Elders for a Sustainable Future

By Don Fausel

Before moving forward in my plan to focus on climate change, I want to share my experience with the Elders for a Sustainable Future. The Elders were founded on the Beatitudes Campus, which is a faith base community in Phoenix Arizona “…that offers a wide spectrum of services for older people. Our heritage of Christian hospitality calls us to welcome people of all faith traditions and commits us to a model of wellness and promoted soundness of mind, spirit and body.” This year the campus is celebrating its 50th Year since it was founded under The Rev. Dr. Culver Nelson who was then pastor of what is now Church of the Beatitudes, United Church of Christ.

The Beatitudes Campus has given its Elders an opportunity to follow the title of Dr. James Hansen’s book Storms of My Grandchildren: the Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity in a similar but smaller way.

The Elders meet twice a month on the second and fourth Saturdays to discuss articles on climate change and global warming. We also have over fifty members and friends on our e-mail list that receive monthly articles of interest. Although our title suggests that we focus on the sustainability of the future, we are also concerned with the here and now, since that has an effect on the future. If you are in Phoenix, you might see us marching in a rally in front of the State Legislature building with our Elders’ flags flowing in the wind, or one of our letters to the editors in the local newspaper, or our support for an article on solar energy that appeared in the paper that agreed with the 97% of the scientists who agreed with the article.


I believe that the Elders are some of many Stewards of our planet. I believe that each of us has a responsibility, up to our own ability, to learn everything we can about climate change and global warming so we can be part of the solution, not necessarily as a scientist but as followers of Jesus. I believe Jesus would be leading the way to save Mother Earth, if his earthly ministry was during the 21st century.  I believe that Elders are Change Makers—who can lead by example, creating positive change and inspiring others to do the same.

The more I read and researched the faith communities involvement as advocates for saving our planet, the more I was impressed and encouraged by how much impact their commitment has had locally, nationally and internationally. It became apparent to me that scientists cannot make changes in climate change all alone. The scientists supply the empirical data on which we base our judgments as to whether or not our earth is in peril, and if we are responsible for its condition. The faith-based leaders provide the theological underpinnings based on beliefs that we are stewards of creation.

Another surprise for me was that despite the diverse traditions and beliefs the major religious communities have, they are able to work together on the common concerns for our planet. Abortion, gay marriages, contraception, etc. all seem to pale in comparison to their mutual responsibility for the future of Mother Earth.


Just so we’re all on the same page, here are some brief definitions of major terms that are often confusing. First, Climate Change and Global Warming are the terms that are often used interchangeably; however Climate Change and Global Warming are two different phenomena. One thing that they hold in common is that they both are causing drastic changes to our planet. Climate Change is the change of the world, which occurs over a long period of time. Global warming is the rise in the average temperature of the atmosphere surrounding the Earth. Most scientists agree that Global Warming and Climate Change are a threat for every living thing on earth.

Then there is the Greenhouse Effect, which is the earth’s climate caused by accumulation of solar heat in the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Human activity contributes by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbon, to the atmosphere back into space. The deniers believe that human activity doesn’t contribute to the atmosphere and is a “hoax”! You might want to acquire some scientific information from an article entitled The Connection Between Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change and Global Warming.

Or even better, an article I just discovered two days ago, Human-Induced Climate Change Began Earlier Than Previously Thought…  I intend to spend more time in a future blog on deniers, but for now let me quote one sentence from this article.  “The first signs of warming from the rise in greenhouse gases which came hand-in-hand with the Industrial Revolution appear as early as 1830 in the tropical oceans and the Arctic, meaning that climate change witnessed today began 180 years ago.” I hope that the current deniers, Donald J. Trump for one, are able to open their eyes and join the majority of scientists who recognize that greenhouse gases are from human activity and that it is being contributed in increasing amount.

Here are two TED Talks that might be helpful in digesting my brief explanation. The first Talk,  Explaining the Greenhouse Effect was created by Laura Horton. It’s only three minutes long, but at the end it has a little quiz to see if you passed her exam. Only you will know!

The second Talk is by Lord Nicholas Stern, titled The State of the Climate and What We Can Do About It. Lord Stern believes “The world as a whole is moving too slowly. We’re not cutting emissions in a way we should. We’re not managing those structural transformations as we can. The depth of understanding of the attractiveness we can do is not there yet. We need political pressure to build. We need leaders to step up.” AMEN to that! To get to this Talk you need to scroll down to the eighth presentation. You might even be interested on some of the other Talks.

