Archive for ‘God’

April 25, 2011

Lisa Larges: Our Chance to Be the Church

Whether you are passionately for or passionately against Amendment 10-A (the amendment now before the Presbyterian Church which would replace existing language in our Constitution which effectively bars LGBT persons from holding ordained office) here is some good news: God is still in charge. Sure, believers across the world would agree with this fundamental truth, but we Presbyterians believe it with a particular ferocity. We count as our spiritual forebear one Mr. John Calvin, who was strenuous on the point:

“Truly God claims omnipotence to himself, and would have us to acknowledge it,–not the vain, indolent, slumbering omnipotence which sophists [quibblers] feign, but vigilant, efficacious, energetic, and ever active– not an omnipotence which may only act as a general principle of confused motion, as in ordering a stream to keep within the channel once prescribed to it, but one which is intent on individual and special movements. God is deemed omnipotent, not because he can act though he may cease or be idle, or because by a general instinct he continues the order of nature previously appointed; but because, governing heaven and earth by his providence, he so overrules all things that nothing happens without his counsel.”

That’s how very in charge God is. But, John Calvin was a practical theologian and his emphasis on God’s omnipotence was meant less as an instruction on who God is than on who we are to be. It’s a point that Paul made directly and succinctly to the Church in Rome: “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought …” For Calvin, as for Paul God’s sovereignty requires our humility.

A few weeks back, I was an observer at the called meeting of San Francisco Presbytery as the presbyters voted on Amendment 10-A. At several points during the proceedings the Moderator reminded the body of the controversial nature of the vote, and urged graciousness and decorum, especially after the vote was announced and the meeting adjourned. “There will be those who will be celebrating,” he said, “and those who will be upset by the results and we need to treat one another with kindness and respect.”

He was right. When it comes to votes on LGBT issues, San Francisco Presbytery is just about evenly split. I appreciated the call for civility and grace; but still, the word “celebrate” hit an off note in me.

As it turned out, Amendment 10-A passed in San Francisco Presbytery, which would put me in the camp of the celebrators. But—though I was glad about the outcome— “celebrating” didn’t have much appeal.

I’ll confess to you right here, right now, that there have been times at presbytery or at a General Assembly when I’ve felt gleeful about the result of some vote or other. I’ll further confess that, once or twice (and I’m not proud of this) I even felt just a wee bit of glee that others, who had worked so strenuously against something that I cared about, were now feeling the sadness of having a vote go against them. Calvin would have had a word for that kind of cheap glee, and that word is sin. It’s sinful because it breaks relation with another part of the body of Christ, and it’s sinful because it demeans the sovereignty of God, as if we could be certain of God’s purposes.

The church is surrounded by a culture that measures the world by winners and losers. So saturated are we in it that we drag that language of win/loss, victory/defeat in to the church, where it never belonged, and where it only does us harm.

All of this is meant as a little shout out to those, who—like me—will be rejoicing should Amendment 10-A be ratified. It’s a reminder to all of us to practice the spiritual discipline of equanimity.

Paul again:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through the One who gives me strength.”

Here’s our chance. Here’s our chance to be a living demonstration of graciousness, humility, and generosity. Here’s our chance to practice radical hospitality.

And, as a whole Church, bound by the unity of Christ’s body, here’s an opportunity to model a bit of positive Calvinism. We are not in charge – ain’t that good news?

February 25, 2011

Dreaming of The Church That Can Be

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” –Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), French novelist, born Feb. 26, 1802

January 14, 2011

Derrick McQueen: MLK Day Message

I am sitting here thinking about the sermon I am in the middle of processing for a UU congregation on Sunday. It is a sermon I am giving on behalf of the Poverty Initiative here at Union Theological Seminary. The Poverty Initiative’s mission says that “the Poverty Initiative is dedicated to raising up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor.” The sermon I am preparing is based on Rev. Dr. M.L. King’s speech “The Drum Major Instinct.”

