Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Prayer for Global Justice

For those who are in danger because they are gay or lesbian, 
for those who work for marriage equality, 
for those whose lives are threatened by AIDS, 
for those who are terrorized, marginalized or oppressed because they are women in a male dominated society, 
for those who do not fit neatly into gender binaries, 
for those who suffer lack while others enjoy unearned privilege, 
for those who are hated because of the color of their skin, 
for those who live in fear as war wages around them, 
for those who flee difficult circumstances without finding welcome in their land of refuge, 
for all who long for safe nights, plenty of food, education, opportunity, a chance to love, or the dignity that all humans deserve, let us pray.
             Spirit of life and liberty, hope and healing, peace and possibilities, 
             we call upon you to move upon human hearts throughout the world. May the human 
             family embrace a desire for peace and plenty, hope and health, joy and justice for all 
             people. Amen. 

Inclusive Language in Worship (It's a good thing)

Since 1981 Metropolitan Community Churches, as a denomination, has embraced Inclusive Language. Sometimes this policy is new for people and, like many new things, it is met with resistance. Still, we teach it, we model it, and we see lives impacted positively because of it. 

One MCC leader says that for god to be male means that to be male is divine (and obviously, that is problematic). I've also heard transgender people say that inclusive language is important, healing, and necessary for them; indeed, it is a way of including them.

Inclusive Language isn't a phenomenon of "political correctness" or an attempt to not offend the highly sensitive. It is an attempt to include more people in a shared experience. 

For all that MCC has not done to my liking, the affirmation and celebration of LBGT people and the use of inclusive language are two things that have always set us apart (in a really good way) from most other faith communities. 

Now, of course, the Disciples of Christ, the UCC, and the Unitarian Universalists all have (to some degree) inclusive language hymnals, most mainline Protestant seminaries have inclusive language policies (enforced to different degrees obviously), the Episcopalians have long had inclusive alternative and supplemental liturgies, and the Presbyterians are even now experimenting with an inclusive hymnal. But MCC was a leader from the beginning for this attempt to include more people by not relying on language that privileges ability or whiteness or status or power or maleness. Inclusive language tends to avoid aquainting goodness with being "white as snow" and it invites people to rise as they are able; it doesn't assume that "Man" means all of humanity and it never presents "God" as if it were a boy's name. 

I remain committed to the use of inclusive language and I hope that Sunshine Cathedral continues to be a leader on this issue.

Below are statements I have recently made via social media on the topic of inclusive language in worship:

To not change male privileging language, or hierarchical language, or militaristic language is to reinforce oppression at a subconscious level. Of course it's easier to leave things as they "always were" but how can we confront misogyny if our worship language deifies maleness? 
And how can we ask people to release their homophobia if we aren't even willing to stop glorifying the Y chromosome? 
Inclusive language isn't about politics, it's about justice and it's about honoring the divine in and beyond all gender identities. I won't take the time here but it is also more faithful to the breadth of scripture. Inc lusive language isn't easy in a sexist culture (which the church historically is) but it is the right thing to do.

At Sunshine Cathedral I never correct anyone who in conversation uses default male language for god (I might make gentle corrections if they use sexist language otherwise...if they want to "man" a booth I might say "thank you for volunteering to STAFF the booth" or if they say "that's the best thing known to man" i might say "it is a pretty great gift for HUMANITY" but if they say "He" (obviously referring to a holy Presence) wants us to love everyone, I just smile, or say "I agree" or without making an issue of it say 'Well, God is love so love is what we should be doing"...

BUT, in order to be a worship leader at Sunshine Cathedral, one must model inclusive language at that level. Choir, soloists, preachers, (lectors have an easy job because the readings are already inclusified), and even Eucharistic Ministers/Communion Servers (though 90% compliance is about the best one can really hope for with them) are all expected to model inclusive language. 

In your personal life, call God Lizzard Toes if that is meaningful to you, or, you might be a humanist or agnostic or atheist or non-theistic Christian in which case, most God language is irrelevant for you anyway, but to lead worship at SC, one must model what we teach is a value. And since 1981, MCC has claimed to value non-sexist, non-racist, non-classist, non-ableist language...So, at the leadership level, we do ask people to model it in worship.

There is at least one more important point i think, and that is inclusive language is a theological frees us from the idolatry of trying to trap the Infinite into the "graven images" of maleness (or whiteness or humanness or Americanness, etc.). 

