All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. – 2 Tim. 3:16-17
I stand with this ancient letter penned by Paul or a devoted follower. (Let us note that in the author’s day, our final collection of the canon — what’s in and what’s out — HAD NOT BEEN DETERMINED YET. It is very likely his use of the term Scripture refers widely to the writings of the faithful he knew, perhaps including “scriptures” lost to us or later rejected.) Big topic. Different post.
As a Christian, it is with the heart and eyes of Jesus Christ that I seek to understand and be inspired by the lessons of Scripture. And, I count in that the wise teachings of the ages and the contributions of many of God’s seeking children beyond the Jewish and Christian traditions.
All Scripture is inspired and USEFUL… for the ultimate goal of being proficient and equipped for every good work. This seems a richer, deeper commitment to make than to a simplistic literalistic obedience. In fact, the authors of Scripture certainly did NOT have in mind the approach to literal dispensational reading that many American Protestants have been steeped in, as it actually did not exist as a package until the 1800s. If the Divine goal is shaping us for good works in the tradition of Jesus, then I must be as willing to wrestle, grieve and argue with the “inspired” texts of the ages as I am willing to submit to their wisdom. And then there are questions of transmission and translation. Big topics. Different post.
We are not called to a robotic faith or to pass along the prejudices and partial understandings of past. We are called to wrestle, to pray, and to discern what really represents the HEART of the Creator today. It is clear that the Holy Spirit has worked within and outside of tradition to enlarge our perspective on true holiness and justice. On gender equality, abolition of slavery, rejection of genocide, creation of civil pluralistic societies we have had to say “No” to some historical belief or circumstance pictured in Scripture, for the sake of living out more consistently a deeper principle of God’s will.
Today, many of the loudest voices professing Christian biblical principles are those whose image of God and God’s will is consistent with the violence, enmity and cultural superiority depicted in the Scriptures. Others side with the voices of the prophets of justice, inclusion and an expanding sense of peoplehood because we find in those texts the same wisdom which animated Jesus.
The Holy Spirit which advances his work in and through us is at ever at work revealing our thoughts, our prejudices, and our idolatries. One way to receive the full inspiration of Scripture is to simply acknowledge and confess it for what it is: a partial collection of the glorious activities of God and God’s people, and an honest representation of the sins, hopes and evolution of various ways of human relating to God. It IS inspired and certainly profitable for our spiritual development to understand it and evaluate it through the lens of Good News.
If we are to grow up into a mature faith, we must remember that Jesus calls us friends, not servants. With him, we must fulfill our destinies in this hour, and like him we must work out the core of our faith and obligations in the face of tradition’s shortcomings.
“By their fruit, ye shall know them” says Jesus. (This has been an absolutely central principle in my faith journey and my support of LGBT people of faith through spiritual coaching and classes.) Perhaps we could say that inspiration is REALLY happening when our lives look like his, and that Scriptural attachments which do NOT produce such an ever-maturing fruit are not inspired by God.
What is Scripture inspiring in you?
The next time you find yourself thinking or wondering about “choice” involved in sexual and family diversity, I invite you to shift the lens of your question a bit. Choices ARE made. Think about the choices that your LGBT family members, friends and neighbors make, and the courageous souls that make them.
Across the globe, we face death, imprisonment, family abandonment, religious excommunication, bullying, teen homelessness, job or housing loss, and the current realities of vastly inequitable social benefits. Across the U.S. we face cruel campaigns to end or preempt public discussions about marital rights, such as in the upcoming constitutional amendment in Minnesota.
Yet, we LGBT citizens choose to be and to talk and to share and to work for our common good. In Uganda and elsewhere, our brothers and sisters choose to face — potentially — the death penalty.
Yes, we make choices.
What lure to life and goodness, to authenticity and necessary human dignity would call us to endure such dangers? What convictions of personal need and promise of Divine blessing could be so worthy that we are willing to take up the cross of forging public space and enduring such shaming scrutiny in today’s world?
