From Push, by Sapphire

“But me when I think of it I’m more inclined to go wid Shug in The Color Purple. God ain’ no Jew or Muslim, maybe he ain’ even black, maybe he ain’ even a “he.” Even now I go downtown and see the rich shit they got, I see what we got, too. I see those men in vacant lot share one hot dog and they homeless, that’s good as Jesus with his fish. I remember when I had my daughter, nurse nice to me — all that is god. Shug in Color Purple say it’s the “wonder” of purple flowers. I feel that, even though I never seen or had no flowers like what she talk about.

Richard Rohr, writing The Universal Christ, works hard at the same point.

The “United” Methodist Church

The UMC may be having an existential crisis and be headed for a schism between the misnamed “progressives” and “conservatives.” In the 1970s, a group of perhaps closeted bishops rammed through a regulation prohibiting gay clergy from marrying or ministering in the church, or even marrying a gay couple off church property, on pain of expulsion.
So-called “conservatives” want to maintain and enforce this change, while “progressives” want to go back to the old rule book. The argument is already upside down.
Conservatives want to save. It’s right there in the name. But today, “conservatives” are in love with this change, which has damaged the denomination’s ministry, and continues to, while “progressives” want to go back to Christianity, remove the exclusionary sentence, that was born in fear, and resume ministry to and by the Christ in all of us.
All means all. That’s not a progressive position. It’s obvious.

note: I use “gay” to indicate any position on the gender spectrum. The idealistic string of letters can’t do the job, no matter how long it gets in its effort to be all-inclusive.

A Problem with “Christians”

Nominal Christians love to support arguments with Bible quotations. Such arguments usually lead nowhere, settle nothing, and expose the faith of the arguers as mere belief.

The Talmud says Rabbi Hillel summed up the entire Torah (the Pentateuch, to Christians) with the so-called Golden Rule. Yet the Bible also says, “I hate them with a perfect hate.” And “May all their children be orphans.” My favorite: “Meals and wine are made for laughter, and money is the answer to everything.”

Weaponizing Biblical quotations obviously misuses them, apt though they may be. If you can’t argue a point without spouting Bible verses, you may be missing the whole point, which is love. Compassion. Empathy. That’s your measure, and the agreement you seek.

All legitimate religions share compassion as their common core. This even includes ethical atheism. If we can acknowledge the God-within-us (not above, or dwelling in splendid isolation somewhere, but in each of us), we’ll all win.

The God within us, our spark of goodness that glows in some and remains denied or asleep in others, can give us the courage to reach out, listen, and find compassion and agreement.

That’s how we save the world.

“The Image of God is love; love is the Image of God.”                                                            “Imago Dei amor est; amor Imago Dei est.”

Or, sounding more intellectual,

“Imago Dei caritas est; caritas Imago Dei est.”

Cautious Compassion?

A recent church bulletin where I attend gave us a thought provoking unison prayer, which read in part, “Forgive us for…our cautious compassion and too-frequent reluctance. Shape in us a trust that leads to…bold compassion.”

In my Facebook post, I edited the petition even further, to “Forgive our cautious compassion and shape us to courageous compassion.” A reader was kind enough — Thank you! — to say she didn’t really get what the writer (my pastor, possibly working from material at hand) was saying with those contrasting terms.

My reader offered that cautious compassion might expect help or compassion in return. Even though I wouldn’t call that compassion at all, it’s a useful point. I might call it passive-aggressive behavior. “After all I’ve done for you…” We’ve heard about enough of that, and I hope we never say it.

Compassion (fellow-feeling, feeling with) is, like love, a one-word summation of all legitimate religions. It’s the foundation of the Golden Rule, which all legitimate religions have in common.

As I understand it, Grace is a gift from God of love, blessedness, and an attitude of gratitude, even if we don’t seem to deserve it. The great prophets, including the one Christians call the Messiah, show us that we can demonstrate compassion in the same spirit that God grants us Grace: no expectation of any favors in return.

We practice cautious compassion when we feel for our brothers and sisters in danger or in need, talk about their plight with great feeling, and click sad or angry faces under their memes. But direct action? Oh no.

