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By Our Fruits.

The discussion around and about…unfortunately usually not with…LGBT inclusion has been building steam in my denomination.

I have been praying about my own beliefs for a long time but there has been no question for me on where I stand. Let me tell you why.

When I was a Senior in high school my best friend came out to me. There was much trepidation around this revelation because he knew I was a Christian and he had been burnt by Christians before. The preachers I knew never spoke against same-sex orientation…that I noticed anyway but I zoned out a lot. My parents, at that time, had never brought it up because this was NW Iowa, people, and we did NOT talk about that stuff. The only thing I knew was my experience of my friend…and my friend was, and continues to be, one of the nicest, most compassionate and intelligent people I have ever met.

So he came out and I said something to the effect that of course I loved him and those other Christians must be idiots for rejecting someone as wonderful as him. And that has been my “stance” ever since.

The discussion typically involves someone claiming Biblical truth and then they start slinging around Bible verses. There have been many excellent books written on what these verses mean. I encourage you to read up on the discussion. I have recently finally gotten it all together in my head.

There is this section in Romans 1 where Paul goes off on a rant about how God has abandoned pagan worshippers to “unnatural desires” like same-sex sex. The chapter continues with:

Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy.

In chapter 2 (btw, the chapter markers were added MUCH later so we would do well to read the Bible more continuously and less in a plucking out a pericope fashion) Paul then goes on to talk about how those who judge are probably hypocritical and therefore just as bad.

What we appear to have from Paul, in my understanding, is a list of behaviors that spring from a disbelief in God and the fruit of that disbelief are broken relationships. Not only that, but encouragement for others to break relationships. Every behavior of the people being called out by Paul is about objectifying other people. This caused me to think about the words of Jesus.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, CEB)

Paul might be speaking about rotten trees, including those who judge others without attending to their own health first. But experience has taught me…and many others…that LGBTQ lives and loves are not signs of rotten trees. There is good fruit from the lives, loves, and ministry of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. If practicing their love was so awful, so sinful, that it must be condemned in every form, then I would expect there to be consistently bad fruit. Except that’s not what we see at all.

To be fair-ish. I also don’t see rotten fruit from every single person who struggles with the question of whether or not certain behaviors are sinful. Some I do…especially those who have made it their focus to preach and teach on it. But some folks are just folks who haven’t had a chance to really be taught different, or ask their questions, or sit with the possibility for a new perspective long enough. Some folks need us to be able to talk about what is sinful behavior in any sexual orientation and what is healthy before they can really become advocates.

Some of the best people I know are LGBTQ, and some of the best people I know are just now considering the possibility that it’s ok to be a practicing LGBTQ person. We will know them, and ourselves, by our fruit.


alexis

Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.

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Sin: Part 2

Sins against God

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object. This is where I started with my first Bearded Blog post. I got some pushback because I did not say anything about God.

That was on purpose.

Sins against people are easier for us to understand. If we have an ounce of empathy at all, we can see the pain we cause in others. And if we have no empathy, we can at least know the pain others have caused in us.

My postulated new definition of sin holds as true for God as it does for people. Maybe even more so, because it easier to do this to God…and even well-intentioned God followers do this to God ALL the time. So here it is:

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves God, from God to object.

The question that this begs is, who is God? For those of us Christians, we believe God has revealed God’s self through Jesus Christ and throughout Scripture (through the lens of real people caught up in a particular context, but revealed nonetheless.)

In Exodus 3, God tells Moses that God’s name is “I Am Who I Am” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be.”

Jesus continues to use this divine name every time He says “I Am” especially in John’s Gospel. God is primal, God just is, God was and is and is to come.

This leads me to believe that God may only be experienced. God may be described as long as we are humble in our descriptions and realize they are limited…they are signs that point to God, rather than God’s actual self. (Yep, you can call God, Father…this teaches us beautiful things about the nature of God. But it does not mean that God is male/has a penis/or cannot also be described as Mother.) All of our descriptions fall short of the actual experience of God within a relationship with God.

We, insiders of the church/preacher type people, call sin against God idolatry.

