On World AIDS Day 2014

HIV/AIDS has defined my generation. As a gay man approaching fifty, it doesn’t take amazing powers of observation to note that there are far fewer gay men in my generation than there ought to be. Of the men my age that I do know, a large percentage of them are HIV positive. I am lucky to have escaped HIV infection myself.

By the time I was 30, I’d lost many of my closest friends. Many more would succumb since then. They were frightening times. And those times are not over yet.

I came out before we knew what HIV/AIDS was. We heard whispers of “gay cancer” and “gay pneumonia.” We watched on as the media called the disease GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder) and immediately stigmatized our community. I remember having to go back into the closet after having been out, because I worked in the food service industry and we worried about the stigma. And quite a stigma it was…even after we knew what it was and how it was transmitted.

I remember once being refused treatment by an emergency room hospital nurse because she was convinced that I must have AIDS even though I assured her I did not have the virus. This was in 1994. I still remember her with her plastic helmet and visor covering her face, the plastic covering and gloves that she wore and her refusal to take a blood sample.

Since I was first sexually active, I have never been able to enjoy an intimate sexual experience without the threat of HIV looming in the background. It was always there…waiting. I have take the “test” more times in my life than I can count, and it never gets easier – waiting to know.

I have watched my HIV positive brothers and sisters stigmatized, watched as our community struggled to change behaviors, struggled with how to communicate about sero-status (or not), and watched as pharmaceutical companies profited off of our desire to live even while reaping huge financial benefit.

I remember buried lovers and partners. I remember buried best friends and people I thought I’d grow old with. I have witnessed untold suffering and struggle even among those who have survived.

I watched HIV/AIDS undermine the movement towards LGBT* rights, and I have watched the struggle with the disease knit together gay men and lesbians into a strong community of support, for without those women who cared for us during the worst of the pandemic among the gay community, we would never have survived it.

I have watched HIV/AIDS decimate countries and populations across the African continent. I have watched as at risk populations shift and morph due to ineffective education efforts, cultural dynamics, homophobia, and economic circumstance; watched rates of infection soar among African-American and Latino populations, watched as younger gay men ignore the lessons we’ve learned only to have HIV spike again among young gay men; watched infection rates soar among the trans* community, among older straight populations who think that it doesn’t affect them; watched HIV take root in southeast Asia, the populations of South America.

I have watched cottage industries around HIV/AIDS support turn into multi-million dollar cash cows.

I have watched candle-light vigils shrink as our LGBT* community sinks into the complacency of HIV/AIDS as a treatable disease.

I have watched survivors grow weary with fatigue and survivor’s guilt, and watched sero-positive friends deal with the effects of long term medication. And still, death awaits them eventually. What is it like to live your life as a dying person for twenty years? Thirty years?

I have witnessed friends who still dedicate every bit of free time to AIDS Walks and Runs and Cycling routes that traverse the nation, afraid that if they stop no one will remember or care anymore about the trauma of this disease. About the people we’ve lost, the great creative minds, the lost potentials, the love and the laughter.

As far as I’m concerned, there can never be enough conversation, never enough reminders about HIV/AIDS and it’s consequences. Mine is a generation where grief, sorrow, and the trauma of this disease is always just beneath the surface. It has informed our struggle for rights and for acceptance.

AIDS is not over. HIV infections continue to soar. And current estimates suggest that nearly 50% of HIV positive people don’t even know that they’re infected. Today, World AIDS Day, is important. We must never let the dialogue stop until HIV/AIDS is wiped off the planet. Whatever it takes. However long it takes.

Please share this if you wish. Remember those who have died. Remember those who still live with this disease every day. Remember those of us who have survived and grieve and struggle to remind the world that it is not over yet.

Learning to Wait Again In Hope

We are an impatient people. We hate waiting. We want the things we want – now. We rush to build careers, rush to get married – to find love. We can’t wait for weekends. In the world of social media and the endless news cycle, we rush to judgments and criticisms. We speak without thinking, without waiting.