We need to remember that MCC is a prophetic movement and part of our mission is to teach, to lead in new and empowering directions, to challenge the status quo; so, it always stuns me when people say that we can't teach inclusive language because people in their previous churches were taught male-privileging names and pronouns for God. If non-MCCs could teach sexist language, I see no reason why MCC can't teach an alternative. In fact, since 1981 we have claimed this particular value is an MCC characteristic.

We have never been bound to previous traditions, or we wouldn't exist (we were born to offer an alternative to homophobic religion, but we can never assume our previous churches only got one thing wrong). So, if people need a male deity 6 days and 23 hours a week, I don't think it's too much to ask that they hear something a little broader the 24th hour of the 7th day once a week (though they will often say they know God isn't male, but if so, then why be so married to exclusively male language for God?).
And, just maybe, the god of their understanding and experience will become bigger, which is of course one of the goals of inclusive language.

Inclusive language was one of the "different" things about MCC that made it a clear alternative for me and attractive to challenged and stretched me, and my experience of what we often call "god" became much bigger as a result. 

Yes, in the end, inclusive language will challenge white male privilege, but in that case, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Today's Sexy Lenten Bible Reflection

Today's Sexy Lenten Bible Reflection
by Durrell Watkins

"There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses." Ezekiel 23.20

People who use the bible to justify their own prudery don't realize how earthy, human, lusty, and scandalous the scriptures are (which is precisely why I love them):
from oral sex,masturbation, the admiration of male and female body parts, and outdoor love making in the Song of Songs/Song of Solomon,
to God's "womb" being mentioned in the book of Job,
to Mary's (then) scandalous out of wedlock pregnancy (no matter how divine the sperm donor is said to have been, Mary never became Mrs God),
to Jonathan and David's obvious same-gender love affair,
to King David dancing naked in the street,
to Onan's coitus interruptus,
to Levirate marriage (where a man is compelled to have sex with his widowed sister-in-law! - see Onan),
to Jesus being with a naked man in the dark in Mark 14,
to penises (male circumcision) being discussed openly and in great detail with some frequency,
to the Apostle Paul in Acts visiting LESBOS (Mytelene),
to Solomon having 1000 spouses (and several people having multiple spouses, but Solomon totally wins)!

And those are just some of the examples where bodies and sexuality are celebrated or at least discussed openly without condemnation; there are also reprehensible sex-acts (in my judgment) that are, nevertheless, stated as matters of fact without a lot of commentary or condemnation in the bible, such as:

Samson accusing his enemies of plowing with his heifer (an insulting way of accusing them of being in bed, either figuratively or literally, with his wife),
Abraham pimping out his wife Sarah,
and Lot having incest with his daughters (in a story often used to condemn homosexuality even though consensual same-gender sex is NOT part of the story, but those who refer to Sodom and Gomorrah never seem to be blasting Lot for sleeping with his daughters...of course, the off-spring of those unholy unions just happened to be the enemies of the writer of the story, so its more of an ethnic slur against neighboring peoples than a story about sexual morals anyway).

There are times when sex is condemned, but it always when the sex is non-consensual, in violation of a covenantal relationship, or exploitive, an example being when ex-Temple prostitutes convert to Pauline Christianity and St Paul tells them to cover their hair until it grows out so they will no longer be mistaken with their former profession.

In addition to those incomplete lists, there are also the times that sexuality is implied:
What was Jesus' relationship to his "beloved" disciple; what was his relationship to Lazarus; and what was his relationship to Mary of Magdala?
What is the significance of Ruth making a vow to Naomi that is often repeated in heterosexual wedding ceremonies today?
What was Paul's thorn that prayer could not remove?

And let's add just a touch of irony to the whole thing by recalling the preferred translation used as a weapon against sex-positive people in general (and same-gender loving people in particular) is the King James Version, named for homosexual Queen James himself!

I mean, be as puritanical as you want to be, but find some reason other than the bible for it, and at very least, please stop using the bible as your excuse for denying same-gender loving people dignity and equal rights.

In Metropolitan Community Churches we see sexuality as a gift to be cherished and celebrated. Loving, consensual, adult relationships, sexual or not, regardless of the gender identities of the people in the relationships, are not condemned by scripture, by sound reasoning, or by Metropolitan Community Churches. Isn't it time to stop blaming sexual misgivings on the bible?

We don't need to look up the "rules" for sexual relationships in an ancient book where the most righteous often had sex lives seldom seen today outside the porn industry! We can sort out what is fair, just, loving, and good for ourselves and then hold ourselves and one another accountable, insisting only that our sexual relationships be (as one community puts it) "safe, sane, and consensual."

