Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Drawing Closer to God


I have been blessed to live among a community of people who have a mature and unwaiverable faith. A faith rooted in their relationship with God, through Christ Jesus.  They remind me daily that whatever joy, suffering, pain and the many challenges of this life, though at times significant, fall asunder in the face of the magnificent love of God through Christ Jesus. Life, in the final analysis, it would seem, is a means, a way, to encounter, to draw closer to God, if chosen. Psalm 66:8-20 and Acts 17:22-31 each present that person’s experience of God.  David expressed a solitary, at times a mystical experience of God or the Apostle Paul, whose experience was more often communal and what might be considered urban, at least according to the scriptures.  Both David and the Apostle Paul present us with a different, yet genuine closeness to God. It is to this end that we visit the book of James today.

The Epistle or letter of James to the twelve tribes in dispersion (that is Israel regardless of whether all twelve tribes existed or not, the whole of spiritual Israel) reminds us today that if a Christian desires to draw closer to God they must not be friends with the world.  In fact, if they seek to be friends with the world, to access the things of this world, then they become enemies of God, complicit in a collective rejection or denial of God. (James 4:4) Living in a  society based on the acquisition of capital with a need to access the things of society to survive, to make a living, this becomes a challenge.  Considering their relationship with God and God’s word the Christian engages the world knowing that each engagement can put their soul and their closeness with God at risk.  James then must be considered an appeal to the Christian for the sake of their soul, their relationship with God and the implications to their actions. We pray God’s grace and mercy in these matters!

The great call of this life is to draw closer to God. The Christian does this by humbly seeking to live justly and ethically with integrity in a dynamic and inclusive community with their sisters and brothers, [to be Christ like].  While the call of life to draw closer to God begins as a solitary conversation within the heart of the Christian the eventual closeness to God in the Christian is profoundly expressed in community.  Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, a Christian mystic of the 20th century in his book, “Creative Encounter writes,

Religious experience in its profoundest dimension is the finding of God by the individual. This is the witness. The moral quality is mandatory because the individual must be genuine in their preparation, motivation, and response. Their faith must be active and dynamic.  

                                                                                    Howard Thurman



For me the words of Howard Thurman bring into sharp focus a faith that is active and dynamic, calling into my consciousness those things considered impediments or a hindrance to the witness of the Christian community, its faith and the desire to draw closer to God. Impediments are those actions, ideas, imaginations, reflections, such as racism, patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and privilege, to name a few, which have their root in culture, society, politics and sadly even some churches, which seemingly deny or outright reject the inclusive and justice oriented message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The greatest of these impediments is hypocrisy. Both the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians and James in his Epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel remind the Christian that there is only one gospel and only Christ shall be lifted.  Mindful of the struggle to build a more inclusive Church I am reminded of the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said "it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." Although his lament was made over 60 years ago, the question remains open.  How much have things changed?

There are some people who claim to be close to God, displaying the traditional rhetorical trappings of the Christian faith, but fail to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as he lived them out and as written in Galatians and James. They ask, “What Would Jesus do?”, and then go against the very teachings they supposedly seek to follow, standing firmly in that which obstructs the gospel.  They exhibit an outrageous hypocrisy, putting millions at risk of losing their healthcare benefits so that the wealthy and privileged class might get a tax break at the hands of some who claim Christ as Lord and savior.  In a recent interview on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Rev. Dr. William Barber, a Disciples of Christ Pastor, and President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach stated, in response to Kansas Representative Roger Marshall's horrible comments on the poor, healthcare, and Jesus, and Rev. Barber did not hold back, He said, “If Jesus did anything he set up free healthcare wherever he went and didn’t charge a premium.” I suspect Jesus might favor single payer! Without question, some in the Christian community continue to embrace the impediments which deny the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The challenges of today are not new but reveal one more thread of an ongoing political and theological discourse on the dignity, value and sacredness of all people.  That said, the mere passage of time alone will not relief the suffering so many experience.  As MLK said, “Change does not roll on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through the continuous struggle of man.”

Today, as in times past, there is profound need to draw closer to God, to lean fully into the bosom of God, to receive nourishment for sustenance, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death with our sanity intact.  Like the saints who have gone before us in space and time we gain strength, courage and liberation to overcome those impediments which seek to detract from the Christian witness by living into our oneness with God.  Drawing closer to God is a process of intention, grounded in a heart longing for a deeper experience of God’s grace and mercy through the Jesus Christ.  And though I long for this process to happen in secret, in private behind closed doors, it occurs amidst the dynamics of human interactions and intentions.

