Are We Giving Enough of Ourselves?

In the scripture that was read this morning, Apostle Paul is talking about generosity. He is encouraging the Church at Corinth to continue with their generosity towards the Church at Jerusalem. The challenge I want to offer to you, to me, to us today is: Are we giving enough of ourselves?

Thinking about the ChMembers of the public continue to pay their respects and leave flowers outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina June 19, 2015, two days after a mass shooting left nine dead during a bible study at the church.urch in Jerusalem this week, the mother church for early Christians, led me to think about another mother church, Emanuel AME, in Charleston, South Carolina. This church is affectionately known to many as Mother Emanuel because it is the oldest AME Church in the South. Over the years, the church has served as a beacon of hope for many generations of African Americans.

Probably all of us know about the sad events that transpired there on the evening of June 17th. A white man, Dylann, who was intent on starting a race war, entered the church with only unthinkable plans in mind. When he left the church an hour later, nine people were dead and one more was left injured.

There are reports that Dylann sat there for about an hour listening to the Bible Study they were having and even participating in the study near the end. During that hour, Dylann started to second guess himself about what led him to Mother Emanuel in the first place. Sadly, he decided to go through with his plans anyways.

When tragic events like these occur, I wonder what can I do? What can we do? Are we giving enough of ourselves?

In our current Capitalistic society, we are often told that time is money; what we devote our time to is what we truly invest in. With that colloquialism in mind, I am looking at generosity this morning more by what we spend our precious time on than how we use our money.

Last December when I preached here, I talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and the need to proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s Favor following the call of the prophet Isaiah. Seven months later, there are still calls of Black Lives Matter from protestors in the streets. Even more parents of color have been burying their daughters and sons far too young. We have new names, likeimgres-1 Freddie Gray and Walter Scott that are being held up, and new locales of Baltimore and North Charleston being invoked as epicenters for the movement. Like these prior tragedies, the shooting at Mother Emanuel has revealed how much work still needs to be done towards achieving racial justice.

We are hearing the calls for us to be involved in the movement.

Yet, how are we responding to these calls? Are we using our gift of time towards working for racial justice? Are we giving enough of ourselves?

Paul writes, “Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so” and then he adds an exhortation: “Now finish the work”. This last part Paul is demanding us to do more. In that context, this meant that the Corinthians needed to give more of their material wealth to Jerusalem.

But, what does this mean for us some two thousand years later? I would say that the need at this time is to use our white privilege to combat the racial injustice that our sisters and brothers of color are fighting against. It is also a call for self-examination as white people1397407175801 to think about the roles we unwittingly play in our current system that perpetuates injustice. We all have some internalized racism because we currently live in a society where institutional racism still thrives long after the Whites Only signs have been taken down.

One thing that I have been challenging myself on is re-imagining the Christ Jesus. We often see images of Jesus as a white man. This certainly would have been quite the sight in First Century Palestine: a really pale white man. Yet, all of the popular depictions of Jesus in the US and what we probably grew up with is seeing Jesus portrayed as a white man that looked like all of us in this room today.

The Black Liberation theologian James Cone writes:

For too long Christ has been pictured as a blue-eyed honky… We need to dehonkify him and thus make him relevant to the black condition.^.

urlI will add that dehonkifying Christ would also make Him more relevant to the white condition today, a condition that needs to really face the racial injustice in our midst.

What would it mean for us to follow a non-white Savior? A Christ that does not look like the more privileged class in the US, but more like the oppressed. With that challenge, would we more likely seek that of God within people that do not look like us or who do not happen to sit among us today in worship?

One of the many qualities that I value about Quakerism is our use of queries to help guide us going deeper in our faith and to discern what the will of God is for us at this time. The answers we may find one day could be quite different from the answers that we could come to at another time. These will change not because God changes, but our abilities and gifts change over time. For this reason, I ask a lot of questions in my message today because our answers will be different because God has equipped us with different abilities and gifts to further the creation of God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Some within our yearly meeting, North Carolina (Friends United Meeting) find this theology of continuing revelations distressing, but I find comfort in that because it honors Friends’ longtime witness that God is still speaking to our condition today, both as a corporate body and as individuals. We should always be listening for how God wants to use us and our abilities as disciples of God’s grace within today’s ever-changing world.