We can be moral, responsible, loving, kind, generous, faithful, bound by promises that we freely make, and live in joyous, sensual relationships. Spirituality and sexuality do not pose a dichotomy. I am proud to be part of the MCC tradition that has affirmed that boldly and consistently since its founding on Oct 6, 1968!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

We Need a Little Easter Now (Ash Wed 2014 sermon)

We Need a Little Easter Now
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Ash Wednesday 2014

In the play and movie, Auntie Mame, Mame decides that Christmas needs to come early and so she and her nephew and staff celebrate Christmas when they need all that it offers, all that it represents, rather than waiting for when the calendar says it’s time.

I like that. The miracle of Christmas is available whenever we need it. When we need hope, joy, celebration, togetherness, seeing sparks of possibilities in the midst of despair, then it’s time to “haul out the holly” and “deck the halls.”

But just as Christmas is about the hope of liberation being born in the midst of empire, marginalized shepherds hearing angel voices and far away strangers finding holiness after a long journey, Easter, too, is a symbol of hope that breaks forth in spite of seeming hopelessness.

Easter is life that death can’t keep from expressing.
Easter is freedom from entombment and stones of limitation being removed.
Easter is knowing that tragedy strikes but shouting Hallelujah anyway because life is a never-ending story and so the hope for healing and restoration is always real.

I don’t think it serves us to make Lent a forced time of gloom, sacrifice, or feigned sadness. Bad things happen often enough without our needing to pretend a moment is less joyful than it could be (e.g., hangings in Iran, anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and Uganda, attempts to halt progress on LBGT rights in the US, etc).

Let’s make Lent a time of celebrating Easter early, a time of affirming life, a time of expecting the best, a time of choosing to be more generous, more joyful, more optimistic, more committed to justice, more excited about the possibilities of life right now and always.

Tonight, of course, is Ash Wednesday.
Whenever I hear Ash Wednesday I remember a sunken area outside on the campus of the seminary where I earned my doctorate. The school was smoke free indoors, and so the smokers would gather at that sunken area outside to smoke and visit. Since it was the smoking area, and since it was a sunken sort of pit, they affectionately called it the Ash Hole.

Ash Wednesday begins the Season of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation leading to Easter. During Lent we are encouraged to be especially faithful to spiritual disciplines such as meditation, study, prayer, worship, and sharing. It is, therefore, a time of spiritual renewal.
Renewal, isn’t that what Easter is about?

Lent isn’t holding off on joy; Lent can be about rehearsing for unending joy. Let’s not wait. Let’s get the party started now and call it Lent!

Traditionally Ash Wednesday calls us to consider our mortality and redeem our fear of it, but it can also challenge us to heal many of our attitudes and commit to living in the power of hope.

Sister Joan Chittister  says this about Lent:
“Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.
Lent is a summons to live anew.
Lent is the time to let life in again…”
Live anew? Let life in again? Sounds like Easter! Maybe Lent isn’t Easter delayed but Easter come early!

In our reading tonight, the Apostle Paul said, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
NOW is the time. Why wait?

Easter isn't something that happened once long ago, nor is it something that may happen in 7 weeks; Easter is a reality we can acknowledge, embrace, and live into at any time.

Easter, actually named for the Saxon spring goddess Eostre, represents life that cannot end.

Winter can cover our lives with snow and ice and darkness but the cold must give way once again to the life that Spring calls forth. Life doesn't go away; it is actually being nurtured in the darkness of winter so that it can flourish in the Spring and be forever strong and bountiful.

So, we aren't making Spring happen and we aren't hoping that it will happen, we are choosing to know that it is a reality that cannot be kept from us, so even when winter seems dark and gloomy, it is really just providing the rest needed for never-ending renewal. Life will prevail. Winter is part of life. Lent, then, can be part of Easter. We are always Spring people, people alive with divine Life, Easter people, Resurrection people. Why pretend otherwise simply because tradition says its Lent?

Tonight we aren't just contemplating mortality; we are redeeming it. Life must live and isn’t limited by physical conditions. Life isn’t physical, it is energy, spirit, and while we experience it in our bodies, it is in no way limited to our bodies. We are choosing to remember that Life is indomitable, omnipresent, eternal; and to remember that is to experience Easter. We can have a little Easter right now. And not only do we trust that life is eternal, we also trust that we can make the most of it by being intentional, deliberate, faithful on our life-journeys.

