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Filtering by Category: Christ

Creeping around the Edges (Mark 5:21-43)

Rev. Derek Penwell's sermon for 7/1/2012



In the recent debate over healthcare reform one focus of the argument centers on whether the government or the private sector can better provide healthcare service at a manageable cost. Distilled to its essence, the debate seems to me to focus on which bureaucracy is less bureaucratic.

Private insurance providers claim that the free market is more efficient, because competition drives prices down—which, given the metastatic growth in healthcare costs, is a dubious claim at best. Public healthcare advocates say that the profit incentive in private healthcare makes the job of insurance companies center around figuring out how to deny coverage. Whatever your position, though, the main argument revolves around how to get more healthcare for less money.

Our society spends a great deal of time doing cost-benefit analysis. That is to say, we're socialized to ask, “Does the benefit I derive from a thing exceed the cost I lay out?”

I love cherries, for instance. But whereas I will pay $2.99 a pound for them, $4.99 a pound strikes me as unreasonably high.

Advertising is the practice of convincing you that the prices we're charging for toilet brushes are worth the investment. This makes a certain amount of sense in a market based economy. The problem, though, is that we don't just apply cost/benefit analysis to stuff—we also apply it to one another.

John Stuart Mill wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century that ethics is a matter of “maximizing utility.” Maximizing utility means doing that which leads to the greatest happiness.

According to Mill, if I have to make a choice about whether to save one person or to save ten, I make that choice based on the greatest benefit I can achieve by my action. The sacrifice of one person to save ten is good utilitarian math—though it may not necessarily be good Christian math.

But utilitarianism in Western calculations concerns not only thorny ethical dilemmas, but also the investment of energy. Does it make more sense to teach one special needs child to read or ten average kids? We only have so many resources. We need to get the biggest bang for our buck, right? You see the problem.

But it's one thing to have to figure out how to divide up food for six among seven people on a life boat; it's an entirely different thing to apply utilitarian calculations to our everyday social arrangements. Under this kind of cost/benefit analysis, people can be judged to “cost” more than they're “worth.”

How do we deal with the mentally handicapped, with alzheimer's patients, with people in a persistent vegetative state? What do we do with people who've gotten in over their heads with mortgages they can't afford, or who've had to buy groceries with credit cards? What kind of return on our investment can we expect from them? These are tough questions.

We much prefer to deal with the easy ones: should Jr. go to Harvard or Yale? Can we really afford private Zamboni lessons for our sweet little girl? Do we want our child to date the doctor or the lawyer? Does it make more sense to be a Cubs or Yankees fan?

By and large, people want their kids to be voted “most likely to succeed,” not “best body piercing.” That's the way our society operates. The pressure is to move forward and upward—and to associate ourselves with those who do.

If you have any experience on Facebook, you know that one of the moments of pleasure it can bring is when someone you've sent a friend request to responds by accepting you as a Facebook friend. On the other hand, it can be a little unnerving to send out a friend request to somebody, and never have them respond.

You start thinking, “Did he get it? Is he ignoring me? Did I do something to insult him at some point? Does he think his other friends will think less of him if they see I'm also his friend? Am I

goofier than I thought? That can't be right, because I hung out with way cooler people in school than he did?”

It becomes a sort of endless social calculation of worth—who's more important? Who's worth my time? Do other people think I'm not worth their time?

Of course, these endless calculations of worth aren't unique to us. People throughout history have been doing these sorts of things. Even Jesus isn't completely removed from the social pressures of figuring out who's worth his time and energy.

In our Gospel, Jesus has just calmed the storm and exorcised the demons from the Gerasene demoniac. He crosses back over the sea he's just calmed, where he is approached by an important man, a leader of the synagogue named, Jairus. Up to this point in Mark, Jesus is getting a bad reputation for hanging out with the wrong sort of folks. He's paying attention to all the wrong people. Healing lepers and paralytics and the demon possessed.

Back in chapter two he does some leadership recruitment—not at the finest business schools—but at a “tax booth,” where he calls Levi. Then, he adds insult to injury by going to Levi's house to eat with a bunch of “tax collectors and sinners.” People are starting to talk. You have to be a bit more discerning about the company you keep. Jesus is getting a bad reputation.

