Monthly Archives: October 2012

So It’s Our Fault…Again

A Huffington Post blog “Hurricane Sandy Blamed On Gays, Obama And Romney By Preacher John McTernan,” dated October 29th might be funny if McTernan was a stand up comic. Unfortunately, he is serious; and I am sure there are many people who agree with his opinions.

At the same time, the vast majority of faithful Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith I know do not share McTernan’s particular view of God–at least not as it relates to weather-related catastrophes. After all, if his view is correct, you have to wonder what people who live in manufactured housing–like my conservative fundamentalist parents–have done to make God so mad. Who knows? Maybe God is mad because my parents didn’t stone me when I came out 35 years ago and God’s wrath on manufactured homes through tornadoes is a warning to them.

When blaming New Orleans hurricanes on the gay-themed “Southern Decadence,” what McTernan fails to mention is that the French Quarter (the primary site of this event) was one of the least-impacted areas, while the poorest sections of the city bore the brunt of these storms. Also, if we’re going to assign blame to groups for hurricanes and other weather-related catastrophes, what about Hurricane Rita (2005), which devastated a large area of east Texas that is quite conservative in both its religion and politics?

When it comes to the issue of gay marriage, consider this: Richard and I are considered married or “unionized” in a handful of states, while we are legal strangers in the vast majority of the United States. Depending on where we live, we are subject to discrimination in employment, housing, hospital visitation, end of life decision-making for one another, and the list goes on and on. Yet our relationship (and others like it) upset God so much that God tweaks the weather in such a way that punishes millions of people–most of whom are not gay? How Old Testament!

Now, I do NOT, in any way shape or form, agree McTernan’s viewpoints. Still, I’ll play along. Let’s say God does tweak weather patterns out of anger over certain behaviors. Think about this: it is estimated that only 10% of the US military
budget—10%–reinvested in foreign aid and development, could care for the basic
needs of the ENTIRE world’s poor, and  ½ of 1% of our military budget could cut hunger in Africa in half by 2015; not to mention the fact that the United States alone has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet several times over (because obviously once is not enough), and that we spend $100 million a DAY to maintain that arsenal.

And when economic times get tough–like now–where do some of our leaders propose making cuts? Social programs like SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), making Medicare a voucher system, and defunding Planned Parenthood. If my concept of God agreed with that of McTernan’s–and again it doesn’t–then my bet would be God is more angry at our refusal to take care of another than it is providing equitable treatment for LGBT folks.

Then again, maybe we’ve abused the environment and atmosphere so much it is simply rebelling…

Whatever your concept of God–or if you do not believe God exists–let’s do what we can to care for one another and for all of creation. Who knows? Maybe the weather will actually improve–politically, spiritually and literally.

God’s Will? Seriously?!?

“When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”–Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (IN), October 23, 2012

And some folks wonder why the fastest growing demographic when it comes to religion is the group of people known as “the nones.”

Of course Mr. Mourdock is entitled to his viewpoint as well as to express it to as many people who will listen to him. At the same time, when I read quotes like these I usually wonder why people tend to play the “God card” so much when it comes to explaining the often inexplicable. For example, when my three-year old nephew died in 1978, at least one person suggested  perhaps God was trying to get my attention so I would leave my sinful homosexual lifestyle.  Really?!? Let’s see. It’s now 2012 and I’m just as gay as I ever was. Besides, if God wanted to get my attention to encourage some life changes, taking the life of an innocent three-year old was not the way to do so.

As a pastor I’ve heard a lot of speculation regarding God’s will. One somber example comes from 11 years ago when I visited a person in the hospital who was near death. She told me God wasn’t ready for her yet, and that obviously God had an important mission for her. Unfortunately she died two days later.

Then there are the folks whose bodies and/or minds are so debilitated with disease they have no quality of life, and they tell anyone who will listen that they are ready for “God to take them home.” Often these poor people linger on, suffering pain most of us cannot fathom. And one of the comments I’ve heard that frustrates me to no end is when well-meaning family and/or friends say God isn’t ready for those suffering people to die. And the purpose for allowing good and loving people to horribly suffer so much would be…what?

