Dialectics and Civility

Seeking An Inclusive Progressive Christian Community

I have been following The Christian Left for a few years, occasionally reading their blog, but mostly on following them Facebook. When I found them, I was grateful to see some representation of the progressive Christian movement. Over the years, I have found their posts to be informative and enlightening.

I was disappointed in early August to see included in their Facebook feed a post depicting a terrible redneck stereotype that was intended to make fun of people who are opposed to LGBT civil rights. The post was mean-spirited and antithetical to progressive Christianity. There were many people, including me, who posted comments saying as much. While the comments were critical and expressed disappointment, no one said anything that was inflammatory or hurtful to anyone. We were basically saying, “hey, this isn’t cool.”

I understand that people are angry at the willful ignorance and bigotry of those committed to activism against LGBT civil rights. I am angry, too, but I am not looking for justification for bullying others just as we are being bullied. Anger is justifiable. Expressing that anger by seeking to demean others is not justifiable. The post struck me as a juvenile taunt, not the intelligent response to hate and intolerance that I have come to know in the progressive spiritual communities where I have worshiped.

The response to my comment is not what I might have expected. Those who were challenging the offensive post were met with defiance and stubbornness: “We’re not taking it down. It’s a joke and it’s mild compared to most of the hate we see directed from the right. Concern trolls will be banned. That’s right, banned.”

And the reaction didn’t stop there. The moderator deleted all critical comments, and then, as promised, blocked us from commenting further. Additionally, the moderator followed up by posting another juvenile and mean-spirited taunt aimed at those of us they were now deeming “concern trolls,” including the comment: “Oh, and once in awhile we’re a little sophomoric and juvenile around here at TCL. We like it that way. It breaks up the monotony. Apparently some folks don’t like it. That’s fine. Bye now. See ya later.”

I appreciate a moderator’s right to curate the comments on a blog or a Facebook page in order to maintain civil discourse. However, the post was being challenged in a critical and constructive way, not in any way being abusive or inflammatory, as trolls are wont to do. A healthy disagreement and community dialog presents an opportunity for growth. The Christian Left shut this opportunity down in a painful way, effectively excluding people who it purports to include. It is regrettable that this was done by an organization that claims to welcome those who have previously been rejected by the Church.

All of this happened within about ten minutes. At first, I was shocked, and a little hurt and angry. And then I realized that I needed to just laugh it off and step away. I struggle enough to find my place in the world as a progressive Christian. I don’t need to subject myself to this kind of negativity. I sent a follow-up email to the group expressing my disappointment (to which I do not expect to receive a response), unliked the Facebook page, and left it at that.

Happily, there are numerous organizations and resources for progressive Christianity, and there are many communities who live out the declaration on The Christian Left’s web page: “We welcome ALL to their place at God’s table, just as they are. All means ALL. No exceptions.”

Below are some that I have compiled:

Please feel free to suggest other resources that I may have missed!

Faith, Intellectualism, and Doubt

On seeking with an open heart

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have struggled with being a person of faith for as long as I can remember. I have always been a doubter. I remember when I was a child learning about the life of Jesus, I was full of questions about learning lessons about God from a book that was so old. I asked my mother one day “What if we learn some day that these are just stories, and that Jesus wasn’t a real person?” There wasn’t any real evidence to prove that he existed, so how could I possibly believe in this person as a deity?

My memory of that exchange is a little foggy, as I was only about seven years old at the time. But her response was something like it’s the stories that are important, and these stories about this person have lessons for us to learn from and to model ourselves after, and faith wasn’t about being sure. In a nutshell, my mom’s answer was that faith is not about knowing. Thus began my life in paradoxology.

I’m just as confused now as I was then at that answer, and I probably will be trying to figure it out for the rest of my life. The result of this confusion in the reality of the world now is that when I go to any kind of worship I feel like an impostor because I still don’t know with any certainty what this entity that I pray to really is. I am still full of doubt and questions, while I perceive those around me full of certainty and conviction of what they know about God.

Equally confusing are my atheist friends who hold their non-belief with such conviction that they judge people of faith as ignorant. They think that one cannot be an intellectual and a person of faith. In this context, too, I have felt like an imposter because I am on a spiritual path.

What do I believe? I just don’t know…and then I remember that faith isn’t about knowing with certainty. Faith is about not knowing, and intellectual curiosity is about being open to learn. Faith and intellectual curiosity are about seeking with an open heart. I hold both with equal weight, one informing the other in constant symbiosis.

Perhaps symbiosis is a helpful way to think about people who are seemingly different from us. Instead of dismissing and shutting people out because we assume we can’t relate to their beliefs, perhaps we can grow by always seeking to understand the other with an open heart.

Call to Confession, June 5th

Today’s call to confession at my church really struck me as a perfect paradox:

We allow ourselves to get caught up in the here and now, and forget to look forward to God’s future with great joy. We allow ourselves to get caught up in the promises of a glorious future full of love, and forget to live in love now.

