4 Days ‘Til Election Sermon

All week, I’ve been searching for my elusive Easter sermon (I think it’s hiding with the Easter bunny), and on my run route this morning, I found, not my Easter sermon, but my 4 Days ‘Til Election Sermon! I saw 22 signs for NO Repeal as I ran and two Vote Yes on Question #1 signs. Completely unsurprising given the part of Springfield I live in, but I did find it heartening given the knowledge that none of those NO Repeal signs would have been handed out at a church where the average Sunday morning attendance is around 9000 people (which is the case for the Vote Yes signs). So all of the people who had the NO Repeal signs in their yard had to do more than just get up and go to church on a Sunday morning. They had to make a concerted effort to get that sign. They had to reach into their pocketbooks and make a donation to help offset costs to get that sign. I know because I had to wait two weeks before I was able to get my NO Repeal sign!

But the potential influence of that mega church paired with an article I read in the News-Leader yesterday about a letter sent to 35 pastors urging them to vote yes to repeal got me thinking about a parable Jesus once told. He talked of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. And those of you who are familiar with mustard plants know that they don’t actually grow into trees, but they are prone to taking over a garden. In a culture where keeping things separate and pure, it would have been crazy talk telling a story of a man who would plant mustard seed in his garden. That would wreak havoc in the garden and infest everything! But see, that’s the cool thing about Jesus. He likes to take things and flip them on their heads. He uses things that might be seen negatively as an illustration of the kingdom of heaven. How’s that for provocative preaching!

The article I reference mentions that the superintendent of the denomination expects there to be 30,000 people worshiping in those 35 church on Easter Sunday. I would be lying if I said that didn’t make my heart sink as I read it. But today, on my morning run, I saw all those NO Repeal signs and I started to think of that mustard seed. How perhaps this NO Repeal campaign is the mustard seed planted in a garden full of people who like to keep things just so, no ruffling of the status quo because things-are-working-out-just-fine-for-me-thank-you-very-much. Maybe NO Repeal is like the kingdom of God, spreading a message of hope and love to all people. It starts out small, and in the face of 30,000 people who may be standing in opposition to us, we feel insignificant. But we are not. The seeds are being planted. With each conversation we have, the seeds are being planted. With each story we share, the seeds are being planted. With each phone call we make, with each door we knock on, the seeds are being planted. And these are seeds of love, seeds of compassion, seeds of justice, seeds of hope, seeds of care for neighbor, seeds of equality, and they will grow and grow and grow until they take over the field of 30,000 and become the largest of the garden plants. We’re infesting the garden with love, compassion, justice, hope, care for neighbor, and equality. These seeds cannot be unplanted. The conversations we’ve had cannot be un-had. Whether the seeds will germinate in time for the election on April 7, well, only time will tell. But know, that regardless of the outcome, the work we have done has been important work. It has been holy work. And it cannot be undone. Justice will come. Hope will rise. Take comfort in that.

Pridefest, Rent, and the World We Live In

So a couple of Saturdays ago (June 16), Travis staked out a corner of the Greater Ozarks 2012 Pridefest in the Square to take some photos for Queen City Faces. It seemed like a great idea at the time, a perfect way to capture some of the faces of Springfield. He talked with a couple of people, shared the purpose of Queen City Faces, and took some great shots. After he’d been there for a while, a woman approached him and asked him if he’d considered the fact that some of the people at Pridefest could potentially lose their jobs or face alienation from their families if these pictures placing them at Pridefest ended up online (you can read Travis’ account of this story here). I’m not sure if the woman who talked with Travis was lesbian herself or if she was concerned that even being publicly associated with an event like Pridefest could hurt her career, but I do know that she believed that she could lose her job if her employers saw a photo of her at Pridefest. The whole thing got me thinking…we really do still live in a world where even those who associate with the LGBT community or stand in solidarity with them by attending events like Pridefest can face negative repercussions, and those repercussions pale in comparison to those who are actually lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. What year are we living in? Why is it still OK to persecute these children of God? Why are we still finding reasons to denigrate, dehumanize, scorn, and shun those who need to experience the tangible love of God more than anyone else?

As Travis was taking photos at Pridefest, I saw Phil talking with some “Christian” protesters who were in attendance at the event. Without even approaching them, I knew that Phil was engaging this man holding up a large wooden cross in conversation surrounding the subject of homosexuality and scripture, talking about the love of God and the hatred being spewed by the church. I don’t know the exact words that were being exchanged, but Phil’s oldest son informed me that the guy with the cross was saying that it was bad to be gay, so his dad was talking to him about that. I don’t know that Phil’s words made any difference to the man, but they made a difference to his kid, and I do know that his willingness to offer this man another Christian perspective meant the world to some of my gay and lesbian friends who saw what Phil was doing.

Now, the reason I wasn’t able to be part of the conversation Travis had with the woman concerned about losing her job or the conversation Phil had with the cross-carrying man was because I was preparing to perform with Springfield Little Theatre’s cast of Rent on the Pridefest stage.  Rent has long been called a controversial musical. In fact, I know I myself have given a few disclaimers to people from the church who have expressed an interest in coming to see it. Not to discourage them from coming, just to prepare them for what they were going to see. Rent deals with AIDS, drug addiciton, and sexuality. There are three romantic relationships that run through the musical, one between and man and a woman, one between two men, and one between two women. In Springfield, MO, that’s controversial. But the more I think about it, the more I want to say, you know what? Rent isn’t controversial! Maybe it was back in 1996 when it was released, but this is 2012! The world is a different place! We live post Will & Grace. We live in the era of Glee. We watch TV shows where violence is glorified and murder is celebrated (as long as you’re killing the bad guys, right?). And we think Rent is controversial? 

Which also gets me thinking… Why is showing up at an event that supports the LGBT community controversial? Why is standing up for the rights of a marginalized and demonized and dehumanized segment of our society controversial? Why is a musical that celebrates love and the ways it ties us together in the face of heartbreak and disease controversial? Conversely, why isn’t it controversial to claim to be Christian as you stand for discrimination and hatred? Why isn’t it controversial to spiritually abuse our LGBT brothers and sisters, all in the name of God? Talk about taking the Lord’s name in vain. 

So yeah, these are some of my musings early on in my sabbatical, in the wake of Pridefest. I lament the fear with which our LGBT brothers and sisters live, the fear that leads them feeling they even need to hide their faces a bit at Pridefest (because this is, after all, Springfield, MO), the fear that keeps them out of our churches because of the abuse they have had to endure, the fear that has shut off belief that God could ever love them, the fear that keeps them locked in closets of loneliness and despair, the fear that has them believing that there may not be a safe space for them. My heart aches. And so I stand in solidarity, in the hopes that some day these fears can be assuaged, that the controversy and disgrace will be laws like the one passed in North Carolina, the hateful language upheld in church doctrine, and the wholly un-Christian practice of dehumanizing and denigration of our LGBT brothers and sisters.