What does life look like post graduation from graduate school? I am about to find out!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

God Help the Outcast

I got the opportunity to preach today for the first time in a very long time. It went great. Here's the text of my sermon for those who weren't able to be there in person! Scripture texts are Genesis 1: 26-30 & Luke 14: 15-24

In the beginning, God created everything there was to create in just six days. From the waters to the skies to the land beneath our feet and the trees that tower over us. Yes, God made everything. And yet, God entrusted us with the land that God had created. God told us that it was ours to preside over and take care of. God believed that we were capable of taking care of the land, the trees and the animals. God believed in us.
So, that begs the question then? How have we done with taking care of the Earth that God has entrusted to us? Are we doing a good job of taking care of it? If God were giving us a grade, would we get an A or an F? Or something in between?
Well, I don’t think it is any secret that we definitely won’t be receiving an A rating anytime soon. With all the global devastation that has been caused by humankind over the centuries, it almost seems like we would receive a failing grade. Climate change, extinction of species, polar ice caps melting, the destruction of the ozone layer, food waste, landfills and the list goes on and on and on. 
So, yeah, we aren’t exactly doing the greatest job of taking care of our planet. That’s pretty clear. But how are we doing at taking care of each other? In our passage from Luke, we hear Jesus tell the parable of the great banquet in which guests were invited to dine with the host of the dinner but they each declined for various reasons. Angered by this, the host instead asks his servants to bring in all the homeless, the disabled and all those who wish to have a meal to eat of his feast. 
It’s a pretty powerful story and one can easily picture that banquet table filled with guests of all ages and disabilities. I live in the Tenderloin so it would be as if I walked around the streets of the Tenderloin and invited all the people I saw on the street to come have dinner at my house. All the drug dealers, the addicts, the homeless and the mentally ill gathered at my house for dinner. Something tells me my roommates would probably not be ok with this idea!
How does this relate to what I’m talking about today? It gets to my larger point that we have a problem with food. Specifically, with the ways in which it is distributed and the ways in which people can access it. Did you know that enough food is produced every day for every single person on the planet to have enough to eat? So why is it that 42 million people just in America are considered food insecure, meaning they have to skip meals or go without eating sometimes? If enough food is produced to feed all the people who need it, why are there still people who hunger? 
This church has a long and proud history of being involved in these issues of food inequality, food scarcity and food justice. Our new food pantry is but the latest way that we as a congregation are dealing with these issues. If only that were enough, though. Sadly, it is not food pantries alone that can solve the problem of hunger. Volunteering at soup kitchens and food pantries and homeless shelters and other programs is not enough to solve the problem. It requires support from both the state and the federal government. 
Last week, the White House announced a new federal budget and it was immediately subject to controversy. Among the many things facing cuts are both Meals on Wheels and school lunch programs. A supporter of the proposed budget said that the cuts were because those two programs don’t see results, whatever that means. In his best selling book, God’s Politics, author Jim Wallis says “Budgets are moral documents. They clearly reveal the priorities of a family, a church, an organization, a city or a nation. A budget shows what we most care about and how that compares to other things we care about. So when politicians present their budgets, they are really presenting their priorities.” So, we now know what our new administration’s priorities are: war, the military and a wall. And we also know what their priorities are not: feeding the elderly and the poor. 
Our Lenten theme this year comes from the prophet Amos who says, “let justice roll down like waters.” Amos was very critical of his country for their treatment of the poor, the downtrodden and the destitute. Jesus also makes it very clear that we are to love and support those who do not have the same benefits and resources that we do. And in the creation story, we hear that God tasks us with taking care of God’s creation which means not just the plants and animals but also each other. The Biblical witness is full of times when God expresses what theologian Gustavo Gutierrez calls God’s preferential option for the poor. This means that God and Jesus often shows up in ways that highlight the poor and downtrodden and that God has a special affinity for the poor. We can see this all throughout Scripture; in the Prophets with their wailing against the nation of Israel for how it treats its poor; in the Gospels with Jesus and his ministry to the outcast and downtrodden and in so many other places all throughout the Bible. We see and hear how God’s love is especially for the poor and unlucky, the weak and the odd. 