One last thought. If you think becoming an Elder for a Sustainable Future is too difficult, consider St. Patrick’s Grammar School in Chatham, New Jersey and their Environment Club, whose president was a fifth-grader, William Brockman. To make a long story short, I just want to quote President Brockman’s wise words:

“There‘s so much we can do to save the planet. At St. Patrick’s we are learning as much as possible. We are environmentally aware. We need to conserve energy and our non-renewable resources. God has gifted us with the earth. We must do something to protect it.” Thank you President Brockman.


P.S. Leave a reply in the comments section below, “add me to the Elders’ email list”, to be added to the Elders’ email list.

The Shame Agreement

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I have shame.
I have shame that abides.
I have shame that abides and demands.
I have shame that abides and demands and destroys.
I have shame. As do you. As does most of humanity.

I wasn’t born with shame.
I was born with a tender vulnerability that deserved nurture and grace.
I was born with a knowing in my heart that I was worthy of love.
I was born with the audacious spirit to experience need and develop a loving reliance for those who met my need.
As were you.
As was and is often humanity.

Yet I have this shame and it seems to think I put out a classified ad in which it responded and somehow became my silent partner in the affairs of my life. It keeps pointing to some agreement it’s made with me.

We choose an interesting set of words when we wish shame for others: “Shame on you!” Shame ON you. The burden, the weight, the overwhelming nature of shame cloaking us and seeping in. Once it is on us, it is in us. Shame is a rather manipulative behavior modification tool that is often abusive as it causes lasting harm to the mind and spirit of the person being cloaked with it. Shame does the dirty work for some pretty hard feeling states like loathing, self-hatred, and hatred of others. It prepares the heart in such a manner that these other parts get to storm right in, no guard on duty, everything valuable open and exposed. And we are robbed of our precious life yet again.

We really oughta move.

I watched a documentary about September 11th not too long ago. A man was telling his story about surviving the attack. He painted a vivid picture of emerging from death all around and described being covered in dust, his mind dazed, his face a blank slate as he went deeper and deeper within to stand the death outside of himself. He said an officer approached him and said something to the effect of “It’s okay. What you are experiencing is PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” He did not respond out loud, but internally he remembered thinking, “How can it be ‘post’ when it is still happening?”

Besides this exchange being an object lesson into why lay folks shouldn’t attempt to diagnose mental health and feeling states, it is a powerful image that I would like for us to hold for a bit here as we maneuver through. The survivor of 9/11 was cloaked in thick dust and dazed. He did not choose to be cloaked in dust. He did not invite being cloaked in dust, but cloaked in dust is what he was living in, sitting in, wiping off. The dust found any porous part of the body to invade. And invade it did. He had this dust in his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears for a long time to come.

The survivor’s thick cloak of disaster seemed to have been mixed with a hue of shame. “Why did I survive? Why did they die? I had to deserve this in some way. What did I do that made this happen?”

Ever since I started thinking about this essay the song “Fame” has been running through my head, replaced with “Shame”, of course. “Shame! I’m gonna live forever!” Well, that’s the opposite of remotely true in any way, shape or form. My experience with shame is it stifles and burdens, it creeps and takes over. Shame is lonely, deadly, and common.

Shame is devious and tricky. Shame has loads of costumes that keep us from noticing it. Its favorite thing to get dressed up as is morality, while contrition is a close second. It wears these long enough to get in the door and then like a Scooby Doo bad guy, the mask gets removed and low and behold, it’s that shame again! And it would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for your meddling, discerning spirit.

Let’s walk a bit more with the survivor of 9/11 covered in the second skin of dust. You get one side; I’ll get the other. He shouldn’t be alone right now. We can play a game of “What If” as we walk with him away from the rubble and the madness.

What if shame has absolutely nothing to do with God?
What if shame is unnecessary and a futile exercise that doesn’t mean a darn thing about our love for and belief in God?
What if shame was not a requirement of a spirit-filled life and is actually a lousy substitute for things like conviction and morality?
What if the cloaking of shame divides us from each other and takes over with diligence and fear, essentially snuffing out the love and life that is our birthright?

We’ll go ahead and leave the survivor we have been walking with as he is getting passed onto the people who can help him. Spoiler alert: He is going to be well again.

You and me, though, let’s keep walking. Let’s keep talking.