James 4:7-10 calls the sinner to submit themselves to God.  To clean their hands and to purify their hearts, oh double minded.  Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. It is as the Christian comes to terms with the issues of their life and this world and the impact the world has upon them, that their character and actions that they realize the necessity of the words of James. The process of closeness to God is a matter of repentance, as the Christian, humbly seeking God gives their whole selves to God. 

The implications of Drawing closer to God are (a) a change in vision, i.e. the way we see the world, (2) a change in questions asked, (3) a life transformed (4) a new focus on concerns regarding things which matter to God and (5) a hopeful and steadfast attitude.  Like Simone Weil, a French philosopher and mystic of the early to mid-20th century, there is a different sense of attention, engagement and the indwelling spirit.  

Psalm 63, A Psalm of David reads



O God, you are my God, I seek you,
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,[a]
    and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
    they shall be prey for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.



Like David, it is by drawing close to God that the Christian overcomes whatever issues or concerns which pervades their life, that holds them back from the grace which strengthens.  It is as the Christian draws closer to God that their soul we be at rest.  Amen!!  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Problem


Those with privilege must be careful not to become lax in their thinking.  If there thinking is lax there is a distinct possibility that someone like Mr. Trump could run a scam that would do profound and severe harm to them and others.  They are ripe for manipulation and useful as pawns for intent unbecoming.  A lack of thinking, more so a lack of critical thinking, is detrimental necessarily putting at risk delicate narratives sensitive to economic, cultural, social, religious and political liabilities. Those in this mental predicament, (ex. a Trump supporter), seldom see, without significant intervention, the harm it will do to their own standing, be it economic or another context such as the Affordable Care Act, i.e.., Obamacare.  In contrast those on the margins, the ones threatened by Mr. Trumps rhetoric during the campaign have, often, had to embrace critical thinking, to be cunning, to recognize the abuse, present as well as historical perpetrated by those privileged and unconscious of desires grounded in that privilege to maintain the status quo.  Those privileged, suckered by a man who is more and more seen as an unwitting operative of Russia and Vladimir Putin (The Hill, August 2016 and Washington Post December 9, 2016) could employ strategies which could take that privilege and use it his advantage to ultimately win the Presidential election.  While many of us could see through Mr. Trump’s scam sadly there were many who were unable to see through them and we look to be worse off for this.

That said, those of us concerned should stand tall, ready to keep Mr. Trump’s policies in full view of the public for the sake of our democracy  



The Rise of Trump, and a stock market which seems to look positively at his possible presidency, reminds me that capitalism, white supremacy and white privilege are connected at the heart.   This is the difficulty that consumes conversations which seek to engage a different more equitable and just economic system.  If we can delink white identity at an institutional level from the economics policy equality might emerge for all.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why the celebration of Easter? The Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ


The title of this message was posed to me by my doctor during a minor operation this past Monday.  The doctor knew me as a pastor and minister of the gospel so the question wasn’t unexpected or out of the ordinary.  It reminded me that questions can offer moments of profound clarity as an embodiment of grace for the one who asks the question and the one providing the response.  My response to her question was that I celebrate Easter because it commemorates the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that whatever hope there is in my life I live in Jesus Christ. She said she had asked because she was beginning to teach her children about Easter and the reason why it is so important. She said she had been raised in a Christian family but now she wanted to pass on what she had learned as a child.  I don’t know about you but conversations can bring back some serious memories, reminding me of the song, “Back down Memory Lane” by Minnie Riperton, and my mother and father living out the lyrics of, You’ll Understand It Better by and by” when I didn’t want to go to Sunday School. The older I get the more I appreciate the teachings of my parents.

The conversation with my doctor called me to reflect on the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Good News and the meaning it has for the church.  Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a means for us, as followers of Jesus Christ to reaffirm our love, our faith and our trust in the living Christ. We celebrate the resurrection because its message is that through the risen Christ you and I are no longer bound to sin and death, that through the risen Christ we have overcome the world.  It is also a reminder that the Church, you and me, are called to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the good news with our lives. 