Thus, as Christians, it is part of our very calling to speak out against cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels. It is an act of justice to stand up and declare that any budget that cuts out meals for seniors or children is unjust and unChristian. It simply is unconscionable that anyone could think that this budget reflects anything approaching Christian values. A program that helps millions of seniors eat and brings them a visitor or two is not something that should just be cut and taken away. These programs provide a vital service to society. Their results? Keeping seniors alive and fed and giving them some company for a few minutes every day. For many seniors, the meals on wheels delivery people are the only human interaction they get all day. To take even that away from them is not just cruel, it is inhumane and we must be willing to call it that. 
But lest you think this sermon was only going to be about #45 and his cruelty, let me pivot a bit to talk about the wider issue of food justice and how it impacts our lives everyday. Did you know that around 40% of all the food produced is never eaten? Did you know that 23 million people live in what are known as food deserts meaning that they have to walk at least a mile in order to find healthy, affordable food options? There’s so many things wrong with both those scenarios. It seems radically unfair that so many people do not have easy access to fresh, healthy food and must live on unhealthy, high sugar meals that only cause them all kinds of health problems. Meanwhile, those of us with access to fresh, healthy food either don’t buy it or do buy it but then are forced to throw it out due to lack of use. 
Both of these are a problem and let me emphasize that one is not worse than another. Both represent a failure to appreciate and support God’s creation. And both also do not extend the hospitality that Jesus tells us to extend toward our neighbor. Cutting Meals on Wheels, wasting food, letting people live in food deserts are all ways that we, as Christians and as people, fall short of glorifying God and appreciating God’s creation. This isn’t simply a problem of our country’s administration or our elected officials. This is a problem that all of us have been complicit in, in some way. And that means that it is up to all of us to address the problem and fix it. 
What does that look like exactly? Well, many times it can and does look like volunteering at your local food pantry or donating food to the food bank. It can look like offering to make a meal for your local homeless shelter or volunteering to serve meals with Meals on Wheels. But there’s so much more to it than that. Real change, the kind that lasts and makes a real difference comes not just from volunteering but from activism. We have to be willing to take bold steps no matter how uncomfortable they might make us. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what specific actions you should be taking because that comes off as shaming and I certainly don’t want that to be what comes across in my message today. However, there is more that all of us can be doing to address the structural problems of food inequality and food insecurity. What that might look like is going to be different for each and every one of us based on our abilities, our skills, our interest levels and our time commitments. 
My main point is that all of us can contribute something to the conversation around food justice. And as followers of Jesus, all of us should be doing something. Can you march or participate in a protest on food justice? Can you write to your congressperson and ask them what steps they are taking to address hunger in America? Can you provide a meal for your local homeless shelter? Can you boycott businesses that aren’t paying their employees a living wage? Are you willing to shop at your local farmer’s market rather than a big chain store? I’m not suggesting that you need to do all of these things. Nor am I suggesting that you need to do any of these things as there may be some way you can contribute that I didn’t mention. What I am saying is that our Biblical witness calls us to do the work of justice no matter what that may look like for us. All of us can do something, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear to be to us. Trust me, it will make a huge difference to someone else. 
God entrusted us with God’s creation and God believes in us still and in our capacity to fulfill God’s promise on that. We can still choose who we want to invite to the table and who we want to stand up for. God’s preferential option for the poor is the clarion call we should heed to help the poor and the outcasts. The ones that society has cast aside are exactly the ones that we should be helping the most. We can do nothing less as Christians. I leave you with the words of Oscar Romero who served as the Archbishop of San Salvador and was assassinated 37 years ago this very week. He says, “There are not two categories of people. There are not some who were born to have everything and leave others with nothing and a majority that has nothing and can’t enjoy the happiness that God has created for all. God wants a Christian society, one in which we share the good things that God has given for all of us.” May we strive to make it that kind of world. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Out of the Woods?!

