What A Wonderful World.

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While I was studying to become a social worker I got to intern in a transitional corrections facility. It was a wonderful experience for me. I conducted biopsychosocial examinations on arriving inmates, conduct family systems assessments, and engage in supervised therapy. Alongside me conducting these operations I was under clinical and direct supervision in which I reported my activity and debriefed in regards as to how I treated clients and why I used the particular methods I did. I also was seeing a personal therapist on a weekly basis.

This was a deep and meaningful period of my life in which I did lots of work on myself and processed the baggage of my past. As I conducted biopsychosocial examinations on arriving inmates I had to submit to a biopsychosocial examination of my own. I was grilled like I was on Oprah and was challenged by my supervisor until I broke. This was painful for me. I was invited to deal with the growing edges of my life in order to better serve my clients. I had to get to know myself before I was able to guide these men and women towards a truer and fuller version of themselves. As painful as that process was it paled in comparison to me having to interview my family and conduct a family systems assessment on them.

This was agonizing. It bared all those deeply hidden secrets of my youth and shed light to the perspective of my parents. Up until then I have witnessed my parents as human only in the idea that they are aging (as am I) and the full faculty of vigor is waning. I have unjustly denied my parents full humanity.

I have been particularly hard on my mom for things I perceived to have gone horribly wrong and I have not questioned my father for his part in these same horribly wrong events.  This is the kind of shit that one wants to write about but waits until their parents die or that their own kids find tucked away in some half-ass leather bound journal filled with shaky, hastily written script. This is one boogeyman.

I had to engage this head on and write a paper about it. I put it off for as long as I could. Then at the 11th hour I made a phone call to my mom, she didn’t answer. I left a message. Then I called my pop. He answered.

I tried to explain to him what I was doing in a way that someone tries to explain away the fact they got caught masturbating to this year’s SEARS catalog. I stuttered and struggled through my words. Finally, I asked my father, “Could you tell me about the five years before my birth and the five years after my birth?”

My father retorted, “What?”

I explained again what family systems entails and invited him in to the conversation, again. I was silently nervous. I am asking my John Wayne, my Superman to engage the emotions around my birth. I felt like I was treading on holy group. I waited for God to strike me dead and send me to the place of Uzzah.

Silence slowly started to lift and my father told me that he and my mom had experienced several miscarriages and had all but given up on having children of their own. So, my parents entered in to the adoption process. They were knee-deep into the process and even had a little boy staying with them when my mother found out she was pregnant with me.

My father’s words were filled with sorrow, wonder, and reservation. It was like he had opened up a part of himself that he had long ago closed off and worked to bury. You see, when my mom found out she was pregnant the adoption process was going to end. This potential brother was removed and my parents were sent on their merry way. My father’s voice ached as he shared this with me.

The conversation flowed a little more freely after that. I seemed to have stepped upon a place in which my father no longer feared my questions and even welcomed having a safe face to explore these long forgotten memories. We talked for almost two hours and I learned more about my father than I ever had. My pop became Dorothy’s son, Karen’s brother, Liz’s first love, and Arlene’s soulmate. My pop was human. He has dreams independent on mine. He has a heart for others. He loves strangely and imperfectly.

When my son was born I remembered this conversation. I pondered how I would live in a manner that my son could know I am human, I have faults. How will I live so that my son will not suffer the fate of many of the men of my family? The longer I ran these scenarios through my mind the more and more I wanted to rest near my father as I did when I was a child.

Parenting is the hardest thing I have embarked upon in my life. Sometimes I feel like I am doing great and in other moments I worry that I am utterly fucking with the health of my child. It is in these moments I wish I could lay in my father’s lap as he strokes my head and we watch Elvira together. Most of all I pray that my son gives me more grace to me than I did to my parents. I pray he understand that I am human as well.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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This year has been a year of change. I graduated from Social Work School. I became a substance abuse therapist as I ended my hope of returning to vocational ministry. I embarked on a journey towards whole body health in preparation of the end of my “young adult” years. I became a father. I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of me finishing my undergrad studies and embarking on a life changing adventure in Kenya. I look back on these past 10-years and am amazed at where I find myself.