The resurrection is sure, giving courage to the faithful as they stand against and eventually overcome unjust and burdensome systems, structures and their so-called skinny budgets, which concede nothing without a whole lot of prayer and serious political strategies, while at the same time, seeking to deny the good news of Jesus Christ in favor of powerful corporate interests. In the face of this moral crisis where ignorance is stubbornly lifted high, truth seemingly banished and closed mindedness and polarization the order of the day the resurrection offers new life, new hope, and God’s abundant love. This is nourishment for a life, longing, fighting and struggling to transform an unjust circumstance or situation. The resurrection presents the steadfast, faithful, immovable and those weary with a revolutionary hope as it speaks to the stones of injustice such as racism, voter suppression, poverty, ever increasing medical costs, and homelessness, to name a few, being rolled away from a life precious in the sight of God.  

Mindful of the Apostle Paul, and his Damascus Road experience with Christ in Acts 9, and his many trials and tribulations for the sake of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 and his compelling arguments regarding the resurrection in First Corinthians 15: 1-2 and 12-20-22, 30-32 the Apostle Paul’s experience of the good news, of the risen Christ, became that prophetic fire which compelled him in his love and justice for God’s people resulting in Epistles or letters which form much of New Testament scripture and upwards of 20 churches.  What we have in the Apostle Paul is a man sold out to Jesus Christ.  He moves in Christ alone recognizing that the risen Christ illuminates a new covenant grounded in God’s tenacious and everlasting love which held Paul without waiver.  My impression based on the text is that Paul had apprehended the risen Christ and sought to proclaim the risen Christ he encountered on the Damascus Road. Similar to the prophet Jeremiah in 20:9, there was a fire shut up in Paul’s bones which had to be unleashed for the glory of God. 

My oldest and dearest friend, mentor and colleague recently said, regarding Paul, “You cannot receive the risen Christ and not do something, you’ve got to move.” It’s like fire in your pants.  In other words, there are implications for the one who encounters the resurrection of Christ.  The implications of the resurrection are a matter of awakening to God’s deep and everlasting love for all people, to awaken to the plight of our sisters and brothers and the greater community, to awaken to the many lie’s which seek to deny our humanity, to awaken to the fact that we are blessed and highly favored, to awaken to the reality that social and cultural change will not occur without active participation including resistance, to awaken to those systemic structural economic barriers which maintain wealth and privilege for fewer and fewer of God’s people.  

In Rev. Dr. William Barber’s book, “The Third Reconstruction, “How a Moral Movement is overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear” In the chapter on “Learning to Stand Together” he reflects on the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “The first task of the church is to be the church. Only if the church is the church can people see another way is possible. Without this alternative witness, we are tempted to think that the way things are is simply the way things have to be.”
The Church is called to once again to apprehend the resurrection not just as a celebration but a call to live out the resurrection each day to reimagine a more just, whole and equitable society where all people are received as God’s own.


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Lord may not come when you want Him, but he's always going to be there on time.  Louis Gossett, Jr. (Based on Job 35:14)




Living day by day in a world where joy, happiness; the good things of this life are tempered or balanced by suffering, death; things profoundly unjust, bordering on what might be considered absurd and immoral push many to their knees in prayer.  Life, for some, at times can seem small, without meaning, seemingly denying the glory of God expressed in life itself. Yet, it is from this life, and no other that many cry out, like David in Psalm 130, for some relief, deliverance, healing; something to soothe the pain or to express the joy occupying one’s life at the moment; there is a profound need for a savior.  

The text of John 11:1-45 is skillful as a response to Psalm 130, reminding us today that there is a savior, yet this savior, that is Jesus Christ tends to reconfigure, transform and even frustrate the desires, hopes, expectations and agendas of even the people he called friends, those whom he loved, his disciples, he troubles the waters of a human imagination sequestered at the feet of economic and political interests.  Jesus rarely saves or redeems exactly the way expected.  Reading the text, we encounter the situation of Mary, Martha and their baby brother Lazarus.  According to the text Jesus was well aware of his dear friend’s death and I suspect Jesus being Jesus was very much aware of the anguish and sorrow of Mary and Martha. Yet Jesus took his time saying, “This illness will not lead to death, rather it is for God’s glory, so that the son of God might be glorified through it.”  When Jesus finally arrives at the house of Mary and Martha, Lazarus is wrapped in grave clothes, in the tomb, and dead four days. Interestingly, all through the gospels there is an eagerness even an urgency in Jesus to help, to make well, to heal, to feed, to give sight to the blind, but in this text, we find no eagerness, no urgency more so we find a savior who seemingly treats his friends differently than those who, though also children of God, might not be considered friends or disciples, there was an urgency to help the stranger!  I suspect that Jesus felt that those who had been around him more, who knew him, his disciples, would not lose sight of the mission at hand. Jesus expected more of them that people unaware.