We make mistakes, but we also learn from them.
We experience suffering, but we also overcome it.
We face uncertainty, but we have the power to hope even when certainty evades us. Easter blessings are always at hand.

I have friends who are giving their last Facebook post between now and Easter (but reminding the world they are nevertheless available via email and Twitter). Really? Why bother?
Give up chocolate for 40 days? Why? If it’s bad, give it up forever. If it’s good, why give it up for even a day?

Oh, there are things I would encourage us to give up, but not because it’s Lent, but because useless baggage that weighs us down should be jettisoned whenever we have the opportunity to get rid of it!

Give up the idea that you were born a sinner. Of course you make mistakes, but you can also learn from them and heal from them and wind up better than before. But making mistakes doesn’t make us a mistake. We are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!

Give up self-loathing.
Give up false guilt and needless shame.
Give up fear of the unknown.
Give up regret over what can’t be changed.
Give up anxiety about what hasn’t happened yet and may never happen at all.
There are many things to give up that could make a big difference. Sodas and chocolate and Facebook, however, do not make it very high on that list.

This is as good a time as any to challenge ourselves to be more generous, more hopeful, more reflective, more open to possibilities, but this is not a time give up anything other than whatever is stealing our joy.  

I have a friend from seminary, a heterosexual, married with children, Baptist minister in Los Angeles. He’s in trouble right now because he married a lesbian couple in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. He opened his church to interfaith groups for dialogue and he welcomed humanists, agnostics, and atheists to the discussions. Most recently, and apparently this was the final straw, he published a letter in a local paper advocating for lesbian and gay rights.

My friend has given up a lot as Lent approaches. Not movies or texting or sodas after sundown. He’s given up security for the sake of those who never had it. He’s given up privilege for those who had been hurt by it. He’s given up knowing if he will have job tomorrow because he’d rather stand on the side of justice that profit from oppressive theologies left unchallenged.

I’m not opposed to giving up things for Lent, but does the giving up make a difference? How easy it is to pat ourselves on the back for not chewing gum for a few weeks! But wouldn’t a more meaningful sacrifice be to speak out on behalf of undocumented workers, to show kindness to someone suffering from depression, to affirm the validity and sanctity of transgender people and the families they create, to oppose war, and to work to end poverty rather than punish people for being poor?  

When I hear of people congratulating themselves for abstaining from scratch off lottery tickets or pasta for a few weeks, I think of the prophet of Isaiah who imagined God saying, “What do I care about the number of your sacrifices?...Instead, make justice your aim, redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.”
That’s what my friend in Los Angeles has done. Instead of sacrificing things that won’t matter if he enjoys them or not, he has taken up the cause of justice to help those he could have chosen to ignore. But with the heart of a pastor and the soul of a prophet, he chose to believe in the sacred value of all people and give up anything that might hinder that life-giving good news.

Traditionally, the ashes on Ash Wednesday represent finality, but remember, it’s from the ashes that the Phoenix will rise. No matter what has happened, believe in your goodness and choose to have hope for the future.

If you think you watch too much television then watch less, but don’t call it a religious discipline. If you want to eat healthier, see a nutritionist or a trainer or join Weight Watchers…it will work better and last longer than trying to give up carbs for Lent. But if you want to experience more joy in life then give up beliefs that make you feel badly about yourself, and once you believe in yourself, you will be better able to be an agent of positive change and healing in the world.

NOW is the time of God's favor; now is the day of salvation (wholeness, liberation, true happiness). We need a little Easter now. Let’s start the Easter celebration tonight and build on it throughout Lent so that on Easter Sunday the joy and the energy and the hope will be so strong it will be like an atomic blast of grace and goodness, and Sunshine Cathedral will be ground zero. THIS is the good news. Amen.

Response to Dalai Lama's awkward acceptance of marriage equality

The Dalai Lama’s endorsement of consensual, adult relationships is encouraging.

However, he still seems to equate same-gender love and attraction with the act of sex itself (rather than recognizing sexual orientation as a matter of ontology), and he seems to accept that governments and religions have a right to promote oppressive ideologies that would continue to marginalize same-gender loving people.

He has made a step in the right direction and I applaud his attempt at openness; and in general I am a big fan of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but I continue to stand in opposition to all homophobic theologies and I hope for the day when the majority of religious leaders will do the same.

Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister
Sunshine Cathedral

A Progressive Metropolitan Community Church
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Dalai Lama sort of OKs marriage equality...