 In my previous blog post, I wrote about what I was going to be giving up for Lent this year. I decided to make a huge sacrifice and give up dating. For the past 40+ days, I haven't been on a date at all. I even deleted all my online dating profiles and apps so I wouldn't even be tempted to even flirt with a  guy. So, how was the experience of going dateless for Lent? Did I hate it? Did I love it? Would I do it again?
 To be honest, it was actually kinda refreshing to give up something so important to me for forty days.  Did I miss it? At first, kinda but then I got used to it. It was nice to not have my time so caught up in messaging guys and to not have to play those crazy mind games for a while of "will he message me back". It felt freeing to be able to devote my time and energy to other pursuits and interests. I had more time to myself, more time with friends and more time to devote to other hobbies. I found myself  not having to be concerned as much with whether or not a guy likes me or is into me. I enjoyed my time away from the dating game and think it gave me a new clarity and focus. I had some time to figure out what it is I actually might want in a potential partner. I had time to determine what really are my deal breakers and what am I more willing to compromise on. I also now know that I don't want to play games with anybody. I'm not looking for games. I'm looking for something real. Games are for children, not adults. I have a better idea of that now.
 Sunday night, I slowly began the process of dipping my toes back into the dating pool. I'm going gently back in as I don't want to burn myself out on it again. I feel much less cynical about it now, though. I genuinely am going into this with a much more optimistic outlook on it all but also a much more realistic outlook as well. I know that not every guy is going to be into me. I get that now. I also know that I'm not going to be into every guy. That's ok too. I feel better able to handle rejection and disappointment now and I also have learned better how to respect my own needs and time more. I'm not going to waste time going on a date with someone unless I am really into them and feel like there might be a connection. My time is way too valuable to me now. I'm also going to try and do a better job of asserting myself and being the first one to message and the first one to ask out on a date and such. I have tended to be rather passive about that in the past but that hasn't done me any good. If I like someone, I need to be more aggressive. That's going to be difficult for me as I know myself well enough to know that being assertive is something that doesn't come to me naturally. Blame the social anxiety or the Asperger's or whatever else but I am determined to overcome it.
 What I have also realized is that it really is going to be ok if I end up alone. That doesn't mean I've been a failure. That doesn't mean that I have to feel alone. I can surround myself with friends and family and such. Yes, having a partner is a different thing entirely but that doesn't mean that that has to be the only option to be happy. I'm not going to close the door or say that there isn't anyone out there for me but I'm also going to accept that this may end up being my normal for the rest of my life and I need to make peace with that. Taking a break from dating helped me realize that. Now when I do go on dates it won't be because of some desperate need to not be single. It will be more out of a genuine desire to connect romantically with someone and to have them be a part of my already great life. Perhaps that's been the secret all along? I don't know but I sure am looking forward to getting back out there. It's been a good 40 days in the desert but now, I'm ready to have my thirst quenched!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The More Boys I Meet (or What I'm Giving Up for Lent)

