Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Think it then DO it! Proper 21 A

Well, you know what they say:  “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  But from what I have seen, they have just repaved the road to Hell, so it is much smoother now!  But before that repaving project, that road was bumpy enough to knock out your fillings!
But isn’t it true; the whole thing about the road to Hell being paved in good intention?  So often we have such good intentions to do things, but then, in the end, nothing happens.  We may have good intentions to feed the poor, but unless we go out there and do it, the poor still go hungry.  Or, if you are like me, you have good intentions of sending out that birthday card or Christmas card, but even though I may actually BUY the card, the card still sits on the desk, waiting to be sent.
We say that it is the thought that matters, but I think that is just to make us feel good.  If it was, indeed, only the thought that mattered, then there would be world peace, no hunger, no violence, and droopy pants would be a thing of the past.  But, like I said, I think this is just a way to allow us to not feel guilty about those things we are not doing.  “You know, I didn’t really didn’t get the present, but it’s the thought that counts!”
I think another way we Christians say, “it’s the thought that counts” is “I’ll pray for you.”  Now, I could get in trouble for saying this, because I do believe that prayer is important and I do believe that God does answer our prayers.  But, as most of you know, I believe God uses us to answer peoples’ prayers.  I believe that God uses us as God’s eyes, ears, hands, and heart in the world.  We now have the privilege of being able to go out and spread Christ’s love to all those who need to feel it.  Hopefully our prayer doesn’t just end with “God bless Freddie;” hopefully we are looking for ways that we can personally reach out to Freddie and be a blessing to Freddie.  And if we can’t be a blessing directly to Freddie, then hopefully we can find another person for whom we can be a blessing.
Yes, I believe that prayer is a good thing, but I don’t think prayer is just something that should end with our head bowed and our eyes closed.  Prayer should move us to raise our head, open our eyes, and search out those places where we can become prayer in action.  Our personal prayer to God and our congregational prayers and petitions should move us to search out those ways we can bring God’s grace to the world.
When I think back to the road to Hell, like I said, before they fixed it, it was really rough!  It was enough to knock your car out of alignment and to bounce your fillings around in your head!  It was nasty!  And if we think about it, this is the way our lives and our world can become if we are just full of good intentions.  We say we will do something and then we get distracted into something else.  Well, while we are off doing that something else, the task we said we would do does not get done.  The pothole we said we would fill gets left empty.  If enough of these potholes are left unfilled, soon the whole road becomes impassable.  And, although the intent to fix the pothole may have been given in total sincerity, when the task is left unfinished, sincerity doesn’t matter; the road is still impassable.
So what are the things that we have every intention of doing, but we just never get around to doing?  What are those things that we could be doing that we just don’t seem to find the time for?  And really, I am not trying to shame you or find things that are beyond your ability.  I’m not going to tell you that you need to be going to Haiti to help rebuild the country or that you have to join the Peace Corps to go teach in Ghana.  Not that those are bad things to do.  However, we need to realistic here and admit that for the most part, these things are just beyond our abilities.  But just because these things are beyond our abilities, this does not leave us off the hook.
The one thing that we ARE asked to do as Christians is to love. And this is something that we all can do.  We may not get around so well, but we can love.  We may be busy in our life, but we can love.  No matter what is happening in our lives, we can love. 
What I find sad is so often, what we see in our world today are people who say they love others but are, in fact, quite unloving.  We see people claiming to be Christian but then act in ways that are not loving or Christlike.  We see those who claim the mantle of Christ but are unwilling to help their neighbors in need  Christ speaks of feeding the poor and caring for the needy but so many, in the name of Christianity, want to blame the poor and the needy for their suffering.
This is probably as close to a political sermon as I will ever get, but I think that we, as Christians need to be willing to speak out for those things that we feel are right and true.  We need to be willing to speak our faith and to follow through on those words.  We need to love the world as Christ has loved us.  We need to forgive as we saw in the gospel reading of a couple weeks ago.  We need to forgive as Christ forgave us.  We need to love a God loved us.  We need to show the world the peace and love that we have found so that maybe the world can find some peace and love somewhere.
I see in our world today a place where we as Christians can do more than just say good things and then go out and do whatever we please.  I see a world where we can speak the words of Christ and be the people of Christ.  We can say that Christ loves the world, and then go out there and love the world.  We can be a little kinder to the people on the roadway.  We can smile at the person checking-out our groceries.  We can donate food to the local food pantry.  We can give our kids a call and just say, “Hi.”
Paul tells us that we are to be of the same mind as Christ, and that also means we are to do as he did.  Although I do not believe that we are redeemed by our actions, I do believe that it is through our actions that the living Christ is brought to the world.  We won’t do it perfectly.  We are going to make mistakes.  Some days we will say one thing and do the opposite.  Some days we will reconsider what we originally planned and go do those things we should.  But hopefully, as a community of faith, we can remind each other to be the people of Christ that we are called to be.  We may not change the world, but we can be an influence to those around us.  And who know, maybe our actions will start a trend that will, in fact, become the change we would like to see in the world.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Ahoy!  Happy International Talk Like  Pirate Day!

funny pictures-'Xcuse meh... I wuz told there wuld be wenches an rums?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Well, some changes happening

I guess I should know better than to think I will be left twisting in the wind.

