Unexpected Hope: A Small Town Gay Bar

IMG_0426The events of the past week have left many people reeling in pain, confusion, fear, and grief.  The shooting at Pulse in Orlando has launched many to decry the fatal shooting (although not all of them could actually do so while also recognizing that the LGBT community was the target).  It has left a community with questions that it has to answer for itself, and it has marred a month that is often a month of celebration for LGBT Americans across the country.

Of equal import is the fact that this deadly attack happened in a place that has served (and continues to serve) as a place of hope.  The attack happened in one of few venues in which LGBT persons can be who they are without getting sideways glances from others. It is a place where it is normal to see two boys or two girls holding hands or even giving each other a peck on the cheek in between chatting with friends.  It is a place in which you can do all of these things and be understood as completely normal.

With all of this in mind, I share with you a story of my own trip to a small town gay bar many moons ago.  I share this with you now because it is the story of how a gay bar helped me to become happy with who I am, and I share it because I want others to know that a gay bar is not simply a place that LGBT go to drink or to engage in casual sex.  It is a place in which many LGBT people end up discovering their own community.  It is a place that we discover that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not something to be ashamed of.  It is a place that we discover hope. Continue reading

The Guts of Compassion

Have you ever thought about the beginnings of the word compassion?  What does it mean when we say that we have compassion for a person or a people group?  Is it as simple as having pity for another, or does the meaning go much deeper than that?  In the short story that we get from the Gospel according to Luke this evening, we get a profound telling of what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do on our behalf.  In this short narrative, we begin to get a glimpse of the compassion that God has for us through the life of the Son that is powered by the Spirit.

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Image source: http://www.patheos.com
The word for compassion in the Greek text is related to the word for guts or entrails.  In fact, the root of the word for having compassion is the word that means entrails.  In order to have compassion, it is not simply deciding to be compassionate to another.  in the Greek, it means that you are moved within the depths of your being for another person.  You are gripped within your gut to take action on behalf of another in order to improve their lot in life.  It is an emotion that springs up from the deepest parts of the body and inspires us to look out at ways that we can be a gift to another.

In the gospel text this evening, we are given a story in which Jesus was moved out of the very depths of his personhood to change the reality for a mother that lost her only son.  In having compassion for her – feeling pity for her within the depths of his entrails, his guts – Jesus performs an act of charity, a profound act of kindness, for the woman and for her son.  Jesus takes a moment to allow the power of God the Spirit to work through him and to flow out towards another person, whom he does not know.  Jesus pauses for long enough to recognize that the loss of an only son is an experience filled with pain and suffering; Jesus pauses long enough to take the time to enter into that pain and suffering in order to change it from sadness into joy.

(LONG PAUSE)

It was late in the summer of 2005.  It had been several days since the destruction of the small city had taken place.  Now, the landscape was filled with debris from trees, houses toppled over, smashed cars, and the ruins of what were once vibrant neighborhoods.  Communication outside the city was nearly impossible as all the communication lines were either filled with water or disconnected from any source of power, which continued to be out across the city landscape.  It was very unlikely that anyone actually understood that the destruction had been so strong this far inland.  It certainly was not the norm for storms of these types; of course, this latest storm had been anything but normal.

As the day wore on, the folks worked feverishly to find solutions to the problems the local community faced in the aftermath of the storm.  Though the resources available were dwindling quickly, they continued to share whatever resources they had available to serve the community.  It was beginning to get very uncertain how much longer they would be able to sustain any kind of response – no matter how pitiful it might have been – without some help from outside.  Hope was hanging by a thread.

In the late evening, the sun began to set and the work for the day began to wind down.  Another long, hard day of trying to find resources to respond to the growing needs of the community.  Another day filled with difficult, gut wrenching questions to which there were no good answers.  Then, hope appeared slowly turning into the drive way.  Three large trucks modeled after the box shaped ambulance turned into the drive each carrying a load of fresh supplies and volunteers.  People entered into the pain of the community and brought with them hope – the realization that others were aware of what was happening in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Those volunteers entered into the pain and suffering of a disaster-torn landscape.  They entered into the landscape to suffer with those that were directly affected by the hurricane.  They had compassion.  Interestingly, the roots for the English word compassion are two words in Latin –  “com” meaning together and “pati” to suffer.  To have compassion for another is to suffer with that person together.  It is to enter into their reality and be present with them in that reality.  It is to freely enter into a landscape torn by a disaster in order to suffer through those hardships while also bringing hope.  It is precisely what Jesus does in the narrative this evening.  He enters into the mother’s reality of suffering and brings hope into the situation.  In seeing her tears of sadness, Jesus had compassion – a gut wrenching pity for her that called him to suffer with her together.

