earth and abusive labor practices.
- Wash Clothes Less Often.
I enjoy being clean as much as anybody, but let’s face it–a day at the office does not require a thorough wash with heavy duty laundry detergent. Wash socks and undergarments each time but pants, sweaters and shirts can often get multiple uses between washes. This saves water, reduces the environmental pollution from detergents and saves on your carbon footprint. Most importantly, it frees up time that you could spend with your family and on other nobler pursuits, such as allowing time for rest and for honoring God. We have been conditioned to think we have to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and spend virtually all of our energy in this never-ending treadmill of consumption and busy-ness. Most of it is not necessary–all that extra work depletes us, depletes the environment, and gets in the way of our relationships and spirituality. We can re-learn how to be people who honor the Sabbath–rest and contemplation of God are so important. In fact, Pope Francis recently recognized “contemplation of creation” as a Spiritual Work of Mercy!
- Let Nature Do The Drying.
This has become controversial. In fact, there are many neighborhoods where it is prohibited to dry your clothes outdoors! Some of those neighborhoods are starting to change and allow this once again. In the meantime, you can get an indoor drying rack. Why spend money and pollution-producing energy spinning clothes in a clothes dryer when God has given us the sun and the wind for that very purpose? Maybe the climate in your area is not conducive to drying clothes this way year-round, but all of us can take advantage of it from time to time. I have a collapsible wooden drying rack from a local Amish builder, similar to the picture. I use it to hang clothes as well as house plants.
- Use Ecologically Friendly Detergents.
We are all downstream from some people and upstream from others. The earth is a fully integrated system. What goes down the drain goes to our neighbors, and we get what others have put down the drain previously. It goes into the topsoil, rivers and oceans. Animals and plants can be harmed.
- Use Energy Efficient Machines.
When possible, find an Energy Star model. A good rule of thumb is to keep the machines you have and use them until they break down. Getting rid of working appliances in order to swap them out with more efficient models sounds great at first, but all the energy required to manufacture and transport a new appliance, plus all of the landfill waste that accumulates when it is thrown away, means that it is better to use what you have until it cannot be used any more.
- Keep It Retro!
I often find myself perusing the home fixer upper channels. All too often, I see a family on House Hunters walk into a perfectly functional house and declare that they would have to “upgrade” all of the appliances for something more stylish. I have to admit it is hard to watch that. I like style as much as anybody, but to throw away something that works perfectly fine just because it does not have a contemporary look seems wasteful. We ought to at least consider whether there are ethical implications of that decision. Can those used appliances be given to low-income families or will they just be thrown out? That is money we could use for other purposes, such as sharing with the poor. The time spent selecting, purchasing and installing new items could be time spent with our families, walking in nature or volunteering to help the needy.
How many times have we all thrown out a shirt just because it was missing a button? We should ask ourselves–is it really more convenient to get in your car, drive to the nearest retail outlet, select and purchase a new shirt, remove tags and drive back to your home than it is to simply sew on a new button? Some effective marketing has conditioned us to believe that buying something new is easier and more convenient–often, it is not.
As Pope Francis describes so well, being environmentally minded is not an isolated practice. How we treat our common home is also directly related to how we treat ourselves and our fellow human beings, especially the poor. It shows how we honor and regard God, too. In just these few examples, we can see that when we are wasteful with clothing choices, not only do we potentially harm God’s creation, but we can also waste our time, talent and treasure doing things that are very unnecessary. We can squander what God has given us running this never-ending treadmill of consumption. As St. Basil reminds us, that is all time, talent and treasure that could be mobilized to benefit the poor.
~ Frank Lesko
Progressive Christianity 9-8-16
Meetings continue Sacred Conversations on Race
As part of its vision of becoming a social action church, Trinity United Church of Christ is taking a unique approach to sacred conversations on race — focusing on the issue in a 12-step program aimed at addressing the racial divide in its community of Concord, N.C.
Each Wednesday for the past six weeks, Trinity UCC hosts a Racists Anonymous meeting, inviting anyone to come in to discuss racism or their racist tendencies from a spiritual perspective.
