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The ELCA’s Upcoming Human Sexuality Vote Has Larger Societal Implications

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Somewhere in this country there is a young teenager who is getting ready to “come out” to her parents; she might well get kicked out of the family home for that.  Somewhere else there is another teen that will soon discover that momma has a new boyfriend whose homophobia will soon lead to this kid’s expulsion from the house.  Somewhere else a young woman will be walking down a sidewalk, minding her own business, when a carload of guys will drive up and throw beer bottles at her simply because they think she’s a homosexual.   In Colorado I’m aware of at least one pastor who has done ministry with GLBT teens and young people who have been disowned by their families and ostracized and persecuted by the surrounding culture.  This culture would also include the churches these young people had attended as well.

A flashback to 1996, and the ELCA Southwest Texas Synod Assembly held that spring.  It was my first-ever experience of an assembly and I was pumped to be one of the delegates representing my congregation in Austin.  Back then, the inflammatory discussion had to do with the synod merely offering an open welcome to gay/lesbian people to its congregations.  The resolution had been submitted by the pastor of an Austin church known for accepting such folks and helping them integrate into the full life of the congregation as practicing Christians.

Well, it didn’t take long for the discussion to turn ugly.  One Hill Country pastor in particular was particularly incensed that the church would even consider inviting such people–it’s like inviting a violent murderer or inviting a thief to come steal your silverware he said.  Other pastors likened gays and lesbians to hardened criminals and bank robbers.  Of course, they all came to the microphones carrying their Bibles–opened to the OLD TESTAMENT!  Not one of them quoted Jesus, of course, since our Lord was strangely silent on the issue.  All the people who spoke along these lines spoke words that reflected the churches they came from, along with the cultures that both shaped and were shaped by those churches.   The resolution to merely offer an open welcome was narrowly defeated.  The same thing happened two years later at the next assembly, after a similar debate in which homosexuals were labeled and categorized as abominable and evil.  Afterward, in an adjacent hallway, a wonderful pastor and youth minister (who also happened to be gay) was doubled over in emotional pain, his deep sobbing causing huge tremors in his thin body.  “I don’t know if I can serve among such people anymore,”  he said in-between sobs.   He was surrounded by a concerned group of colleagues, lay people, parents of the kids he cared for, and people like me who just wandered onto the scene and wanted to be of some help.  “We’re sorry,” someone said,  “We tried.  We WILL get there.  Please stay with us.  Please forgive us.”

It took a few years, but the open welcome was passed.  Meanwhile other synods throughout the country went through similarly toxic debates over similar resolutions, many of them proposed by pastors who found themselves in ministry situations with Christians who also happened to be gay or lesbian.

And now comes a national vote on the Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust report.  This issue goes well beyond who is “clean” enough to serve the church in its ordained ministry.  It connects with the very real world scenarios where people are persecuted, kicked out of their homes, beaten, even killed, because of their sexual identity.  The ELCA will once again find itself in the national spotlight as recommendations are discussed and debated.  What word will the church bring to the culture at large?    What words will be spoken in discussion?  Will Luther’s catechetical explanation of the 8th commandment give someone pause and prevent them from engaging in hurtful name-calling and vicious slander?  What will the final word be, and how might that word impact the larger culture?  Stay tuned………………….

Christian Bashing As Bad As Gay Bashing?!

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Not hardly.  More food for thought as the Global War on Tolerance continues.

Quote of the Day

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Few things have done more harm than the belief on the part of individuals or groups  that he, she or they are in sole possession of the truth.  Especially about how to live and what to be and do, and those who differ with them are not just mistaken, but are wicked or mad.  It is a terrible arrogance to believe that you alone are right; you alone have the magical eye that sees the truth, that no one else can possibly be right if he or she disagrees with you.
–Isaiah Berlin, Russian-born teacher of Philosophy at Oxford

h/t Peter Marty @Grace Matters

“This Tumbleweed Life” Reaches 6 Month Milestone; Some Reflections on This Blog and Why I Do It

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My first post launched this blog on Oct. 10, 2008.   Since then I’ve somehow mustered 237 posts in 181 categories.  And amazingly I’ve had the honor of having 0ver 19,300 guests drop in and check out “Tumbleweed.”  Muchas gracias!