Of course there are choices being made! Christian Scripture calls this moral force “counting the cost.”
We do choose greater integration of soul and body when we build loving relationships with those whom we celebrate sexually.
We do choose greater honesty amid our communities by coming out, and by so doing we advance a more godly and objective understanding of creation’s diversity.
Those of us from conservative religious upbringings often come to a faith crisis in which we choose to place a greater trust in the God who transcends human bias than in the views of the day (even those passed on for some time). For me, it was choosing to trust Christ’s grace and the clear fruits of the Spirit known in my loving partnership.
And most of us choose to show up at work, at church, in volunteer responsibilities or to family obligations choosing to share our gifts and talents. If we’re somewhat out, that could mean discrimination or danger; if we’re not, we can accrue the burdens of hidden truths and divided lives.
Yet, the choice for love is always worth it. Discerned choices for honesty with loved ones and fellow citizens alike flow from love. It is good for us. We see the momentum of advancing social freedoms today in the U.S. There is an oxygen-like nature to such honesty. Perhaps this is what is so contagious that fearful opponents continue in panic to condemn. We are being honest about Creation’s vast diversity, the greatness of a God whose love takes many forms, and the liberation of releasing age-old sinful fears of self and other. What gifts for the well-being of all! What a privilege to choose these things.
LOVE stirs within us as we forge our lives in relationship to God, uphold and shape tradition, engage in meaningful milestone rituals, serve our nation, nurture and bless children and tirelessly engage in community service. LOVE stirs within us as we refuse to give up our dreams of a life fully lived in holy self-determination (Baptists call it soul liberty) and family obligations and blessings.
The courageous people pictured above deserve our respect and solidarity. Organizations like Other Sheep and The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission might be a good start for research and support.
You may not live in such a physically dangerous climate for LGBT people. You may not know through personal, first-hand experience what it is like to face such hostility from those who hate your very existence or are scandalized by your CHOICE to be honest and present to your Life. You may not know how fragile our gains seem to be, and that perhaps LGBT people in your life never feel completely safe and respected even here in the U.S. You can choose to listen and learn about this. You can choose to be our advocate in the public square even if you personally do not agree with our choices.
Perhaps in your current moral convictions, you feel same-sex relationships are inferior. Or, horrible. Or, dangerous. Given the weight of tradition handed down in many quarters, that is understandable. But you, too, have a choice.
Will you pass on prejudices unexamined in the light of testimony and grace? Or will you choose to allow your mind to be renewed?
Will you stand by silently as your loved ones, co-workers and neighbors battle against second-class citizenship (and its slippery slope)? Or will you choose to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
It is a choice.
From a Facebook Correspondent:
I just read a note about Diversity, Equality, and trusting God.
Your bio indicates, ” In 1999, she became the first “out” member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be approved for ordination in the American Baptist Churches – USA.”
How does your lifestyle choice affect your faith?
Thanks for the time to read this…
Well, that’s a LONG answer:) In short, I’d say that the process of coming to peace and acceptance of my sexual identity required much wrestling, praying, studying and trusting. In the face of tradition’s teachings and the prejudices of our day, it is only the GRACE of God which can nurture and guide this stage of faith development for the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.
As I began to take God’s grace and priorities recorded in the Bible more seriously, I began to see and trust the patterns of Scripture. Over and over again, the people of Israel (especially the prophets), Jesus, and the early church heard God’s call to greater inclusion, bigger hearts, and challenging of the “external” forms of holiness and purity. Paul’s teachings on legalism, especially, remind us of the human temptation so alive in the early church — to judge by the form of things (often a source of national or religious pride) rather than the fruits of the Spirit.
