Birthday Poem & Queries about Dismantling Oppression

For the third year in a row, I want to share a poem with you all for my birthday.

A Small Needful Fact
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

For the last several years, I have been working on understanding racism and the ways I benefit and how I uphold structures of oppression, especially racism. This is hard work and I constantly continue to make mistakes.

In this ongoing work, I have learned that while dismantling systems and structures of oppressions, I need to also think about how to create new structures and new systems that work to center the experiences of the oppressed. We, the oppressed and oppressed, need new models of how to be truly free from systemic oppression.

In thinking about this new growth, this poem reminds me that the fruits of our labor may outlive us and continue to subvert the power structures for a long time. As the poem points out, even through the state unjustly took away Eric’s breath, his own handiwork might still be helping others to breathe and thrive to this very day.

As a Christian, that is what encourages me about the Cross, death and the state did not have the final word. Jesus rose again to give freedom to the oppressed.

Here are some queries:

  • How are you working to understand how systemic oppression affects your life?
  • How are you working to be free?
  • Where are you seeing new growth in your daily lives that subverts these oppressed structures?

I am interested in reading your responses. They would be great gifts to me on my birthday.

Are Young Adult Friends Ready to Lead?

In March, I gave a talk via Skype to the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends Gathering on the future of Quakers and the need for Young Adult Friends to take leadership.  – Greg

In 1652, a 28 year old uneducated young man climbed Pendle Hill and at the top of that hill he had a vision of a great people gathered. This vision is what brings us together today. George Fox saw that the time was ripe for a major shift in his society and I will argue that we are in a time today where a major shift is needed in our society.

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George Fox preaching (Source)

George Fox and early Friends were a radical band of seekers. They caused a lot of ruckus
and they were unafraid of voicing their convictions and telling others that their beliefs were completely wrong. They had a powerful message for the masses that Christ Jesus came to teach himself. They certainly were not afraid to share that message with anyone. They even had the gall to try to convert the Pope and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Early Quakers had fervor in part because of the political climate that England was in due to an ongoing civil war. Many felt that they were near the end of days and that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. In part, I would argue that we are in a similar time period. Even though I do not think that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, we are reaching a critical point in history, a time that we need to be on fire again.

More than 350 years after early Quakers began preaching their message, I sense a burning desire among people today to find a community that is uncorrupted by the current corporate church culture. Because of the recent culture wars and the obscene wealth that some churches flaunt around, many people have left the church in disgust and some of them have become refugees within Quakerism, especially liberal Quakerism. But a lot have just left the Church altogether, which is why we have a lot of people, identifying as a “none” and/or Spiritual But Not Religious.

We are seeing an upheaval in society with the Occupy movement a couple years ago and now with Climate activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. These are callings, yearnings for a major shift in society. Most of these movements have offered/are offering temporary community, which only lasts as long as the next victory looks possible. The Indian social activist Arundhati Roy said about 15 years ago, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Quakerism has a lot to offer these movements, much like what early Quakers were offering in 1650s to the English society. In some ways, what we have to offer will not look much different than what early Friends were offering, yet in other ways they are completely different.

Early Quakers did believe in the sacraments, but not in the outward forms of the sacraments because first they did not believe that Jesus required them in the Bible and second they felt that the practice of outward sacraments over the centuries had made the practices to become empty, devoid of meaning. They wanted to recapture early Christian fervor to revive Christianity from its dull, hierarchical form that it looked like by the 1640s and 50s because the church had become institutional and corrupted. Early Friends wanted to find an uncorrupted faith that was rooted in community.

One of the most radical things that early Friends offer was the idea that an individual could have a direct relationship with God. They were raising up the idea of individualism in a time when people were grouped in the masses. As Quakers, we still believe in direct revelation, but our most radical offering to the wider world is a heartfelt commitment to community in the face of growing individualism. Other churches invite people to the table for outward communion on a weekly or monthly basis. But our inward communion happens whenever two or more are gathered for worship. We are participating in this sacred communion tonight. This communion has the power to sustain people hungry for change longer than any short-term victory could ever provide.

The time right now is ripe for a major shift. Quakers can provide a place to spiritually support this important work and the people involved. Are we willing?

Are we as Young Adult Friends willing to take on leadership for this shift? The shift in the Religious Society of Friends should come from Young Adult Friends. We have been at the forefront of change since the 1650s. As a denomination, we were founded by a young adult, someone younger than I am. Then in the 1860s, not too far from First Friends Meeting, it was young adults within Indiana Yearly Meeting who insisted on gathering outside of the yearly meeting program to sing and offer vocal ministry. This helped to lead Quakerism outside of the Quietism period. It was young adult Friends in Philadelphia who started meeting together in the 1910s- 1920s. This effort helped to lead to the founding of the Friends World Committee on Consultation and the unification efforts to rejoin the Hicksite-Orthodox yearly meetings in the Philadelphia area and other surrounding yearly meetings.