In vs 20-22, Martha approaches Jesus, saying, “Jesus, Lord if thou had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that even now whatsoever thou will ask God, God will give it thee.” Martha spoke these words amidst her and Mary’s frustration with him (John 11:20, 28-33). This was not the first-time Mary and Martha were frustrated with Jesus (see Luke 10:38-42). Seemingly, death held a different importance and space for Jesus than it did for Mary and Martha. Yet Mary’s confidence in Jesus far outweighs struggles of human understanding. She has more confidence in Jesus than in the problem which would end with the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus.

The text begs the question, “How do we hold suffering, dying and death amid a savior who receives these difficult and troubling events, even his own gruesome death, as a means to the glory of God, the resurrection.” I suspect that Jesus doesn’t want to minimize death but seeks to reframe death from a period to a comma. That death is not the end! Why should death be received in this light?  I would imagine, from a philosophical, theological or agrarian perspective death would be a means to new life yet when many encounter, in real time, the death of friends, colleagues, family members it can be mentally and emotionally taxing, demanding, even exhausting, far from thoughts of a bodily resurrection.  Death is one of those topics people rarely ever touch until forced to by circumstances. And then, in some cases, all hell breaks loose. Jesus’ treatment of death would seem to be one meaning of the text and life in Christ that death is a means to new life and in this sense the death and resurrection of Lazarus gives somewhat of a sneak preview of divine things to come. 

The situation of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus at Bethany, should not be surprising or unusual as our savior, the eldest son in a single parent household, a carpenter, a onetime refugee due to the dangerous life threatening policies instituted by Herrod (sound familiar), homeless, a person who, because of who he was, knew instinctively that the sacredness of God’s humanity entitled all people to unconditional love, free and universal healthcare, and an abundance of food, to name a few contemporary concerns. Jesus was an unorthodox Jewish Rabbi upending the norms and expectations of his day as he sought to reveal and express the glory of God, to usher in the Kindom of God, thus gradually becoming a threat to both the Roman and Jewish establishments, an enemy of the state but the hope and salvation for a world of people longing for relief from systems and processes which supported the empire.

Mindful of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber’s Barbers book, “The Third Reconstruction” and Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated March 24, 1980, in San Salvador, El Salvador because he sought to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, some may find this reading of the text somewhat uncomfortable needing a Jesus and his Church to be complicit in the affliction experienced by many living under the cruel power and authoritarianism of a few for the sake of religious or political gain, cultural animus, wealth, ego and agenda’s. Yet based on the actions of Jesus, read in the text and throughout the gospels, the stance of his Church and those who choose to follow Jesus, must be about the ushering in of the Kindom of God, and in this sense to reveal the glory of God. (Pause)

  The title of today’s message, “The Lord may not come when you want Him, but he's always going to be there on time.” A quotation of Louis Gossett, Jr. Based on Job 35:14 is a reminder that at times there may be a huge difference in the agenda of the one who prays incessantly, fasts and reads scripture daily, and maintaining Christ centered relationships, seemingly doing the right and worthy things of Christian life yet when confronted by life’s circumstances and a God whose touch cannot be felt some become disheartened, asking   “Where is God, Why have you forsaken me or why didn’t God answer my prayer.  The problem may not be the acts or the actions of the Christian but their perspective about the situation or circumstance.  The fundamental question asks of the Christian must be, “Is my thinking, and in this my life about the Kindom of God or the world.  Are my expectations rooted in the Kindom of God or in the world?  Kindom living is not so much about political, material or economic persuasion, more so it is about a way of life, a way of looking at the world as Jesus saw it. While there are many lessons to be gleaned from the text on Mary, Martha and the death of their brother Lazarus it is the lesson of confidence in Jesus.  Jesus Christ is always bigger than the problem yet if our thinking is not Kindom thinking we may miss the very point of life itself.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reflections on a Conversation, A Message on Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well


