An open letter to the Church

I want a church that gets upset and riled up about homelessness instead of homosexuality. I want a church that makes sure people have a place to sleep, instead of caring who they sleep with.

Homosexuality isn’t the church’s concern.  Helping people is. 

So many churches don’t want to include gay people, for fear of losing their members.  They don’t want to upset them. Have you ever wondered why?

I like that Jesus was totally fine with upsetting the status quo. He pointed out people’s hypocrisy all the time. He was fine with having just a few people who “got” him. Part of that is because he wasn’t interested in money at all.

So many churches would fold if they started telling the truth and insisting their members not be bigots. So they say the “nice” thing instead of the right thing, out of fear. But perfect love casts out fear – as long as it is love of God and not of money.

“Thoughts and prayers” have never been enough. Jesus acted. He was hands-on when it came time to help people. The church is called to do much more than “love Jesus” – we are called to take his place in healing and reconciling.

I wonder how much of the decision of the United Methodist Church to not allow gay people to be ordained was influenced by what happened when the Episcopal Church installed an openly gay bishop. That divided the church and lots of people left.

I like to ask people to quote from anything Jesus said about homosexuality – – – and they can’t answer, because he didn’t say anything about it. He said a lot about loving and serving people, and a lot about not judging, and nothing about homosexuality. That indicates what our focus should and shouldn’t be on.

How about when everybody is housed, and nobody is hungry or addicted or imprisoned – then we can discuss who has sex with who. (Translation, we will never have that discussion, because the poor will always be with us). Our job is to show love, period.

A surprise the first time – poem

And who’s to say
that Christ won’t come again 
in a body 
in that body 
the one we’ve gotten used to 
the one we have seen in paintings 
and pictures 
but not photographs 
but instead of being born again unto a virgin 
in a cowshed 
or descending out of the sky 
the Christ 
the anointed one 
comes again 
for the first time 
into your heart?

I mean 
it was a surprise the first time 
even then, 
over 2000 years ago. 
They expected a king. 
They expected someone to lead them out 
of slavery to the foreign army 
to lead them back 
to who they really were 
as people 
chosen by God. 

Instead they got this guy
born illegitimately 
born in poverty 
raised in a nowhere backward town 
who spoke of a different kind of 
freedom, a different kind of return 
to who they were. 
It wasn’t a revolution 
it wasn’t a rebellion. 
He didn’t come to be a king
but to point them back 
to the only King 
they ever needed.

He wanted to lead them out
of slavery 
not to the Romans 
but thinking anybody 
was over them 
other than God.

Why can’t it be that
surprising again?

Why can’t it be that 
the second coming 
doesn’t happen 
in the Holy Land 
but in your heart 
right where you are 
right as you are 
right now?

Imagine

I

Imagine:
The Church no longer has a “worship service”. 
Instead, service to people is its worship.

Imagine all that money and time spent on feeding the hungry, healing the sick, housing the homeless – instead of hymnals, a band, a podcast, a live-streaming service, etc.

Imagine:
a world where we are 
no longer divided by money, 
where all people are seen as equal.

Imagine:
Keeping Christmas in your heart all year long.
Not the commercial Christmas, but the real one.

Imagine:
If Christians were known for their love. 
We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

And I don’t mean any of that “love the sinner, hate the sin” business because Jesus never said anything like that. Just love people, and let God take care of the rest. Love heals people.

Hope for the future

I have been very anxious about the future – about getting older and needing help. I do not have children or a close family (“distant” isn’t just in miles). There is nobody on the horizon that I can count on to help me when I get older, if my husband dies before me. Or, say we are both old, and both need help. Who will help us?

I have long thought that there should be some sort of community, like a convent or a monastery, where people live and work and die together, as a kind of adopted family. But how to go about making that happen? People value their privacy and independence. People are wary of “religion”, yet it is a good center to a community.
We humans were not made to be alone. We lie to ourselves when we think we can do it all. We are not designed that way.

I have researched “co-housing” and similar communities. But I’m nearly 50. I take care of myself, but how long will it be until I need help? One broken bone, one car accident, and things change quickly. The system needs to be in place before that.

I love how religious people who live in community (monks and nuns) spend their lives together. They don’t go away to a nursing home – that facility is part of the property. It is an expected part of life. They don’t pretend that illness and death isn’t going to happen. I think it makes it easier to know that you won’t be tended by strangers – your own adopted family is taking care of you. Your home is there, with them, not shuffled away into some forgotten facility.

My recent Bible readings speak to the answer –

Psalm 142
I cry aloud to the LORD;
I plead aloud to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before Him;
I reveal my trouble to Him.
Although my spirit is weak within me,
You know my way.
Along this path I travel
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:[a]
no one stands up for me;
there is no refuge for me;
no one cares about me.
I cry to You, LORD;
I say, “You are my shelter,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry,
for I am very weak.
Rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Free me from prison
so that I can praise Your name.
The righteous will gather around me
because You deal generously with me.

Isaiah 51:12-14
“I am the One who comforts you.
Who are you that you should fear man who dies,
or a son of man who is given up like grass?
But you have forgotten the LORD, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth.
You are in constant dread all day long
because of the fury of the oppressor,
who has set himself to destroy.
But where is the fury of the oppressor?
The prisoner is soon to be set free;
he will not die and go to the Pit,
and his food will not be lacking.”

