Monday, December 30, 2013

Engagement and Marriage

I've been engaged for a whole five days now.  I enjoy being able to use the word fiance and I'm excited for us to both wear our rings (mine had to be specially ordered because I have tiny fingers).  That being said, I am not in this for rings or ceremony planning.  In fact, I'm kind of dreading planning  a wedding. I just want my family and friends to be there and be a part of the liturgical ceremony at the church.
I've been thinking a lot about why anybody gets married or why we in particular are getting married.   I know many people get married to the person they want to have children with. I think that's a good idea, but what does it mean if neither party is all that interested in producing offspring? What does marriage truly mean?
Here's what I think it means.
In contrast to other popular blogs about it, I don't think it's about putting the other person first.  I approach our relationship knowing that my fiance is an independent full grown man who doesn't need me to baby him.  Nor do I need him to put me first and neglect his own needs.  He is who he is. I am here to help him on his bad days and to encourage him to follow his dreams.  I expect the same treatment from him. If things aren't going as expected, we need to talk it out and compromise. We're equal partners.  But that's the kind of relationship we've had all along.  We don't need to be married to continue being there for each other and to encourage each other.
I want to get married because I want to make a commitment before God to be there and be present with him through thick and thin.  I want to stand before God and say, "I will be there".  I want to invite God into the mix.  I know that some time down the road I won't like my husband that much.  I'll be mad about something, life will be hard, I will want to throw up my hands.  These moments happen in even the best marriages.  In those moments, I want to look at my husband and remember our vows.  I want to invite God to help us through.  I will need strength from God to be stubborn enough to talk it through and work it out.
Marriage to me is ultimately a stubborn commitment.  It's a wonderful joyous thing, but it's also going to be a lot of work.  But we can invite God to be there in the midst of it with us.  And I think my fiance is worth any bumps we may encounter down the road.
When death do us part, I want to look back and be able to say, "Look where God led us" and "May God lead us further still".

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sermon on the Unjust Judge 10/20/13

Texts used:
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

A woman with little power comes before a powerful judge, the only person who has authority to help her.  She is in desperate need.  She doesn’t use formal niceties in addressing him, she simply states, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”  Perhaps she already knew about the judge’s injustice, it obviously wasn’t a secret that the judge didn’t care for God or people.  He states his opinions on that matter boldly.  But since he, being a judge, had been charged to protect the orphan, stranger, and widow, she refuses to give up until he grants her protection. She is relentless in pursuing it. She comes day in and day out, and she is always bold in her statements.  She will stand for nothing less than justice, and finally the judge gives it to her, not because he cares for her, but because he is afraid she won’t stop harassing him if he doesn’t give her justice.  
What does this story have to do with prayer or God? First of all, Jesus very clearly states that God is not like this judge.  While this judge doesn’t care for people, God has great concern for the oppressed, who cry to God day and night. And while the judge has to be pressured to fulfill his duties in protecting the downtrodden, God will not delay long in helping them.  God seeks to always grant justice to them.  So why is justice not always granted? Why is it that people have to fight for justice if God is willing to grant it?
The unjust judge becomes a caricature of why justice is hard to receive.  In big bold strokes, Jesus paints the portrait of why suffering can often go unjustified.  It is not because God doesn’t want justice, it is because people can often ignore God or not care for other people.  In this caricature, the complexities of power dynamics are simplified in those two statements about the judge.  He neither feared God nor had respect for people.  Those in power are often less caring of those who have little, ignoring God’s care for the oppressed.
That means that in order to gain justice, people need to be persistent.  They need to come before those in power and demand that they give justice.  It’s an uphill struggle, but just as the widow came before the judge daily, those working for justice have to continue to put pressure on those in power. 
But what does this have to do with prayer? The parable is prefaced by the words, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  Do we need to persist in telling God our needs to encourage God to hurry up and grant justice? Many have heard that message within this parable, and they argue that while God is obviously not an unjust judge, you need to be persistent in prayer if you are to truly gain God’s justice in your life.  God is similar to the unjust judge because God’s justice can often come delayed, but it is not because God doesn’t care, but because God sometimes delays justice for God’s own reasons. 
I don’t buy that.  Jesus does tell this parable to encourage his followers to be in persistent prayer, but God is not to be equated in any sense with the judge.  We are to be in persistent in prayer not because God can sometimes delay justice, but because we have to have strength to remain persistent against the injustices of the world.  Christ has one body within the world, and we are it.  We are called to align ourselves with the widows, the oppressed, and those in need, continually coming before the oppressors.  God has called us to help bring justice to the world.  God has called us to help bring justice for them. 
How are we to stand by them and not grow weary and tired?  How are we to not lose heart?  We have to stay in prayer. How are we to understand our call?   We have to keep communicating with God.  Otherwise, we will turn away before justice is granted. 
This all sounds very weighty, and in many ways it is, but it is not impossible. For God has not called each individual to tackle all the oppressions of the world.  We each have our own special call.  There are calls that seem quite large, like the call of Martin Luther King Junior to help lead a movement for racial equality, and there are calls that seem quite small, like the call of a person to drop clothes and food in wire baskets at the back of the church.  But both of these calls are calls to march with the widow, they both knock on the doors of those in power and demand that the oppressed be given attention. And when God calls, God doesn’t consider one call to be large and another small, because all calls help bring God’s justice into the world.
Dear siblings in Christ, I encourage you to proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.  Convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.  Carry out your ministry fully.  For God is calling us to stand by the widows who come up against unjust judges, and we can prevail with ardent prayer.