The text today, John 4:1-26, is about Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well at midday in the town of Sychar, a town in route to Galilee, about 40 miles from Jerusalem. It gives us a glimpse of two people engaging in conversation at Jacobs well.  It provides a means to see an encounter of deep listening and a gracious empathetic response to the challenges experienced by a Samaritan woman longing to be heard.  This conversation is also a means by which to see Jesus giving full attention to the words of the Samaritan woman, to experience the intimate encounters of her life.  Simone Weil, a French philosopher, activist and mystic writes in her book Gravity and Grace that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. I think attention, often is the question, “Has anyone heard my cry, does anyone even care.

For Jesus to converse with a Samaritan woman, a woman not married, considered a nonperson in the Roman context was a profoundly unorthodox encounter as Jews did not engage in any way with Samaritans.   Further, it was a man’s world and woman, particularly Samaritan woman were outcast and overlooked in most matters.  But for Jesus, speaking to a woman, even a Samaritan woman as a human being was nothing new, this is how he moved in the Roman world. Of course, the Samaritan woman, not being used to being treated as a viable human being with divine importance at first could not fathom the words spoken by Jesus for her suffering and loneliness were heavy upon her, yet the more she conversed with Jesus the Son of God the more she awakened to what Jesus had to offer.  It is at this point her burden of outcast and loneliness was lifted. She had been undone and awakened by Jesus the Messiah to receive living water, a most extravagant grace so deep and soothing that she had to share it with her community.  She had experienced the riches of God’s grace and in the process received the fullness of her humanity.  The apostle Paul was so touched by this extravagant grace, the living water as he writes to Christians at Ephesus

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

                                                                                                            Ephesians 1:3-14



Amid this life, God offers each of us extravagant grace, that is, living water so that our souls might be well nourished and our hopes renewed daily.  Each of us should consider this as we journey through our day recognizing that God has poured out living water through Jesus Christ to each of us.   Like the Samaritan woman at the well we are called into conversation with Jesus Christ.  It may be an unsuspecting encounter or a moment in time when our way seems foggy, cloudy or without light, yet the living water, that extravagant grace is near you, it is very present.  It is in this illuminating light of Christ that the Lenten Season appears calling each of us to reflect on our conversations with Jesus Christ, to, in some sense, like the Samaritan woman at the well, rediscover the fullness of our humanity. We must not take this lightly as we are living in a time when our collective humanity is under attack by forces of profound injustice.  Healthcare, education, the environment, energy, immigration, global warming, and earth herself are all under attack by powers which seek to deny the fullness of our collective humanity and the sacredness of mother earth.  

This past Friday I attended the Earl Lectures at Pacific School of Religion.  The topic for this year’s Earl Lectures was Border Identifies. The keynote speaker was Jose’ Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, activist and undocumented immigrant.  He shared stories of his experiences as an undocumented immigrant and the injustice of the present immigration system.  He described the danger, challenge and the risk many go through as human beings undocumented.  He described the fear, the suffering and the oppression experienced at the feet of an immigration system broken. And though the situation is real it was his faith that has held him. It is his community that maintains his hope.  He reminded me that the writings of James Baldwin collectively say, “I am who I am, deal with it.”  

This is the point of the whole conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, that she must reclaim her humanity regardless of her position in society and culture.  She was no longer outcast and lonely, searching for meaning, but a child of God in communion with Jesus Christ the beloved the Son of God. The message of “Jesus and the woman at the well” is “Amid a world suffering we must reclaim daily the fullness of our humanity and in the process, defy powers which seek to deny our humanity through unjust, immoral policies reflective of revenge politics.”  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Yet amidst those powers which would deny our humanity we have a faith defiant, resilient without apology and in this we stand in the light of the cross and the resurrection.

The Hope and the Joy of the Well

And what is the hope and joy of the well but a love so deep that it overcomes the oppressions which seeks daily to deny the humanity of God’s people. The hope and the Joy is the good news shared by many which gradually, with intention reveals the Kingdom of God to a world in need of God’s extravagant grace.   



Friday, February 24, 2017

Ongoing Culture Wars, Social Order and the use of the Bathroom by Transgender Students. Is the Intervention by those who oppose the Right of Transgender Students to use the Bathroom of their Choice Morally Credible?