Sometimes I see more young adult Quakers at rallies and at retreats than I do at meeting for worship on Sunday morning. Are we living up to or down to what is expected of us? What are we offering to our meetings? Are we opting in? I don’t think it is easy to be a Young Adult Friend in a lot of Quaker meetings. Some are great, but many are indifferent or even hostile. Older Quakers tend to ask people in their late 20s or early 30s if they still in college. Or else regard us as not willing to stick around, so Friends do not even try to learn the names of young adults who attend their meetings/churches. I have been to some meetings where no one will greet you even if they know you are a newcomer. Sometimes it is not easy, but are we making an effort? What alternatives are there? We could also be starting our own worship groups and inviting people into a deeper communion together. For example, in Greensboro along with others I have started a monthly young adult group where we meet for potluck and worship. Young Adults come from different meetings and even no meeting to meet together for this time of fellowship. Are we willing to step up and lead?

We already have young adult Friends changing the landscape of the Religious Society of Friends and inviting non Quakers in at the same time. I want to highlight the work of a Young Adult Friend Christina Repoley and the founding of Quaker Voluntary Service. (A disclaimer: I am on the board of the organization.) Christina graduated from Guilford and wanted to find a way to serve Quakers. Like other young adult Quakers, she quickly found herself living in Philadelphia and a while she started working for a Quaker organization. But she did not feel supported by Quakers in general.

During her time in Philadelphia, Christina became friends with several young adult Mennonites and they had fond memories of service opportunities from Mennonite Voluntary Service. Christina wondered why is there was nothing like that in Quakerism. This question led to an almost a decade long journey that led Christina to finding people to help her build what is now Quaker Voluntary Service.  Along the way, Christina invited others, including other young adults to join her in her vision. Her vision became a collaborative effort that bought Quakers together from different branches to dream big. Ten years after graduating and feeling unsupported by Quakers, the first cohort of young adults moved into a QVS house in Atlanta, GA.

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2015-2016 QVS Fellows

Now four and half years later, there are about 25 young adults living in houses in four cities. About half are Quakers and the momentum is still growing. QVS is re-engaging young adult Friends into Quakerism and introducing others to Quakerism for the first
time. Local meetings in these four cities are feeling re-energized by these QVS Fellows. All this has happened from a young adult Friend who was frustrated by a lack of support by Quakerism.

What ideas do you have to re-energize the Religious Society of Friends? What ideas can meet the needs of the people who are hungry for something more?

One idea I have is the formation of a nationwide Quaker campus ministry program. Other denominations and faiths have programs to nurture their college students who do not go to their denominational schools, but not the Quakers. There are some local efforts here and there across the country, but they greatly vary in quality and effectiveness. These ministries attract non Quaker students as well. Despite knowing that some of our leaders have come to Quakerism while attending non Quaker institutions, Quakers have made no effort to make a big push to offer a nationwide campus ministry program or much less materials to help Friends thinking about reaching out to college students. I have witnessed that college students are searching for something more meaningful, something more fulfilling than what the regular college experience can offer. Many students realize they have a need for a time for quiet reflection, which Quakerism can offer.

Whatever we do, we need to be mindful that it takes time. I know that I find this frustrating because I am a very impatient person. It is very hard for me to practice patience, but I am trying my best.

Last weekend, my IMG_20160309_165304972.jpgpregnant wife Jenn and I planted seeds for our garden and put them in a window sill, to be planted outside in a couple weeks. The next day during meeting for worship, I realized that when she gives birth in late June, we will hopefully be harvesting some of the produce that came from these seeds we just planted. In both instances, I do not know what the fruits of our/her labor will be exactly, but I do know that we can only hope that with love, patience, and maintenance, we can give both the plants and our baby the best chance to thrive in the outside world.

Whatever we try will not necessary thrive. Within a garden, not everything bears
fruit. One year might be a bumper crop but another year we could have a drought and everything could be lost. Along with all of this is the knowledge that we are not in total control, so faith and hope are important components of gardening and parenting. Faith and hope are also important in ministry and working on finding a way forward. How are we preparing the ground to grow these vital ministries to meet the world’s need? How are we working to support each other?

More importantly, are we Young Adult Friends willing to step up and lead the Religious Society of Friends in a new direction?

 

A Kind of Love That Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached on February 14th at Spring Friends Meeting.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a romantic holiday, which celebrates love. A lot of couples will celebrate today by sharing gifts, eating out at a romantic restaurant, or getting away for the whole weekend. I have a hunch that 1 Corinthians 13 will be read or recited a lot today between couples and in churches around the country in honor of today. You may even see it quoted on church signs or posted on social media today. I am fairly certain that I am not the only person preaching on this chapter today.