I have not always been the best at reflection and healthy processing. My natural state is to push through the moment or risk getting bound by reflection and mired in a melancholy state of being. In this state I do not really do much of anything but regret, hope, pine, and have the occasional moment of clarity. There has been a common theme in my life that has come to my attention, the search for identity.

I have been on a quest to discover who and what I am for as long as I can remember. I am not sure if I had any solid identity growing up. I can remember ebbing and flowing amongst my friends and contemporaries likes and dislikes. I was a very impressionable youth that most aptly played parts over lived life. I tried to fit in and be affirmed by damn near anyone. As an adult I am not sure this was a bad thing. As a youth it led to a series of heartaches and many bad decisions in my quest to identify with others and find a place in this world.

In the last 10-years I have discovered my place in this world and am recently becoming comfortable with it. I have chased myself in seminary and sought to get answers in answering a call. I chased identity in a bottle and found myself struggling to understand my destructive side. I have come to grips with my battle with food and moving through the unglamorous addition to food. I have found and lost an identity as a minister. This may have been the most painful of lessons for me to learn in the past 10-years.

I discovered a depth of love that I have never known in my partner, friend, and love, Mere. I found a piece of me in marriage that I adore. And it has been this love that has delivered me to my most human of identities, fatherhood.

I have only been a father for 5 and a half months. Yet, I have dreamed of this identity for decades. In middle school I dreamed of being a husband and father. It has always been a matrix to which I have measured myself; the dream to which I lost myself in the most. Now that I am a father I dream different dreams.

I stare into my sons eyes and see my life reflected in him. I want so much for him. I want him to be compassionate, caring, and loving. All of these things I hope to model for him to learn. I want him to be happy and learn early on that happiness is an inside job and that who he is today is wonderful. That he is fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s Image. I want to spare him the ills I suffered for being a chubby kid. I want him to avoid the painful humiliation of poverty. I want him to speak truth in a way that is peaceful and full of truth. I want him to appreciate the beauty of life and wander more than he searches this world for the thin places.

I would love it if he played First Base for The Los Angeles Dodgers. I would settle if he never played football or grew up. I want him to never forget that I love him dearly and that those hushed whispers of dawn were in fact my hungry heart willing my love around him. I want him to know his smile makes a bad day good and that I am proud to be his father. I want him to know that if I ever depart this moral coil early, that I will do all that is possible to watch him from afar.

My search for identity has not ceased. The shame, guilt, or woe of who and what I am, is no longer the sharp pain it was. Rather, those emotions are the currency to which I paid for travel to this place of fatherhood and I regret none of it.

I hold my son in my arms and reflect on the pride my parents had in holding me in their arms. I see the painful struggles of poverty that eventually split my parents. I see the joy in their eyes as they watch me hold my son with tears caressing their cheeks and pride illuminating theirs smiles. The hurt of my youth is not trivialized as much as it is put in to perspective. I have always been loved, even when I did not feel it nor had the ability to realize it. The search for identity was about finding a place to be loved. I had that love all along. The one thing I want my son to know is that I loved him before he was born.

I loved him when I was lost amongst the living trying to awaken to love. I loved him as he grew in his mother’s belly. I dreamed of his face as I felt his internal kicks for liberation. And now that I see him that love continues to grow. I love myself because I was a party in loving him to life. And if he doesn’t play for The Dodgers let it be anybody but the Yankees or Giants.

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So, don’t you see that we owe this old do-it-yourself life nothing? There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Revitalizing Spirit gestures us to come nearer. There are things to do, people to see, and places to go!

This resurrected life you receive from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously pregnant with courage, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We awaken to our true self. We awaken to who God is, and we discern who we are: Parent and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—a fantastic inheritance! We are called to live as Christ has lived. We are to go through the hard times with him, and then we’re indubitably going to go through the good times with him!