We sit on the edge of a precipice, ready to leap at the slightest provocation, expecting that whatever awaits us on the other side will quickly catch us so that we never really run true risk. It’s the hallmark of entitlement.

It’s no wonder that the one season of spiritual and liturgical time dedicated to waiting is one that almost no one pays attention to anymore, let alone honors. Advent shouldn’t just be for Christian folk. It should be for everyone. Sadly, some Christian folk don’t even bother with the season. And the world is worse off because we don’t show it what it means to slow down. To wait. To wait in hope.

I’ve become convinced that beneath the frenzy of our lives, there lingers either carelessness or hopelessness. Either we don’t care about what the future holds, or we dare not hope. And this is a terrible indictment of a culture that has lost its spiritual center.

We don’t seem to have a problem pausing in momentary and transient celebration. We can do so in the most hedonistic and overindulgent ways. And we don’t seem to have any issues with stopping to momentarily mourn something or someone that has passed away – even though we often do it with a moribund nostalgia.

But we aren’t a culture that thinks ahead to future hope, unless of course it involves career trajectories and marriage plans and long term retirement plans for investment.

Advent hope is different. Without a future vision of the day that the world becomes whole, when peace and justice reign, when wars shall cease and all will be well – what do we have to work for?

The Christian season of Advent is a time not only of remembering, but of hoping. We remember the coming of our teacher and Lord Jesus in his earthly life, and we await the return of that hope in a future time when the Creation will be restored at the return of the Christ consiousness.

For the non-Christian world, our celebration of Advent should be a witness to a hope that transcends the particulars of Christian faith, and offers a pause in our lives to reflect. Just what DO we hope will become of us? What is our part in that future hope?

Can we pause from the busy-ness of the world and its preoccupations long enough to indulge in hopes and dreams that one day the world will find its center again and make peace instead of war? Where we will ensure that all have enough?

Can we pause long enough to think about a vision of a world that is restored and pulled back from its folly? Where we will no longer take out our anxieties for enough on our fragile planet?

Can we take a break from the frenzy of our lives, day in and day out, to consider that the future we bequeath to our children ought to be one of hope rather than hopelessness, and are we willing to take the time to offer them that vision here and now?

Advent is a season for hope. A hope remembered, a hope restored, and a hope renewed in the midst of care and worry. Take some time to pause and reflect.

What world do you look forward to?

When I tell you…

When I tell you that I believe in God, it is not a judgment on whether or not you do. It is a confession that in the deepest part of myself, I feel vulnerability and awe at the mystery of being and have chosen to name it God and engage with God as a means not of gaining pat answers but framing questions.

When I tell you that I pray, and that I’ll pray for you, do not take it as meddlesome or superstitious. Understand that what it means is that I want to engage with what troubles you on the deepest level that I know how. In a way that reflects the pains and fears that connect us as human. It means I am giving the fullest and deepest part of myself to your concerns. I pray to be a better person than I am.

When I tell you that I am a religious person, and that I go to Church, I am not confessing weakness, but my greatest strength. Because I am a selfish human being just like any of us can be, I am letting you know that by means of faith and community, I am trying to unlearn what it means to be selfish. So that I can be a better friend, lover, son, and person. And, because in Church I get to experience ritual and rhythm and song as a means to celebrate the mystery of everything unknown and unknowable, it helps me to become humble. I hope.

When I tell you I read the Bible, I am not saying that it is to the exclusion of science books, history, economics, or other texts. What I am saying is that the stories of the Bible speak to the meaning-making part of myself, rather than the intellectual side which is daily under assault with information. And that those stories and their varied layers of meaning help me to find my place in the world and in my culture, and a means to respond with goodness. It does not mean I think many of those stories literally happened, but it means that I think they’re true. True in the sense that their value lies in what they teach us about being human and our search for meaning and our greater purpose.