So, when Jairus prevails upon Jesus to come see about Jairus's sick little girl, everyone’s relieved. Jairus is the kind of ally Jesus is supposed to cultivate. He's head of the Men's Morning Breakfast down at the synagogue, president of the local Lion's club; he's got contacts. He can help Jesus network.

The disciples must have been thinking, “Finally. Now, we're getting somewhere.” Do a favor for this guy, and no telling the kind of political capital Jesus can start building.

On the way to Jairus's house, though, something happens. It shouldn't have been a big thing. Jesus probably should have just kept going. When you've got a big one on the hook like Jairus, you don't

want to lose your concentration, don't want to get distracted. But Jesus stops anyway. Somebody's yanking on his shirttail. “Who touched my clothes?” he wants to know.

The disciples look at each other, their eyebrows knitted. “What do you mean, 'who touched my clothes?' You're in a crowd, for Pete’s sake.”

A woman approaches. She's owns up to grabbing onto his cloak.

If Jesus is going to turn over a new social leaf, quit hanging out with the wrong crowd, this is the perfect time to start. Women weren't supposed to touch men who were not their husbands. Jesus could make a real statement about how he's willing to play ball in the current political environment by giving this woman what-for.

Moreover, not only is she a woman, she's an unclean woman. She has, what the King James called, an issue of blood. She's been bleeding for 12 years, which is a nice way of saying she's had female problems—not just monthly, but daily . . . for 12 years.

A menstruating woman was considered unclean—which is to say, untouchable. She wasn't supposed to touch anyone, let alone a strange man.

Jesus could really signal his willingness to play by the rules by doing the right thing, the thing that would grease the social gears, the thing that would maximize utility, making the largest number of people happy. He could humiliate her, should humiliate her. But he doesn't.

He tells her that her faith has healed her. “So what?” you ask.

The outrage is that he gives tacit approval to the woman's actions. She’s a drain on society. You can’t encourage that kind of behavior. We know how people are, they’ll take advantage of you every time if they think they can get something for free—especially healthcare.

But rather than do the socially and politically expedient thing, Jesus walks the margins again in search of those folks who are creeping around the edges.

Soon, he and Jairus make it to where the sick little girl is. But by the time they get there, she's already died.

Oh well, nice try, Jesus. Thanks for coming. We appreciate you taking the time, but all that's left to us now is to start preparing her body for burial.

Jesus says, “I'd like to see her anyway. She's really only sleeping.”

Mark says that everybody laughed at Jesus for saying this. They've seen dead people before. They know what dead people look like.

Jesus persists, though. As far as Jairus is concerned, Jesus has done all that could be asked of him. Now that she's dead, Jesus will only make himself unclean by going to see her to hold her lifeless hand.

He never learns, this Jesus. What's the public relations upside here? You've got to think about how this stuff is going to play on cable news.

Not Jesus. Ignoring the cost/benefit analysis, Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, and tells her to get up, and together they walked the margins hand in hand.

What I find interesting about these two intertwined stories is the issue of how short-sighted they make Jesus appear on the front end. In both cases, Jesus participates in activity guaranteed to marginalize him in everyone’s eyes. In both cases, he risks the social and political costs of being unclean by touching those who are unclean. A true test of your convictions is what you’re prepared to look like a complete idiot for.

But the great shock of the story, however, is that once Jesus touches them, they are healed, made alive—and not only is Jesus not unclean as a result of the this encounter, neither any longer are they.

In touching these two in an unclean state, Jesus has not only healed them physically, he’s restored them to the social world in which purity is boss. In other words, he’s given them back their lives . . . in more ways than one.

When Jesus walks the margins looking for those who creep around the edges, he redefines the edges, so that the margins are set in the center; and it's the folks who usually occupy the center who risk finding themselves on the margins.

Once again, Jesus turns the world on its head. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The one who wants to find life, must first lose it. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The one who wants to gain the world, must forfeit everything.

But Jesus, that doesn't make sense; it's just not good math. You need to put your money on a winner, get a good return on your investment, ride the middle of the road. And Jesus says, “Life's much more interesting out here with those folks on the edges.”