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can scarcely wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is dimmed. God maintains restraint until creation and all creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead as our joyful expectancy deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult suffering throughout the world are birth pangs. Pain that is not only within us, but also around us. The Spirit of God is stirring us from within. We experience the birthing pangs together and apart from each other. These fruitless and stark bodies of ours long for complete liberation. That is why waiting does not diminish us; any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our hope is.

Romans 8:12-25

I am not sure if Tracy warned you about me. I feel like I ought to plaster a disclaimer across the pulpit saying, “He is just one expression of a Reformed Faith. It’ll be ok, it’s just 12 minutes.” I am only partial joking. I might offer relief to some in telling you that I have retired from professional ministry and am now a social worker in South Oklahoma City serving a community mental heath center and only moonlight as a pastor when friends and colleagues need someone to stride into the pulpit and offer proof that the radical nature of Christ leads to a life of pregnant adventure.

Ten years ago I was doing something very similar to what I am doing right now today. I was traveling from church to church in Los Angeles trying to garner financial and spiritual support for my upcoming YAV year in Kenya. I would show up to worship and share a bit about the program. YAV stands for Young Adult Volunteers and it is a PCUSA mission service component for youth 18-30 to serve in various national and international contexts in which they explore faith in service to others.

Full of fear and trepidation I approached pulpit after pulpit and delivered my best testimony about how I got to this place in my life. The Lord was calling me to service. The church that I had served as a youth worker and high school youth director had recognized gifts of service in me and challenged me to pray about it. I am not a man of in-betweens or moderation. I am the same man that has been baptized 3 times, been a sandwich board street preacher, witnessed to drunk folks in bars, and never meets strangers. So, I accept their challenge and I pray that God give me a life of adventure and make me dangerous to the ills of the world.

The next year in Kenya brought me to places and people that still shape me in profound ways. I arrived a staunch evangelical conservative Christian and left as a confused and wounded lover of Christ. I started seminary 2 weeks after I left Kenya. I soon found my way to a bottle to mask my suffering. I had no idea then that I was struggling with PTSD. I had no clue where I began or where I ended. My identity was in shambles.

I got a job bouncing and cooking at a bar 422 steps from Austin Seminary. I poured my heart and soul in to that pub. I would read about Tillich, Gutiérrez, Calvin, Barth, and DiForinza and I would share this in conversation with my co-workers and customers. It became know that I was a priest or something. People would seek me out. There I was, a fella with a broken heart, hiding in a bottle, and ministering to the margins. It was the best ministry I had been a part of.

I had to get out of there; my health would not take any more of it. I quit working at the pub and buckled down. I graduated, got married, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. My wife worked at the Presbyterian Center and I was going to go to Social Work school. I had been dismissed from the ordination process and had become disenfranchised with the church. There was no place for a fella with a broken heart that had hid in a bottle and ministered to the margins.

I soon found myself serving a Disciples of Christ church that wanted me to minister to the LGBTQ community in Louisville. I love this idea, to minister to the community that had gotten me dismissed from the PCUSA ordination process. It was an amazing time of awakening to the beauty and power of God working in and through folks that I had always thought would burn in hell or that at the very least would be hard pressed to be used as instruments of God’s love.

Those three years delivered me to apostasy in the eyes of Pat Robertson and Al Mohler. I received more messages explaining that I was in error and was leading those I professed to love down the broad road to hell. It was an enlightening time of pregnant adventure. It was also a hard time for the church, longtime members became upset when the national news caught wind of things we were doing and when the nation got word that I and the other pastor on staff were not going to act as agents of the State any longer by signing marriage certificates, the camels back was broke. This lead to a slow decline in my support and the niche I had found was no longer supported.

This eventually brought me to Oklahoma. My wife was called to a lovely church in Oklahoma City where her gifts in ministry are utilized in a spectacular display of loving-kindness. I was branded as a liberal, rebel-rousing type and barred from seeking a call in Oklahoma. I mourn that loss still. I crawled through the open window God left ajar and finished my master of social work at OU.