When I tell you I am a Christian, I am not confessing that I am better than anyone else, but in fact that I am more needful than others. It means that I choose to follow the ethics and teachings of a lowly man who spent time with outcasts and riled up the authorities and proclaimed love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice. Precisely because I recognize my need for these things, and because I want to be able to offer love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice to others, I follow Jesus and his Way. And often, I do it poorly.

And when I tell you all of these things, understand that it is because I think this way of life makes me a better person so I can be more present for you…not that I think they will also make you a better person than whatever you have chosen to believe already makes you. Trust your own goodness. You don’t need me to tell you how to be better.

If I prove to be hateful and mean-spirited and judgmental, then you have every right to tell me that the path I’ve chosen is just not working for me. If I try to shove my beliefs down your throat as something I think you need to believe too – or else – then you have every right to call me out on it.

Do I believe that we all need to be better people? Yes, I do! And I have chosen the path that my own experience has proven to me works to help me become a better person. If you want to be a better person, I’m glad to encourage you, but I’m not going to choose your path for you. It’s not my place. Whatever path you choose, I will love and support you on that journey. Even if we see the world differently.

The world is made better by individuals deciding to become better people. Not better than others, but better than one’s self. We don’t all have to follow the same journey to get there, but we do need to agree on one very fundamental thing…

It won’t happen without all of us.

Some Love Notes to My Church

Welcome and hospitality are not the same thing. You can claim to be welcoming all you want. But it’s what follows next that matters. Be hospitable. Don’t filter out those who don’t agree with your theologies, your politics, and your agendas. You run the risk of making “inclusive” a dirty word, or worse a false idol.

Stop writing endless articles about how to appeal to “Millennials”, “Spiritual But Not Religious”, “Nones” and “Dones”. These are people not commodities. Worship and the work of living the Gospel are not products. And as long as you’re concerned with getting people’s butts in the pews so they can write checks to keep the doors open, then you are offering approximately nothing of any value.

It’s widely noted that there is plenty of room at the table for differing opinions. And it appears that this now seems to mean that everyone has the right to express them ad nauseum over every little detail, decision, and movement in the Church. Unkindly, arrogantly, endlessly. Don’t believe me? Check out social media groups dedicated to various topics of interest to the Church. The level of dialogue is disgraceful.

Check writing is not a ministry. It’s an escape route. And if your church is struggling to keep the lights on or to pay its clergy properly, then perhaps fundraising for outside enterprises and agencies is nothing more than an exercise in self-deception. And, as a side note, passing the collection plate a second time to do these things is really tacky.

Your unhealthy obsession with leadership, authority, and power has now become self-destructive. A culture of suspicion has evolved around it, kind of like the one in Washington, where every choice or opportunity for movement is thwarted by voices clamoring — too much change! not enough change! Right now we see leaders who can’t or won’t lead, authority exercised poorly or not at all, and power struggles that will never serve to address the problem. Until you all stop carrying on with either maintaining or undermining your models of leadership, power and authority, you’ll never be able to do what you are called to do – serve.

Stop making decisions based on what successful corporations do. I mean really? When did that become OK? People have walked away from the Church because it ceased living the Gospel and became more concerned with the status quo, and now we think that using a corporate model to manage our downsizing is appropriate. It’s not. Corporate values simply do not jibe with Gospel values.

Stop whining about collars. I have some truth for you that I speak in love. If you continue to remain concerned about whether or not your clerical attire welcomes or puts off those who might want to approach you, then you are a narcissist. Sorry, but you are. A doctor doesn’t worry about whether or not a lab coat will make them more accessible. Put your collar on and then show up for the expectations that people will have of you as a result – good, bad, or otherwise. You took that responsibility on when you became ordained.