Idolatry is placing anyone, or anything, above God in priority. Here’s my big struggle, that means God comes before family. 99% of the time, the two will not be in conflict. Following God will probably make us a better spouse/child/parent etc…but God still comes first. God comes before church. Hello. If our institution conflicts with God, our institution has become a source of sin.

Idolatry is also attempting to worship God by a definition that doesn’t actually match who God is.

For example, God is not in the business of wish-fulfillment. Praying only when we need/want something is idolatry and a sin against God. One of the primary purposes of prayer is to deepen our relationship with God so that our hearts resemble God’s heart, and we begin to petition God with petitions aligned to God’s will. (This is Jesus’s big prayer for His disciples at the end of John’s Gospel.)

When we sin against other people, we are also sinning against God. We have made God’s beautiful image, found in other people, less than God intended us to make it.

So, in essence, every sin is against God…and sinning against God directly is something we must always be on guard against.

 


image2I’m an Ordained Elder in the UMC committed to building the Kingdom regardless of what goes down in 2019. I finally have an Associate Pastor, and he happens to by my husband…who shares my office. So now you know about my day! I love to talk to people with all different viewpoints, and I look forward to engaging in good dialog!

 

 

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United Methodist Social Principles: Rights of Children

Iowa has recently become embroiled in a debate over school vouchers. I should clarify, the most recent iteration of the debate around education in Iowa has centered around Educational Savings Accounts (ESA’s) that would use tax dollars to fund students who choose private school, online learning, or homeschooling to receive their education. You can read the bill here https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=87&ba=HSB651  Part of the argument in favor of this bill is that it will create a market environment where public schools will have to do better to compete with the other options. The irony of this argument is, of course, that they will have to be better with even less money, and our public schools have been losing funding for years now.

I’m excited to say that the Iowa United Methodist Conference Lobbyists all declared themselves as against the ESA bill. (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/lobbyist/reports/declarations?ga=87&ba=HSB651)

In light of these events, I have become convicted about the fact that I don’t teach from the Social Principles enough. You see, in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, there are at least two Social Principles that address the education of young people.

Section III, subsection C Rights of Children contains this:

Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods

of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an

individual person of worth. All children have the right to quality education, including

full sex education appropriate to their stage of development that utilizes the best

educational techniques and insights.     

Section V, subsection E Education has this sentence:

In society, this function can best be fulfilled through public policies that ensure

access for all persons to free public elementary and secondary school and to post-

secondary schools of their choice.

Now, I’m going back and teaching my people about these Social Principles that call us to ensure access to public education for all kids. This means supporting our public schools, especially since our rural students do not have easy access to private schools. We could argue about the online or the homeschooling option, but this privileges parents/guardians who are able to stay home with their students instead of working. (Because who the heck can leave a kid alone to teach themselves all day?? At best, you’d come home to a destroyed house and a kid who still hadn’t done their homework…)

We, as United Methodists, believe in the ability to reason as a powerful tool for understanding the world and, more importantly, for understanding God. It makes sense that we would advocate for our entire population being educated so that we can all reason together. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of issues and conversations we are facing as a world that we need to be able to reason through. Sharing the ability to think through these issues and act accordingly, benefits us all. Even if you have chosen to not have kids, or if your kids have already finished schooling, the education of the people around you will affect your experience of the world. (Imagine someone taking care of you in the nursing home that does not have even an elementary school education??)

I know this started as a discussion about an Iowa problem, but according to Education Week, our US Schools are C-average at best. You can see the rankings here. https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/quality-counts-2018-state-grades/report-card-map-rankings.html  Which means, at least according to this source, the entire country is struggling when it comes to education.

It’s time for us all to become United Methodists, and start advocating for the education of our young people…not just here in the US, but all over the world.


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Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.

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Political Responsibility

“The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”

When reviewing the Social Principles, I was surprised that the Church challenges us to be not only concerned, but also involved with the application of public policy and ideological discourse. So many times have I heard the maxim “Don’t talk about religion, money, or politics”.

It’s fascinating, however, that the UMC would want us to become invested in a sphere of influence in society that, in American culture, outright seeks to reject us.

By no means do I believe this section of the Social Principles asks us to proselytize, but to use our social capital to give voices to those who have been muted by unlawful legislation, a platform for those who would seek equity when there is none.