“It really goes back to the UCC Sacred Conversations on Race that started about nine years ago,” said the Rev. Nathan King, Trinity’s pastor. “More recently, with the escalation of violence in our society, particularly against black men, we had to do something. We were coming into church every Sunday and we were praying for someone who had died in a tragic way perpetrated by violence.”
About a dozen people have been continually attending the Racists Anonymous meetings, and each successive meeting has attracted new people to Trinity UCC, explains Carol Stanley, the group facilitator. “The first week we only had church members attend, but after that we’ve had more and more people from the community,” Stanley said. “It is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-age group. We have a couple of millennials as well as 80 year-olds. We also have a few LGBTQ attending.”
Each meeting starts with a prayer and greeting before moving into the Statement of the Problem and the Statement of the Solution. Stanley then shares the 12 steps of the program the attendees hope to accomplish, and the group goes around introducing themselves — some even admitting they are racist and others saying they aren’t sure. From there, the members share with each other the ways in which they experience racist actions.
“This is based on racism that permeates every area of our lives since we were born — the systemic racism in our society,” Stanley said. “That is a difficult topic to grasp and apply. None of us want to be a racist — we want to be a ‘good guy’. We are slowly beginning to realize we need to unearth our deep down racist thoughts and responses in order to change our world, one person and one day at a time.”
King and Stanley said the congregation launched the program in North Carolina as a reaction to the number of high profile shootings happening in America— from police shootings of unarmed African Americans, to mass shootings in Orlando and Charleston, S.C.
“It was painful to stand by and watch these events unfold in our country and in our world,” Stanley said. “This seemed to be one small thing we could do here in North Carolina. I think it is going pretty well. We are still new and starting out. It is hard to ‘confess’ our racism, but we are getting a bit more honest about it.”
Trinity UCC started Racists Anonymous, adapting a program created by the Rev. Ron Buford, the pastor of Congregational Community Church in Sunnyvale, Calif. and developer of the God is Still Speaking campaign.
The California program began with meetings last year under the name “Here I Stand!”. “I saw Ron Buford’s work and responded to him with interest,” Stanley said. “Our church has been thinking that race was our next social justice issue and the time is right. I brought it to our Consistory and they enthusiastically embraced it.”
After a trip to Europe, where Buford noticed that racism wasn’t directed at him but instead at East European ethnic groups, he sought to find a way to “look at our own racism, to own it, to get rid of it,” he said. “It’s why, I believe, we have institutional racism everywhere until we rid ourselves of our own racism. If we could get people to be more mindful of the ways they are racist, we might raise a generation of children in a society free of racism.”
The program is easily adaptable for any congregation that wants to host its own meetings. “We can send churches out a kit — and it really is a set of documents and it includes a covenant that the resources be used in a particular way, a guide to help create meetings so that people working the 12 steps can come in and find a community,” he said.
Buford admits that, early on, he predicted Racists Anonymous would have met for a few weeks and stopped. But now he has seen it expand to different congregations such as Trinity UCC.
“It’s the way the church began, in small groups, with small people confessing and giving testimony,” Buford said. “It is one of the most Christian of things.”
Trinity UCC will continue the current program for a full 90 days — into October, King estimates — and then will assess what tweaks they might make to it. “I would expect it to continue,” King said. “I would hope it would continue. The feedback on this has been predominantly positive. Ninety-nine percent of the feedback we’ve gotten online has been positive, and we’ve gotten inquiries from others on how to start this. It seems that this has touched a nerve, and that offers some hope.”
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the UCC, feels a sense of pride for Trinity’s witness. “This is the kind of community mission that matters, and [their] leadership in this is much appreciated,” said Dorhauer, who pledged to make white privilege discussions a key initiative of the church.
To move the initiative along, Dorhauer and four others writers have collaborated to create “White Privilege: Let’s Talk—A Resource for Transformational Dialogue,” an adult UCC curriculum designed to invite church members to engage in safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold conversations on race. The curriculum will be available to the wider church on Thursday, Sept. 1 free of charge from UCC Resources.