  The season of Lent is upon us. This is the time of year when Christians around the world commit to a season of repentance and renewal. In the weeks leading up to Jesus's death, we are reminded of the sacrifices Jesus made and are asked to recommit ourselves to following Christ in this season. Many Christians choose to do that by giving up something for Lent. It can be chocolate or soda or caffeine or candy or TV or Facebook or any number of other things. The whole point of giving something up is to help you connect better with God and with your faith. Many people give something up and take something else on, like reading the Bible every day or praying every day or something else entirely.
  So, what am I giving up this year? Something that just a year ago, I wouldn't have ever imagined I would want to give up or even need to give up. I'm giving up dating. You see, over the last year, the number of dates I have gone on has skyrocketed. I went on more dates in the last year than I did in the previous 15 years combined. Some of them were great. Some of them were terrible. Some were really mediocre. I learned a lot from each of them and I met a lot of great guys through these dates. However, none of them have led to anything substantial or long lasting. I've ended up alone over and over again and that has really hurt. I'm really tired of the games and the drama and the endless back and forth. I'm tired of going on a great date with a  guy only to never hear from him again. I've gotten to the point where I'm no longer looking forward to going on dates. I've become bitter and cynical and keep telling myself that this one won't be any different than all the others. When that starts happening, you know you need to take a break for a while.
  So, I'm declaring that for Lent this year, I shall not be going on any dates. I, just this morning, deleted all my online dating apps completely. I'm taking a break and closing things down for a few weeks. I'm hoping to use this time to recharge, refresh and to figure out what is it that I really want in a relationship. What are my deal breakers? What am I willing to compromise on? What do I need from a partner and more importantly, what do I have to give to a partner? I'm not so sure that I actually know the answers to those questions anymore which is why I think I need to take a break for a while. It is even entirely possible that I may stay away from dating for longer than the Lenten season. I may or may not ever come back to it, to be perfectly honest. I enjoy being single and if I have to end up all alone, then so be it. I've made peace with that and I'm not losing sleep over it. For right now, I need a break. A break from drama and games and constant wondering if I should text him first or if I should wait until he texts me. A break from break-ups and bad dates and awkward silences and all that. I think my wallet and my schedule will appreciate the break as well (dating is expensive out here, for the record).
  So, here we go. Day 1 of the new adventure known as no dating. I've heard it said that you meet the love of your life when you stop looking. Time to put that theory to the test! Here goes nothing! Wish me luck and hold me accountable to this. I really am determined to keep this Lenten vow and go an entire 40+ days with no dates. It shall be hard, I am sure. But I have found myself developing an unhealthy addiction to dating so I need to cut it off before it gets much worse. I shall let you all know how it goes and what, if anything, I learned from the experience.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Word of the Year