Friday, September 27, 2013

After the Protest - Raw Thoughts

We had an amazing protest at school today, protesting giving Rev. Eddie Fox a distinguished alumni award, because he has been a voice against LGBTQ inclusion in the United Methodist Church.  Rev. Fox was not available to be at the awards ceremony, but this was our way to voice our disagreement with giving this award to a man who has worked to keep hurt in the Book of Discipline.  We stood outside during the awards ceremony with signs, chants, and songs. There were stories of hurt and stories of hope shared. We were bold in our statements against the award.
After the awards ceremony several people who were inside at the awards ceremony came out and thanked us. One elderly man in particular came out and told us to keep up the good fight.  He was from South Carolina and had lived through the civil rights movement there.  He told us that when protests and marches were going on in his community, there were many people who didn't understand why people were upset and wanted them to just calm down.  He told us to fight on.  I will always remember him and love him for his words of inspiration.
I know that things will quiet down for a while now.  The award will still be talked about and agonized over, but there isn't another protest planned.  There is also less urgency now that this protest is over. But I don't want anyone to think that this is finished. Because for some of us who were affected by this, it won't be over for a long time.  And I personally will never be okay with this award.  I will never just get over it.   
I left the United Methodist Church voluntarily about a year ago because I knew that being queer jeopardized my chance of ever being ordained, and I couldn't imagine never being able to preside over the table at communion, never being able to teach and preach, never being able to help parishioners in their times of deepest need. It is what I'm called to and what I dream of spending the rest of my life doing. 
I also needed to be fully myself to be fully present to the people I was to help.  I couldn't compartmentalize my life, because it wasn't going to be healthy for me and was going to hurt my ministry. I just want to be a whole me, with all my eccentricities, because I believe that somehow God can use all of me to help spread the gospel. 
So I left the UMC, and I came to a church where I can be myself.  I love where I'm at, but I also had not quite gotten over the hurt I felt at the UMC's Book of Discipline. Then I heard of Rev. Fox receiving this award and about how he has worked hard to keep the wording in the UMC's Book of Discipline that made me leave the denomination. I could feel a piece of my heart break.  My school hurt me, bringing all this stuff that I had been slowly working through to the forefront of my heart. 
If Rev. Fox hadn't been nominated for a distinguished alumni award by Candler, I could have probably worked through stuff and been able to appreciate the UMC for their strengths and occasionally go to services.  I would never become United Methodist again, but I wouldn't hold any grudges.  It was my decision to leave, I was never hurt by anyone, and I had actually been supported in becoming a certified candidate. I had to leave because I didn't feel that I was called to fight within that denomination, I was called to another denomination.
But this Rev. Fox debacle stirred up stuff inside me, and the more I heard about how he worked at General Conferences to keep the wording that is hurtful within the Book of Discipline and the more I delved into the logistics of his work, the more disgust I felt.  It's strange, but a distinguished alumni award given by my seminary made me unable to even consider stepping into a United Methodist Church in the near future.  I can't do it, even if it is the most reconciling and gay friendly congregation in the denomination.  I can't even go to our seminary's chapel services right now because they are too Methodist.  There is something inside me that broke, and I may never be able to walk into a United Methodist Church again.  The wounds of the words of the Book of Discipline run too deep, and I've learned too much about the battles at General Conference and how steep of a hill the Reconciling Ministries Network has to climb before the denomination will be fully inclusive.
I will carry a scar on my heart for the rest of my life because of this award. It cut me in a way that a lot of people can't understand, and I can't fully rationalize myself. 
All I can do now is pray and work for Candler to become more inclusive.  I want them to make policies that ensure that people who hold stances against the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people will never receive another award from our school.  We would not give distinguished alumni awards to people who are racist or sexist, we need to ensure that we would not give an award to someone who is against the equality of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. 
This has hurt our community.  I love my school, but I will certainly never be the same now that my school has given this award.  I have been damaged, and that is not okay.  It will never be okay. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Letter to Eddie Fox