So, to sum it up: It took a great leap of faith to trust that my experience of myself and my loving partnership was a part of the natural diversity of this world (not changeable or necessary to change). It took much study and prayer to see the deeper insights of Scripture. I accept that judgment of homosexuality is an example of a social prejudice handed down over time (as evidenced in the small number of Scripture texts about it) but that this is not the timeless truth of God. I trust that the moral force of Scripture is on the side of a God who chooses, calls and blesses whoever God wills. I trust that God evaluates same-sex AND heterosexual relationships today based on their virtues, not on the genitals or gender of those involved.
… hope this is a helpful view into my journey.
This BRIEF answer is only a glimpse into a the graced and empowering journey that I and so many other LGBT and allies of faith have taken. Learn more at Befriending the Bible: Reading Condemnation with CARE” in Chicago on September 8.
In preparing for the blessed opportunity to be with PFLAG-Chicago on July 15, I was so mindful of the long journey I’ve taken. It feels more like concentric rings on a tree than a journey through strangely disparate lands, though.
A fundamentalist Baptist childhood
a graced evangelical college chapter (laced with the pain of the closet)
the finding of sanctuary and healing as a young adult lesbian in an intimate LGBT-welcoming church (Grace Baptist Church)
the journey of ministry call and the fires of social justice awakening at Chicago Theological Seminary
a season of pastoral leadership that brought new rhythms of wellness and passion for personal and community health
(including spiritual paths and places!)
new paradigm shifts that make peace and prosperity a reality, and call me to build yet more bridges.
What is the impact of all of this?
More than ever, I know that my part to play in justice-making is more of a healing and bridge-building role than an activist’s battle strategy.
I look around at the volatility of our times and the fervent opponents to diversity and solidarity. What I see and feel is the brokenness we all share in the web of the Ego: fear, insecurity, anger, aversion, enmity. No prejudice which would withhold safety or equality from other groups is VALID, and must be challenged and overturned. But I trust more than ever this Knowing: ALL EMOTIONS ARE VALID. (By valid, I simply mean that people are having whatever experience they are choosing to have, and it is not my place to judge these difficult feelings.) While we do the necessary work to persuade, and to “lobby” and to convince minds and to gain votes for the sake of more just laws, we can either hold a transcendent and redemptive hope for all (New Creation) or simply replay the unsustainable script Winner Takes All with its short-term gains.
The social and political opponents of LGBT diversity, or transracial solidarity, are caught in the grips of age-old fears of difference and projections of blame and anger that the New Testament might call “the flesh.” But I am letting go of the battle mindset that “spirit” opposes “flesh. The Rainbow Journey has taught me that this idea does great internal damage to our personal spirituality and integrity. And, how often do we make our group out to be the ones who need to battle those “Others!”
Time and time again, when I’ve set a different course and nurtured a different energy, I’ve found that hearts and minds of opponents open up to new encounters and relationships. People long for a little respect and dignity; our brothers and sisters who are most afraid and angry, who are most caught up in emotional and social barriers or violence, need the healing presence of bridge-builders who genuinely care for their pain and can honor their authentic desires for Good. It is only then that ideas about the Good, or how to live out the Good, can be reexamined and let go where they are found to be limiting our God.
I most certainly have not “arrived” in my own struggles to occupy such a place. But I am a product of these multiple communities and hold them all, somehow, inside me. I have made peace with that. And I am more convinced than ever that spiritually speaking this is the KEY to “living well.” In my living, coaching and teaching I am focusing on personal transformation and healing. As LGBT folks and allies work on forgiveness, coming our, self-care or faith transitions, they find that the more self-compassion and acceptance we experience the less enmeshed in enmity we need to feel. It is only from this place of spiritual freedom and equanimity that we can truly be the creative change agents that our world so desperately needs.
I have the fabulous honor of attending a teleseminar series on transformational writing this week. One of Christine Kloser’s top-notch guests is Lisa Nichols, author of No Matter What. She took my breath away- such a spirited blend of glorious charisma and authentic humility. Find out more at http://motivatingthemasses.com/.