In my yoga practice, I meditate on equanimity, and I try to carry that forward into my day-to-day life. It is the paradox of the balance expressed in the words above, being present in the here and now, yet not being so stuck there as to move into the future with joy and gratitude.

Namaste.

My Stewardship Testimony

Recently, I shared the following story with my church, which illustrates all of the reasons why I make financial contributions.

When I was a child, my family attended a Lutheran church, one of the largest and wealthiest in the Twin Cities. It was a big, beautiful building downtown, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, absolutely breathtaking. A beautiful building located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area, where there sizable Native American population.

My grandfather had been a founding member of the church, and my parents were upstanding members of the community. They were involved in the Christian education program for adults and kids, and we had many friends in the congregation. I learned the meaning of spiritual community there. I was getting ready to begin Confirmation classes, and the church began to go down a road that forced my family to make a difficult choice. It is illustrated by this story:

One beautiful spring day, we were having a pot luck in the parking lot. There were lots of people and lots of food. Some folks from the neighborhood lined up with the rest of us, grabbed some plates, and got ready to get some food. They were hungry.

I remember being surprised and ashamed to see someone with authority tell them that the food wasn’t for them, that they were not members of the community and therefore were not welcome. The message that sent to me as a child and member of the community was that those people were not like us. They didn’t look like us, they were in need, of a different economic status, and we didn’t want them there to make us feel uncomfortable.

My mom took me aside later that day and was very clear with me: What that church member did was wrong, and that was not what Jesus would have done. Those people are members of the surrounding community, and should have been welcomed by us and offered food.

Shortly after that time, my parents made the difficult decision to leave the church. They made sure to let me know that the church was no longer representing their theological views, and they wanted to raise me with different values. They could no longer support or be a part of a community that was teaching exclusivity, not welcoming.

Growing into adulthood, I have struggled with claiming my place in the Christian church. I have hung out with Quakers, Buddhists, and all kinds of Christians, and I still hang out with Yogis and Yoginis. Finding a church home that feels like a good fit has been difficult. The important thing to me is that my parents instilled in me the values that Jesus taught, those of generosity, sharing, community, love, forgiveness, justice, and healing.

When I found Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, I knew I had found my church home here. At BUMC, all are welcome. This is a community that walks the walk of social justice, generosity, and love.

So a few Sundays ago, I offered up this story as testimony, telling the story of why I financially support Broadway. I give because the transgender and gay homeless youth in the Lakeview need our Youth Lounge program. I give because the Lakeview Pantry needs our donations of food. I give because the community needs the Wednesday Night Live adult education classes. I give because Broadway offers much needed support to members of our community who suffer from depression and mental illness. I give because Broadway is unwavering it its support of LGBT civil rights.

I give because I need Broadway, too. This church walks the walk of my theology.

I encourage other members of Broadway to share their stories about why they give, in whatever ways they give: Time, Talent, or Treasure.

Prayer of Confession

Today at church the Prayer of Confession really spoke to me. I have been meditating on it all day, and I thought I would just share it here:

We confess that we have doubted ourselves and you, Lord. We believe what other say about us before acknowledging what your Word says. We tend to the pain, rather than seeking your healing. We have let the stock market, bank accounts, and the economy take hold of us, always looking to appear the best. We have neglected and have rejected relationship with friends, family, coworkers, church, and community. We preoccupy ourselves with devices to distract us. WE have distanced ourselves from the needs of the world. We have worried ourselves with earthly matters, with what cars we drive, what schools we attend, what clothes we wear, and how we appear to others. Forgive us, God, for our focus on the things of this world. Show us your ways and lead us in the path of life that we might see you and proclaim, “my Lord and my God!”

Amen.

Priorities: Love over Hate

#LGBT

In light of the rash of gay teen suicides and anti-LGBT violence, I am feeling little patience for those with the “Religious Right” who are preaching from the pulpit and from high-profile public platforms that homosexuality is a sin. They have a right to preach and teach that, but I seriously question their priorities as Christians.

What would Jesus do?

He would prioritize expressing love over expressing views on sexuality.

Is it not more important to speak the word of peace and love, and the right for all kids to attend school in safety? Whatever your views on homosexuality, at this moment it is hard for me to understand how Christians of any political persuasion are not speaking out more loudly about the morality of violence against any human being for any reason.

It is appalling and shameful.

Bottom line: anti-gay violence is wrong, and the church has a responsibility to speak out against it. Speak your mind about sin and sexuality, but if you do that and speak from a Christian point of view, you must also say something about anti-gay violence.

The pastor at my church this past weekend preached that the Church has blood on its hands. Indeed. By not speaking out  more vehemently, people of faith are condoning this violence.

Martin Luther King, Jr. On Complacency #MLK

On this anniversary of the March On Washington for civil rights, I have been looking for some choice quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. One pattern that I have found is his clarity in speaking out on complacency and inaction. Those who do nothing while witnessing injustice and wrong-doing do worse than those who commit acts of injustice. The privileged have a responsibility to do what they know is right.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.

We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.