Dear Reverend Fox,

You will be hearing soon about students at Candler School of Theology who are protesting your reception of an alumni award.  And yes, it's because of your stance on homosexuality.  You've been a voice strongly in opposition of those of us who aren't straight but have been called to ordained ministry. You've helped to ensure that many of us who felt called while members of the United Methodist Church leave the denomination.  In my own case, I know that I could have stayed and been well supported by people in my conference who know me and know my call.  But in the end, I would have to stand against the Book of Discipline, and I couldn't bring myself to break the rules.  I don't self-identify as homosexual, but that's not really the heart of the rule, is it?  The point of the rule is to weed out those who aren't straight, and the good Lord knows I am not a heterosexual.
I left for a church where my sexual orientation was about as relevant to the ordination process as my skin color.  I must say, I am a more complete individual becuase I made that decision. I don't have to worry about the gender of the person I'm dating, because in the end, it's not relevant to how I live out my call.  I understand that we are all first and foremost Children of God, given full membership in the church through our baptisms, and sent out to do God's mission through our confirmations.  If it is God's will that one should seek ordination, why should one's sexual orientation be a barrier?
There are two groups of people I wish you could meet.  And I mean truly meet, without your biases leading you to judge those around you at the table.
The first are the people like me who left the United Methodist Church because of the statements in the Book of Discipline.  And it's not just gay people - there are plenty of allies too, who could not serve in a church that denies ordination to certain people based on their sexual orientation and does not allow pastors to perform same sex marriages.  Many have turned away from the homophobia that is inherent in the statements found in the Book of Discipline.  We're all doing ministry as God has called us to.  Some of us are ordained or seeking ordination in different denominations and some are lay leaders.  We're all serving the body of Christ, prayerfully working to help others deepen their discipleship.
The second group are the people who stay and fight.  You know some of these people already - they are the people you work against.  But I think if you sat at the table with them, you would find people who are just as passionate about the United Methodist Church as you are.  People who care about the global mission of the church and don't want to impede its growth in Africa, but cannot with good conscious allow their church to endorse homophobia. They are working for a better United Methodist Church, just like you are.
I think you could learn much from these groups.  I know if you sat at a table with me, you might be surprised at how much we agree on.  I want to ensure that people have a clear understanding of the Bible and the tenants found within it. That's why I don't hang my hat on seven prooftexts that can easily fall when you look at the cultural context and the language in which they were written.  The ancient authors of the text didn't have words for homosexuality, and the way the texts are used to endorse discrimination against homosexuals is a modern creation, brought about in the 20th century.  Instead, I chose to focus on what Jesus told us to do.  I agree full heartedly that we are to follow the Ten Commandments which point to the greatest commandments as given to us by Christ: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.  I believe that in order to fully love God, one must be disciplined, ardent in prayer, and serious about Scripture, constantly searching for God's Word in the world today. I don't think that the church can be boiled down into humanist ideology either.  There are certain things that the church should take a stand on, things the church shouldn't endorse.  These are things that devalue God's children and make them feel less human than others.  This is also why I cannot be a part of a church that does not give full inclusion to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
I know you're worried about division and the idea that your denomination could split over the issue of homosexuality. You are trying your best to keep your church together in the way you think is best.  But you are clinging to a statement that devalues the callings of many children of God and claims that they are less able to live out their callings to ministry because of the gender of the people they are attracted to. How can you truly love these children of God as your neighbor if you hold such a stance?
I have to stand in opposition to your being awarded an alumni award because of these views.  Candler School of Theology admits many children of God such as myself who have been hurt by these kinds of statements, who have been told by some denomination or denominational statement that they are less than others because of their sexual orientation. I cannot support someone who upholds those doctrines.