Jesus is the center…the very definition of what we are and why we are. Don’t turn him into some cartoon super-hero, but don’t water him down to just a nice guy either. Better minds than yours have struggled to understand the fullness of who Jesus is. And have written volumes about it. You aren’t going to manage to turn Jesus into a convenient sound-byte for a world whose attention span has grown too short for anything else. You’ve got to have a complete message delivered in the living of it, not just in the telling.

Stop complaining about the Creeds. If you can’t bring the same level of thoughtful, spiritually engaged discernment to the Creeds that you bring to the Scriptures, then you’re just acting like a fundamentalist. They insist that everything is literally true. You insist that because it can’t be literally true that it must be worthless. Stop throwing the baby out with the straw.

The Church is a symbol to the world and is the Body of Christ. Yes, that symbol inspires both good and bad feelings in the world around it. It’s done a lot of harm, and it’s done tremendous good. It has been a comfort to countless generations of people, and it has been a terror to others. Own it. Atone for it. Offer people the Good News. But don’t stop being the Church to get the message out that we’re listening to the needs of the world. The words we use, the symbols, the liturgy, the call to ministry – these are an antidote to the ills that plague the world. They offer a competing vision to the values that the world holds dear. STOP trying to be comfortable!

I love you,

Br. K

This Unruly Church

Sometimes I wonder that the Church hasn’t collapsed under the weight of its own artifice. Granted, I don’t believe that the Church has become willfully self-deceptive, but I think it has become so absorbed in the politics of relevance, the neuralgia of post-modernism, that it has lost all trust in its own proclamation. We have become so consumed with the institution and edifice of the Church, that we have nearly forgotten the mystical Body of which we are but a part, and what it means to inhabit the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are called to proclaim along side all of those faithful past, present, and future.

It doesn’t take but a deeper look to see the Church’s discomfort with its responsibility to steward the Gospel message – a message that is not simply about social justice, but also deep repentance, lively personal faith and trust in God, and individual engagement with the call to follow Christ. We have become so captivated by social politics and our institutional response, that we have ceased to reflect on the Gospel’s importance for each of us as individuals called to embody Christ’s love and compassion. We have, in short, substituted institutional mission for personal discipleship and so opportunities for transformative faith are lost. And that makes our future look grim.

In practice and proclamation, the Church too easily diminishes an important truth. What we do now matters – not merely for the survival of the institution which will fail if it ceases to fulfill the Gospel Proclamation, but for the call to discipleship of its members. We seem to have lain down any sense of the eternal Body in which every person called to follow Christ has a place and a vocation to answer for – versus the institution where we preoccupy ourselves with membership that is contingent on financial contributions, location, convenience, political and social affirmations, and the aesthetics of worship. The Church doesn’t belong just to us here and now. It belongs to those who have inhabited it in the past and also those who will do so in the future. And while we consume ourselves with issues of polity, authority, structure, and relevance based on the transient models so fashionable in today’s world, we run the risk of neglecting the creation of disciples to take up the Church’s mission tomorrow.

The Church proclaims peace, but is at war with itself. The Church proclaims love, but has not yet learned to love itself, nor does it — if action is any indication – trust in its own message of redemption. And the Church is so eager to apologize for itself, that those who come looking for God’s comforting Spirit to anchor themselves in an unruly world of moral complexities and ambiguities are merely left with bread that doesn’t ease their hunger. In an age where social pressures and anxieties threaten to pull apart so many things that once cohered, the Church’s willingness to invest so deeply in its own angst to be socially acceptable makes it ever less likely that we will effectively proclaim the Good News until we act as if we believe it.

Living the Kingdom Life

When providing Spiritual Direction, or when counseling my brothers on enlivening their spiritual lives, I often use the language of “living the Kingdom Life.” I ask the indulgence of those who are offended by the implicit patriarchal language, it is not my intent to be patriarchal here. But Kingdom language is so culturally embedded that I find it hard to approach this subject deeply when tripping over substitutes for Kingdom language that don’t yet feel satisfactory.