The rubble I find myself sifting through nowadays came from the sexual assault that happened to me not that long ago. It’s heavy to sift through this, especially when each rock I pick up has a phrase written on it: “This was your fault. Shame on you!” Toss that aside. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Toss that aside and yet the rubble seems endless. Shame works against the sifting of the rubble and paves the way for a lot of hopelessness to bound through into my brokenness.

What caused your rubble?

The rubble happens. The cloaking of shame happens. Most of the time, this happens to us and we do not bring it on ourselves, it happens as a part of being a global citizen on this planet. It is largely unfair and it is deeply grievous to have anyone go through the destruction of self that happens with shame at the helm. We don’t get a choice initially. It just is and we can’t deal with it when it is still happening because we are putting everything we have into surviving. We need some distance and stability from what caused the shame so we can truly start the work of healing.

And this is where it can get better for us.

When I feel shame and accept it inside as valid, I am saying yes to the harm within or outside of me that uses the tool of shame to break me in some way. I am creating a Shame Agreement with Harm. It’s as good as sitting at a table with Harm across from me, handing me a contract that says, “You are nothing. You are broken. You are alone. You are worthless. Now if you agree to these conditions, please sign here, here, and here. Initial here.” Once that is done I can hold my breath and survey this own private hell I just became co-owner in. What a horrible investment I made. I need some solid heart space management. Where’s the Suze Orman of the heart when I need her?

If we can opt in, we can also opt out. And my life right now is about that very thing. I want out of this Shame Agreement. It’s a fraud.

I wasn’t born with shame.
I was born with a tender vulnerability that deserved nurture and grace.
I was born with a knowing in my heart that I was worthy of love.
I was born with the audacious spirit to experience need and develop a loving reliance for those who met my need.
As were you.
As was and is often humanity.

I have a helpful (to me) image about creating space for shame in my life. I hope you can take and use it if you need to. Since I was young, I knew how to play darts. I spent a lot of time in bars due to family members working in them so I got a little seasoned at darts. I remember the day the dartboard at the Cow Pony was replaced by one of those digital dart boards with plastic darts that you have to throw hard enough to stick in the tiny holes riddled all over the board. You have that image in your mind? Great. I picture that dart board as my heart space, my feeling state, my tender soul. If shame is the dart and it is thrown at me, it will only stick if there is something for it to penetrate. If I prepare my heart space in such a way that the intrusion of shame doesn’t have space to land, it simply bounces off.

Our cloak of shame can be washed off. Our shame agreement can be voided. Our shame filled heart space can be made whole. As in all things, I turn to love.

I have love.
I have love that abides.
I have love that abides and invites.
I have love that abides and invites and heals.
I have love. As do you. As does most of humanity.

And there just isn’t any shame in that.

The Good Stuff

guest post by Owen Chandler

[Editor’s note: Rev. Owen Chandler, the Senior Minister of Saguaro Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tucson, was deployed earlier this year from the Army Reserve and serves as Battalion Chaplain of the 336th CCSB in Iraq. He writes  monthly letters to his home church, and is graciously open to sharing them here on the SWC Blog. This is his August letter.]

Beloved Saguaro,

As I sit to write these words, I am literally snacking on the goodness of your love and continued prayers. In fact, I can turn in my chair and see office after office sharing in your support. 

first care package at Camp Taji
This is from the first of your care packages that came in to us. As you can see, it was a hit. This is my Battallion Commando and XO.

We’ve never received a care package load so concentrated with “the good stuff”. A few of the soldiers have “lovingly” taken to calling me Taji Santa because of the items you sent. They thought they were pretty clever until they saw me writing in my notebook. “What are you writing?” they asked. I replied, “The names of soldiers who may be worthy of God’s love but who won’t be receiving any more Oreos.”

Please know that I am doing well. July was a very difficult month for a variety of reasons, some of which I expressed in my last letter. Luckily, the rest of the month passed without witnessing any battle-related incidents. The good news: ISIS continues to be pushed back and they find themselves having to reevaluate their strategies. This is a significant morale boost to the Iraqi people even as it adds new political wrinkles from the power void which ISIS’s departure creates. News like this dramatically helps with our morale, as well.

It may seem trite; I traveled all over Iraq in July and saw some pretty crazy things, but nothing rattled me more than not being there for Harper’s first day of kindergarten. Seeing mothers and children being able to pick up the pieces of their lives in places like Fallujah help me and others keep focused during months like July.