I wrestled with the thought of failure. When we graduated in 2008 from Austin Seminary we were told that in five years 50% of us would not be in ministry any longer. I had made it three years of full time ordained ministry before I burned out of church. I was one of the statistics. I was bathed in shame. The pregnant adventure I had always prayed for had abandoned me. The thing is, the adventurously pregnant life doesn’t leave us. The suffering, the frustration, the difficulty are part of the birth pangs. “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult suffering throughout the world are birth pangs. Pain that is not only within us, but also around us. The Spirit of God is stirring us from within. We experience the birthing pangs together and apart from each other. These fruitless and stark bodies of ours long for complete liberation. That is why waiting does not diminish us; any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our hope is.”

God is not calling any of us to an easy life of leisure. To be a fisher of [men but need a gender neutral way to express this] means we must toil and labor. There is joy in the work but there is never NOT risk. It is a risky and dangerous prospect to put ones life in the hands of Christ and be light in a world that is full of biased hatred of a redeeming and reconciling Emmanuel. The world hates the justice, the peace, and the love that flows forth from the Human-struck wounds of Jesus.

 

Good Enough

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When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:19-23

 

How many of you have a bucket list?

 

I do. I want to walk the Way of Saint James, study at Plum Village, be silence at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and follow the footsteps of the Buddha. I also want to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. The one on my heart these days is to visit Astoria, Oregon.

 

Lewis and Clark spent a winter here on their journey out west. Clark Gable began his career there at the Astoria Theater. Many films for the 80’s were filmed there, including The Goonies.

 

29 years ago yesterday the world was introduced to a ragtag band of pre-teen heroes. Mikey, Mouth, Data, Brand, Chunk, Andy, and Stef lived in the Goon Docks. Their homes are being foreclosed due to the expansion of the local country club. The kids are upset and gather at Mikey and Brand’s house. There seems little hope for their cherished homes to survive.

 

Mikey and Mouth stumble upon an old map and convince the others to join them in finding the lost treasure. They follow the map and encounter The Fratellis, a fugitive family that had just broke out of jail. They manage to escape The Fratellis but had to go in to an underground tunnel, where they find themselves closer to the treasure than anyone ever before.

 

The rest of the film shows us that The Goonies pursuit of the treasure is only achievable if they all offer their best to each other. If Mouth did not speak Spanish they could not have followed the map. If Data did not tinker with gadgets they could not have avoided the traps set out before them. If Stef had not played the piano then they would not pass an obstacle. The Goonies needed Brand’s strength, Andy’s determination, and Mikey’s leadership. Everyone played a role in this journey towards the treasure.

 

Every one has a role. The parents’ frantically search for the kids. The Fratellis pursue the Goonies. Chunk befriends Sloth and then they pursue and eventually save the Goonies. The Goonies may have been lost in the eyes of some. To others the Goonies were dangerous. The Goonies believed they were on a journey to save their homes.

 

To my 10 year old heart it was magic. Surrounded by life that I was not quite responsible for I yearned for liberty, freedom, and security. Prior to this films release I had not the words or ability to articulate what kind of longing I held in me heart. I was not alone. For many people my age The Goonies gave us hope. It gave us a way forward and dared us to dream. I can ask almost every one of my contemporaries, “What do Goonies say?” And they will know how to answer. The Goonies is a geography in which our adult ethics and morals were hewn and the responsibilities of our parents were revealed.

 

“Goonies never say, die!”, guided them as they moved along their journey. Goonies did not quit because there was great risk involved in stopping. The Goonies did not stop because there was nothing left to do but to keep going. For the Goonies that journey was about getting lost in the hopes that if they made it out alive, life would be better and they would still be together.

 

Pentecost is like that. It is not a place of answers, nor does it hold on too tightly to tradition or pageantry. Pentecost is a place of meandering. A place where we all begin a journey to stay together.