One thing I continue to find on this “living well” journey… I am surrounded by amazing peers and mentors who support my desire for personal transformation and commitment to being excellent in my service of others. Nichols introduced me to the phrase “God Placement System,” and I’ve really been taking that in. I am aware that often in this life we find ourselves needing to trust that the GPS is working properly. Sometimes our preconceived notions point us in other directions. And sometimes others might challenge our GPS readings.
Most of my LGBT clients, students and readers across the country know what it is to doubt their GPS. And, to have others doubt their GPS. One of the richest blessings of any faith journey is to have been tested by such doubt. This refines us and our ability to discern which voice is truly God’s, that voice which is truly life-giving. We are a gift to Christ’s church precisely because we have challenged the idolatries of traditional norms and dared to trust that tradition is not God.
We can move through times of confusion and challenge with a graceful power if we depend on the unconditional love of the Holy Spirit to guide us. As we move into the season of Pentecost and Pride this June, I will be meditating here especially on the scriptures and lessons which have nourished my journey as a lesbian Christian pastor and coach.
Are there theme or texts you would especially like to examine together? Let me know, and we’ll grapple with that together.
At its core, civility isn’t an issue of choosing our words more carefully. Civility is an issue of attitude. Ultimately we will discover that every human exchange bears the promise of blessing instead of cursing each other. The more we can admit that God is always at hand and loving each one of us as (equal) children, the more we’ll treat each other in ways guided by our common Father-Mother God.
— excerpt from The Christian Science Monitor’s devotional column on 3/5/12.
How might we be civil with those whose choices are causing pain? With those whose short-sightedness or prejudice would distort or diminish the welfare of others? With those who use the name of God to perpetuate hatred or insular complicity in social ills?
This Lent, I pray for daily openness to transformation. A transformation of heart and character, not just external matters and etiquette. This piece on civility points to the heart of the matter: an equanimity of spirit about one another in our challenging relationships is the only way we can bear the fruit of blessing. Genuine blessing that empowers social change, just relationships, and thriving kinship. Blessing is not cheap affirmation, but holding a vision of empowerment and generativity.
For me, striving to know and be a blessing means always striving to see the Higher Self in myself and others, even when beliefs and actions are expressing limited current capacity for loving actions. For my spiritual coaching clients, it often means creating some essential space to simultaneously nurture their own good and their practices of prayer for others. We often have so many more choices than we perceive. For all of us, it can sometimes be very very hard on the Ego, which really wants to name Good Guys and Bad Guys. But its a kingdom pursuit that is every bit as worthy as the priceless pearl of Matthew 13:45-6
Did I say it was hard?
I will pray for you and I ask you to pray for me!
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” — Matthew 7:24-27
This passage has held and nourished many returns – my returns to study — over the years. It’s so simple really. To hear and act upon the words of Jesus. Jesus (not church or government or culture). The words he’s just shared (the Sermon on the Mount, not later pronouncements of Tradition).
What is it to hear?
To hear and perceive the Good News in them.
To hear and feel Gospel-style judgment (not condemnation) in them.
To hear and know more of God because of them.
To hear the Truth in silence beneath our hapless and self-centered words.
To hear the pain of this world, as He did.
What is it to act on them?
All of these are to act on them, in the manner Jesus himself acted upon Word:
To submit to their wisdom in hope, obedience and simplicity.
To chew them with earnestness, as a sweet scroll, turning food into life and into waste as well.
To wrestle with them as Jacob, settling for nothing less than blessing.
To resist their use as weapons, as lifeless tools in the hands of prejudice or legalism.
To take upon — as a yoke — an inner meaning which is Life and Spirit.
To embody them as Word-made-flesh, unafraid of our place in the family of things.*
Jesus cried out with lament on another day, “If only you knew the ways that make for peace!” Today, He stills beckons us to the blessing of the universal and nonviolent compassionate spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. When we embrace such a life with our whole being, we must dissolve Ego’s opposition and the backlash of those who themselves are threatened by such grace. But it is truly the way to the life of resilience and witness that is pictured by the house on the rock. It is the life of freedom from judgments, vengeance and prejudice. It is the life that lasts.