In talking about Kingdom Life, I make a distinction between kairos time and Chronos time – what it means to live in God’s time versus that of the impatient world which seems never to have enough of it. And what it means to try to open our hearts to inhabiting the Kingdom in the midst of the world that swirls about, with its own agendas and twisted power dynamics standing in such contrast to the vision of the Kingdom that Jesus presents. We religious are fond of saying that we live “in the world without being of the world.” But what does this mean?

The first step, if you will, of embracing Kingdom Life is to recognize that it is not some far off reality waiting to be ushered in. It is not the “end time” that brings to fruition this holy and life-giving reality of the Kingdom that Jesus spoke about. The Kingdom is here, and now, immediately available like a treasure to be found.

There seems to be implied throughout our Scriptural stories and traditions that the Kingdom is very near, and it is near when our perspectives change, not when some set of conditions in the world converge to usher it in. This holy reality – this place and time signified by the expression “the Kingdom of God” is being freely offered in the present moment, and it is up to followers of Christ to open themselves up to receive it, to accept it as the gracious invitation it is. As a gift!

This is in essence, for me, what Kingdom Life is…a life centered around thanksgiving. A recognition of everything that is – in our present reality – as gift. And a decision to live a life patterned by prayer and thanksgiving in recognition of that reality.

I have said before, and I maintain, that a life of service as followers of Jesus stems not from trying to earn God’s favor. But rather as an act of gratitude for having already received not only God’s favor, but God’s own self in love. Relationship with God is patterned for us by the life and witness of Jesus in his own relationship with God. By relationship, I mean accepting the invitation to enter into the Divine Life symbolized by the Trinity – a relationship characterized by mutual self-giving love, acceptance of the love freely offered, and a recognition of the whole of reality as the Creator’s gift of God’s own self to each of us as beloved.

So much is implied for the shape our interior lives might take when undertaking to embrace the Kingdom Life made present reality by accepting that this life – all of our present reality and our experience of it – is in fact the self-giving self of the God we call “Father.” A gift that is given purely out of love and nothing more. Because we believe that is God’s nature.

A life patterned in thanksgiving, the Eucharistic life, is what Christians are called to. One in which the rhythms of prayer, Eucharist, and devotion are but one part. Kingdom Life is one in which our vocations, our acts of service, the choices we make around seeking justice, fairness, and mercy are all informed by gratitude. The grateful response that is only logical when one has given themselves to us in utterly unconditional love fully and unequivocally. Humility, awe, reverence, and reciprocity are natural responses to such a gift. There is no greater truth that needs to be witnessed to by the faithful Christian than this love that has been freely given, because everything else grows naturally out of our response to this reality. This is Kingdom Life.

The Beatitudes, The Great Commandment, the Golden Rule – all are traced back to this self-giving love of God, and are witnessed to in Jesus’ response to that same love and his willingness to impart it to us in his teaching and ministry. Kingdom Life is the faithful patterning of our lives after Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection all point to the reality of life lived in response to God’s self-giving. And the Holy Spirit – Jesus own movement of self-giving love to us – completes the invitation to community based on life as gift. This is Kingdom Life.

When we lay down the world’s agendas and our own; when we open ourselves to the invitation to the community of God that is based on mutual self-giving; when we stop barring ourselves through guilt and shame and judgment to receiving this gift; when we seek in love and service to remove the obstacles in ourselves and in the systems of the world that arrogantly (an unsuccessfully I might add) attempt to bar entry to this gift; then we are, in fact, living in the Kingdom that Christ promised.

If you, as Christians, would pattern your lives on Christ, then seek what it is that Christ patterned his own life upon. Go and -re-read the Scriptures. Read them through the lens of Jesus who gave his own life – fully even unto death – to receiving the fullness of God’s self-giving love to all of us; a love that is fully manifest in all of reality, all of Creation, and then in return offered himself to God in self-giving love for all the world to see. Jesus entered fully into the Kingdom Life he promised. And he left for us a teaching and a pattern, and the gift of the Holy Spirit so that by opening our eyes and hearts we might do the same. Not in some future time, but right here and right now.