 

Pentecost moves us through a chute of spiritual equipping and out in to a world that IS and IS NOT yet ready for the Gospel message. We are not the owner/operators of the Gospel. We are the meandering sojourners seeking hope amongst a world of hurt.

 

Pentecost is a journey where as you get lost in God you find yourself and as you find yourself you become a light to others trying to get lost. Because in being lost you will find yourself and we will all stay together. Pentecost challenges the notion of dominate culture that the fearfully and wonderfully made creatures of God exist in some sort of hierarchical guild with winners and loser, us and them, and good and bad. With this I am reminded of Paul’s declaration that there is no human division that shall bear witness against God. We are in the same boat. This journey you are on, this journey I am on, this journey they are on is the same journey.

 

Pentecost peels back the niceties of cultural decorum that maintains the status quo and calls us towards a light of exploration with equality and justice as the markers of faithfulness. The treasure we seek is not of gold and silver but of self-sacrifice and abiding in the love of God. The rewards we receive are not retirement plans, comfortable homes, a healthy paycheck, or a glory gilded sanctuary. If these are the trappings of a decent and orderly society than we have missed the Pentecost mark.

 

Along this Pentecost journey if we stay together, meander as one, we will be rewarded with community, we will awaken to a faithfulness that resembles sacrifice, and we shall experience resurrection and peace shall be with us.

Good Feeling

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Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke 24:44-53

 

Ten years ago I my life was about to take a dramatic shift. I was graduating with a degree in Religious Studies and a few credits shy of another degree in Ceramic Arts. Earlier that year I had traveled to Louisville to interview for a spot to become a missionary. I had not traveled outside of California; say for the time I lived as a toddler in Washington State and the few occasions I went to Tijuana. I was now traveling Southern California to raise support for my impending trip to Kenya.

I lived a sheltered life, one of fervent pursuit of identity and purpose. I had traveled the extremes of faith and religion. I was a militant Evolutionist. I fought faith with reason. I exposed the lies of pulpit sheep and sought to tame the false power of a risen Christ I saw as a charlatan.

I was a charismatic extremist. I ditched reason for absolute faith. I climbed the faithful ladder towards the prize of eternal life, hoping to take as many damned souls as I could along the way. I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and desperately preached his salvation on weekends at Venice Beach.

I abused and consumed Scripture as a drug addict consumes drugs. I was faithful and offensive. I was earnest and misguided. I was cocksure and uncertain. I was confused and confessed. I was a hot mess.

There I was traveling to raise financial support for this mission to discover my purpose. In all honesty I was seeking to escape the life I was bound in. I had no direction, little hope, and fear was my currency. I spent Lent, Passiontide, Eastertide, and on towards Pentecost rallying support. I would go to churches, in rented cars because my truck had been stolen, and share with folks what I was doing and pass around a plate. In most circumstances I barley covered the costs of the rental car and gas. I often felt out of place giving my spiel and passing that plate. I was surrounded with guilt and losing affection for this impending journey. As I was driving home after some spiel and plate action I wasted away in traffic and wondered, “Why am I doing this? “This is all I know,” was my reply. This is what the National Mission Office of the Presbyterian Church told us to do. We were to grind, meet, and connect. Build up our network to share our story and acquire the necessary financial support to go and do Christ’s work.

Then why was I not feeling part of community? Where was the financial support that I needed to answer the call? My network was shrinking as I sought to follow the traditional path. I was terribly unhappy. So, I stopped the spiel and plate act and sold my art.

I remained connected with my church friends and the friends that would never darken the door of a church that saw their love as sin. I held art shows in bars and my home church offered space for my art to be sold at the annual talent show. I loved this process. I saw my communities merge and support me. I rediscovered why I was doing this. And within 2 months I had raised $18,000. I only needed to raise $8,000.

I arrived in Kenya on a Holy Spirit contact high. I was as extreme as ever. I was ready and willing to get in to this missionary thing. I was part of a group of young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the PCUSA. We all checked in to a local convent to begin our language and cultural training. We were there for a month.