Our Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace, love, and justice must extend into those taboo areas- from the dining room conversation to the front steps of the capitol.

Faith is political. Religion is political. God is political.

We must rally and use our privileges as a longstanding institution of charity, education, and justice to advocate for the oppressed; to aid in liberating those who cannot see God in their laws and their leaders.


cody

Cody C. Robinson is a Cherokee scholar from Tahlequah, Oklahoma and student at Phillips Theological Seminary. When he isn’t trying to make disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, Cody spends his spare time taking too long to order at familiar restaurants and seeking the perfect grilled cheese.

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Sin?

I find the concept of sin very confusing.

I’m a pastor, you would think I should have this down, but I don’t.

I can tell you all about the definition of the word and I can teach you about what the word actually is in Greek. I can exegete (fancy church language for interpreting) some Scriptural passages for you. But it all seems to be lacking.

There are religious people who will attempt to give you lists, even Paul, author of a lot of those New Testament letters, loved his lists of things Christians should not do. The problem with these lists being the sole definition of sin is that it limits the discussion to behaviors and contexts Paul or any other list maker is familiar with.

Let me suggest another possibility that’s about half-formed in my mind. Somewhere between reading ch 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute, and I-Thou by Martin Buber, this idea began to come together for me.

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

Let me give you some of my building blocks and we’ll see if you agree:

  • In the ch 5-7 of Matthew, Jesus lays out the best Christianity 101 ever. Part of His message is a list of laws that He then takes to a different place.“You have heard it said…but I tell you,” is His formula. The laws He’s referring to deal with behaviors, but Jesus takes us to a place of intention behind the behavior. Law = cheating on your significant other is bad. Jesus = the bad starts with lust. Lust is not attraction to another human being that could lead to a life-giving relationship, lust is ONLY about physical attraction and what one wishes to do to another human being.
  • In Buber’s book, Buber lays out two basic words/concepts that are at the heart of all human experience and understanding. I-You is pure experience found at the heart of human to human relationship. (Buber actually includes the possibility of an I-You moment with a tree, but we’re going to stick with people for this topic.) I-It is when analysis and manipulation jump in. Let’s just continue with our example above. I-You would experience the whole person as beautiful and would be completely present with that person for however long the encounter lasted, even if it was just momentary eye contact. I-It leaves the experience of relationship to make judgments about desirability and what it would take to advance the encounter to something physical.
  • Last piece, once we move a person from I-You to I-It, it does not matter how we treat the other person or what our behaviors are, they will be able to read our intention on some level and it will alter the relationship. Back to the lust. It does not matter how sweet and noble we act if all we’re thinking about is how to use the other person. Our thoughts will change the dynamics toward the sexual somehow.
  • You could put any example in the above points: anger, impatience, the need to control, etc etc etc.

Back to my proposed understanding of sin:

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

How the hell do we fight that??

I have thoughts on that and they are pretty straightforward to understand. I am stealing/modifying this from The 12 Steps.

  • We have to be aware of this tendency of ours to I-It people and admit that we cannot control it. (Romans 7:13-20 speaks to this.)
  • We have to believe in a higher power. The Triune God is my jam, particularly since Jesus enters into humanity to show us: that He gets us, how life without sin could be, and to change our relationship with God. (John 10:7-17 is my favorite but there are SO many passages about Jesus being the path to life.)
  • We have to allow God to take over our will through the power of the Holy Spirit and teach us the better way. (Back to Paul! 2 Corinthians 5:13-21)

Lists of behaviors are too easy to misinterpret and manipulate. My understanding of sin is far more challenging in a lot of ways but may actually go further in helping us heal the big problems we are facing. (Not to brag.) Imagine all the ways the world (yes, world) would be different if none of us ever lost sight of the beautiful humanity of every person? Children wouldn’t be allowed to starve, rape would be inconceivable, and the cost of war in terms of life lost would be unbearable. Not to mention the health brought to friendships, co-workers, marriages, parent-child, etc, etc, etc. The way we treat our own bodies would have to change. Even care for creation would have to change because unsustainability is deeply connected to the objectification of other people and future generations.

I am always game for a lively discussion. Thank you for reading my initial thoughts on sin.

Blessings.


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Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.