Hello folks,
   I know what you're thinking: what, he's actually blogging?! OMG, stop the presses!! Yes, it is true, I have not been very good about blogging on this thing in a very long time. I can't promise that I will ever blog again after this post is published. I just really haven't been in the mood to sit down and write on this thing so I just haven't. Anyway, without further ado, I bring you to the subject of this very post.
  I don't know how many of you are familiar with the concept of word of the year. It is the idea that you pick a word at the beginning of the year with the hope that you will actually live into that word over the course of the year. I've known about the word for a while but never actively participated in it.  For me, the concept of coming up with a word for my entire year before the year has really even begun is just baffling and weird to me. And, if I'm being honest, a bit daunting. After all, what if I can't actually manage to live in to that word? What if I pick a word and my year doesn't end up fitting that word at all? Yeah, suffice it to say I have lofty expectations for myself when it comes to such a concept so I haven't ever participated before.
  I'd like to start by taking a minute to reflect back on the past year. 2015 was my best year yet. I grew so much as a person, as a friend and as an individual. I graduated finally with my Masters degree. I moved to one of the most beautiful and diverse cities in the world. I started my first grown up big kid job (one that is actually in my field). I joined the SF Gay Men's Chorus, a group that has helped me find community and do something I love. I got my first tattoo (one that I'm so thrilled with and one that I still need to sit down and explain the rationale behind someday). I traveled to two states I had never been to before (North Carolina and Utah) and I met a United States senator! Plus, I got to see One Direction and Lee Ann Womack in concert! Yeah, 2015 was jam-packed with lots of activity and excitement. Is it possible to have a word that sums up the year? What word could possibly describe this past 365 days of my life?
  For me, the word for 2015 would be hope. I spent the first few months of 2015 unsure where I was going and what I was going to be doing next. This time last year I was in the process of applying for jobs out of state and praying to God that I would get one of them. I felt that my time in the Bay Area had come to an end and I was ready to move on and experience life someplace new. Long story short, neither of the jobs I applied for even granted me an interview. I was disappointed and sad but by then I had also come to the realization that I wasn't quite as ready to say goodbye to California as I thought. So, I took it as a good sign that neither one of those jobs panned out. However this still meant that I was less than three months away from graduation without a job offer in sight and no housing leads either. I kept praying to God asking God to send me some sort of sign that opting to stay out here was the right move. Months went by with nothing. No job offers, no housing leads and graduation was looming ever closer. I was starting to get very angry and annoyed with God. It felt like my prayers weren't being heard. It felt like God didn't care anymore and had given up on me. Flash forward to August. 3 weeks before I needed to have something lined up, I got offered my current position as a hospital chaplain. Then, just a few days later, I got offered a place to live in SF that was within my budget and would only be a short 30 minute commute to work. Did I mention that this all happened just before I had to be out of my on campus housing? Yeah, God was listening to my prayers. God heard every single one of them but God was just waiting for the exact right moment and the exact right thing before God could answer them. I kept holding out hope that God would provide. Turns out, my hopes weren't misplaced. God sent me the exact right things at exactly the right time and keeping my hope in God and prayer alive.
   So yeah, I'd say hope would be a great word to sum up my 2015. So, what about 2016? Do I even dare and try to already think of a word that could possibly encapsulate this next year of my life? There's so much pressure here. Whatever word I pick I feel like I have to live up to. I like the idea of challenging myself to live in to a word. So, here goes nothing. My word for 2016 is:
Yep, my word is JOY!
  Joy is not a word that comes easily to me. I'm a pessimist with clinical depression so the concept of being full of joy about anything is not something I've been very good at. But I want to approach this year with joy. I want to be joyful and appreciative of all I have. I want to try new things and not complain about them. I want to not be a "bitter, old cynic" and instead look forward to whatever this year might bring me, good or bad or neutral. I want to maintain my sense of joy because I know what it looks like to live without that. I lived without joy or hope or anything positive for too long and I'm tired of living that way. So, I'm declaring 2016 the year of JOY! May it be so! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

We Built This City

Had the opportunity to guest preach today at a Presbyterian church in San Francisco. Scripture text is Jeremiah 29: 7-9.