Life here was far slower than at home. I was forced to slow down and found lots of time to contemplate the road that got me to Kenya. I was never good at being still. I talk too much. I never meet a stranger. I am about as extroverted as they come. But there in that Kenyan convent, surrounded by a language and culture that I was obviously a stranger too, I waited. I waited. I waited.

I’d love to share with you all of the exciting things we did there in that first month. We stayed in that convent for a month. We never left the grounds. 24/7 those broken glass covered walls surrounded us. We waited. God forced us in to ourselves and we could not escape that life altering power of the Holy Spirit. Where we could not go, she could.

I realized that the same Spirit of peace, comfort, affliction, and love that covered my in the US was the same Spirit that was poking and prodding my heart there in Kenya. I realized that God was indeed the God that fashioned the world. The Word of God opened up to me. I was flooded with emotions and experiences of the road that brought me there. Behind those walls God made me wait so that I could find myself. No matter what I felt God was in control. The space around me was chock-full of God.

It was then that I realized that the best kind of faithfulness is when you dwell in that space that God has fashioned for you. It is in that space where heaven, hell, and everything in between lay, that you are nearest to God. That Divine geography that awakens your heart and mind to the call upon your life. It is there that your mind is opened and The Word of God may be understood. That suffering and overcoming that suffering is part of the process. We exist as witnesses to the glory of God, praising all of God’s grand Creation. Is this not the Chief End of Humankind?

That witness is not homogenous. That witness is as dynamic and individual as it is complex and communal. We are constantly stirring. We are the ebb and flow of God’s “Good Deeds.” In being faithful are we required to travel the same path? Does faithfulness require stagnation in tradition and rites that cement us in a path of “this is how it has always been”?

Are we not called to a living dynamic faith that builds up community and it connects us to the divine presence in each other? We are indeed called to stay in Jerusalem until we have been clothed with power from on high. The problem with this is that we often confuse adversity and suffering as signs that we have not been clothed with divine power.

Is it not the very fact that we endure suffering in the Name of Christ and that we experience adversity living into the call of the Gospel that signifies that we are no longer naked but have donned the power of that Holy, Holy Spirit?

It’s important to understand that God never demands or doles out suffering, nor is suffering ever a path to righteousness. One of the sins of the church is using suffering to justify slavery, violence, and crimes against humanity. But the reality is that our faith is tested every day. Sometimes, waiting in Jerusalem is all we got. And waiting there in the city for that divine power is the Holiest act of all.

Thanks Be To God, Amen.

Get Up, Stand Up.

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But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Acts 7:55-60

 

In the living room he waits.

 

A collective love surrounds him, emanating from family and friends. The memories flood everyone’s minds. That 6-year-old boy that idolized his older brothers. Overcame a life of hardship. He did all the right things. He stayed away from trouble when his brothers made friends with it.

 

Family conflict and personal crisis clouded his development. He dreamed of better days. A hope to get out of the poverty and violence that surrounded him. He wrestled with himself. The normal teenage questions of who and what am I twisted his capacity to its breaking point. He took it to the field. Out there between the hash marks, on that grass-gilded field, he discovered he was ok.

 

He followed the traditions. He offered his body as a living sacrifice to the gods. He did all that was asked of him. He was a good son. He was a good and faithful disciple. And he did all of this hiding a part of who he was.

 

This night all of the past hurt, the pain of hiding the truth, the hopes and dreams blew open the door and Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay professional football player. This night he is selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft and Michael, exhausted and relieved, hugs his boyfriend and the world shudders.

 

Are you wondering why I bring Michael Sam in to a conversation about Stephen? Ask yourself, why did Stephen get killed? Stephen was a believer with exceptional endowment of divine power that did great wonders and offered signs to the people of God’s grace. He ministered to the Greeks. He was proclaiming a tough word for the establishment to hear. Religious leaders grew to dislike and even despise him because he challenged their power and showed the world there was another way to worship God.