I have spent the month of August, thus far, grounded to Camp Taji. Back in early June, I pitched an idea to a General about creating a streamlined concept in soldier care. It involved a stalled chapel renovation project. The Chaplain corps had hoped to update the chapel, but the General wanted a more comprehensive concept that fit the Army’s focus on supporting the soldier if the Army was going to spend any money. I put together some ideas and he gave me the green light.

move to interim chapel
The move to the interim chapel begins. We had soldiers from around the world help us. The entire move took less than an hour.

Two weeks ago, we moved the chapel to an interim location and construction began on the ‘Camp Taji Resiliency Center: Spirit, Mind, and Body’. The concept is to relocate the Chaplain, Behavioral Health, and elements of JAG into one place to foster a spirit of cooperation and unity of effort. An idea like that might seem self-evident, but it does not exist anywhere else in the military. (Apparently military bureaucracies don’t naturally like to share, even when there is an overlap of mission.) Subsequently, this is a first-of-its-kind endeavor. I won’t do much traveling until the construction is complete. We are expecting to have a big grand opening ceremony with generals, ribbon-cuttings, cake, and the military news people sometime in late September or early October. I am excited.

Friends, we are halfway done with our time in Iraq. Our replacements sent a scout team this week. It seems a bit surreal to think about the return journey. I give God thanks for you and pray for you each day. I hold you in my heart, knowing that I am one day closer to being back with you. May God continue to bless and keep you. Keep doing great ministry. Keep being people who dance within the joy of God’s love.

Until we meet again,


PS: I have never seen adults fall in love with a snack like they did with those SuperSeedz. If you find it in your heart, I’ve been told you can send as many of those treats as you like.

Constant Change and the Unchanging Truth

by Amos Smith

One comes to understand…the changeable nature of visible created things: how they derive from the earth and return again to the earth, thus confirming the words of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

–Peter of Damascus

These lines come from an early Christian writer named Peter of Damascus who wrote a work called “Treasury of Divine Knowledge.” More or less one thousand years ago Peter wrote about how the only thing that is everlasting is the Creator. And so the only way to participate in life everlasting is devotion to the Creator through praise, written and spoken acclamation, and prayer.

The biological creatures of this planet and the dense matter that swirls through the cosmos all have their source in the Creator. According to Peter of Damascus when we go into the depths of prayer we perceive that all creatures arise for a time, then return to their Source. It is the Source that is timeless, eternal.

Worship in the most profound sense is acknowledgement that in the midst of all the numerous changes, in the midst of the institutions of society that were here for a time then vanished. In the midst of the tumultuous events of our times including global terrorism, climate change, and a flood of refugees, there is a constant that forms the universe and binds it together. It is enveloped in mystery, yet came to us in the fullness of time in the person of Jesus.

When the constant changes of life reach a crescendo may we recall that our Source is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2). This Source is our ultimate security from age to age – not distant, but personal in the ministry of Jesus.

The Kids Are All Right

by Karen Richter

In July, I traveled with a group of Shadow Rock UCC youth to Orlando, FL for National Youth Event. Our little gang of 10 Shadow Rockers was joined by 1 young person from First UCC Phoenix. shadow rock kids at NYE16While there we met with and socialized with many kids from all over the country, including Ktizo UCC in Phoenix and Good Shepherd UCC in Albuquerque. It was a great event overall, with dynamic speakers and workshops.

But as our time together went on, I noticed a couple of problems. Nothing major, nothing catastrophic… just things about the event and our group’s dynamic that I would want to work on or address for our next big travel event. Our last day included some downtime at the host resort, after Closing Worship and before NYE buses would take us to the Orlando airport for the trip home.down time at NYE16 Our Shadow Rock youth director and my traveling companion Brenda Hensley planned to use some of this downtime for some reflection and connection with the group.

I put my thoughts together about the problems and planned to mention them during our meeting time.

  1. Regarding our group dynamic, I recognized some divisions between the older more seasoned youth (some of which were fresh from a camp staff experience) and our younger and often quieter kids. This wasn’t a terrible thing at all, but I think with more guidance and encouragement from the chaperones, our older participants would have done more to include those younger.
  2. The event was July 27 to 30, and the whole world was enchanted by Pokémon Go… including most of our group. Again, it wasn’t anything insurmountable, but I wished we would have helped the group set some boundaries around Pokémon and screen time before we touched down in Florida.
  3. About the event overall, this National Youth Event was the first to be held at a resort and to include a theme park day. It was also my first time attending an NYE, but I wished the venue had been less distracting and less overwhelming. Even for the adult participants, it was occasionally difficult to stay present to worship, workshops, and sharing ideas with the next day at Magic Kingdom looming in our imaginations.