      The prophet Jeremiah has some really strong words for the Israelites here. They’re upset about being sent into exile and cast out of their homes. Understandable perhaps. After all, who wants to be cast out of their home and forced to make a life elsewhere? My guess is, most of us wouldn’t willingly sign up to live in exile or to live without the comforts of home. It would make us feel very uncomfortable and perhaps even a bit unsafe.
I’ve been spending my summer doing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education with the San Francisco Night Ministry. The Night Ministry has been in existence for 51 years and in that time has become a vital and important part of the night life of the city. The Night Ministry practices a ministry of presence and is there for people when they most need it. Our job is not to convert, proselytize, evangelize or condemn. We simply walk with people and engage with them wherever they might be on their spiritual or life journey. Our work causes us to spend time with prostitutes, drag queens, bartenders, doormen, drug addicts, drunks, alcoholics and people who are living on the streets for one reason or another.
We hear some rather interesting stories through walking the streets. Stories that can break your heart. Stories that can make you doubt your faith in God. Stories that can make you wonder why you continue to do this type of ministry.
They are the stories of people like Jimmy, a man I met on the streets. Jimmy is in his mid 20s. He’s living on the streets because his parents kicked him out of the house when he came out as gay. He had been staying in a local shelter but the living environment was really abusive and not healthy. Now, he’s living on the streets trying to make enough money to get something to eat, even just a donut from the local donut shop. His story is the story of so many young gay men.
There’s Mark, a young man I met who had recently overdosed on heroin for the third time. A man who is so addicted to heroin that not even the fear of death will stop him from seeking it out. He’s already died and come back three times. He is fully aware that the next time he overdoses, he may not come back. It may be too late. Yet, he’s an addict. He literally can’t stop. His story is the story of so many addicts.
There’s Thea, a trans woman of color I met. She’d been homeless for three days but still maintained a positive attitude. She was quoting Bible verses at me and kept telling me she was remaining optimistic. I’m sure Thea is aware, though, that her status as a trans woman of color makes her much more likely to face violence and sexual assault. Trans women of color are the most at risk, particularly those who are homeless. Her story is the story of so many trans men and women.
These stories are just a few of the many stories I’ve heard over the last two months of working with the Night Ministry. There are many, many more that I and my colleagues could share but I think those will suffice. What does one do with all these stories? How does one carry all of them and possibly continue on to do the work every night? Every single night we hear story after story after story. It can sometimes feel overwhelming. I’ve often questioned why I’m doing this work, particularly after a hard night full of tragic stories.
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you”. What does this phrase actually mean? It is real tempting to read this phrase as meaning that I should see myself and my colleagues as the saviors of San Francisco and that thus we are called to bring salvation and save those on the streets from their plight. I do have a bit of a savior complex so you can understand why I might be tempted to read these words that way. However, I think that’s perhaps not the best approach to take with these verses.
How then should we read these verses? Let’s look at the word “welfare”. It means the good fortune, health or happiness of a person, group or organization. So, what Jeremiah is saying here is that we are supposed to seek out the happiness of the city where we have been sent. How does this apply to my work with the Night Ministry? When do we ever see any sort of happiness or good fortune in the work we are doing? I’ve made it sound pretty bleak and depressing.
The church doesn’t always have the best reputation. Christians and Christianity have a public relations problem. It is especially true here in the Bay Area. Marin County, where I currently live, is the most unchurched county in the entire country. People just don’t see the purpose of going to church anymore. It is easy to see why when all you hear from the media is all the ways that Christianity continues to persecute and hate others in Jesus’s name. This is the kind of Christianity that the Night Ministry works to counteract. Every time we walk into a gay bar or a drag show or talk to a trans person, we are sending the message that the church can and is a force for good.
Here’s where the welfare of the city idea comes in. By being present in those moments and those places, we are doing the work of Jesus Christ. Through this work, the church is given a new image, a better image. When people find out that we are with the Night Ministry, they tell us stories. Stories that they might not otherwise tell anyone else. Stories of deep pain and great joy. Stories that transform both the teller and the listener.
The Night Ministry does its work with little fanfare or press. We’re known but not well known. Yet, we are everywhere in this city every night. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, I and one of my colleagues were in the Castro walking the streets and enjoying being a part of the celebration and festivities. Our presence there sent a message that not all Christians are bad. There are actually some that wanted to celebrate marriage equality right along with them.
“For in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” When the city celebrates, we celebrate. When the city mourns, we mourn. We walk alongside those like Jimmy & Mark & Thea but we also walk alongside those who are celebrating marriages, births, job promotions. In their good fortune is ours as well. In their joy is our joy.
It is through my work with the Night Ministry that I have learned something deep and profound about the nature of Christian community. Our joys and our sorrows are all wrapped up together. When one hurts, all hurt. When one celebrates, all celebrate.
This spirit of community is embedded in the city of St. Francis. It’s what built this city into the great place it is. This city had to band together in the 80s when the AIDS epidemic hit. When Harvey Milk was assassinated. When the People’s Temple cult killed themselves. When so many other historic and important things have happened here, the city has come together as one. We built this city not on rock and roll but on compassion. On caring for each other. On taking care of our own community members. On living with each other even when we disagree with each other.
For in its welfare, you will find your welfare. When we take care of each other, we take care of ourselves. God has called us to care for each other, the Jimmys and Marks and Theas of the world. This care can be as simple as a long conversation about their life or even just a hug. It can take many forms but whatever form it takes, it can and will bring about our own welfare and that of others. The whole purpose of the work the Night Ministry does is to humanize others. To make them feel like they have value and import. When we see others, really see them, we give them a sense of humanity. And in return, we feel more human too. We find our welfare wrapped up in their welfare. This is part of our calling as Christians. This is part of our calling as human beings. This is part of our calling as residents of the city of St. Francis. We can do no less nor no more with our lives. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you.” Indeed, Jeremiah, let us go forth and seek the welfare of this beautiful, amazing city we call home. Let us go forth and see the Jimmys, the Marks and the Theas in our communities. Let us go forth from this place prepared to discover the many ways that our own interests are tied up with those of others. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Today, I was blessed to preach the following sermon. This marks my first preaching gig since graduation. Scripture text is Amos 7: 10-15