The argument over the use of the bathroom by transgender students would seem to be absurd on the surface and without merit to some who embrace more progressive, thoughtful and critical views. Yet there is a deeper issue which compels the cultural and political battle lines drawn.  I remember working at my local Target store here in Emeryville, CA some years ago, where a situation arose when the only bathrooms available were the women’s bathroom and a bathroom where the parents could clean and change their baby’s diapers, etc.  What was interesting about the matter is that men having a choice to use the women’s bathroom, and/or the baby changing bathroom preferred to stand in physical stress and pain waiting the men’s restroom to open.  It was astounding as seemingly mature, thoughtful adults, chose to get physically stressed, some visibly in pain as they waited for the men’s restroom to open. 

For many, arguments over the use of the bathroom, between good, well intentioned and thoughtful people on all sides, are framed as concerns for parental rights, prevention, safety and privacy within a discourse on what is moral based on sensitivities affirmed by conservative or progressive interpretations of biblical scripture and a social order rooted in historical desires of sexism, racism and patriarchy. The bathroom issue presents a profound moral crisis as it echoes, at least for this writer, actions exemplified by the election in 2008 and 2012 of Barack Obama, the first African American, as President of the United States, the legalization of gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, economic and cultural globalization, the war on terror, the decline and the gradual demise of the white working class as a significant voice in the U.S. cultural, economic and political arenas. The world no longer revolves around the exclusivity of desires, interpretations, imaginations and affirmations of white society and culture. 

Despite political situations unjust, alternative facts, divisive rhetoric, and the supposed deconstruction of the progressive, administrative state, as stated by Steve Bannon, senior advisor to the President of the United States at CPAC, a conservative political action convention, the U.S. is experiencing a fundamental sociocultural shift in its social order, this will not be stopped.  The use of bathrooms by transgender students is just the tip of the iceberg.  The bathroom issue is not so much about prevention, safety or privacy, but a means to address the reality that American society is moving beyond traditional notions of a social order based on the desires of white society and culture, its imagination, and its privilege as gained through genocide, enslavement, disregard for treaties, and various forms of oppression. The reaction to this shift has resulted in the election of a white alpha male daily proving he is unfit to be president, the attack on a free press, the burning of Mosques, bomb threats of Jewish Community Centers, millions of immigrants at risk of deportation, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, to name a few.   

Rescinding the rules, contrary to Title IX, on the use of bathrooms by transgender students is just one more shot of intervention by those who fight for a more traditional social order against the inevitable progress of a liberal progressive agenda. That said, writing as one who is African American, transgender a woman and progressive, I suggest that agendas emerge from those intimate authentic spaces of being and therefore whatever intervention of religion, politics, law enforcement, cultural or social discourses engaged are primarily confronting questions of authenticity and how to live out that authenticity daily in the face of oppression and in some cases repression. June Jordan, author of Civil Wars. Touchstone, 1981, writes, Intervention has its limits. The limits of intervention, particularly when it comes to matters of civil rights and social justice, conjure images of Bull Conner, water hoses and his dogs, Church Bombings, and Jim Crow, as those who stubbornly held on to a social order that had long past. Their intervention for the sake of a social order based on racism and the affirmation of whiteness eventually led to their shame. 

Considering Black History Month, the question for this writer in addition to whether a transgender student can use the bathroom of their choice is a moral one. Is the intervention by those seeking to protect or at least, shore up a social order in transition moral? Is there moral credibility to their argument? The many successes of the civil rights movement including the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States makes it clear that the morality of the argument is crucial in attaining the justice of Micah 6:8 and a peace within unhindered by injustice.

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?

In closing, the use of the bathroom by transgender students must be seen within the larger context of a culture war of moral consequence at least for now being prosecuted by the local community upon the Trump administration rescinding rules regarding transgender students use of bathroom in schools and the supreme court. In this sense the bathroom issue is at the vanguard of a human rights, liberal progressive political agenda and must be defended at all cost not just for itself but for the liberation of the soul from regimes of ignorance and oppression and the freedom to be at peace within.  