“I’m looking forward to the curriculum,” said Stanley, who had a Ph.D. and worked as a school psychologist. “I think that will be helpful from a spiritual perspective and not just a psychological one.”
Written by Anthony Moujaes
August 30, 2016
We seem to be deluged with never-ending newspaper and TV coverage about the Syrian/Iraqi refugee crisis and the threat of extremist violence. Each time it shows up in my newsfeed on Facebook, cuts into a TV show I am enjoying, or I hear people in a coffee shop talking about it frantically, I am bombarded with just how much fear and terror is brought to life with these issues.
It reminds me of the river of anxiety we are unknowingly and constantly swimming in. It feels extraordinarily unsettling because I am often left with more questions than answers, which only generates more fear and helplessness around violence that is rooted in religion. It just lives there in the background, and who wants this ongoing sense of powerlessness about the potential for violence to emerge in their own backyard?
My faith tells me that what I do matters, it leaves a ripple effect for all time, a lasting legacy based on what I do and how I engage ALL life while here on earth – but how often do I really ENGAGE that belief?
Recently I attended an event where 4 religious leaders from the Kansas City area spoke about their own faith responses in regards to confronting extremist violence and the refugee crisis here at home as well as abroad. Unfortunately the fear embedded in these issues does not often stimulate thoughtful or reasoned responses, nor ones that look to our core belief systems and faith values. This got me thinking more deeply about my own faith response, not just my words, but my actions.
Do I have a faith response to extreme violence? And if so, what is it? Sometimes, in my most upset moments, I have a fleeting thought that the only answer to insane, extreme violence is violence because that’s the only thing they could hear! Yet I know that’s not the answer. As I listened to the panelists, of course I knew there were other ways to respond, ones invoked by a deep love for my faith.
My faith tells me that what I do matters, it leaves a ripple effect for all time, a lasting legacy based on what I do and how I engage ALL life while here on earth – but how often do I really ENGAGE that belief? I realized that my faith needs to IGNITE my imagination. I mean REALLY ignite it. When I think about anyone who has committed an act of such extreme violence in the name of his or her own religion, I have to ask myself, “Does my faith ignite my imagination with the same passion and drive to take action?”
We forget that our imagination is actually neutral. It is a faculty of the mind that forms, manipulates and molds images and ideas, and these ideas, when joined with the desire of the heart, hopefully spur us to take action. Creativity is our instrument of being, and we can use it to create a life of joy, peace, compassion and kindness. Yet as I look around the world, I know we are equally equipped to use our imagination to create a life of violence, destruction and hate.
To ignite is to set something on fire, make it red hot, like flames! Now granted, anyone who commits an act of violence in the name of their faith has absolutely ignited their imagination, but certainly not in a way that is life-affirming or joy-filled. So again I ask, does my faith IGNITE my imagination?
Has my own faith lit my imagination on fire to take actions that are just as radical, just as passionate and just as committed to life as someone may be to death and destruction?
My faith tells me that we belong to each other, that without you there is no me. My faith is rooted in the knowing that God is everywhere present, and that principle we call God, Spirit, Atman, Christ Consciousness, Divine Mind, is made known in the world through me – through what I express. This expression though is not just my words of faith, it must also be the exchange between us of what matters, which is made known by what I do.
So what have I done today that is radical, outside the box, challenges conventional wisdom, and leaves people with their mouths open in wonder, all in the name of my faith – which is love, compassion, kindness and joy? Words and good thoughts alone cannot ignite my imagination to staying faithful to what I hold most dear. The next time you hear about a violent act done in the name of faith, ask yourself “Does my faith ignite my imagination with the same passion?”
We are the restoration of our original authenticity and goodness and it is time to set that on fire, time to IGNITE our imagination and go do that, the embodiment of your faith.
Kelly Isola, August 25, 2016
Visit Kelly’s Blog Here
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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