The Changing Life of Prayer

I have to admit that the content of my prayer has changed over the years. The change started to unfold for me during a flight to New York for Brotherhood business some years ago. As usual for me when I fly, I was praying the “Itinerarium”, a short Office for travelers to be said before and after a journey for safe travels. I am a nervous flier, I hate airplanes.

During one of my fitful prayers silently pleading with God to keep my airplane from dropping out of the sky, I came to a realization. God simply can’t work that way. If God could work that way, then I have to acknowledge that God allows some planes to fall out of the sky and not others. And I can’t believe in that God.

Then it all came together. God can’t cure cancer, keep people from dying, God can’t get me a job, or help my favorite team win the World Series. First, God is not my personal valet. Second, God is not capricious nor swayed by my earnest desires to have life go the way I want it to in order to feel comfortable. Third, God, in the life of Jesus, didn’t even seek to avoid trials and suffering.

So what is the point of prayer then? And how do we deal with the traditions of our faith that tell us God knows what we need before we even ask. And that God answers prayer. Even by sometimes saying “no.”

Prayer is about changing my heart, not God’s mind. And that change in me happens through relationship with the Holy One who is the ground of all Being. Prayer is encounter with the Divine Life and engagement with the world as it is – and others as they are – while lifting up life’s uncertainties to God. My own heart’s uncertainties. Uncertainties I’d rather not admit to.

Prayer is about confronting our powerlessness in the face of life’s changes and chances. It is about embracing in humility our own fears, unknowingness, and restlessness as finite beings caught up in the eternity of a created order we barely understand and being at peace with it.

Prayer for others and their needs is an act of stepping outside of our own preoccupations to encounter our shared humanity. It is a way of acknowledging and sharing in the fear of the sick and dying, the sorrow of those stricken by tragedy, the hopes of those encountering new life, and the joys of resurrection in the lives of the forgiven, renewed, and healed.

Prayer for ourselves is about recognizing our own fears and limitations and offering them into the hands of God who holds all things in gentleness and love. Prayer is about embracing life and all its unpredictability through the lens of our very mortal and finite humanity, and recognizing that there is so much to be discovered about ourselves in doing so.

Prayer is about opening a space within ourselves for the love of God to flourish and take root, to guide us into our deeper humanity and to an understanding of what it means to be loved and then to love, to learn our interior geography guided by the Spirit’s gentle leading, and to let go of anything that stands in the way of that love.

In prayer, we become open to relationship with the Divine Presence and the vast connectedness of every other person whose lives intersect with ours and the lives of those we love. Prayer is an act of binding myself to God and others in trust and faith, and to hope that in the midst of whatever life brings us, we will find the good, the beautiful, and the true within it. In the midst of joy and in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of health and in the midst of sickness and death.

And, to pray is to find peace and reconciliation with our life’s end, whenever it may be, whether in a hospital bed or in a giant machine hurtling against all reason several hundreds of miles an hour through the air.

“God, release me from fears and frustrations so that when my life finally ends I will have loved as you intended.”

–Br. Karekin

Talking About God on Social Media

I am a strange creature of habit. Every morning, I wake up, sit on my back porch and say Morning Prayer, then check my Facebook to see what’s going on in the world of my social media network. Not the real world, but my social world.



Did you know there’s a difference? Sometimes I forget. Facebook is an extraordinarily odd reflection of the world. I don’t know about you, but my news feed is a conglomeration of outrage-porn and sweet little kittens. It sometimes seems as though Facebook is just one vast opportunity to express outrage and indignation at every turn. Reactive, unequivocal, angry, deadening outrage. Oh, and kittens.