So we sat down on the floor in the convention center lobby of Coronado Springs Resort – a little bit tired, a little bit homesick, a little bit thoughtful. I was ready to share my observations and perhaps, in my daydreams, a little wisdom. But luckily, thankfully (!!!), I listened to these teens first.

AND THEY MENTIONED, THEMSELVES, EVERY SINGLE THING I SAID ABOVE… 1, 2 AND 3. I didn’t need to say a word, so I didn’t.

So smart. So compassionate. So aware.

It was a gift to be with them. The kids are all right.

“Don’t Look at the Romanians!” How We Broke the Rules and the Tension at the 1984 Summer Olympics

guest post by Paul Whitlock, senior pastor at Church of the Palms, Sun City

The Olympics come to town in the summer every four years. This year, Rio de Janeiro is the town for the 2016 Summer Olympic games. With much of the world talking about the games, I wanted to share with you some of my memories of the Olympics.

Wendy and I were both fortunate enough to sing in the 1000-voice Olympic Choir that performed at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 games in Los Angeles. I remember that time so vividly. There were long practices and even longer lectures about appropriate behavior—that even a joke, if deemed inappropriate, would put us in trouble with security. In 1984, the Romanians had broken through the proverbial wall and didn’t follow Moscow’s lead to boycott the games. So, we were sternly lectured by security to leave the Romanians alone: “Don’t talk with, point at, or even look at the Romanians!” The organizers feared the worse during that Cold War era. And yes, told us that our actions could lead to WWIII!

On the day of the Opening Ceremonies, all of the athletes from around the world, including the Romanians, and the performers for the Opening Ceremonies were packed into the L.A. Sports Arena (which was a fairly small basketball arena). The tension right before ceremonies started was intense! There was an eerie silence. Here were twelve thousand or so people utterly quiet.

Then suddenly, one of the American athletes pulled out a beach ball, blew it up, and the Americans began hitting it up into the air. Security tried to confiscate it but as soon as they would catch up to it, another beach ball came out and then another and another. The organizers had thought of a lot of scenarios, but the silliness of the American spirit was not one of them!

Amazingly, one of the beach balls kept bouncing around the arena—going from country to country. Soon, it was an unstated goal to get that beach ball around the world. The American athletes were on the ground floor of the arena and they hit it up to the next level. That group sent it flying to the next country. With every flight of the ball, people erupted into laughter and “oooohs” and “ahhhhs”. As the beach ball would reach the next country, that group would come alive with excitement. The silence that had been palpable was replaced with sheer joy. And one beach ball made it around the free world despite the organizers’ attempts to stop it.

The Romanian athletes were sheltered far away from all the others and were the only group on the top level of the arena. While their athletes smiled—I had been a rebel and looked at them— the joy was restrained. The Romanian coaches and officials accompanying the athletes sat, for the most part, with their arms crossed, lips pressed together, and their faces reflecting their disgust at all the events.

Making the beach ball travel around the free world was clearly not enough for all of us assembled that day. That beach ball had to make it through the wall of ideology, past the security forces, and reach the Romanians. Anything else would be disastrous. It came close several times, but it kept falling short. It seemed impossible for anyone, even the best athletes the world could offer, to hit the ball high enough to penetrate the citadel erected around the Romanians.

When hope was almost lost, one athlete from a country of unknown origin, in the section right below the Romanians, hit the beach ball high and far. “This one,” I thought, “has a chance.” The long arms of security reached up from the walkway between sections and appeared to intercept it. Just then, one of the athletes from Romania reach down and tipped the beach ball away from security into the section where the Romanians sat. The whole arena stood and a thunderous applause erupted as the Romanians bounced the ball back and forth. Once security realized the futility of trying to stop the wave of emotion, the ball bounced to the Romanians several more times.

Later, during the actual Opening Ceremonies, with a few other rebels, I ran past the security guards, leapt a fence, and ran on to the field and danced with the athletes assembled. I danced with the people from Iraq and Italy. We celebrated the spirit of oneness that we had. Because, at that moment, it didn’t matter what politicians from our respective homelands did or didn’t do. We knew the world was one.

Fast-forward 32 years and now I am troubled by the expense of the Olympics; each host country builds massive stadiums which soon will be abandoned while the poor remain hungry. Indeed, recent history indicates that the International Olympic Committee, known for receiving bribes, favors countries with dictators because they can get what they want: a smoothly run competition where any dissenting voice is locked up or simply disappears never to return. Olympic spirit has been replaced with greed and scandal, all at the expense of the poor. And, for the first time in my life, I ask, is it time to end the charade? Have the Olympics run their course? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the poor in Rio de Janeiro cry out. Who will hear them as the world leaves town?