        How many of us have the courage to do something that we know is going to be difficult? How many of us will, when necessary, stand up and speak out? How many times have we personally risked relationships in order to express our views?
Courage is defined by the dictionary as, “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.” That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet, for some reason so many of us are either unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to be courageous especially when it comes to our relationships.
In the last year, we have seen an escalation in violence against the African American community. From police murdering black people to a white man murdering 9 black people during their Bible study to 8 black churches being burned by arsonists, now is a dangerous time to be black in America. Comedian Chris Rock was recently asked if black men are an endangered species now and his response was, “no, the government protects endangered species.”
Yes, it is a dangerous time to be black in America. However, what are white people doing about it? Are we speaking up in support of our black brothers and sisters? Are we participating in the Black Lives Matter movement? Are we speaking out and declaring that the Confederate flag is indeed racist and should be taken down and never put back up? Or are we too afraid of what speaking out might mean for our relationships with our friends and family? Are we not willing to have those bold, courageous moments because we know it will damage a relationship that is pretty good for us?
For so many of us, I fear the answer is yes. We fear the trouble it might bring. We fear the conversations it might cause. We fear the damage it might do to our friendships. So, we say nothing. We remain silent. We shy away from the tough conversations and we don’t dare say too much for fear of being labeled a certain way.
I’m sure Amos had the exact same thought process. He didn’t want to go tell the King that Israel would soon be overthrown and sent into exile. He knew that that was not the message that the King or the people would want to hear. Earlier in the book of Amos, he calls out the people for their wrongdoing. He proclaims that “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I’m guessing Amos wasn’t too popular at parties!
Yet, Amos still felt called to prophesy. He knew that it would make him unpopular. He knew that it would possibly result in him being kicked out of Israel. He knew that it would result in the loss of relationships. He did it, anyway. He took a chance and spoke out against the injustices he saw Israel committing. Amos, who as he admits, “was not a prophet or a prophet’s son”, still was willing to put his life and his reputation on the line to speak out against what he saw as wrong.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made a ruling that lifted state bans on same gender marriage. While many across the US praised this ruling, there were plenty of people who were unhappy about it. Some even went so far as to say that God’s wrath would soon be raining down upon America for allowing this to happen. I’m not going to weigh in on the debate over whether or not the Supreme Court made the right decision. I’m not going to weigh in on whether or not I think God’s wrath is going to rain down upon us for allowing two people who love each other to get married legally.
Instead, I’d like to weigh in on the great outpouring of support I’ve seen from others about the decision. It warmed my heart to look at my Facebook news feed that Friday morning and see so many rainbow profiles and so many people expressing their affirmation that they were happy with the Supreme Court’s ruling. For some, I’m sure doing that took some real courage. I know I saw several people have to deal with ugly comments from their friends and family for expressing their support so openly. It can be tough to be that open about your feelings on an issue that is so controversial still. I especially felt bad for my queer friends, myself included, who had to deal with all kinds of ugly comments from their “friends” and family members. One friend of mine compared being gay to pedophilia while another thought it would be a good idea to share a post from conservative Christian Franklin Graham talking about how the Bible has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman. This same friend then didn’t take too kindly to me calling Franklin Graham a bigot and made it clear that there was no ill will intended by posting that. As if posting something so intentionally hurtful was done in a spirit of friendship.
Yes, many of us took risks on that day. We posted about our joy over the ruling. We changed our profile pictures to express our support. We endured vicious, hateful attacks upon us from friends and family near and far. We risked friendships or in some cases ended them because we believed so strongly in the cause.
Yet, in some sense, that was perhaps an easy battle to take on. Same gender marriage is now supported by the vast majority of the country so you are far less likely to encounter resistance to it if you post about it. While it is still courageous and bold to speak out about it and I don’t want anyone to think otherwise, in a sense it is somewhat “safe” to talk about. You aren’t risking as much by posting about it on social media as you are with certain other issues.
It would be far more courageous, particularly as a white person, to talk about issues of race or racism. How many of us are openly willing to discuss the topic of race with our white friends and family members? How many of us are willing to have those hard conversations about all the ways that we have been complicit in racist policies and actions? How many of us are willing to put our lives and reputations on the line and risk our friendships to call others out and call them racists?
What about our country? Are we willing to risk seeming unpatriotic for calling our nation out for its atrocities? Are we willing to declare that this nation has a lot of work to do before we can ever bother calling ourselves “Land of the free, home of the brave”? Are we speaking out against the injustices happening in Israel/Palestine and the ways that our country is complicit in it? Are we wiling to stand up against corporations and governments and declare that they need to clean up our air, stop polluting our waters and start being responsible for fixing the mess they’ve created?
Or, are we just too afraid or too complacent to bother with any of that? Are we instead willing to let others put their reputations on the line while we sit back and watch The Daily Show on our couches? Are we willing to do the hard but necessary work involved even if that might mean ending relationships that have lasted for decades?
The biblical witness is full of people doing just what we should be willing to do too. Amos is just one of many examples throughout the Bible of people who had the courage to speak up. Moses; Ruth; Esther; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; and let’s not forget that person we call Jesus. All people who risked their reputations (and in some cases, their lives) in order to speak out against the injustices being done against God’s people. Was this easy for them? No, it definitely wasn’t. Many of them even argued with God about it or tried to run away from it. Yet, in the end, they found themselves speaking out.
If our Bible calls us to speak out and be brave, then why are we so unwilling to do it sometimes? Why aren’t we more open to calling others racists? Why aren’t we more willing to call our siblings homophobes and bigots? Why are we not shouting from every rooftop that America is the evil empire and that the way we are currently doing things isn’t benefiting anybody but the elites in society?
We must be willing to follow the Biblical witness and be wiling to speak up. We must be willing to speak out. We must be willing to risk friendships and risk arguments with people we care about deeply. It is what our Christian faith calls us to do. It is what the Biblical witness tells us we must do. It is what those on the margins of society most need from us, someone to advocate for them and to stand in solidarity with them. We must do no less than be brave, be bold and have courage. In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Let us face our fears and speak out. Let us live into our Christian convictions and be brave. Let us be like Amos and be wiling to risk our reputations to call each other out on injustices. It is truly the only thing we can do in this life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Take Me to Church?