It seems that a colleague of Nick's is in need of a house-sitter.  This colleague will be gone for a year and we will (most likely) be watching his house!  We will have to keep the yard up and the snow shoveled and pay the utilities.  This will give us time for me to find a call without having to rush at the first thing that is offered.  Not ideal, but much better than living under a bridge.

I guess I continually hope that I can find a church that will be fun and fulfilling.  I talk a big talk about leaving when things go south.  But so often, things seem to go south.  I keep hoping to find a community where people want to have some fun, enjoy life, be a voice of love and tolerance, and make a change in our world.

We still get to deal with no insurance, but I think that puts us in the majority.

Hopefully I will be able to sleep tonight.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chapter 7: The Saga Continues

Well, I got a pretty decisive answer from the larger church today:  There is nothing in this area for me.  So after waiting four months on the assumption that I was going to have a call, we are back to where we were four month ago.  Only this time we do not have a savings account to fall back on.

As Nick and I were discussing options, my mom called.  She asked how things were going.  I told her that we had enough money to get us through October but then we were broke.  She said, "I don't know what I can do for you."  (Now, remember they have a bedroom in the basement of their house; but for Nick and I to move in would "kill Dad.")  So once again, I feel abandoned by the church and I feel abandoned by my family.  Those things that we are to count on during times of trouble are not there.

Frankly, I don't believe what I have preached anymore.  I know I have said that in the past, but it is getting harder and harder to bounce back.  The logical person in me says that all this talk of peace, love, and a loving god is purely a way for us to avoid the terror of our mortality.  Yes, we are going to all pass into nothingness and this will all become a cold cinder a degree or two above absolute zero.

Thanks to the blow ups of last March., I feel even more distant from my family.  They say that I don't interact and then when I do, I get yelled at.  Now that we are again approaching a cliff, I can't even confide in my family.  My mother gives a nervous laugh when I say anything, and my siblings don't care.  Again, we need to rely on the generosity of friends.

And I just got the note from the larger church telling me that my insurance was going to be up at the end of September but if I wanted to pay $400 a month, I could have insurance.  Oh joy!  Where am I going to get that money?

I posted something about trying to find a job and had a "friend" say, "Why don't you ask Obama, he is supposed to be making jobs."  Using my plight as political fodder is not ok.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Late Night Spleen Venting

Well, I have now had about 4 hours to process this stuff, and I am still upset.

I am upset by all the misinformation that is flowing around in the world..  How even though the people of this congregation liked me as a person, I had to be bad because I was gay.  Yes, I am gay so I must not like children.  Or I must like children too much.  All of the bile that so-called Christians put out there.  Sorry folks, I am not into children.  But if Glen Beck says it, then it must be so.

I keep trying to think of what I can do instead of this clergy thing.  It really is a very difficult vocation.  Everyone thinks they can do it better, but no one wants to.  All they want to do is tell you how you are doing it wrongly.

I really just want to be in a church where we can have a great time living in a really incredible world we have been given.  All the drama is just really over-rated.

But since I started doing the church thing, it has just seemed to be one crisis after another.  I feel like I am becoming too good at dealing with crisis.  I also have to wonder if I don't create the crises.

Probably  will be more processing later today.  If you all (the five who read this!) get sick of it, I understand.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homophobia is Alive and, well...

Well, we are back to where we were in mid May.  Only now, we have gone through all of our savings.

The church that I was waiting for decided that they didn't want me.  Oh, they thought I was a nice guy.  They liked my energy and enthusiasm, they like my sermons...  So what is the problem??

"We want someone with a family."  What do you mean by that?  "We want someone who like kids."  What do you mean by that?  "People with children will not want to bring them here."  A-HA!

Now, the fact that I am gay was never hidden from these people.  In fact, even before I was even considered here, the board was informed that I was gay.  They said that it would not be a problem.  Well, obviously it was.  And now, since people were not honest enough to admit their bigotry, we are in the same desperate situation we were in in May; except this time, we do not have the back-up savings to rely on.