Ask them. Ask those folks who, because society’s told them repeatedly that they’re not worth the effort, what it means for Jesus to go out of his way to reach out a hand, to risk the bad opinion of those bigwigs who occupy center. Ask them whether somebody finally willing to go looking for them means anything.

Walk the margins with Jesus, go looking for those folks creeping around the edges, and sooner or later your cost/benefit analysis is going to get really goofed up.

I promise you.


"Changes" by Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan (Matthew 22:1–14)

Today Ryan Kemp Pappan delivered his final sermon to Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. It is appropriately titled, "Changes." This is his spike of the mike, his Hollywood ending.

Sort of.

This is Ryan's unfeigned love.

During his three years at Douglass, Ryan has changed the church and changed its members profoundly. We will be celebrating Ryan, his wife Meredith, and their ministry at Douglass at a potluck on October 23rd following church. Please join us to honor Ryan and the catalyzing change he has effected at Douglass.

Click the link below for the sermon audio or just subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and you won't miss a single sermon…

"Changes" by Ryan Kemp-Pappan

I'm a Minister

I’m a minister.  Which is to say, I work as a minister in a church.  Historically, I’ve found myself reluctant to offer that bit of information in casual conversation, not because ministry occupies a position inherently more shameful than a host of other vocational options, but because when people find out that I’m a minister they either want me to answer their questions about I watch TBN, or they want to impart some theological nugget they’ve mined from The Prayer of Jabez or The Left Behind series.  Please don’t misunderstand—I like questions.  In fact I entered the ministry because of some of the questions I had about life and its ultimate meaning.  My problem lies not in questions in themselves, but in questions about whether or not I believe that the World Council of Churches, Democratic politicians, and certain cartoon characters on prime time television form a shady cabal intent on ushering in the anti-Christ and a one-world government—complete with standard issue UPC codes emblazoned on everyone’s forehead, or whether I’ve finally come to my senses and realized that mega-churches are the goal of God’s reign here on earth.

The fact is I like being a minister, in large part, because of the conversations that attach to a life spent following such a strange, quixotic, compelling character as Jesus.  The conversations, however, that seem to me to be important to have center on questions of justice, non-violence, grace, faithfulness, friendship, and devotion, rather than the sort of mass-produced fare provided by a popular religious culture that asks nothing more of Christians than that they act nice, refrain from swearing in public, and support any military action proposed by the American government as, ipso facto, God’s will.

To put a finer point on it, I like being a minister at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church.  I’m blessed to belong to a community of faith that takes seriously our call to live out the example of Jesus in the best way we know how.  DBCC is a community unafraid to take a chance on following Jesus down a dark alley.  I like that.  I like the sense of adventure I find at DBCC, as well as the adventurous thoughts I have when I think about what we can do together.

I guess this is all a long way of saying that my thoughts about ministry have evolved since coming to Douglass.  Many of the things I do don’t even feel particularly like work.  In fact, now when I’m asked what I do, I tell people I’m a minister at this really great church that seeks justice for the marginalized, that provides embrace for those who’ve been excluded, that looks into the eyes of the forgotten and says, “You’re welcome here.”  Though we’re not perfect, we are constantly looking for ways to grow and be better.

I’m a minister.  I just thought you should know.

"The Mercy of Bread" (Matthew 15:21–28)

Back from vacay, Derek preaches on the Canaanite woman with a demon-afflicted daughter who has the audacity to approach Jesus. In other words, he preaches about marginalization.

Our culture is so good at teaching us who we can safely ignore, but coming to the table each week reminds us that no one can ever be expendable again.


Click the link below for the sermon audio or just subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and you won't miss a single sermon…

"The Mercy of Bread" by Rev. Derek Penwell

Who's Steering This Thing?

"Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Happy are all who take refuge in him" (Psalm 2:10-12).

In the uncertainty leading up to an agreement on raising the debt ceiling, the financial markets have taken a hit.  As I write this the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Dow Jones is posting its "first seven session slide since July 2010."  Republicans and Democrats are fighting it out to to see who will be able to claim to represent "what the American people" want.  What bothers me, though, is that while both are laying claim to exceptional financial vision, they will try to situate themselves as having been right all along, while both will say that the other side of the aisle has been hopelessly tone-deaf to the needs of "the American people," and is therefore incapable of managing the ship of state.  Inherent in such a political argument is that somebody, or some party of somebodies is ultimately in control—that all that stands between us and happiness and prosperity is the right political representation and the silencing of the opponent.  Precious time is wasted while the parties speak about their ability to exert dominion over the economy.  I hope the irony doesn’t escape us.