There are also the lighter examples of speculating on God’s will. For example, there is the God who finds parking places for us (God as Cosmic Parking Attendant); the God who finds jobs for us (God as Cosmic Employment Service); the God who helps us pick the winning lottery ticket; and my new favorite–the God who works through technology to find God’s match for each of us ala “Christian Mingle.” So, God is running a dating service now, huh? Oh, unless you happen to be gay, that is. Then apparently God wants you to be straight.

So what are we to do with the concept of God’s will? Or as a person once said in a bible study at the church where I serve, “If God doesn’t intentionally direct our lives, tweak weather patterns and so on, what does God really do?” I thought it was a fair question; and I couldn’t answer it. I still can’t; but at least now I’m ready to offer a few thoughts on the subject.

From Isaiah 55:8-9: The Lord says, “My thoughts are not like your thoughts. Your ways are not like my ways. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways  and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Now, to be intellectually honest–and I’ve said this before–we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. At the same time, I think this passage can teach us something about speculating on God’s will–whether or not we believe God actually exists.

You see, explaining everything away as somehow being God’s will–while convenient–tends to absolve us of the need to use our intellect and reason; it absolves us from taking responsibility for our actions, and it absolves us from facing some of the more difficult realities of life.  I believe the case of Mr. Mourdock attributing “the horrible situation of rape” as somehow God’s way of bringing life into the world speaks to at least some of these points.

At the end of the day, rather than chalking up everything we can’t explain to God’s will, perhaps creation would be better served if we used the intellect and reason with which we’ve been blessed, and started taking responsibility for our actions–and inactions. Besides, if Isaiah is correct, we can’t really know God’s will, anyway. So why not focus on what we can do; that is, align our own wills–our ways and our thoughts–with the ways of peace, justice and love.

Blessings on your journeys!

The Problem with Prayer

It was bound to happen sooner or later…

Just before a worship service recently, a woman approached me and asked if I would anoint, lay hands on and pray for her. She was preparing to undergo surgery and was seeking prayers of healing and comfort. I asked if she would like the congregation to help me perform this ritual, or if she would prefer private prayer after the service. She elected private prayer. After the service, and after asking for her preference of “God language,” I–along with a clergy colleague who was in service with us that day–performed the ritual. Afterwards she smiled and said she really felt the power of our prayers.

My prayer and desire for her comfort and healing were sincere; still, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely comfortable performing this ritual. As a Religious Humanist, I’m certainly open to the mystery of everything we don’t understand–and I have no problem calling that mystery “God.” I just don’t see that mystery as a supernatural being. I’ve also witnessed healings–never immediate as in dropping the crutches and running the aisles of an auditorium–but the emotional, spiritual and yes, physical healings of people who were not expected to fare as well in life as they eventually did.

At the same time, I’m no longer comfortable asking an external deity for favors. Actually I haven’t been comfortable with this form of prayer for a few years now. I know too many people–including myself–who have prayed to God for the healing of people we love, for the peaceful resolution to relationship conflicts, for favorable results for job searches for other people, etc. only to see those prayers go unanswered.

And please, don’t tell me God sometimes says “No” for reasons we don’t understand. Yes, I know sometimes healing comes in different forms. Yes, I know that some folks get an even better job than the one for which they prayed. And I can understand saying “No” to prayers like winning the lottery or hooking up with that amazingly hot man or woman we’ve been watching from across the crowded room all night. At the same time, what kind of warped deity would say “No” to a child’s prayer for food? What kind of deity would say “No” to a child’s prayer for the abuse to stop? Yet we know children starve to death every day; and we know child abuse continues to be a reality.

So, what is a clergy person to do?

Strange as it may sound, I still pray. I lead prayers in worship services because I realize communal worship isn’t about me; communal worship is about the community, and if the words I use somehow help any person connect to the God of their understanding and experience healing in any way, then something beautiful and mysterious has happened–and I’m more than good with that.

My personal prayer life has changed in that it has become more of a practice of meditation. I also often simply verbalize my gratitude for food, clothing, love, family, career and shelter. Whatever positive energy I have I offer in service to the greater good, and not only do I seek the healing energy of others to help me live out of my highest self, I seek that same energy for all creation. Those are my prayers, and I can offer them with integrity.

Who knows? Maybe in the end prayer isn’t really about the exact words we use or even to whom those words are offered. Maybe one of the best prayers any of us can offer is to live out of our highest selves and thus bring healing and peace to our planet.

Blessings on your journeys!