I am angry, I am hurt.  I feel betrayed.  I want to hurt them.  I know I should forgive them, and I know that I will not seek any retaliation, but I am still pissed.

Faith says something will come of this; logic says it is all fucked.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Proper 19 A     September 11, 2011     Matthew 18:21-35       The Rev. Benton Quest
St. Swithin's in the Swamp

It has been a weird week for me.  My usual pattern for writing sermons is on the Monday before I am to preach, I look at the scripture readings and just let them sit in my mind.  Then, as the week unfolds, I often find themes emerging which usually find their way into the sermon.
Well, this week, all the themes seemed to be quite troubling.  The gospel reading for today has to do with forgiveness; forgive, forgive, forgive!  God has forgiven us and we are to forgive others.  Even when we think we have forgiven enough, we are to forgive some more.  Forgiveness, this is one of the basic tenets of Christianity!  Christ came to the world to bring us forgiveness from our sin.  Forgiveness is one of the things we profess in our creeds.  We have been given the gift of forgiveness and through this gift, we are to reach out and forgive others.  However, when I look at the world, it seems I see anything but forgiveness.
We seem to have become an angry society.  People don’t talk to each other anymore.  All that people do is point fingers and make outrageous accusations.  People claim we are a Christian nation, but then these very same people go out and act in a decidedly un-Christlike manner.  You would think having so many Christians around would mean that forgiveness would abound.  You would think that if we claim to be a Christian nation, that we would be a nation of peace and love.  If someone who knew nothing about Christianity were to look at our society, would they believe that Christ came to the world to spread forgiveness to all people?  Or would they believe that Christ came to the world to make the world knuckle under and say “uncle?”
Then we throw into the mix all the talk and TV shows about the 9/11 tragedies.  We see how anger and hatred can be manifested into acts that can only be described as “pure evil.”  Now please her me:  I am not saying that the people who participated in the events of 9/11 were evil and I am not saying that the Muslim faith is evil; I don’t believe either of these things.  I do believe, however, that combined effect of these people fanatically following a fringe belief created something that was truly evil.
So this is the whole “weird” thing; we as Christians are tasked with trying to spread the joy, peace, and love that IS forgiveness while being surrounded by just about anything EXCEPT joy, peace, and love.
If we claim to be a Christian nation, why doesn’t forgiveness abound?  A recent Gallup Poll places the percentage of Americans who claim to be Christian at 78%.  You would think that with that many people claiming the mantle of Christianity, forgiveness would be the rule as opposed to the exception. I truly believe that the people who claim the mantle of Christ do so honestly and faithfully.  But I also know that we are dealing with people; people who make mistakes, people who get caught up in the trials of life, people who forget that they are not only to say they are Christian, but are to truly be FOLLOWERS of Christ.  I personally believe that Christianity is the true and perfect faith, it just happens to be professed by a whole bunch of flawed people.  And with flawed people comes a flawed expression of faith.  And with flawed expressions of faith comes the need for love, care, and forgiveness.
Why do we find extending forgiveness so difficult?  We must assume that the only reason Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive was NOT so he could make sure he exceeded that amount but so he could be sure he did not forgive too much!  We only ask questions like the one Peter asks when we are trying to avoid doing something.  I can imagine someone asking how many times they really needed to floss their teeth, but I cannot imagine someone asking how many times they had to kiss their husband or wife.  Forgiveness just seems to be something that is hard for us humans.
And why is that?  For the most part, it really doesn’t cost us much to forgive someone.  We may protest saying that is could cost us a whole lot of money, but if we take the money thing away, we still have a lot of forgiving that is not happening in the world.
You see, when we forgive, we give up our right to revenge.  We have all seen this; two brothers fighting.  One says, “Ok, I forgive you!”  And as soon as the other turns his back, the first (and usually younger) brother proceeds to take a pot shot at his older brother.  The younger brother really didn’t forgive the older one; he was just looking for the right time to get his revenge.  This seems to be the state of the world today; we never really forgive anyone, we just look for the right time to get revenge.  Although we don’t call it “revenge” anymore, now we call it “closure.”  But whatever we call it, revenge does no one any good.  It is only in forgiveness that we find peace.
Let’s go back to the fighting brothers.  So the younger one takes a pot-shot.  Now, if the older one does not forgive, what happens?  Right!  He smacks his younger brother.  Then the younger brother finds his opportunity and another pot-shot is sent to the older brother.  If someone doesn’t find the strength to forgive in this situation, we will soon have two bruised boys on our hands.  And if allowed to really continue, the outcome could be that the brothers never talk again to each other, or worse.
We may feel that by forgiving, we are admitting weakness.  But forgiveness comes out of a position of strength.  Forgiveness is something that we give.  And I think that is where we get tripped up; we feel that something has been taken from us, and then we are expected to forgive without any kind of revenge or apology.  We feel justified in holding a grudge because in our opinion something had been taken from us.
Now, forgiveness does not say that the forgiven act was right or justified, it just says that revenge will not be sought.  In the gospel reading, the master did not say that the slave was right in getting so far into debt, but in forgiving; the master was giving up his right to get repayment.
Forgiveness may not be easy, but it is what we are asked to do as Christians.  We are to place our need for revenge aside and allow the love of Christ to infuse the situation.  We are to put aside our hurt and move forward in the strength that we receive from God.  We need to look to our Lord in faith and then move on, trusting that in Christ, all will be well.
Who do you need to forgive?  Right here, right now, what revenge can you release to God?  Who can you forgive?  Holding this anger cannot be pleasant, so Christ tells us to let it go.  You don’t need an apology.  You don’t need to tell the person, “I forgive you.”  Just release that need for revenge and give it to God.  Know that God looks favorably on our willingness to forgive.  And the more we forgive, the easier it becomes.
I think forgiveness is the gift that we give to ourselves.  The anger, the betrayal, the need for revenge that we hold are those things that make us bitter and prevent us from fully living the life God has intended for us.  When we let go of those thing, we release the energy we were using to seek revenge.  When we forgive, we have more joy with which to celebrate the life that God has given!
Wouldn’t it be nice if we who take the title of Christian would be willing to forgive with the same forgiveness that Christ lavishes upon us?  I believe we try, but I also believe the troubles of the world distracts us from our goal.  And when we get distracted, it is then that we see the troubles that have been plaguing our world.  But just because we can’t be totally forgiving all of the time, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Part of the reason we join together on Sundays is to remind ourselves of status as Children of God.  And why we gather, is to hear the story of Christ and to be reminded of the great forgiveness we find in his life, death, and resurrection.  And finally, we come together so that we can be sent out.  We go out into a world that has forgotten the wonder of forgiveness; and through our actions, we bring forgiveness to our hurting world.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Moving of the Spirit