Where do you see examples of the steadfast in your life, of the weathering of failure and finitude?
Where do you see the crushing impact of despair, discrimination, or disappointments?
What fresh word of life is for you this day?
*I am invoking Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese here. Check out Panhala for the full text and lots more great poems.
“You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” — Jim Rohn
This is a wonderfully life-giving and empowering reminder to me. I do not hear it as piety but as prophetically wise, not as quietism but responsibility-taking, not as escapism but as incredible rigor. My clients and students who are working on sustainable activism, biblical self-care, forgiveness or coming out as gay or lesbian Christians are thriving because they are learning what they REALLY have charge of — their “energy leadership.”
This approach – quite suitable for Lent — yokes self-examination with the tasks of transformation of circumstances. It makes the interior life the starting point.
I join others from time to time in the critique of Western individualism and the corrosive impact it has had when taken to the extreme. But I will not settle for a faith and a justice-calling that does not take seriously — reverentially — that resilience that can be cultivated only when we remember the limits of what we have charge of…
It is, I would go so far to say, GOOD NEWS.
What do you think?
I am enjoying reading a collection of Emanuel Swedenborg’s writing, and contemplating deeply the Lord of Love and Wisdom.
My former pastor, Rev. Ann-Louise Haak, gave me a great image of Lent a few years back. Like plants who turn toward the sun for greater light, warmth and thriving we are called in seasons like Lent to make those intentional turns — those course corrections — that have been depriving us of Love, Light, and Lasting Nourishment. Any sacrifice or penance that is of God is for this.
On the way to the cross with Jesus, He enlivens my solidarity to care with increasing purity of affection about how the vessel which is my life serves Christ’s purposes of Love and Wisdom. Like a plant seeking Sun, this is what I long for.
May all who claim his name and his calling, look deeply within our hearts and minds this Lent.
Does the form and the content of our Christian life bless this creation through Love and Wisdom? Does our claim to the power of his life, death and resurrection make us more like him? Or, does our “faith” rationalize a separation from the needs of this world, a judgment even of the frailties and sins of this life? If truly enlivened by Christ, we long for the expansions of our hearts and minds and to be used fully by Wisdom and for Love. We grow in our capacity to serve others, to see people with God’s eyes, and to acknowledge the humanity of all (to name them neighbors, even, capable of God’s good no less than we are). That is the uncontestable victorious world-resurrecting power of his life.
Swedenborg writes in Divine Love and Wisdom about the self-love which manifests in behavior that is controlling, and how this is the furthest thing from Divine Love. In every season, confession about such self-love is redemptive. The self-love sins of the Church in this arena have been great, and are blemishes on its testimony to Christ. This is most manifestly reflected today in the lustful and scapegoating opposition to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons. A frenzy of lies and distortions keep many well-intentioned conservatives in a place of fear and fear’s temptation to control. When we stop trying to control others, we may be given the grace to truly see them as they are with all their frailties, shortcomings and gifts. We are given the privileged and Good News opportunity to repent, for so often when we think we are loving the Lord we are really loving ourselves.
As I look around at the religious voices aiming for more control (so different from liberty!) in the public square, I lament at the collective sin of so much of Christ’s church. As a lesbian Baptist minister and life coach, it is easy to name my horrors about the Religious Right and the pain these brothers and sisters cause. But conservative and liberals in different ways fail the test of love and wisdom. Where are the humble hearts who seek only to love the Lord (not so much our social idolatries)? What could we create if we could acknowledge Others’ fears, understand them with Divine perspective, and bless one another even as we stand against injustice and violence?
May we be granted the grace to repent — each in the measure of our own need — and animated by faith to turn ourselves like plants to the great Creator of True Love and True Wisdom.