We, too, are called to have that kind of compassion with our fellow human beings, but the more challenging thing for us is to find that gut wrenching desire to help another in the face of everyday injustices.  Injustices like poverty, mental illness, homelessness, hunger; these are the injustices within our time that deserve our compassion – our willingness to suffer together with those that feel the brunt of these injustices.  In finding the courage to have compassion for the poor, the hungry, the destitute, the mentally ill, the homeless, the migrant or any other person suffering under the weight of societal injustices, we are taking part in the ministry of God’s justice.  When we enter into suffering with another together and bring the hope of Christ into that situation, we are sharing the power of the Spirit just as Jesus did in the gospel narrative tonight.  We are allowing the power of the Spirit to flow through us to touch the life of another, and in so doing, we find that the Spirit has an even more profound effect in our own lives.  We discover that by allowing God’s blessings to flow through us, we also receive more blessings from the people we meet in our own suffering.  Enter into your own ministry of compassion – of suffering together with another – and take the light of Christ out into the world to share His joy and hope.

Vessels of the Spirit

“Jesus said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

To be made well.  It is something that everyone wishes for when they fall ill or suffer from a longterm illness or condition for which there is no cure.  The desire to be made well is a desire that springs from within the deepest parts of our being; we want to be made whole as a human being, to have the ability to move freely and to exercise our free will through the movement of our bodies.  The desire to be made well is often thought of in the most immediate terms – in the wellness of the body.  The desire is to appear strong, to have the appearance of being a person that is complete and able to do the things that everyone is able to do.  But, the first reading of this desire leaves much unattended that is equally important to the well-being of humanity.  The desire for wellness can also be thought of as a desire for wholeness throughout the human person.  It is a desire to have wholeness not only in body but also wholeness in spirit and in mind.  We desire to be complete and to have our dignity restored as a person created in the image of God.

The question that Jesus asks of the man is a question that we might think we should take as our own.  It is a question that reflects our need to feel helpful, needed, wanted by others.  As we survey the landscape of creation, it does not take long to see the truth of what living in a tragic, fallen creation means.  With just a cursory glance of our surroundings, we can identify people that are struggling with the affliction of poverty, disease, malnutrition, physical disabilities, mental disabilities, infectious diseases, terminal illness….

scaldatoarea-vitezda-ierusalim-12In this scene, Jesus witnesses the same tragic reality of creation.  Jesus sees a man that is struggling with a physical affliction.  The man sits by a pool intended for healing and wants to move into the waters “when they are stirred up” to find the healing that he desires so deeply.  Jesus enters into the scene, witnesses the tragic condition of the man, and extends the grace of God flowing through the power of the Spirit to the man that is in front of him.  Jesus enters into the tragic reality of creation in an effort to reconcile humanity to God through that same Spirit that abides in us, adopted children of God.  It is the same Spirit that enables us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” that moves through Christ and empowers Jesus to achieve the mission the Father sent him on – to restore the dignity of humanity by walking a life of servanthood that we are able to witness.   Continue reading

Becoming Earthly Messengers of Heavenly News

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“Then an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:1-20 NRSV

So far, it had been a normal day in the fields.  Sure, a few of the flock attempted to wander off, but as seasoned shepherds, they simply expected some of that.  The quietness of the night began to envelope them, and the flocks had finally settled in for an evening in the fields.  As the night droned on, the shepherds kept watch for anything that might threaten the flock.  Little did they know that they were about to play a significant role in the life of the world.  Little did they know who was coming into the world and how they would help to bring that message to others.  After all, they were simple shepherds that played no significant role in the life of society.  Why should they expect anything amazing to happen to them?!

Suddenly, as they sat with their flock, a mysterious messenger appeared before them.  They shrank backwards from this being that was now in front of them.  Fear seized them.  They couldn’t move – much less protect the flock.  And then, the whole, amazing truth was spoken by an angel of the Lord.  “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV). Continue reading

A Hope-filled End

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Revelation 1:8 NRSV

Communion windoA few nights ago, I attended a small group discussion of Plato’s Meno in an effort to explore the depths of virtue and what Plato’s text had to teach us about it.  The beginning of the text begins with Meno asking Socrates if virtue can be taught or is a result of practice or if it is possessed by men by nature or some other way.  As the text goes, the reader is left wondering what the overarching nature of virtue is and if there is a single way of defining virtue that would also be true of all things which we would label as virtuous.  The text itself provides the reader no direct answer but leads the reader to think about the nature of virtue itself.  The exercise of reading the text can be a frustrating one because it does not take you from point A to point B in a way that you are able to point back to the text for an operating definition of virtue.  Instead, you finish the text without any clear answers and many more questions about the nature of virtue than perhaps you thought you had in the beginning.

The exercise of discussing the text with a small group is also  a circuitous route as you attempt to define virtue by way of the dialogue between Meno and Socrates.  Just as the text left you with no concrete answers, the discussion between friends may not leave you with any concrete answers; indeed, it may only bring additional questions to the surface that deserve their own explorations in order to come back to the original question of the nature of virtue.

The circuitous route of the conversation – and the diversions presented within the conversation – can also become an exercise of frustration if you lack the patience to make the journey.  It is a journey that starts with a claim that you seek to prove by way of logic and knowledge, and you might hope that the journey is of a linear nature by which you proceed from point A to point B to point C and so forth.  Yet, a journey seldom plays itself out so neatly.  Journeys are embedded with surprises and turns and break downs that cannot be predicted at the beginning.  A journey does not have the helpful voice of Google Maps telling you where to turn right and where to turn left.  The journey may take you far from home before depositing you right back where you began in your search for truth. Continue reading