I started “Tumbleweed” in the midst of making some significant life-changes, changes which are still in progress.   I wasn’t sure what my end-goal would be for this blog, and I still don’t really have one.  It’s always been more about the process of writing and getting back to those skills of writing for an audience, hopefully sharpening myself along the way.  I’ve tried my best to avoid the pitfalls of self-indulgence which seem to turn a few blogs into some sort of public therapy session.  Yet I’ve also come to admire some bloggers who find ways to harvest good meaning from the mine of self-disclosure.  Blogging has not only launched me down a new path of writing, but of reading other blogs as well.

“Tumbleweed” has become good therapy, but I’m hoping mostly that it continues to become good writing that you will enjoy reading and responding to and engaging.

My goals for the next six months are to develop and post my own video and graphics, and to see if I can ramp up the humor a bit.  We need humor right now.

My theological and religious musings are an outcome of my present vocation as parish pastor.  They are also an outcome of my view that we are in a contemporary, high-stakes, global struggle that may define much of this still-new 21st century.  I don’t think this struggle can be categorized as part of that which others have named the Global War on Terror, but under another much-larger umbrella called the Global War on Tolerance.  In a September 9th, 2007 “Grace Matters” episode, host Peter Marty devoted his program to the notion that we are engaged in a struggle against Religious Totalitarianism.  Religious Totalitarianism grows out of some collective sense that a particular faith or religious practice is the only practice or belief system that is “true,” rendering everything else false and beyond the realm of respect and toleration.  We’ve suffered under and dealt with Religious Totalitarianism throughout our human history, but it seems especially critical in our time to respond to this mindset which has bred some unusually virulent and violent expressions.  And as a Christian, I am deeply wounded when such a mindset seeks to represent the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8).  To allow such things to go unchallenged is to be a poor disciple.    It’s good to remember that a core value of Jesus’ life and ministry was to bring all different types of folks–even those deemed socially reprehensible– around a common table and to break bread with them.  It’s also good to remember how such behavior offended many of the good, God-fearing people of his day–especially those who saw themselves as curators of religious truth– and how those people ultimately were the ones to turn on him and hand him over to the Romans for crucifixion.

To close this post I leave you with one of the quiz questions asked by Peter Marty at the end of that particular Grace Matters episode I referenced earlier.

Of the writings deemed sacred by the world’s major religions, which collection of sacred writings produced the following text:

Any person who curses his father or mother shall be put to death.

Is it:  A. The Q’uran      B.  The Book of Mormon      C.  The Bible

Read the rest of this entry

While We’re All Giddy Over the Inauguration, Iraq Has Big Dreams Too

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REUTERS/Erik de Castro

REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Reuters reports that the intellectuals and artists who have been courageous enough to remain in Iraq-and lucky enough to remain alive- are planning a widespread campaign to replace martial statues and monuments with art extolling the virtues of  peace.

However, some in the intellectual and arts communities have reservations.  An unnamed college art instructor expressed concern that the ongoing carnage wrought by militant violence would deter artists from participating.  He is unnamed in the article because he lives in fear after having been personally threatened by militants.

The report mentions a recent piece he created which features 3 people chained to a wall in the ruins of a temple, symbolizing the current reality of Iraqis feeling chained captive by unrelenting violence and by the U.S. occupation.

Murtadha Hedad, a sculptor and professor at Baghdad University’s College of Fine Arts, maintained a sense of hope that the planned monument makeover would call Iraq back to it’s true roots.  “We have a lot of ideas, like statues of intellectuals or writers, because Baghdad is the cradle of civilization,” Hedad said.

Given the anti-intellectual, anti-literary and anti-fine arts movement that has plunged the entire world into a Global War on Tolerance, one wonders if some of these Iraqi artists could be lured to work in safer locations where their vision is just as important and likely to be unimpeded by death threats.   Maybe they could place their art in the places that need it just as much as Iraq, places that Iraq’s current occupiers call home.