Why Religious Liberty Compels Me to Serve Everyone

by Ryan Gear

The Orlando tragedy raised the stakes between LGBTQ rights and religious liberty. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history targeted a gay club, and it did not take place in a vacuum. Far from being an isolated act, the massacre is an eruption of violence out of the heated rhetoric against the LGBTQ community that has come from politicians and pulpits alike, around the world and in the U.S.

Those who deny shared responsibility would have to prove that Dr. King’s assassination had nothing to do with racism and that date rape has nothing to do with a “bro culture” of misogyny. The Orlando mass shooting took place in a time of intense political and religious rhetoric against the LGBTQ community, one in which some business owners go so far as to seek legal grounds to deny service to same sex couples. As we have learned from every civil rights struggle, rejecting and demonizing others breeds violence, both physical and verbal, and now the families of the 50 shooting victims are grieving the loss of their loved ones.

In his June 8 Arizona Republic op-ed, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jonathan Scruggs suggested that religious liberty entitles business owners to deny service to same sex couples on religious grounds. Mr. Scruggs represents the owners of Brush & Nib Studio owned by two women who self-identify as Christians and sell customized art, including pieces used in weddings. The owners are suing the City of Phoenix, claiming that the city’s anti-discrimination law, requiring their business to serve same sex couples, is a violation of their religious liberty.

I used to see this issue similarly to Alliance Defending Freedom, but I changed my mind.

I grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian home in the 1980s and 90s, with my views of the Bible, politics, and the LGBTQ community formed by the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. While a student in high school, however, my views were confronted with new evidence. I discovered that two of my close friends were gay. Confusing to me, they simply did not fit the description of a person who is gay that had been given to me by Religious Right televangelists. After knowing them for years, I found it hard to believe they chose to be gay. In fact, I knew one my friends didn’t quite fit the normal boy-girl mold when we were in the first grade. I was confident that he didn’t make a choice prior to being six years old, and I struggled to make sense of my religious views in light of my friendships.

Then, for an entire week during my sophomore year of high school, I witnessed a young male student endure a level of bullying on the school bus route that I will never forget. One Monday afternoon, the school bus stopped to drop off this young man at his house, and a few of the kids on the bus spontaneously began chanting “faggot” at him as he walked toward the front of the bus. Every day that week, the number of students joining in the chant grew, and by Friday, nearly every student on the bus was yelling “faggot” at this young man for a solid minute. It was a painfully long time. After dropping him off on Friday, the bus driver finally put a stop to it. Thankfully I can say that I never joined in the chant, but I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t defend him either. Perhaps that’s one reason I feel compelled to speak out now.

After several years of dissonance between my fundamentalist upbringing and my daily experience of life, while already serving as a pastor in my mid-twenties, I had a crisis of faith. For the first time, I began seeking answers to the questions I had sidestepped earlier. Among other theological issues, some of my questions centered on how we interpret the Bible on issues like science, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. I also realized that certain Bible passages seem to be used more than others for political purposes. Regarding LGBTQ rights, I could only make sense of my experience of the world and my questions about the Bible by recognizing the dignity and worth of each person in the LGBTQ community, and I affirm loving, committed same sex relationships.

The questions I asked in my twenties apply directly to the current debate surrounding religious liberty in America, and there are several points I believe Christians must consider.

First, in contrast to the view of the Bible I had been taught as a child, that the Bible was essentially written by God and that apparent contradictions could be harmonized to make the Bible read like a logically airtight divine term paper, I began to see the human influence on the Bible. In fact, the Bible is a collection of books written by various authors, more like a library than a term paper, and no one would expect all of the works in a library to agree with one another on every topic.

Second, regardless of what each Christian believes about same sex relationships, almost no American Christian obeys all New Testament commands. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul cites six reasons women should wear head coverings during worship gatherings. Of course, very few American Christians retain this practice. Also in this passage, it seems that women are permitted to pray and prophesy during worship, while in 1 Corinthians 14:34, women are commanded to remain silent. Again, this raises questions about biblical authority and how to thoughtfully interpret the Bible consistently. The role of women in worship is still a difficult subject for many Christians.