I love to feel in control.  I imagine, therefore, that other people feel this way.  Further, I imagine that people who have power are prone to feeling this way (which is probably why they got into the power business in the first place).  The illusion that we can ultimately order our world in such a way as to preclude inconveniences like poverty, crime, racism, discrimination, and danger is presumptuous at best, and idolatrous at worst.  We live and move and have our being in ways that suggest we have conjured up life, movement, and existence by our own initiative — by having such things as a sound domestic policy and a strong military.  We have repeatedly failed to see that life itself is a gift.  We have no more real control over our world than we have over God.

And maybe that is the point: We think perhaps that by our tireless organizing and speculating and legislating that we can finally impose order on God — and in the process become (of sorts) gods ourselves.  The problem with that, of course, is that God is even more stubborn about maintaining control than we are.

Thank goodness for that.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

True Nonconformity

“Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).

“The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed.  It is about the character of the consumers of products.  Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country–these tell nothing about the product being sold.  But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them.  What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer” (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 128).

Advertising, at this point in our cultural development, is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink.  We know that.  Instinctively, somehow, it makes sense.  If consumption is the gas that drives the capitalist machine, we understand that somehow or another we must be motivated to go to the pump and do our part to keep the whole thing humming along.  Of course, advertisers do not want us to think of it in such vulgar terms.  Otherwise, the magic would be gone.  Rather, advertising is designed to keep us from thinking much at all, except insofar as it can get us to think about ourselves.  And in that sense, advertising is less concerned with selling us a new product as it is with selling us a new vision of ourselves as the sort of people who might benefit from buying a product.

In other words, commercials are inherently preachy.  Only the moralizing is so subtle that we hardly even notice it.  Later Postman says, “The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales, which is to say, it isn’t.  Which is to say further, it is about how one ought to live one’s life” (p. 131).  The seduction happens so effortlessly that we hardly even feel it.

Why, though?  Why does it work so well?  I think commercials have the power to shape us because we are so preoccupied with ourselves.  It seems as though we care less about being good people, for example, than about being perceived as good people.  Why?  Because while actually being good takes a great deal of hard work, looking like a good person takes very little effort at all–just the right kind of aftershave and life insurance.  Nowadays, one doesn’t actually have to put in the grueling hours it used to take to be smart; one need merely stay in the right hotel.

Paul, however, suggests a way to release us from the relentless grip of commercial culture.  He tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.”  If what we are primarily concerned about happens not to be our own image, but that of the one who gives us a self with which to be concerned in the first place, then psychodramas about acne and sports utility vehicles will have lost their power over us.  By understanding that what we truly need is not the tweaking provided by the right brand of toothpaste or the coolest brand of beer, we begin to see ourselves the way Christ sees us, rather than the way Madison Avenue needs for us to see ourselves.

According to Paul, maybe being your own person isn’t such a great deal after all.  Living the life Jesus calls you to live . . . now, that would be true nonconformity.

What's in It for Me?

An elderly woman walked into a J.C. Penney department store.  Three young salesclerks were standing there (that was in the days there were people around to wait on you), but since the woman’s clothes were a tattered and worn, they figured that it was a waste of time to wait on such an unlikely prospect.  But there was a fourth young man standing nearby, a devoted Christian for whom kindness was second nature.  He approached the elderly woman, helped her make her purchases and then as she checked out, he learned that she was Mrs. J.C. Penney.

Dan G. Johnson, Neglected Treasure: Rediscovering the Old Testament


I find stories like this strangely distressing.  So much of what we do as a society is predicated on the idea that if you do something well enough and in front of the right people, you will receive some kind of reward.  Which is to enter every situation asking, not “How can I be of service?” but “What’s in it for me?”  If we’re honest, this story isn’t about helping someone else as much as it is about helping the right person—and, ultimately, ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say when asked why they stopped coming to church, “I wasn’t getting anything out of it”--as if the primary purpose for gathering for worship was somehow only to get something.  This attitude goes something like, “By Sunday morning I’m usually on Spiritual empty, and I come to church to get a fill-up on God.”  But when that attitude emerges, the church becomes merely another consumer proposition, “I’ll go where I get the most for the lowest cost to me.”