Rather, we are called to courageous compassion, to imitate the prophet we say we follow, and actually show love for our sisters and brothers. Become active in helping the homeless, running for office, joining a committee or service organization, recycling clothing, teaching kids or adults, going on mission trips, donating to compassionate causes, talking with someone who’s having a bad day, writing thank you notes, just saying hello to people.

Courageous compassion can push us outside our comfort zone. Perfect.

Lord’s Prayer error?

Recently, Pope Francis observed that “And lead us not into temptation” doesn’t make sense, because it implies that God’s been tempting us with bad stuff. James had something to say about that in his short, direct epistle, at 1:13-14: “No one who is tested should say, ‘God is tempting me!’ This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.” Turns out, the Koine Greek can be translated more than one way (surprise!), even in the Lord’s Prayer.

The pope invades our comfort zones with a different wording, but the published English felt awkward to me, so I tinkered, and the result is

Please lead us away from temptation, and deliver us from evil. Words in italics aren’t in the traditional prayer. Please is an addition to maintain the same rhythm and number of syllables, but don’t you think it’s about damn time we said please instead of just putting in our order, as at a McDonald’s window?

Anyway, I’m reciting the Lord’s Prayer differently now. I like it. The pope has inspired me. Those Jesuits, you know, always upsetting the comfortable.

Horrible People

A traveler stopped at the gate of a city and said, “I need a place to settle down. What are the people like who live here?”
An old woman of the city asked the traveler in turn, “What were the people like in the city you left?”
“Horrible,” replied the traveler. “They took advantage, lied, stole, and attacked without warning.”
“Then keep going,” said the old woman. “You won’t like the people here any better.”
Another traveler arrived, also asking about those who lived there, and the woman at the gate asked him about the city he had left.
“Oh, they’re wonderful folks, open, honest, and loving. I wanted to learn about the world, and they wished me well and promised to welcome my return, if I ever came back.”
“Come in, traveler. You will love our people, and they will welcome you like old friends.”
This traveler, like the city he had left, is Christian. The city welcoming him is Muslim, and he will indeed feel welcome, because all true religions share the same guiding principle, kindness.
And the woman at the gate answered both travelers perceptively, knowing that you get what you give, and the first traveler’s complaint about the nasty people he had lived with spoke loudly about his own behavior toward others. Everything he had said to condemn his fellow citizens as evil was, of course, self descriptive.
And of course, the second traveler will be happy with the new friends he meets. He’ll treat them as he wants to be treated. Respect earns respect.
And of course again, this little fable, originally Buddhist, might seem more simple than real life, but we can see the truth in it.
Religions go on and on, with history, rituals, celebrations, music, commandments, ceremonies, and rules, but they all come together at the top of the mountain, in the thin air where you have breath for just one word to live by: kindness.

The “Nashville Statement”

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood — now there’s a title designed to reassure the insecure — has spoken. Article 10 — they elevate it: X — is obviously only one section of many (XIV). This council of 187 (CLXXXVII) evangelical leaders calls itself complementarian; that is, men and women naturally have different required roles that complement each other. Therefore, ordination of women is restricted, and male chefs should get out of the kitchen and stick to grilling.

Article X of the pentecostals’ 2017 convention document states that marriage is one man and one woman.

It affirms chastity outside marriage and fidelity within.

It affirms the distinct and divinely ordained differences between men and women and links these to anatomy.

It mandates chastity if one is attracted to one’s own gender, and that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception” is a sin.

It states that those who “approve of homosexual immorality and transgenderism” are living in sin.

So much wrong here. Where does a thinking, fact based religious person begin? Article X is a target rich environment, as military folks might say. I’ll follow the list, usually in order.

The opening statement is just the first shot in an obviously belligerent, defensive sounding salvo. They’re right in saying marriage means one man and one woman. It can also mean loving partners of the same anatomical gender. An even scarier fact for the Council, if they were to study the facts, is that partners’ hormones can lean strongly one way or another in spite of genitalia. For instance, liberals love to make fun of the Bachmans’ marriage, because Michelle’s husband seems so effeminate. “Oh, he’s gay, believe me!” Suppose he is; is that our business? If they’re a loving couple, good for them. But if he’s a gay man who married a female for appearances and to satisfy rigid religious belief, pentecostals would applaud this marriage, even if Mr. Bachman lives in torment and denial of his own identity. Would then Mr. Bachman be true to himself? If not, would Jesus bless such a lie?