Third, regarding same sex relationships, compared to the controversy surrounding the issue in our culture, the Bible says shockingly little about them, and the context of these verses is extremely important. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible — only six or seven of those appear to condemn same-sex relationships. Sometimes referred to as the “clobber passages” because of their unfortunate misuse, these passages were influenced by ancient culture, as was the whole of the Bible.

In contrast, over 2,000 verses in the Bible address the injustice of poverty. If one were determined to pass laws based on the Bible, legislation giving greater opportunity to the poor would likely be first on the list. Unfortunately, it seems that instead of addressing poverty, some leaders and groups have used these six or seven clobber passages out of 31,000 verses for political purposes.

The American understanding of religious liberty means that we are each free to hold our own religious views regarding LGBTQ rights. In fact, the pilgrims who settled the earliest American colonies immigrated to the New World to escape theocracy. The earliest settlers in the colonies were religious separatists who did not want to be forced to worship in the state sponsored Church of England. To them, religious liberty meant that they could practice their own religion instead of being forced to practice the religion of the state.

This is at least partially why, in American courts, religious liberty has generally not been used as grounds for a business owner to deny service to her or his customers.

A 2016 report from The Leadership Conference finds:

“Courts have generally declined to recognize a religious right to discriminate that would trump a government’s interest in combating discrimination. In a 2013 case involving a wedding photographer, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld a finding that the business had violated the state’s human rights ordinance by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple’s commit­ment ceremony.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Richard Bosson wrote that the business owners ‘are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish, they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead.’ But, he said, in operating a business, the owners have to channel their conduct, calling it a compromise that “is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.” It is, he wrote, “the price of citizenship.”

In the United States, business owners cannot legally deny service to persons based on their religious differences or sexual orientation, and the Phoenix anti-discrimination law will likely be upheld. Religious liberty does not entitle a business owner to deny service to any population.

Religious liberty does mean, however, that Christian business owners have the freedom to wrestle with issues of biblical interpretation according to their own consciences, as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others. In fact, it is the American concept of religious liberty that gave me the freedom to change my mind and affirm the dignity, worth, and rights of same sex couples.

Speaking Truth is a Duty

guest post by Kay Huggins, Interim Executive Director, New Mexico Conference of Churches

I’ve been speaking with pastors over the past two months and although I have 5 specific questions, the content of these conversations is deep and wide. A few themes are emerging:

Hope: I anticipated hearing at least a few complaints, but frankly, there have been precious few. Most pastors experience great satisfaction and joy in their callings; some feel overwhelmed; but, rarely is heard a discouraging word. Moreover, the sense of hope is linked to growth among the members and leaders of the churches: new ideas, new visions, new challenges and new opportunities are combining to create new steps for Jesus’ followers.

Relationships: Every pastor, at some point and always in a unique manner, identified ministry as grounded in strong relationships: with family, colleagues, members, neighbors, and friends. Moreover, all affirmed that their effectiveness in ministry is directly related to these relationships. Most spend time and energy being with others — so that together, they will be strong for doing the ministries entrusted to them.

Speaking out…together: This theme included a bit of sadness and/or frustration. Almost every pastor interviewed expressed a passion for speaking the truth of our Christian values and convictions in a bold and free way; but also expressed was the persistent awareness that in our culture, the voice of many churches is inaudible. The “Christian voice” has been kidnapped by evangelical or conservative churches and the progressive or socially engaged churches have been put on mute. The pastors I interviewed longed for to speak out, together, and be heard.

In these days of political turmoil and distress, the voice of the silenced progressive, socially engaged and liberal Christian churches is needed. A very helpful article, “Unprohibited speech“, Christian Century, July 20, 2016 reminds:

“There’s no law against religious leaders speaking and living out the truths of their faith…What (by law) is prohibited is an explicit endorsement of a candidate.”

This is followed by a stirring string of strong words churches may speak.

“Churches are free to say that a candidate who threatens opponents with violence is undermining the basis of community.

They are free to say that a candidate who targets people of one religion for discriminatory treatment is attacking the basis of everyone’s religious freedom.

They are free to say that campaigning by name-calling and personal insult is an affront to reason.

And they are free to say that a candidate who sneers at the disabled, ridicules people because of their appearance, and promises to engage in torture fails to understand that all humans are made in the image of God.”

Dear ecumenical community, we are old and young, rich and poor, Protestant and Roman Catholics living in New Mexico; let us speak up as individuals, as church leaders, as congregations, as an ecumenical community of believers. Let us claim the freedom we have to lift up our distinct and deep Christian values…especially within the current political context.