Worship is our corporate prayer to God every Sunday.  The church’s life—the way the church is administrated, the education programs, the fellowship opportunities, the acts of service—is itself a corporate prayer.  In that sense, then, our mindset ceases to be, “What will I miss if I’m not there?” but, rather “What will be missing if I’m not there?”  Each member and friend of the church plays a unique role in the prayer of faithfulness we lift to God.  Consequently, everyone is an equally vital part of the body, even if someone’s role is not always noticed by the rest.

My vision for the Church is that we begin to see ourselves as a family who, when sitting down to the table together, genuinely perceives the family as a whole, not just the sum of its constituent parts.  Indeed, when I begin to understand our connectedness, I’m freed to realize that I’m not in this just for me at all—I’m in this for you as well (and maybe even Mrs. J.C. Penney, too).


Growing up without Going It Alone

I guess I realized I was an adult when I found myself in East Tennessee with a new wife and no job. I had graduated from college four weeks earlier, and then got married just two weeks prior to loading up my grandfather’s Chevy pickup and launching out into the great unknown of, what I took to be, adulthood. We moved to Tennessee so I could go to graduate school. There was a little money left over from the honeymoon, which I thought would last us a month or so, providing we could eat on fifty dollars a week. I figured a month would be plenty of time for us both to find jobs and start living like grown-ups.

It occurs to me now that foresight was not a virtue I possessed at twenty-two, because I did not, as I had anticipated, find a job. My wife, at nineteen, already much more readily employable than I, found a part time job as a hostess at the restaurant in the Holiday Inn. Her income, it will not surprise you to know, didn’t turn out to be enough to sustain us. And so, with a nearly empty refrigerator and no prospects for employment on the horizon, we packed up the truck and headed back to Detroit to live with my in-laws.

We didn’t stay too long—though her parents could not have been nicer. After four months we’d both found jobs making sufficient money to move to a small apartment—her working in a doctor’s office, and me in a Speedway.

One might reasonably inquire as to why a situation that resulted in me moving back in with my in-laws made me aware of my status as an adult. Generally speaking, such a move, at least psychologically, means a failure to live up to the standards set for grown-up living. However, it strikes me that though we had folks helping us take care of our basic needs, no one was going to parachute in to right our listing financial ship. A little assistance here and there to help us keep our heads above water, but nobody offered to buy us a boat. It felt lonely at first (and still does sometimes).

But what I finally realized about our predicament was that nobody was going to live our lives for us. Being an adult takes courage and some intentionality, a commitment to hanging on when hanging on seems impossible.

But lest this degenerate into some kind of morally edifying self-help anecdote, it also occurs to me that it’s critical to point out that we were kept afloat. We had people who loved us, who wouldn’t let us fall through the cracks. It is a hard thing to realize that not everyone is so fortunate—and that we could very easily, if just a few things were different, be the people we read about living under viaducts in cardboard boxes. So while living can’t be done by proxy, it can’t be done in isolation either.

Faith, it seems to me, works along the same lines. On the one hand, the spiritual lone wolf is a non-starter; on the other hand, walking through a crowd of people on a journey you happen not to be taking doesn’t make you a pilgrim either. You can neither go it alone nor rely entirely on others to do your work for you. Somewhere in the mysterious middle lies maturity—both as a human being and as a seeker of God.



The Gift

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:7-15).

Do you pray?  I don’t mean when it’s your turn at the supper table, or when someone calls on you in Sunday School class.  Do you pray?  What do you say?  Is it hard to pray?

Prayer has been addressed for so long as a formal thing that is unlike anything else we do during the day.  We expect that prayers follow some kind of standard of length and prettiness; that is, we figure that the longer and lovelier the prayer, the better it is.  And the better the prayer, the more chance we will have of God hearing it and answering it.  Of course, this view of prayer makes it almost a magical incantation.  Which is to say, you have to find the right words in order to yank God’s chain hard enough to get anything done.