I will admit, even I engage differently on social media than I do in real life. I can get easily outraged by the latest news, the latest insensitive headline, the latest leap to judgment of celebrity lives that are none of my business. And I’m often quick to post.

“Scandalous,” I proclaim!

There’s no invitation in this, except perhaps to agree with me or shut up. Sometimes, I can rage against the latest political foul, point my accusatory fingers at the latest outbreak of homophobia, racism, or sexism that has caught the media’s obsessive attention — “Cry havoc!!” says I, and then listen to the chatter of righteous indignation that follows feeling smug and self-justified. Oh, and look! Kittens.

In the midst of this, I write about God. And faith. And spirituality. It is, after all, my vocation. But talking about God on social media, while I believe it is important, is also fraught with perils of my own making. I am mindful that a good number of my friends both in real life and on social media are non-believers. And so, I have tried to keep my blogging about issues of faith compartmentalized to a degree. My PunkMonk San Francisco page is where I tend to share those kinds of things, and I will often cross post onto my Facebook wall to point people there.

Blogging about faith runs the risk of frustrating non-believers, irritating believers who think differently, or inspiring people to open their hearts to God in new ways.

More than anything, I have recognized that I don’t want my posts on faith and God to be a source of outrage. Because we know that these topics can provoke. Part of me wants them to at least get people thinking. Part of me wants to bear witness to the God of my belief in a way that demonstrates that not all people of faith are insistent, fundamentalist, regressive or determined that there is only one true way to believe. I reject those notions.

I know that many of my friends have found ways to newly appreciate faith, the Jesus Story, and Christianity – in some small way, perhaps, because of the way I write and speak about God. But I also know that in the swirling miasma that is Facebook, the opportunities for misunderstanding, indignation, and outrage are ever present. And that I can too often contribute to the culture of social media that fosters quick judgment, failed opportunity for conversation, and unpleasantness generally. Oh…and kittens.

I find myself wanting to find new ways of engaging in God talk in my social media world. Much the same way I do in the real world. Because there shouldn’t really be any difference, except in that in the real world – seeing you face to face makes me more mindful, more invitational, and more respectful. Facebook allows me to be more unequivocal. Social media allows these opportunities for gracious restraint to drop away in the midst of the howling and self-righteous indignation of our latest opinions. Ugh.

To my colleagues in the faith, you who want to bear witness to God and Jesus – be mindful. It is sometimes hard to filter the faith we proclaim, especially those of us who promote the social Gospel, from the swirl of outrage over the latest injustice. It is hard to speak of God who is loving and patient and present sandwiched as it might be between the latest unequivocal condemnation of a politician or a sports figure. Oh…and kittens.

As someone who wants my life to point to God’s love and infinite care, I’m going to rethink the paradigm for myself. I won’t stop speaking out against injustice ever. But I will surely want to – from here forward – do it in a way that no longer contributes to the climate of endless outrage that seems to flow unchecked along my news feed. And I invite you to do the same.

Christian Words Matter

This past week there were two notable stories that grabbed my attention. The first was the story of Daniel Pierce, a young man whose video of the events surrounding coming out to his parents went viral. Many of us in the LGBT* community were devastated by his parents’ horrifying response — using the Bible to justify hurling hateful slurs, physically assaulting him, and throwing him out of the house for being gay. Daniel’s plight is all too familiar.


Some few days later, we watched as Tennessee “Pastor” Robby Gallaty preached to his congregation that gays “must be put to death,” and that Christians should never “repent of their homophobia.” That video has also gone viral.

When will we learn that our words as Christians matter? How is it that the Scriptures continue to be used to de-humanize, vilify, and, justify violence against *anyone* given the clear mandates of Jesus to love.

I wonder if Daniel’s parents would have responded differently had they not had the sanction of the church behind their hateful response. When the words of our faith become so weaponized, how should we be surprised that they become a barrier to love rather than an invitation to it. Indeed, so many parents must now be caught in the web of “Christian” loyalties that destroy rather than serve the love of God.