 

Stephen was public about his challenge. It was who he was that challenged the status quo. He did not hide who he was. He accepted and proclaimed to all the message of inclusive faithful being that countered the way things had always been. Those that heard or saw him either loved him and accepted this new way forward or hated him and sought to silence his challenge of power. Stephen was killed because he offered an expansive witness of God’s love that shifted power away from the way it has always been. Because it is always dangerous to challenge power.

 

Now, what about Michael Sam? Michael Sam got drafted and as countless draftees before him, teared up and embraced a loved one and shared a kiss. Only Michael’s loved one was also a man. The reaction was swift. Some took Sam to task for “doing that” on national TV. More proclaimed the end of moral certainty in the US. Many let it roll on by without a care or worry. What began in the mid 70’s with David Kopay, reached a peak that night in May when Michael Sam was drafted. He became the first openly Gay NLF player.

 

A preacher in Georgia has responded. He is organizing a boycott of Visa, who has sponsored Michael Sam, and a boycott of The Saint Louis Rams, who drafted Sam. He is catching steam under a theological proclamation that God abhors homosexuality. That the drafting of Sam has ushered in a new era of shame and moral decay. This pastor and his followers are warning America that the “Gay Agenda” is moving to secure rights for the LGBTQ community.

 

There is one thing I agree with this pastor on, and that is that the Gay Agenda is indeed seeking rights for the LGBTQ community. The Gay Agenda is seeking to affirm and secure the full humanity of God’s created order. As this plays out, yesterday we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the legalization of Same-Sex marriage in Massachusetts.

 

In the years since Massachusetts acknowledge the sanctity of love within Same-Sex partnerships an additional 17 States and the District of Columbia have followed suit. This represents 121 Million people or 38% of the total US population. With another 7 States, including Oklahoma, that are awaiting a higher court verdict to legalize Same-Sex marriage. When these 7 additional States legalize Same-Sex marriage an additional 55.9 Million people will be allowed to fully participate in the Rights we enjoy here today. This would mean that 56% of the US population would live in a State that exercised full equality for its citizenry. This is indeed a watershed moment. Times are changing. This is just in the last 10 years.

 

Where are we as the church? We are declining. We have lost the moral edge. Who knows what really did it? I imagine it was a menagerie of things that has led us to this place. No one event or one theological idea has delivered us to the edges of society. The end result is a church that is isolated from its children and a church that has no idea how to minister where her children are. This is not a Trinity thing, nor a rich church/poor church thing, a black church/white church thing. This is a how we have become lukewarm church holding on to yesterday thing.

 

Michael Sam is our Stephen. Michael Sam is pointing us in a direction; he represents a people, and is showing us how to proceed. Michael is showing us how to connect with our children. Stephen did the same and it got him killed. I hope that we do not stone Michael Sam but that we receive his presence and awaken the Gospel that Jesus the Christ is beckoning us to follow.

 

In the churches zeal to maintain tradition, morality, power, and faithfulness we have forgotten the most important commandment of all…To Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself and to Keep God Above and Before All.

 

I am not suggesting that anyone of you betray your conscience and jump out in to the world as Open and Affirming of the LGBTQ community. I am suggesting that we need to do something when HIV/Aids is a scourge in the Black Community. I am suggesting that we could be preaching the Gospel and offering a space in the church for LGBTQ Christians seeking to run the good race of faith. I am suggesting that we embrace the compelling call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a light in this State for those that are not what some refer to as “traditional.” I am suggesting that we let go of morality and righteousness and hold on to the nearness of Christ and be community first. Can we trust that God will sort out the righteousness and we can focus on welcoming and loving our neighbors?

 

Stephen beckons to his time that the work that Jesus has performed is opening up the Temple to those that dare never step foot in to it before. He challenges the power of the status quo by daring to proclaim that God loves all and that the Messiah, Jesus, has cleared the way to expand the faith of all. Michael Sam is doing the same here for us.