I have been in a bit of an argument on facebook lately about a general understanding of the Holy Spirit.  Now, that is not what the conversation was ostensibly about, but I think on a deeper level, that is EXACTLY what it is about.

People are talking about the "I am spiritual but I am not religious" people.

If there is anyone out there with that mindset, let me apologize before I even begin.  I am making glowing generalities here, and as we know, for each generality there are a ton of exceptions.  That being said, I will step where angels fear to tread!

When I hear "spiritual but not religious" I think of two things:  One is the person who has been pushed out of the organized church by rules and laws that seem to be arbitrary or downright un-Christian.  (I am assuming Christian church here.  Other churches/masques/synagogues will need another discussion.)  The other is the person who like some of the things about Christianity but is not too happy about some of the other things.

I believe we all can, and do, fall into these categories at some points in our lives.  And I do not think we are ever totally immune from them.  I guess that is the wonder of the church; it is the perfect gift given by God placed into the hands of imperfect people.  If it were run by perfect people, we would not need the Church, but because we are imperfect, we need the Church more than ever.

One of the principles of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is that they do not invest in "Unmediated experience of the Spirit."  What this means is that a person cannot just say, "I want to be a pastor!" and start a church or "I think we should invade Canada!" and get denominational sanctioning.  There is a fairly elaborate process for becoming a pastor; it involves interviews, essays, and multi-person panels.  And finally, a person must be called by a church before that person can be ordained.  Ordination is just that; the community, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, ordains that this person will be recognized as a leader.  As far as invading foreign countries, I am a bit fuzzy on that polity.

Rejection of Unmediated Experiences of the Spirit prevents the loose cannon (or loose canon!) from imposing his/her ego upon the community.  It requires the faith of the community to trust in the process.  And from what I have seen, when entered into with faith, it usually works.

I see the second instance happening when congregations (and denominations for that matter) get caught up in adiaphora.  Adiaphora is the lifting of unimportant details to high levels of importance.  Truthfully, I don't care if people wear shorts to church!  I had a congregant who just about had an aneurysm because people took off their shoes and would walk up to communion barefooted!  Again, I didn't care if they wore clown shoes, as long as they were part of the community.

I can see where too much attention to Adiaphora could drive people way from organized religions.  I pray, but I don't kneel.  I pray before meals but I don't often to the "bow your head" thing.  I believe it is possible to commune with God in nature, but it is also important to be able to commune with God while dealing with a cranky congregant.  Adiaphora helps us to remain focused (just like a list can) but when it becomes worshiped, then it a hindrance.