In the last part of the passage shared today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he talks about the need for fair balance in giving. In giving of ourselves, we need to be careful to rest and not burn out. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Racial justice will not be achieved quickly, so we need to pace ourselves for the long haul.

But we need to keep asking us along the way:

Are we giving enough of ourselves towards the cause of racial justice?

^ A Black Theology of Liberation, 29.


Kirk Cameron’s Acne: Accepting My Disabled Self in an Ableist World

I gave a version of this talk during a panel entitled “Community, Reconciliation, and Healing” during the Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Conference at Guilford College on May 6, 2015 under the title of “Learning to be Whole: Finding my Sexuality as a Person with a Disability in an Ableist World”. I have edited the manuscript and retitled it.

I feel that my journey in realizing my sexuality in an ableist world is paralleled to my spiritual journey. As a campus minister, these two journeys are so intertwined. I find that I cannot talk about one journey without the other.

When I was young, probably 8 or 9, I remember at least once crying at night and asking my mother why me? What did I do wrong to deserve a speech impediment? Why did God do this to me? I didn’t feel whole.


This is what I imagine when I think of a perfect Jesus and the first image shown when I did a Google search for “Perfect Jesus”. (Source)

Since a young age, I have had a difficult relationship with God. For a long time I tried to disassociate myself from Christianity because growing up on the northern edge of the Bible Belt there was a lot of talk about God, Christ, and perfection, as if perfection was the third part of the Trinity instead of the Holy Spirit. I often wondered: Why should I follow a God who curse me with a disability?

Since a young age, I treated my speech impediment as not part of my whole self. In essence, it was a detriment that kept me from succeeding in life. Part of this thinking was due to being misdiagnosed early in life. I remember, throughout elementary school, doctors thinking that I would grow out of my speech impediment by high school. I could not wait until high school.

Around this same time, I remember seeing a Full House episode, where two teenage girl characters, DJ and Kimmy, were talking about one of DJ’s male cousins, Steve, coming back to visit. Steve was supposed to be “nerdy-looking” or as Kimmy called him a “Geek-burger with cheese”: Glasses, braces, and acne.


Isn’t he a hottie? (Source)

Yet, when they open the door, he had no glasses, nice teeth and clear skin. The two girls found him to be hot. (The actor playing the cousin was Kirk Cameron, who in the late 1980s was considered to be one of the more attractive young male actors.)

The two teenage girls asked what happened to him. He explained that he now had contacts, the braces came off and the acne cleared up.

For years afterwards, I remembered the scene incorrectly. In my mind, Steve had said:One morning I woke up and bam the acne was gone.”

After watching that episode and having the wrong recollection of the scene, I dreamt that: One day I would awake and find that my speech impediment was totally gone, like Kirk Cameron’s acne.

I wished for that day to come for years! Once that day happened, I would be more accepted and girls would finally find me attractive.

But that day never came. I felt disappointed as high school went by and my speech impediment continued to stay, like unwanted acne.

I spent a lot of my teenage years and my twenties feeling alone and just wanting to be loved. Even though I had a loving family and a huge network of friends, I felt that I just needed romantic love to finally feel whole. But for the most part I didn’t have any luck with dating in college or right after.

Yet when my relationship with my now-wife, Jenn, started over four years ago, I quickly realized that, nope, romantic relationships were not the magical cure to the depth of self-hate I had. I still did not feel whole.

Soon after I started dating Jenn, I enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Over the years, I had felt called by God to ministry in different ways. Then, after college, I felt a call to seminary and I resisted the call for years, but I finally caved in and applied.

Throughout seminary I wrestled with my anger towards God and why God chose to give me a disability or at least why God did not prevent it. At one point in seminary, I started to view my disability as a gift as an attempt to quickly reconcile my anger with God with my calling to ministry in God’s name. But one of my field education supervisors called me out on using that kind of messed-up theology.

After that intervention with my supervisor, I was again at a loss for how to reconcile my anger with God and I realized it would be a difficult path.

Finally, in my last semester of seminary, I took Sexuality and the Christian Body. Through the class, I had finally able to deal with my anger with God about my disability and actually confront my feelings of feeling lonely and abandoned by God

Through the class I was able to admit that, yes my disability was not a gift, it felt more like a burden, but also I learned that I was not as alone as I once thought.

