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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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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.

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Little By Little

I don’t know about you but my life seems chaotic.  Work, kids, church, school, commute, activities;  it seems as though I wake up each morning and run a marathon for that day, crash in my bed then start it all over the next day.  I feel I am always in a constant state of catching up.  I yearn for a rare Saturday with a clear schedule and nothing to do but “be” and enjoy the company of our family.

Sometimes I feel as though I am doing nothing well.  I reflect on my busyness and wonder what I have really accomplished other than surviving each day.  Furthermore, I ask myself, “Could I be doing this better, if I give this or that up?”  Yet, perhaps but by God’s grace, in my retrospection, there are so many wonderful things that happen despite the messiness.

Though now I am a mission’s director at a church, I received a bachelor’s degree of science in biology.  One of my favorite classes in my academic career was an ornithology class.  Our lab was simply to observe birds in their natural habitat, identify them and to journal on their behaviors.  Despite predawn class gatherings, which no college student wants to endure, it was the most memorable and fascinating course.  My professor, Dr. Fisher was a wacky, near retirement age, self-proclaimed “king fisher” and a lover of birds.  He once almost ran off the road because he spotted a red-tailed hawk in route to a nearby park.  Thankfully, I was following behind in the college van.

In one our class observations, my lab partner and I sat near a bluebird box and watched the activity.  Busily, a bluebird flew into the box through the tiny hole bringing waded up hair twigs and grass, would stay inside for a short time, then would fly away to return with more building materials.  This went on for a long time.  As activity ceased, my lab partner and I lifted the latch on the bird box to observe a neatly twisted, perfect nest prepared to protect the precious eggs of the bluebird.

In my position as mission’s director,  I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Haiti to be in ministry with my brothers and sisters of this beautiful yet challenged land.  On a recent trip, I learned a Haitian proverb I keep close in my thoughts.  “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

God takes the seeming twisted up chaos of my life and is able to make something orderly, comforting and safe for me and my family.  Little by little, keep going.


20914502_10213579990432051_8763911014608651388_nBrian Mateer is the Missions Director for a UMC in North Carolina, where he and his wife raise their beautiful girls.  Brian is the salt of the Earth dedicating his life to serving those around him.  He is also a Carolina Panthers fan… (the beards offer their prayers). In Brian’s free time he likes long walks on the beach and makes jewelry out of the beach treasures he finds.