I am glad that this chapter will be read a lot today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful piece of writing. My favorite part of this chapter is verses 4-8: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

These verses are often recited at weddings. It is really beautiful to reflect on what romantic love could be like. If a couple followed these guidelines for love, it would certainly build a great foundation for an long-lasting, romantic relationship.

Yet, people often take this chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth completely out of context. Paul is not talking about romantic love at all in 1 Corinthians 13, not even close. Paul does not care at all about the romantic lives of the Christians in Corinth. He is talking about a greater kind of love.

In Chapter 12 of his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul is talking about the variety of spiritual gifts that Christians may possess. His overall point for Chapter 13 is about how we can only use our spiritual gifts in the most effective way if it is done with love. The Greek word that Paul uses in this chapter is agape. Paul does not use the Greek word eros, which is translated more as romantic love. Instead, agape translates to mean benevolence and good will. Christians have translated agape to mean God’s unconditional love. For example in the King James Version, agape is translated to English as charity, instead of love, unlike the New Revised Standard Version translation that I just read from.

Even though Paul does not talk about romantic love in this chapter, I still want to talk about this type of love on Valentine’s Day. For me, to only define love in one way, only in the romantic sense, robs us of a deeper love that Paul is talking about. A love that Jesus came to teach us about himself: An unconditional love from God that is given to us just because we exist. No matter who we are or what we have done, God still loves us, each of us.

On Facebook in recent days, I have seen friends my age reminiscing about what Valentine’s Day was like in elementary school. Valentine’s Day back then meant that everyone received a card and some candy. Ideally, back then, no one was singled out to get more cards or candy, nor left out of the exchange at all. For me this example illustrates what I believe God’s love is like. God loves each one of us the same way.

With the knowledge of this love comes responsibilities that we must bear. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is reminding us about these responsibilities that this love entails. We need to treat each other like the children of God we are, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is not an easy task by far. I often fail to love others, especially the people who I disagree with on matters I hold dear.

This is perhaps a great reminder to have right now. Currently, we are struggling among each other in the yearly meeting and also we are in the midst of yet another bitter Presidential election season. In this time of intense disagreement, let’s keep asking ourselves: How do we seek that of God within everyone we encounter?

At the same time, more is required of us than just passively loving each other despite our differences. It is a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly implores His followers to show solidarity with the oppressed. We need to take heed of this call to action, especially with the numerous injustices currently happening within our wider community, like mass incarceration, police brutality, eroding of voting rights, mass deportations of undocumented people of color. I could go on listing the social ills affecting our society. Most of these injustices do not directly affect us, as a congregation largely made up of privileged white people. This is precisely why we need to be working in solidarity with those affected by oppression at the same time challenging the status quo.

The scholar and activist Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” We need to be showing up in solidarity with the oppressed to fight for justice, whether that means attending Moral Monday protests, educating others about injustices in our community, or helping people learn their own rights. To take action will look different for each person, but we all need to be doing something.

Whatever we do, we must continue to be mindful that we are affirming the dignity of the oppressed, not using them just to pat ourselves on the back. In the same vein, we need to lovingly challenge people in power, not demonize them. We should not be doing this work if at the end of the day we still feel superior towards the oppressed or smug towards people in power. This work should be done in partnership to achieve liberation for all. The Aboriginal activists group once said: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” God is calling us towards a collective liberation. Are we heeding this call?

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember to love each other unconditionally just as God love us and further challenge ourselves by asking: How are we seeking that of God within each person we encounter? How are we showing up for justice in our communities? Where is God calling us to challenge the systems of oppression affecting our neighbors?

Because this kind of love never ends!

God Is With Us, Indeed

During my summer chaplain internship several years ago, I met a patient who had became paralyzed as a young adult. She was a patient at the hospital several times during that summer. Each time I tried to visit she would immediately turned me away.

On my last visit with her, shortly before my internship ended, she asked me to say a prayer for her. Even though it was in the middle of the day, the blinds were shut and the lights were off, so the room was completely dark except for the light coming from the hallway through the open door that I keep ajar so I could see enough to walk to her bedside.

After I prayed, I felt that she wanted me to leave. As I was about to leave the room, she asked in a loud voice: “How do you know that God actually exist?”

I replied: “Because I have felt God’s presence in my life.”

“I think people make God up to just to make people worry less about death. Why am I in all this pain then?” she asked.

“I do not know why this is happening to you, but it is not by God.”

Our conversation continued and I talked about believing in God while having a speech impediment. I explained that my theology doesn’t believe that God caused pain as an act of revenge, but also I don’t know when God does not prevent pain.

I remember feeling that amid all of the pain  and sorrow in the room that I did believed God was with us that day.

Last Sunday at First Friends Meeting, we looked at the passage of Matthew 1:23: “’Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”

During this Advent season, I have been remembering again that God is with us indeed. Even in the midst of all the violence, terrorism, and so much misery happening in the world, God is still with us.