In reading Disabled God, by Nancy Eisland, for my final paper in the class, I realized that the Savior that I had been worshipped was differently-abled too. In her book, Eisland writes: “The disabled God repudiates the conception of disability as a consequence of individual sin… Our bodies… are not artifacts of sin, original or otherwise. Our bodies participate in the imago Dei, not in spite of our impairments and contingencies, but through them.”

In the Gospel of John, there is a scene after the Crucifixion when Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. In the scene, all of the apostles, besides Thomas, have encountered him after the Resurrection. But Thomas does not believe the others and Thomas says he will only believe when he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touch the wounds that Jesus had sustained on the cross.


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Jesus appears to Thomas and allows him to touch his wounds. This scene is known as Doubting Thomas and this story is mainly used to preach about the virtues of believing without seeing.

Yet, rereading this through the lens of Eisland’s book, I see this scene in a completely different way. Through this scene, I realized my conception of a perfect God, a perfect Jesus, was false. Christ could have come back perfect but He didn’t. Instead He bore the wounds He had suffered up on the Cross. He came back differently-abled.

My disability is not a hindrance to the Kingdom of God but just a part of my whole being, just as God created. I am indeed made in the image of God, as it is written in Genesis 1.

For years, I have let my sexuality and my spirituality be defined in an ableist world where perfection is the measure, but not anymore. My disability is not like Kirk Cameron’s acne. My speech impediment is part of me, not an unwanted inconvenience that will clear up one day.

I am disabled and both God and Jenn love me just as I am!

How Do We Proclaim This is the “Year of Lord’s Favor”?

I preached this sermon on December 14, 2014 at Spring Friends Meeting, near Snow Camp, NC. The text I used for this passage was Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11.

Over the last few weeks, we have heard the voices of the oppressed. We have heard their voices coming from Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and beyond. We have heard their cries yelling #BlackLivesMatter

Perhaps we have even tried to cry with them as we stood in the streets or as we prayed.

A week and half ago I stood in the streets the evening after the Grand Jury did not indict the police officers involved in killing Eric Garner over untaxed cigarettes. It was a time for public mourning. The tears and the anger all came out at once. It was not just about Eric and the way he died. He is just the latest one who did not get justice at all. People of color are tired of the injustice that criminalizes their bodies and are weary of the continuous fight to make their lives matter to the wider world.

In our Scripture reading today, we are hearing that it is the right time to proclaim that this is the “year of Lord’s Favor.” How do we proclaim that this is the “year of Lord’s Favor” in such a time full of injustice and mourning?

We are hearing from a prophet whom scholars call the third Isaiah. This third prophet appears in the Book of Isaiah when the Israelites have returned to their land from the exile in Babylon. What should be a joyous return has been marked with conflict between those who stayed behind and those who are returning. This is not what one would think would be exactly the events for a year to be declared the “year of Lord’s Favor”.

In this time that other Christians call Advent, the season right before Christmas, many see allusions in this Old Testament reading today to the coming of Christ, to the birth of the Messiah. In less than two weeks, that Good News is coming, Christ is coming, coming to be born to Mary & Joseph in a manger in Bethlehem.

This text from Isaiah is one that Jesus Himself preaches. According to the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, upon returning to Nazareth, Jesus reads this scripture in the temple. As we see throughout Luke, in Jesus’ time, Israel has its fair share of injustice and is being ruled once again by an outside Empire.

How can we proclaim that this is the “year of the Lord’s favor” during such a time of outrage and tragedy? When people feel the farthest from God’s love and righteousness?

In my own faith journey, there was a long time that I felt estranged from Christ. As a boy with a pronounced speech impediment, I did not feel God’s love when I suffered taunts and stares. Even today with two degrees, strangers still treat me as less than human upon hearing me speak. As if a person who is mentally handicapped is less than human. I often wondered: “Why did God curse me with an imperfect body?”

Even with my experiences, I do not know what it is like to have my whole existence as a human being disregarded just because of the pigment of my skin. What is like to be treated as nothing more than an animal, before and after death, like Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland? I do not know what it means to have a loved one lay out in the middle of the street for four and half hours in broad daylight in one’s own neighborhood, like Michael Brown in Ferguson.