Share with me your statements and I will share them with the ecumenical community of the New Mexico Conference of Churches.

I remain, steadfastly, Kay Huggins, Interim Executive Director.

The Micah Mandate

by Talitha Arnold

What does God really want from us? 3000 years ago, the Israelites wanted to know. The Assyrians had overrun their country. The people were wracked by war and oppression. To make sense of the hardship and suffering, they asked what we humans often ask in such times–what are we supposed to do? What does God want from us?

Did God want animal sacrifice–new born calves or thousands of rams? Would sacrificing their first-born children do the trick? What did God really want?

The (minor) prophet Micah answered his people with words that echo through the ages:

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?

President Theodore Roosevelt called it “The Micah Mandate.” “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” In this 8th c. prophet’s words, Roosevelt heard God’s call in his life and the life of this nation. For Roosevelt, the individual soul and the country heart both needed a sense of justice that is tempered by mercy and mercy that is strengthened by a commitment to justice. Moreover, Roosevelt knew that neither the individual nor the country is the center of the universe nor the seat of all wisdom. God is.

Like the other Hebrew Prophets, Micah didn’t go into great detail as to how to live out the commitment to justice and mercy. That is for each generation, each nation, each individual to work out. Instead, as with Amos’ call to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” Micah’s words are a standard by which to measure our lives and the life of our church and our nation.

The Prophet’s words are echoed in those of Janusz Korczak, a Jewish educator and pediatrician in 1930’s Poland. Known for his humane approach to teaching, Korczak had his own radio show (before the Nazi occupation of Poland) in which he advocated for the rights of children. He also directed an orphanage for both Jewish and Gentile children. When the Nazis came to power, Korczak was offered sanctuary but continually refused it, choosing instead to stay with the orphans in his care. In 1942, Korczak and 190+ children were deported to Treblinka where all were put to death.

In one of his radio presentations, Korczak offered an understanding similar to that of the Prophet Micah’s, 3000 years before. “You lived,” Korczak affirmed,

. . . . how many fields did you plow,
How many loaves of bread did you bake,
How much seed did you sow,
How many trees did you plant,
How many bricks did you lay?
How many buttons did you sew,
How many patches, how many seams did you make,
To whom did you give your warmth,
Who would have stumbled but for your support,
Who did you show the way without demanding gratitude or prize,
What was your offering,
Whom did you serve?

What does God really want from us? Korczak’s answer was to give warmth, offer support, live a life of service–even to the end. For the 8th century Prophet Micah, it was to “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” Micah’s Mandate shaped Janusz Korczak’s life, even as his world thundered with hatred and fear. Amidst the thunder of our time and our world, we need to hear Micah’s Mandate, too.

Walking in Misty Blue

by Amanda Petersen

One of the most amazing gifts of walking early in the morning at this time of year is the gift of what I call the “misty blue time”. I leave in the dark, and just before the sun comes over the horizon, there are a few minutes where everything turns a misty blue. Everything looks different during this in-between time. I know the neighborhood when it is dark, and of course I am familiar with it when it is daylight. Both have their own unique looks and I notice different things at both times. During this misty blue time my brain does not know what to jump to. Everything looks surreal and different. It is as though I am in a different world altogether and I get to enjoy my neighborhood in a whole new way.

In the contemplative walk, this misty blue time could be seen as liminal space. That space that says one time is over yet the next season has not quite arrived. Liminal space is a whole new world of noticing, practicing, and waiting for the sun to rise on the new season of life. I often witness the discomfort of this liminal space. It is easy to want to skip this space by taking what was known in the past and overlaying it on to the future and calling it good. The challenge in doing that is it limits the possibilities of the future with old patterns. The truth is the space yet to come has not been lived yet and the signposts are all new. With just our past knowledge, it is difficult to navigate. Yet, if one allows the liminal space to teach them, one can begin to learn how to live into the new place and releasing what no longer works. By remaining in misty blue, and allowing the knowledge of the past and anticipation of the future to guide one’s way, one is open to visions of life and God in a whole new way.

This August is a misty blue place for Pathways of Grace. We have more people using the space. New facilitators will be providing opportunities to experience growth. The website is getting a face lift and Mind Body is our new home base for scheduling and signing up for classes. At the same time we will be celebrating the past and your support in it, while providing the same safe place to experience your own liminal spaces. I have no idea how all of this will look, yet I am excited to see what I notice and live into the experience of what the next sunrise for Pathways of Grace will look like. Won’t you join me on this great adventure??