That the sages of the council affirm the distinct and divinely ordained differences between men and women, and link these to anatomy, is an underhanded way — pardon the expression; should I have said quick and dirty way? — of checking us at the door for our fitness for various tasks without assessing talent. Not only does this fascination with magical genitalia tell us much we might not want to know about the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, but it implies that God has a penis and probably looks just like that old white man on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. They’d say that Phyllis Schlafly, who spent her life on the road saying women should stay home, was right. In her words, that is. Ignore her actions.

As to chastity outside marriage and fidelity within, the behavior of many of the composers of the “Nashville Statement” makes a mockery of the whole Article. Life is simpler, perhaps, for the minority who actually practice chastity to this degree, but even for the purest of heart and behavior, this is a goal only to aspire, as is consistently imitating Jesus. And breaking such a vow of chastity should bring down love and support, not condemnation.

And speaking of chastity, the ignorance behind the mandate to remain chaste if one is attracted to one’s own gender is breathtaking. This means, really, taking a vow of chastity. The Roman Catholic church has proven thousands of times that such a vow is often too heavy to bear. Such a proscription is a leading cause of teen suicide, alcohol and drug addiction, and tortured heterosexual marriages.

And look again at that thinking. If one is attracted to one’s own gender, then one obviously has a gay or trans “self-conception,” which is another sin: double jeopardy, and a recipe for insanity for the complementarianist in such a position. These evangelicals insist in spite of all fact that any form of being gay or transgender is a “psychological condition,” which opens the door to pray-the-gay-away treatments, which do terrible mental damage.

One ray of hope: By acknowledging that one actually can be “attracted to one’s own gender”, the council implicitly acknowledges the existence of the natural variety of sexuality. Homosexuality has always been a feature of the human race. It’s in the Bible — the ancient Hebrews wouldn’t forbid something that didn’t exist — and it’s even winked at: See the beautiful love story of David and Jonathan. And anyone who works with animals and is observant should be able to tell you that gay cows, cats, penguins, etc. didn’t make a “lifestyle choice.” Please.

Which leads us to “homosexual immorality and transgenderism.” Here I agree with the pentecostals but only because I’m reading carefully. I see immorality as an evil path, chosen in error, to counsel against, be it homo- or heterosexual. I also see the preachy pentecostals as guilty of not seeing the splinters in their own eyes. To condemn gay people is a cynical way to distract us from their own shortcomings.

And “transgenderism”? What is that? To elevate one’s transgender identity to an “ism” denies reality. Being transgender is not a belief system. As with any kind of gayness, nobody but nobody decides to change one’s gender identity on a whim. Each of us is born somewhere on the sexual identity bell curve. I’m thankful I was born straight and secure with it, so LGBQ people aren’t any kind of threat to me or my marriage. The writers of the “Nashville Statement” appear very threatened. And a fixation on gayness often bespeaks fear and a very deep closet. Makes me wonder.

Belief is blind by its very nature. These people look as if their belief has them spoiling for a fight against science and the obvious, but they’re also likely feeling cornered and afraid, made defensive by the voices of reason and unable to listen to anyone outside their inward facing circle.

The War on Christmas

This time of year was chosen to celebrate the unknown birthday of a boy to an unmarried Palestinian couple who were refused shelter. Some unhappy people angrily shout that we should always say Merry Christmas in celebration. Always, dammit.

Such an attitude is at war with the very spirit of Christianity, and, therefore, Christmas. I will say Merry Christmas to people I know are Christians. But if they’re Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists, or what have you, or I’m just not sure, I’ll say Happy Holidays.

This is the Christian thing to do. As in Love one another. Good religion, and even ethical atheism, is about compassion. So I’ll wish Jewish friends Happy Hannukah during that season, and compassionate, religious Jews will often wish me a Merry Christmas. That’s what it’s all about.

And by the way, X stands for Christ in religious iconography, so I see no reason to compromise my cardiac health over Merry Xmas.

To be aggressive about Merry Christmas is to try to make it compulsory to all. That’s the real war on Christmas.

Happy Holidays, everyone.