Zebulun Treloar
2nd Year MDiv Student
Candler School of Theology

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Year Since I've Left Lincoln

It's a year exactly since I left Lincoln and ventured forth to move to Atlanta.  I remember quite vividly the deep feeling of uncertainty and loss I felt.  I went up to the top of the capital building and I gazed out over that city that I will always love and treasure.  It was where I went to college, where I came out and found myself.  And I stood up there and took it all in. Then I got in my car and drove away.  It was a very emotional day, and by the time I got to my parent's house I was drained. I wasn't sure if I really wanted to leave, I just knew where my grad school was and I knew what I wanted to be.  
Today, I'm kind of amazed at how far I've come in a year. So I've decided to be superbly sappy and go back over what's happened in my life since then.
Dad helped me move down to Atlanta, and when we came to move in, the apartment was a mess.  It got cleaned up, but it still wasn't where I wanted to live.  I put up with it.
I met my friend D during orientation and he took me to my first Episcopal Mass. The pew arobics were a bit complicated, but he started me on my adventures into crossing myself, singing Psalm tunes, and bowing at the right time.  I tried to come to every Wednesday evening Evensong at school.  I found that I really love saints and the Eucharist.  If you feed me spiritual food and tell me about those who have come before me in the faith, I find it hard to resist. 
This process of Episcopalization was aided by meeting Br. K.  I was actually at first nervous to talk to him because he was the guy in the funny robes, and I figured he was some super pious dude. Turned out we have similar amounts of piety, and I came to monk meetings. That's where I began to love Compline and started learning about Daily Offices. 
Then I found love at the monk house kitchen table.  Br. J was fascinating to me, and I fell for him while we were looking at a magazine of Catholic chatchkies. Go figure.  Then he invited me to go to a haunted house with him that weekend. We ended up going to two and it goes down in my personal history as the coolest first date ever.  After that I had to stop counting dates because we were together every single day.  It was kind of ridiculous, but it worked for us and still does. 
J came with me to Thanksgiving in Iowa, and the day before Thanksgiving I got my legal name change. J was with me at the courthouse as I got the documents signed by the judge.  There was much to be thankful about. 
I started talking to the bishop and looking at Episcopal churches, and I was recieved into the Episcopal Church on the second Sunday of Advent.  I had been a pill that day, and J and I had an argument right beforehand, but when I came up to be recieved, J made sure he was right by my side.
A little while later, he was right there as I took my first shot of T. 
The next semester I joined the Episcopal Studies program at school and got assigned to one of the best little churces ever.  I love all that I do there and Fr. B is absolutely amazing.
J and I also just moved into an apartment together.  It's beautiful and amazing.  I feel more grounded having a place to come home to that feels like home. I am finally settling in.  
I've also met probably some of the most incredible people and I feel extremely blessed. 
I am connected to my community in ways I never imagined.
I miss Lincoln, and I will always be connected to Lincoln.  It was where I found myself. But since coming to Atlanta, I've been able to be myself in ways I never imagined.  And that's great too.  I think I can call this place home for a while, maybe not forever, but for long enough. 
It's a good life. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Sermon on the Rich Fool 8/4/13

This is my sermon from 8/4/13.  It is on Luke 12:13-21 with mentions of Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 as well as Colossians 3:1-11. I hope you find something in this sermon that inspires you and makes you think.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I got very positive feedback on it.