Monday, February 20, 2017

ABIDING IN GOD'S SABBATH REST, A THEOLOGY OF REST


As ordained clergy, transgender scholar and activist engaged in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I find that a Sabbath-rest, that is, intentional and sacred resting, is crucial to my well-being and sustainability.  Recently, while waiting for a flight out of Atlanta, GA after a Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle retreat focused on rest and appreciation, I posted on facebook the following statement, “Waiting on a plane in Atlanta, GA, I am reminded that the work we do as a matter of social justice is necessary and noble, it also requires that each of us gets the rest needed.” Working on the message for today I was reminded of the amazing work done by each of us to make the gospel of Jesus Christ real in our life and in the lives of those around us.  That we are engaged in an intense struggle of moral consequence against profound and blatant injustice.  A time when truth and facts, as reported by various credible media outlets, have been sequestered for the sake of political gain and racism and extreme affirmations of racial identity. Divisive and caustic rhetoric and lies seem to be the order of the day with the lives of people in the balance. Considering the work, we do amidst this unfortunate state of affairs the question is, “Do we rest or When do we rest?” The challenges and issues of our day are real and must be confronted for as James Baldwin writes “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”   Yet to rest, to take time out is necessary so that we might face those things referred to by Baldwin, to fight the good fight of faith.  I suggest that Jesus was the foundation of Baldwin’s words and his work, as he, that is Baldwin, was a man who answered the call of God early in his life.  If Jesus, the dynamic, rebellious rabbi and messiah of the disinherited, is foundational to the thought of James Baldwin then engaging Jesus regarding a Sabbath-rest would be fruitful to gaining a different understanding of rest. 
The life of Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to the call of God’s will, at times, characterizes the one with the courage to follow God’s call to confront the misery and injustice of this life as a rebel, revolutionary, a law breaker.  Considering the misery, the people suffered, Jesus was constantly inundated with multitudes of people who needed healing and feeding. In Mark 6:30-32, having just dealt with the beheading of John the Baptist, the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus modeled physical rest as he falls asleep in a boat with the disciples during a raging storm. Even when others frantically wanted His help, Jesus was willing to take a nap. He knew when His body needed physical rest and was unapologetic about taking it. Jesus also advocated for the Sabbath-Rest in Mark 2:27 “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” And in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Based on the scriptures I imagine the life and ministry of Jesus to be intense and at times somewhat insane, with little time to rest.  Rest was a cherished time, almost a selfish time set aside, a time when he could recharge for the daunting task of ministry ahead as prescribed by God in Genesis 2:3.  For Jesus, I would suggest that the Sabbath-rest is a means to (1) glorify God, (2) trust in God (3) to re-focus, re-imagine (4) sustainability (5) restoration (6) peace within and (7) transformation.  Each one of the elements of a Sabbath-rest, as expressed in the experience of Jesus, has implications towards the confrontation of evil, injustice and our salvation.
 If we are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus a Sabbath-rest must be embraced as a central part of life in community.  At the retreat, I remember a film featuring Rev. Kanyere Eaton, Pastor of Fellowship Covenant Church New York City giving a keynote address at the lives of Commitment Breakfast sponsored by Auburn Seminary, a Presbyterian Seminary in New York City. She had a lot to say about rest but the words that touched my heart were, “God is not glorified in your exhaustion.”
Her point was that God’s commands us to rest. In fact, if we do not rest, taking care of the body, mind and soul we are not honoring or glorifying God. Simply put, a healthy body, mind and soul glorifies God and makes for a productive and dynamic life.  (Wow!)  Per 2014 study at Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.  Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure and stroke. In a society, which traditionally has valued work over rest, reminiscent of Calvinism and the protestant work ethic, to rest, received as a holy act ordained of God, is somewhat counterintuitive. Rest would seem to be a logical and necessary part of life yet, despite God’s command and considerations of health risk rest in many circles is frowned upon.
Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist of the 20th Century, considered a saint by Albert Camus, wrote in her book “Gravity and Grace” a posthumous 1952 collection of Weil’s enduring ideas, culled from her notebooks by Gustave Thibon, the farmer whom she entrusted with her writings before her untimely death “Attention is the rarest form of generosity Simone Weil’s statement compels the following questions, “Do we give attention to our mind, body, and soul?” “Do I rest, relax, take time out for myself?  Is this time carved out, intentional? Should I protect my time of rest as sacred, holy without compromise? These are important question to ask ourselves if we are to successfully and sustainably confront the injustice prevalent in our society today. Remember, Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.  Buddha