Here is my reading for the day from that speech:

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend…

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

I share this text with you for a couple of reasons today. I share it to remind us that Christ always went along the grain of what others thought should stay the status quo. King did not say this to remind us the suffering we have to go through in order to fight for what’s right. He did it moreso to remind us that greatness is adjective that is assigned to us by others. Meaning, it doesn’t take greatness to make the change in the church we are making. It takes very real people, willing to humbly stand for what’s right, willing to speak up for injustices. And everyone of us are a part of what makes this church we serve “great”. You see others cannot defend the status quo of this church and it’s greatness without realizing that it is each person in it, each part of the body, is what makes up that greatness. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the outside of the box is what we call great, but it is its pieces working together inside the box that make it so.

In all honesty, Dr. King’s attitude toward the work we do would have had to undergo some major shifting to get behind us. The leaders of the Civil Right’s movement relegated the openly gay man, Bayard Rustin—organizer/planner extraordinaire—to a behind-the-scenes piece of the legacy of the movement. It was fear of the government leaking Rustin’s sexuality that convinced King to take a part in this process. But in my heart, I do believe that King would have come around. I believe that King would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Rustin in solidarity. I believe that he would be able to finally stare Rustin in the eyes and say the words to him that mean so much for the work we do, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”*

That is a Jesus message if I ever heard one. That is the truth of the Good News we bring to our church. May we stand steadfast in the struggle.

I remember last fall, here in NYC we had these winds like you wouldn’t believe. One could barely walk down the street without having the wind blow you off balance for a second or two and sometimes you could barely walk against the wind without threat of being blown over. I remember looking out the window watching person after person walk up the wide boulevard, struggling to walk into the wind. From a less windy side street, I saw and older couple who I imagined to have been together for at least 50 years. Before they turned the corner onto the windier street they did something I will never forget. They turned and looked toward one another and then side by side they burrowed into each other. They turned the corner and walked straight into the wind together. Step after measured step, they held tight and walked unwaveringly through that wind. When they reached the deli their destination they stepped into the doorway and gave each other a quick kiss and went inside.

If we can continue to link arms and walk forward in the wind of opposition, we can cut through it, diffuse its power, and reach our destination. The winds died down that day. Be assured dear friends, that we can weather the storm. But remember to hold on to one another tightly. We have turned a corner and are out of the shadows of the church. That is why the winds of resistance have been so fierce upon us. Hold on…the deli is at the end of the corner for us too!

We serve a church that tries to care for the poor, the unloved, those devastated by war, the hungry, those who don’t have clothes on their backs. We are a church that seeks to love and serve humanity from Arkansas to Angola. But let us continue to remind this church and shine the the light on their shortsightedness. Let us continue to speak of our injustice here within the church as we minister to the world outside. Friends, let us remind ourselves, the church we serve and the world we are a part of that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Ashe and Amen.

Loving and most gracious God,

We come to you in thanksgiving because we have come so far. ‘We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on our God. Trusting in Your holy word, we can’t turn around.’ In this moment of renewed commitment to service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., help us to cling to one another as we move along this journey we have undertaken. Help us to recognize our failings and our prejudices, the ones that hinder us from serving your church. Help us to remember as we fight our struggle, so that one day all of your children can be free, that our struggle is the struggle of the poor, those in prison, those with no food or clothes. As we get bogged down with the important work of strategizing, planning, organizing, claiming victories and mourning defeats—help us to remember that we are not just fighting our fight but we are fighting for injustice everywhere.

Bless us, Holy One, that we may hear and discern your will for us and in the work that we do. Bless the ones we love as they support us in this work. Help us to love those who would see us fail, those who would rather see us leave your church. Help us to maintain the truth of our ministry. We ask these things in our solitary prayers, but we ask them now collectively that you would bless this body with those virtues that you hold so dear.

We ask these and so many other blessings, we bring these concerns and so many others in our hearts to you. Thank you for giving us the courage through your grace. We thank you, God, and give thanks in the name of Christ and the blessed communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Letter From A Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Derrick McQueen is a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary in New York City
and a member of the Board of That All May Freely Serve.