A large crowd has gathered around Jesus. He admonishes them to not fear those who kill the body, for they can kill nothing more.  He tells them that when people are brought before the authorities because of their belief in him, they should not worry about their defense, because the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say. This is important business.
Then a voice in the crowd pops up, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” I can imagine that Jesus would have been a little shocked about that outburst.  That had nothing to do with what he was saying.  So he replies, “Friend, who set me to be a judge and arbitrator over you?” In other words, “Do I look like your lawyer?” Then he turns to the crowd and addresses them all saying, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
I can imagine this man standing in the crowd, barely paying attention to Jesus because he is so consumed with this problem of inheritance. His mind is so focused on possessions and wealth, he can’t listen to what Jesus is saying.  There is a pause in Jesus’ teaching and this man bursts forth with his question of inheritance.
He wasn’t wrong to ask Jesus about this.  Rabbis and religious officials were often consulted on legal matters.  They were the ones who knew the law of Moses and were able to interpret it.  I imagine the man came to Jesus specifically because he had heard that Jesus was one of the best rabbis, and wanted to consult him. He was however so consumed with the matter, with his possessions, that he wasn’t able to stop and simply listen.  He was so consumed with the injustice occurring in this inheritance battle that he carried it on his shoulders, and he couldn’t drop the weight. So there it festered until he asked Jesus.  And Jesus never answered his question, he never gave him legal counsel. Rather, Jesus told him a story.
It’s a story of a dream come true.  A rich man’s land has just produced an abundant amount of grain.  So much so that the barns could not possibly hold it all.  So the rich man asks himself, “What am I going to do with all this grain? There’s no way I can store all of this.” He thinks hard and says, “I know exactly what I’ll do.  I’ll tear down my existing barns and build huge ones.  Then I will be able to store everything! And I will say to my soul, my innermost being, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.”  This man thinks that he will be able to kick back for the rest of his life.  He’s got it made. All his toil and labor has finally paid off.  He’s going into retirement.
But then God shows up and God’s not too happy.  God says, “You fool! You’re going to die tonight, and all these things that you prepared, where will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
This rich man is in the same bind as the first man.  He’s become consumed with possessions to the point that he really can’t focus on much else.  He works and labors to ensure that his wealth will be properly stored and maintained. He is consumed with it. He carries it on his shoulders with him. Worst of all, he thinks that his soul can relax because of his monetary gain.  He doesn’t have to work on anything anymore, including his relationship with God. But in the end, all that he has accomplished is vanity, and a chasing after the wind.
How often do we carry monetary problems and gains around with us? How often do we work and labor to maintain what we have or to gain more? How often has it become a consuming force? Something you can’t let go of?
In our world, money is important, and it’s important to be responsible with it, but we shouldn’t be defined by it.  Too often we are.  Occupations and pay grades often define how we are treated in society.  This past week Br. Jamie met a man at the Church of the Common Ground Bible study.  He had been arrested for loitering, which is essentially an arrest for sleeping in the wrong place downtown.  When he was arrested the police took his bag, which contained all his possessions, and they threw it away.  It contained his driver’s license and other important documents. But nobody took care with the possessions of a homeless man.  He was defined by his lack of housing.  His poverty made everything he had worthless in the eyes of the arresting officers.  Had he been arrested for anything else but homelessness, his possessions would have been stored and returned to him after he was released from jail, but they weren’t.  His monetary problems, his lack of housing made him subhuman. He was defined by his lack. The officers arresting him treated him differently than they would have treated a person who had a place to stay.  And that’s a problem with having a possession focused mindset.  Lack of possession tends to be equated with lack of human value.  And he was a man who was searching for a deeper relationship with God and was looking for resources to help him out of his current situation.  Even if he hadn’t of been though, he should have been treated with the respect that any other person would have been given.  He is still a human, a child of God.  But in a possession obsessed world, he was a homeless person, and that was what defined him.
Money is a fleeting thing, something that is given in abundance, often by chance, to some while others have to toil and labor for their share. The passage from Ecclesiastes today makes that clear.  The Teacher bemoans that while he has toiled and labored to gain earthly wealth, he will eventually die and someone else will reap the benefits of his labor. Those who receive inheritance from him are not necessarily wise, nor did they work to earn their profits, yet they will inherit all that he has earned. So, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?” In the end, it is all vanity, a futile endeavor.
So why are we tied up with futility to the point that we shut out what Jesus is calling us to? Why is it so easy for us to treat others with less money and possessions with less respect, as if their lack of wealth meant they were less human? Money is important, jobs are necessary, but the ultimate definer of a person should not be how much they earn or what job they hold.  Those things all pass away and get passed on to others. They are all ultimately futile.
What does not die are the things that are of above.  Your relationship with God does not die.  All the time you have put into becoming a better disciple of Christ will not have been spent in vain.  As the writer of our passage from Colossians says, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
 It is our relationship with Christ, the Creator, and the Holy Spirit, the holy unity and trinity of the divine that ultimately defines us and will stay with us long after we have passed from this earth.  These are the things that should we should be consumed with, not our possessions or material gain.  Too often our material focus makes it hard to see the spiritual in this world, it can cloud and consume us.  But when we step back, when we open up to the possibilities that God is speaking into our lives, we are investing in something that lasts.  
So when possessions pressure you to turn inward, when money becomes scarce or abundant, when your world seems defined by occupation or lack of it, Take care! For one’s life does not consist in the abundance or lack of possessions.  One’s life consists truly in the arms of their Creator.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Supreme Court Rulings and State Authority