  I graduated from seminary with my Masters in Divinity two weeks ago. So of course, the first obvious question is: what am I actually going to do post graduation? That's such a great question and one that I have been asked repeatedly for about the last month, hence this blog post. This is my attempt to let everyone know what exactly I will be up to for the next few months or more.

  I do have something lined up for the summer. Starting next Monday, June 8th, I will be starting a unit of what is referred to as Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This is one of the last remaining requirements I have left for my ordination process and will be 10 weeks of intensive clinical self-examination and peer group meetings. Most people do their CPE units at a hospital. I'm taking a different route, however, and will be doing mine with the SF Night Ministry doing street chaplaincy with the homeless. This is a population that I am excited to work with and a population that I feel called to work with. I'm looking forward to reaching out to them and being a helping, pastoral presence in their lives. The unit will include leading Bible Studies, walking the streets at night and being a crisis line volunteer. There's a lot of other logistics of it that I still don't entirely know yet so I am looking forward to learning more about it this coming Monday when we have orientation. The only part I don't like is that CPE doesn't pay anything at all so I'm going to be living off what is left from my student loans this past semester. Money is going to be really tight for me this summer which is not ideal but I'm going to make it work. I've arranged to continue living on campus through the summer and have already moved into a cheaper apartment on campus that will save me some money.

  As for what's after the summer? That's still being figured out. Over the last few months, I've come to realise that I really want to stay in the Bay Area for a little while longer. My heart is here. My friends are here. My life is here so why leave? So, I've determined that I'm going to stay here and make it work for at least another year. Come next August, I'm going to re-assess and decide if I still feel called to stay here or if it is time for me to move on to a new adventure. I don't really see myself settling down anywhere for very long. I'm fortunate in that I have the freedom to do that. I don't have a mortgage, a partner or kids so I'm very open to going wherever I might feel called to go next. For right now, that's the Bay Area. The cost of living here is ridiculous and that is the part that is going to be the most difficult factor. Yet, I'm resourceful and can live on very little so I just have to be smart about it and I can make it work.

  So, what about jobs? You might think that since I have a Masters in Divinity now that I would be looking for church jobs. Well, you would be wrong. I've been realising that I really have been feeling burned out on church work, actually. It's really the only kind of work I've done and I think it would be good for me to experience other types of work before I commit myself fully to it. I'm really interested in trying something in the non-profit sector. I've never worked for a non-profit before and think it would be good for me to have some experience in that realm. I'm also looking at different types of chaplaincy positions because it wouldn't hurt to have that experience under my belt either. What I've realised about myself is that I love preaching. I love writing liturgy and crafting worship services. But I don't really love all the other aspects of church work. I think I'd be fine with doing something along the lines of guest preaching occasionally on a Sunday morning. That way, I get to do the preaching and liturgy writing that I love without all the other aspects of ministry that I don't.
  As for ordination, I'm still deciding if that is something I still want to pursue. I've come to realise that for me, it isn't the most important thing anymore. I don't have to have it to lead a successful, happy life. I'm going to be just fine if I never get ordained. I really will be. So, while I do plan on finishing up all the requirements for ordination, I can't say for sure that I'm going to actually get ordained. I just don't feel ready at the age of 30 to make such a major life decision, particularly one that stays with me for the rest of my life. If I get to the age of 40 and still want it, it will still be there for me.

  Ultimately, what I've realised is that I just want to be happy and be able to support myself. As long as both those criteria are fulfilled, I'm going to be just fine. I sincerely believe that a person is not their job. A person is a person and they just happen to have a job. So, whether I'm working at Starbucks or pastoring a church or working for a non-profit, I'm going to be just fine regardless because I'm still me, not the job. I think we tend to lose sight of that fact nowadays. I've got some promising job leads that I'm going to be pursuing over the course of the summer but even if I end up working at Barnes and Noble, that doesn't make me a failure or doesn't mean that I wasted the last four years of my life. I'm still a success. I'm still a person. I still have value. That's what I have come to realise over the course of the last few months.

  So, that's where things stand now. I've got housing and a job lined up for the summer and I'm going to be vigorously pursuing other jobs for the fall and other housing options. Here's hoping it all goes well and I get to stay here in the Bay Area for at least another year.