How do we proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor”? What does the Good News to the Oppressed mean when there is only mourning in the streets and no sense of justice?

Christ’s beginning is not what we generally think about as “good news”. Jesus was born to poor parents outside in the elements because there was no room for them to stay at the inn. Shortly thereafter they all had to flee from an oppressive regime into a foreign land.

Years later, Jesus was later mocked and brutally executed by this same oppressive Empire. Yet another person of color executed in unfair circumstances, whose body was left outside for a long period of time to be mocked. Yet, in the end, we all know that the Roman Empire did not win. In the story of Christ, we know the ending; the State killed him after a sham of a trial, only to be Risen again. In that ultimate injustice, there was an everlasting justice that happened and is still happening today.

So how do we proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor”?

This starts by realizing that our human justice system is flawed.

In the second part of the passage we heard today from Isaiah, we hear Isaiah say while channeling the Lord, “For I the Lord love justice” What does God’s justice look like? Let us first remember Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Within this we can also remember the Quaker saying that there is a piece of God within each of us.

These two things are not taken in account in our humanly courtrooms. As we further divide ourselves into stringent categories of good and bad. We criminalize and demonize the part of humanity that does not fit in or fall in line, like bodies of color and disabled bodies.

We can start fighting for the kind of justice that builds God’s Kingdom here on Earth, where the Lord’s justice will forever reign. This is where people of color will be treated as fully human. This is where people with disabilities will be treated as valuable members of the community with diverse gifts to offer.

Our justice comes from a higher power and we are being called into the streets to proclaim this. This is the year of the Lord’s favor!

At the end of this passage from Isaiah, the prophet says, “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In this barren winter land, I know there are the seeds of justice that are able to burst up at any moment. We do not have to wait until the spring for this new growth. This seed of God’s Kingdom is within each of us and we can share this when we stand up for justice for all!

Let’s go out and proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s favor and fight for this everlasting justice to reign here on Earth!

Confronting Ableism within Christianity

Last Monday, noted Jeopardy winner and Mormon Ken Jennings tweeted out:

When I saw that tweet shortly, I was disheartened to see such an ableist and ignorant tweet. The tweet reminded me of the meme that George Takei posted on social media last month which mocked a woman in a wheelchair reaching up and grabbing a bottle of alcohol. Like Takei had, after the posting Ken received numerous replies saying that his attempt at humor was in poor taste and calling him an ableist. Sadly, unlike Takei, when challenged, Jennings did not rescind his tweet or make any effort to apologize.

As a Christian with a disability, this brings up a topic that I have struggled with, like many people with disabilities, for a long time: Being desired while embodying an imperfect body. As I grew up, I yearned to be deemed “dateable” by my female peers. People would say I was nice, but I was never referred to as hot or attractive. I felt left out in the whole dating scene for most of my teenage and young adult years. In part, I now see this yearning also as a cry for love that I could not give myself because I had internalized the hate that was directed towards me over the years. All the taunts, jokes, and stares when I spoke affected my own self worth to an extent that I am just now realizing.

Last Spring I reflected on my sexuality as a Christian with a disability when I took a class entitled Sexuality and the Christian Body. When I was a child, I thought that God gave me a speech impediment as a sin. One reason was that I was often reminded how I was different than others. Within the church then and today, Christians often talk about the perfect body of Christ. This “perfect” talk leaves many of us with disabilities feeling left out of the Body of Christ with our deformities of one kind or other. Often, we are treated as charity cases, rather than valuable members of the body of Christ. This talk affects how we are seen outside of Church setting too. More often, we are pitied rather than desired because our bodies are deemed imperfect.

But as I was working through these issues during the Lenten and the Easter seasons, I started to view the body of Christ in a new way. When Christ is resurrected, the apostle Thomas does not believe and states “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’” (John 20:25 NRSV).

When Christ does appear to Thomas, He invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Christ does not appear wound-free, but nevertheless He is perfect. This is the body we are invited into as disciples: A perfect differently-abled body of Christ. We are all invited no matter our abilities into this body.

Like most Christians, Jennings unfortunately refuses to see the beauty of people with disabilities. Denying the beauty of our differently-abled bodies denies the differently-abled body of Christ which we are all a part of.

– Greg