More on Quaker Theology of Continuing Revelation

I gave this sermon on August 9, 2015 at Spring Friends Meeting.

As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said. ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.

– George Fox

In June, when I was last here, I mentioned the Quaker theology of continuing revelation. In that sermon, I said, “Some within our yearly meeting find this theology of continuing revelation distressing, but I find comfort in this theology 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.”

Today I want to expand on this point and, by doing so; I will make a passionate defense for the theology of continuing revelation within modern Quakerism and within our yearly meeting.

For me, as a Christian Quaker, the words of George Fox, written above, still inform how I view my relationship with Christ: Christ as a heavenly guide, still leading us two millennia later. In the Gospel of John 1:9, it is stated that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is the Light that is still among us and within us.

If we honestly believe that God has stopped speaking, all that God have ever said is in the Bible, let’s just close up shop right now and start calling us the Historical Society of Friends. Let’s just read the Bible as a historical novel that has no relevance to how we live today. Let us stop having waiting worship and pretending that we will somehow hear the voice of God today. Let us board up this meetinghouse and do our study of the Holy Scriptures in private.

But I do not believe this and this meeting does not believe this either. Throughout my readings of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, I see God is always present in the journeys of God’s people, even at the most difficult points of time. God was present with Moses, God was present with Ruth and Naomi, God was present with Christ on the cross, and God was present with the women as they discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. And God is still present with us today through God’s son, Jesus Christ, and God is still speaking to our condition today.

Why would God abandon us generations later and not continue to reveal Godself to us? In a way Quakerism should be described as a corporate journey towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Friend Lloyd Lee Wilson from our sister yearly meeting North Carolina Conservative writes: “God continues to teach those who make themselves available to be taught how to live according to the Divine Will in the present day. Continuing Revelation does not involve a new Gospel, but teaches us how to live out the Everlasting Gospel in our current circumstances.”

Our current circumstances bear some resemblance to First Century Palestine where an Empire was in charge of a large part of the world and injustice was rampant throughout the countryside. Yet, in many other ways, Twentieth First Century USA is also vastly different than First Century Palestine. We know more about the wider world and how the world functions than humans have ever known before. These scientific advances have largely helped the world to prolong and improve life. Some believe that these advances have led us into a new age where God is not needed; we have advanced beyond the need for Christ

Yet, I do not want to replace my belief in Christ with believing in only scientific knowledge, as some New Atheists have suggested. Science without morality has brought us the atomic bomb and other increased capabilities to kill each other, which have only increased misery in our world. We still need to offer moral guidance for the world and to proclaim that God is still present within our world and within our lives

Friend Lloyd Lee also reminds us that this is not a new Gospel that is being created through the continuing revelations we receive. Some liberal Friends have interpreted the theology of continuing revelation as a way to disregard the Bible and I think some conservative-theologically Friends within our yearly meeting fear that more liberal-theologically Friends are using/will use this theology as a way to discount the Bible and Christ. We are not trying to create a new Gospel but trying to understand what God’s message means in today’s context.

I want to go further with this and say that God will reveal Godself according to our individual and corporate abilities. For example, not in the too distant past, this meeting would not have approved of same-sex marriage. Friends here have now realized that God’s love applies to the LGBTQ community. But what if I brought a message advocating for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community to this meeting in 1990 or 1970 or even 1950? Would it have been too much for the meeting? What has happened in the intervening years? God hasn’t changed, instead we have changed and we are still changing. I often wonder what beliefs do we hold today that future generations will be stunned to learn about and think, “What were they thinking back then?”

Also, since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, one year ago today, we have started to look deeply at racism within our community and within ourselves in a different way than we have before. The shout of Black Lives Matter have brought this topic to the forefront in this country and we are slowly responding. We still have a ways to go in confronting the embedded racism within our midst. But that is the Good News: God will continue to be with us as we stumble towards creating God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Before I end my message today, I want to speak about the dangers within continuing revelation. I have already spoken about how people think that we have surpassed the need for Christ and the Bible. I have also seen people with big egos run over others by saying that this is the will of God or that God has told them that others should follow them. Yet, this should not be happening as much as I see because Friends over the centuries have developed corporate and individual discernment processes to test leadings of individuals and of the larger bodies.

Within the theology of continuing revelation, we still need to heed this framework that Friends have developed over the last three centuries to test and carry leadings. Sadly I do not see many Friends heeding this advice and a lot of the strife within our yearly meeting is due to a lack of commitment to corporate discernment and discipline.

Let us continue to not only deepen our individual and corporate discernment into what God is revealing to us while we gather together, but also recommit to practices of testing and carry leadings among us to be certain that we are listening to God, not our egos.

God still needs us to be God’s disciples within the world and to work towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

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.

jesus-270x191

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.

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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.

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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!