 

He leads us towards greater love and faithfulness. He is beckoning us to follow a path that challenges the way things have been. He is showing us a way to expand our love and how to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. Here is an opportunity for us to embrace as others are damming, judging, and proclaiming tat repentance is needed. We have a chance to step outside of the safety of our walls of tradition and drop the rocks of faith we hold, dust off the stranger, take them to our home for dinner, and listen to their story, as we pray, “Lord do not hold our sin against us.”

 

My address to the University of Oklahoma, Zarrow School of Social Work Graduating Class of 2014

graduation

Ever since I heard the practical advice to always wear sunscreen, that youth holds a beauty and power incomprehensible to its possessor, and that inside every adult there lurks a speech dying to get out, I have wanted to address a group of graduates in a public forum. Thanks to the support of my friends and colleagues of the 2014 Zarrow School of Social Work, that dream becomes a reality today.

 

In preparation I researched famous valedictories. I wanted to see what others had already said. So, I could offer something unique. I put together an outline, poured it in to a word document, and sought to fashion something that would honor you all. It is my sincerest hope that inspiration may be found in the following words. At the very least I hope that no one gets up and leaves in the middle of this.

 

I remember the first time I read the Preamble of the NASW Code of Ethics, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” I felt a kinship with these words. I wanted to immediately imprint them upon my heart, live in to them. I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by colleagues that also found comfort in these words. We all aspired to be agents of change. We are people of deeply held conviction that stand against power and speak truth to it. We are people with an enthusiasm for equality. We are people with hearts that embrace human tragedy with compassion. We are people consumed with a responsibility to those caught in the machine of systemic exploitation.

 

We began as helpers-in-training and over the course of the past few years we have been fashioned in to vessels that promote social justice and social change. Our will has taken on the will of our clients as we advocate for equity and seek to eradicate injustice. Our hearts bear the hopes of those we serve as we seek to affirm the dignity and humanity of all. Our guiding light is the ethical code to which we are tethered.

 

We all have arrived at the same port by different ships. Ships that bear the scars of the past and hold the treasures of our future. A journey that brought us here at this time, with each other. A time of transition for this institution and for ourselves. A journey that has shaped and fashioned the hopes and dreams that we ponder today. A journey with realized potential and life-long memories.

 

That journey ends today, and another one begins. We have persevered through doubt, fear, and material obstacles to arrive here at the expiration of our time as graduate students. The dynamic and diverse paths that deliver us to this place and have compelled us to dedicate our lives to securing good for those in which good is not so readily available. We have been equipped and are being sent from here out into the world to challenge injustice, to write history, and to walk alongside the marginalized towards self-efficacy and hope.

 

We depart from here ready to advance change in a manner that propagates real and permanent good. We dare to dream dreams of peace, tranquility, and a hospitality that shades the oppressed and marginalized. We are not special, nor so different from others. What sets us apart is that we ask ourselves, “What can we do for others? How can we do it with integrity and competence.” We strive to enhance the capacity of others to address their own needs. We advocate for response to the needs of others, believing in the importance of human relationships. Friends, Where peace is desired, there we shall be. Where hunger is alive, there we shall be. Where justice is threatened, there we shall be. Where equality is abhorred, there we shall be.

 

We embody the delicate work of change as illustrated by the philosopher Jane Addams who said, “Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself.” We are those that reject the comfort and convenience of silence for the uncomfortable action of speaking up in times of controversy and challenge power. We govern our actions not by political power, or popularity but by the conviction that all of humanity demands dignity. We shall not shy away from truth. Trusting that truth will shape and guide our work and adherence to our ethical foundation.

 

Having learned to crawl, then walk, we shall now run, along the paths that guide us away from here, forward towards the calling of justice and compassion that bear the name of Social Worker. We shall not sleep through the revolution. We shall not despair at the hard work ahead. We shall trust in the bottomless vitality present in each one of us. Knowing that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Our destiny has been woven in that moral arc of justice. When we are tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged we shall return here to this day and remember, renew, and rest in the shared memories of our time here with each other.