They tell me to wait – that God’s idea of time is not my idea. They remind me that Abraham waited 30 years after he was promised an heir – long after he and his wife were past childbearing years. They remind me that I need to put God first and everything else will fall into place.

(Bible translations are HCSB)

A new definition of “liturgy”

The word “liturgy” means “work of the people”. It is a church term that refers to the actions that laypeople do to create the church service. Before the Protestant Reformation there was no liturgy. The church service was performed entirely by priests. After the Protestant Reformation the role of consecrating communion was performed by the priest but nearly everything else was often done by members of the congregation. The idea was to make space for people – to make them feel part of the ministry.

I propose that we change the idea of liturgy from meaning the things we do in church to the thing we do as the church. In liturgy we might wear special vestments or carry the Bible or a candle or a cross. How about we do the same things but in a different way – out in the real world? Otherwise, all we are doing in liturgy is play-acting, and that isn’t what God wants of us.

How about instead of wearing special robes we wear what we wear every day and see it as the uniform that we put on to do our work in the world?

How about instead of carrying a Bible in our hands we carry it in our hearts?  How about we live it out loud instead of just reading it out loud? Instead of just sharing the Gospel we live it by being the Good News to a hurting world?

How about instead of carrying a candle we carry the light of Christ in our hearts and share that light in a dark world?

How about instead of carrying a cross we help others by carrying theirs? Like how Jesus was aided by Simon of Cyrene to help bear his burden on the way to his crucifixion.

Crazy in the church

“Being considered ‘crazy’ by those who are still victims of cultural conditioning is a compliment” – Jason Hairston

I left a church when the minister thought I was crazy for praying to God and hearing a reply. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in the three years I’d been a member there, not a single person had talked about hearing from God – including her. God and Jesus were past tense and future tense – not present tense. They weren’t right now. You’d think getting people to feel comfortable talking with God would be the goal of church, but often it isn’t. Often the goal is mute submission to authority.

I remember that even Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, and the religious authorities decided that he was possessed.

(This is from The Condensed Gospel)
When the Pharisees heard about this they said “This man drives out demons with Beelzebub.” Some, to test him, were demanding to see him perform a miracle. Even his own family thought he was crazy.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said “A divided kingdom cannot stand. No one can enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Thus, if the king of demons drives out demons he is fighting against himself. How can his kingdom stand then? If I drive out demons by the king of demons who is it that your own people drive them out by? Accuse them of the same thing you accuse me of! Now, if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then this is proof that the kingdom of God has arrived among you. People will be forgiven for whatever they do and whatever they say unless they speak against the Holy Spirit. That is unforgivable. Anyone who is not with me is against me, and scatters rather than gathers.” He said this because they were saying he had an evil spirit in him.
MT 9:32-34, MT 12:22-32, MK 3:20-30, LK 11:14-23, LK 12:10

In John 7:5 we learn that even Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him. They lived with him and knew him well, and they thought he was a crackpot.

If this is how Jesus was treated by his own family, it stands to reason that his followers would be treated likewise, but it is sad that it happens in the church. He even warned his disciples that they would be accused of everything he was, and suffer his fate – but he meant that it was going to come from the religious authorities that they were trying to usurp, not from within the faithful.

“Crazy” is the modern way to silence someone, especially a woman. It is said to discredit or diminish her impact on others. It is used these days in the same way that the accusation of witchcraft was in years past.

If you have been told you are crazy by a church member or minister, leave right away and find people who hear the same voice you hear. You aren’t crazy. The ones you left are, because they can’t hear the One who they say they follow. How can you follow God if you don’t even know God’s voice?

Rebuild the church

cross

St. Francis saw this cross in the church of San Damiano and heard it say “Rebuild my church”. He then did literally that – stone by stone he repaired a falling down church near his home.

But what if it is more than that – not a building, but the idea? Remember Jesus said “Upon this rock I will build my church” and renamed Simon to Peter, which means “rock”.

The church is a group of people, not a place.

Saint Peter was never ordained, neither was Saint Francis of Assisi. The title of Saint was given long after they died as honorifics, as descriptors of their goodness and adherence to the Way.

Remember, Jesus never ordained anyone, never built a church out of stones. “Church” is meant to be a collection of people working towards a common goal, not a collection of cinderblocks.

The Church Jesus intended is one that is living, dynamic, real, present. It makes a difference in the world by helping people. Remember his final exhortations to Peter, his rock. Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep. He tells him three times to counter the three times that Peter denied him.

The church has nothing to do with actions or behaviors. Whether women cover their hair or wear modest clothing or not is incidental. Who people make love to or not is incidental.

Remember Jesus repeatedly quoted the prophet Hosea saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. God wants our loving service not the incidentals. God would rather have nudists who run a soup kitchen then people who cover their bodies from head to toe and all they do is meet once a week to “have church” by praising God together.

God doesn’t want our prayers and our songs. God wants us to feed his sheep, to heal them. God wants our actions more than our praise. Our best form of praise is to serve God by serving our neighbors. Not by judging them or by pointing out how they are not serving God in the way we think they should.

We cannot be codependent Christians, constantly finding fault. We must find and bring joy wherever we go. Who is hungry? Feed them. Who is in prison? Visit them. Work for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.

This is how we rebuild the church.