There is a vast increase in the number of LGBT* youth that are now homeless and outcast by their families, with the religious objection of their parents being the primary cause.

I urge congregations around the country to open their doors, prepare a safe haven, and help to find or develop resources to aid these young people in recovering from the trauma of religious abuse. I urge Christians to search out and provide love and compassion to LGBT youth who have been marginalized by religious hatred. Help to fund programs and shelters. Help provide welcome.

It is no stretch to say that when Christian “pastors” publicly call for LGBT* people to be put to death, that we have a serious problem on our hands. A listen to Daniel Pierce’s video will give you a clear sense of just how real a possibility this is. And silence is not an option. Inaction is not an option.

Jesus surrounded himself with the marginalized and the outcast. He called us to do the same. He called us to love them as he loved them. There were no footnotes that said “unless…”

The Violence That We Do

Mahatma Gandhi said, “There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.” This is the great tension between the struggle against oppression and injustice, and the commitment to non-violence. And it is a philosophy which guides my life.



These days, my personal struggle to live in this tension is sorely tested. For even while I try to bear witness to non-violence I am challenged by Gandhi’s exhortation not to “bow your heads before anyone even at the cost of your own life.”

I am committed to non-violence because I deeply believe that my faith in Christ requires it of me. Regrettably, not all Christian folks believe as I do, but for me I am convinced that this commitment to non-violence is at the core of my Teacher’s message. I think that much of the church has sorely lost its way. As a result, most Christians have also.

Let me be clear. Non-violence is essentially a struggle against institutional forces and pressures. It is not a struggle against people. It is a struggle against the “powers of this world” that Christ spoke about. And it must also, then, contain a critique of how we as individuals participate in those forces, either by remaining silent or being actively engaged in acts that perpetuate the great evil of war and violence and all of the things that lead to them.

Part of my practice is to live in awareness of my own “personal” violence and my complicity (intentional or not) in the violence perpetrated by the state, the nation, and even followers of my own faith tradition and the institution of the church. I believe there are often clear sides to take when it comes to oppression and injustice. I will always side with the oppressed. In large complex situations and in personal ones, I am clear when injustice is being perpetrated, and I am also clear that oppression and injustice will inevitably lead to violence whether committed by the oppressor or when the oppressed rise up to confront it. Speaking the truth about injustice and oppression is about ending violence not perpetuating it.

In my view there is only one side to take when it comes to acts of violence and of war. And that is the side of peace. No nation who resorts to violence and acts of war to achieve a given end is guiltless. Not one. I personally reject violence and war — and let me be clear — under *any* circumstances. And while the governments of nations drum up excuses, and rally their people through the exploitation of their fears, it is the people who suffer. It is why, as a Christian Anarchist, I reject governments and the notion of the state. They will always find new ways to make war.

But, until we have rejected our own personal acts of violence we are unable to see how they contribute to larger institutional violence and, yes, even war. And, sadly, too often the raging of institutional violence which surrounds us gives us license to engage in our own acts of individual and personal violence, oppression, and injustice. Or, at the very least, to remain silent and uncritical of our own selves and the countless acts of violence we allow to proliferate. To be a peacemaker, one must not simply wait for peace to come. We must make room for it. We must “do” it!

If you would call yourself Christian, remember that Christ commanded no less of us. And if we are going to be faithful, then we must walk this road. Even if it causes us to lose everything – even our own lives. Gandhi knew this. So did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The world despises those who speak out against the powers of this world. The world rejects calls to non-violence before they are able to take root in the hearts of the people. States know that once this principle becomes rooted in the hearts it their people, that their power will become undone.

Do not remain silent. Make no peace with oppression. Search your own heart to discover those ways that you might justify, acquiesce, or actively endorse acts of violence whether individual or institutional. Reject war in all its excuses and forms. The government will always “cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war.”

Speak the truth in love. Create peace.