I'm going to take a dive into politics right now.
The Supreme Court made several rulings that should appeal to people who believe strongly in state rights and want less federal oversight.
First, the overturning of part of the Voter's Rights Act.  I don't know whether this move was good or not, I don't have that much knowledge about the issues that were involved in this and I am distrustful about how this decision will be used, especially with the new laws that Texas wants to implement.  However, it was a move that should appeal to those who believe in the sovereignty of the state.  The Supreme Court removed federal oversight of voting laws in specific states and regions.  That means that these states now have the power to make their own laws without federal control. 
Second, the overturning of DOMA.  This means that what a state defines as a marriage is a marriage in the eyes of the federal government.  If a couple living in a state with marriage equality gets a marriage license from the state, the federal government cannot say that marriage license is not legit in the eyes of the federal government.  The state decides what is a marriage within that state's borders, and the federal government has to respect that.  The state holds more authority in defining marriage.
Third, the dismissal of the Prop 8 case.  In this dismissal, the Supreme Court is saying that a federal court is not going to be the ultimate decision maker for an issue within that state. They let the ruling of the District Court within the state of California to stand, and as a result, marriage equality has been enacted in the state of California.  They let the state court decide what marriage is in the state of California and they refused to make a sweeping federal decision.
All these decisions upheld state authority in law making and removed or refused federal oversight.
What do I think about all this personally?
I think that I need to learn a whole lot more about the Voting Rights Act.  But if you're a citizen over the age of 18 and aren't currently incarcerated, you have the right to vote.  Nothing should hinder your access to the polls. I hope that the Supreme Court's decision will not result in laws and redistricting that would inhibit people's right to vote from being recognized or minority voices from being heard in law making bodies.  
I am happy that DOMA is repealed. 
I am also satisfied with the Prop 8 decision.  I recognize that the Supreme Court could have made a decision that would have brought marriage equality to more states or even the entire United States, but looking at this from a purely legal standpoint, I think they made the right decision. 
I wrote this because I know some conservative friends of mine think that the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions had a "liberal bias", but actually all these decisions that were laid out this week show a respect for state authority.  If you're someone who pushes for state rights, you should be satisfied with the Supreme Court's decisions, no matter your own personal ideology on the subject matter.