Jesus, on the other hand, heads us in a different direction.  Jesus tells us to pray simply and directly.  One doesn’t have to heap on the words for God to hear it—God already knows what you need before you ask.  Prayer is honest communication between us and the one who made us, and who watches over us.

Prayer is not a tool to manipulate God into doing what we want.  Prayer is the foundation of the relationship between God and humanity.  It isn’t designed to convince God to forgive us, or to take care of us.  God has already promised in Christ to do that.  Prayer is a way of allowing us to see our need (for a “Father who art in heaven”, for forgiveness, for bread, for aid in facing trials and temptations, etc.), of admitting that we couldn’t live without God’s grace.

And maybe that’s why Jesus tacks on the saying at the end about forgiving our brothers and sisters who have trespassed against us.  Because if we can’t see God’s grace in forgiving us so that we might forgive others, then we’ll never experience our bread, our trials, or the kingdom of heaven as a gift from God.  If we never get the picture that God’s forgiveness of us frees us to forgive other people (people that the world says we have a right to hold a grudge against), then we don’t have a clue about the rest of what’s involved in being a Christian.  How can God forgive those who have no idea what forgiveness is, or that they even need it?

Prayer is not a mystical formula, or a flowery show of devotion.  Prayer gives us a sense of the majesty of God, and to what great lengths God has gone to show us mercy.  It gives us understanding about gratitude and about whom we depend upon for even the most ordinary things in life.  Perhaps, most of all, prayer allows us to see that God lost in a Son in God’s desire to reconcile—even with those who have done us wrong.

The Haves and the Have-Nots and How Things Work in the Reign of God

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

I was listening to a show on NPR the one time, which took as its subject college admissions applications counselors.  Apparently, and I didn’t know this, you can hire someone to help your child fill out college admissions applications, to give her/him the best possible shot at being accepted.  College admissions is a pretty complicated game, played for big stakes.  So it stands to reason that an industry would spring up around helping applicants put their best foot forward.  The catch, of course, is that to avail yourself of these types of services, you have to be able to pay for them.  And, as I gathered from the NPR piece, the whole thing can be rather pricey, leading one interviewer to ask one of the professional admissions counselors if that didn’t indicate some sort of inherent division of access between the “haves” and “have-nots.”  The counselor’s reply caught me up short.  She said, “Well, sure.  But what in America doesn’t cause some sort of division of access between the haves and have-nots?  That’s just the way things work.”

And she’s right, isn’t she?  If you have the money to purchase the help, you have access to places that would be otherwise closed to you.  Who would deny it?  If you have the means to hire someone to put your best foot forward for college admission, you increase your chances of getting accepted.  The whole industry is predicated on the notion that you can get better results from a professional.  But what if you can’t afford a professional to help you fill out the admissions forms?  What if the school you attended was one of the forgotten school systems in rural Appalachia or urban Louisville?

Obviously, there is an inherent division of access between the haves and the have-nots in our country.  Not everybody is starting out from the same place.  Some folks in our country are starting from so far back, they can’t even see the starting line the rest of us started at.  Unquestionably, some people have a head start in life.

Which is why the whole issue of a multi-millionaire white broadcaster—on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—presuming to lay claim to Dr. King’s legacy, sits uncomfortably with me.  The plea for a color-blind society, in theory, makes sense.  But, let’s be honest, we don’t live in theoretical constructs.  We live in the United States of America, where there is an “inherent division of access between the haves and have-nots.”  To say, for example, that college admissions ought to be color-blind sounds good, and fair, and American.  To say that there ought to be no racial preferences sounds equitable.  But what if you were to say that there ought to be no preference shown for a kid whose parents can afford to pay for a counselor to help fill out the applications forms, over a kid whose parents are struggling to pay to keep a roof overhead?  Realistically, you can’t do that, but you see where I’m headed with this.  The playing field can never be level left to itself because there is an inherent division of access between the haves and the have-nots in our country.

What’s my point?  I’m not arguing (at least here) for a legislative action with respect to Affirmative Action (although, I’d be happy to speak with you about it if you want to know how I feel.)  Actually, I want to go deeper than that to talk about how Christians communicate.  If you happen to be a person of color, you hear things like “there is an inherent division of access between the haves and the have-nots” in a particular way.  People of color know who the “haves and have-nots” in our society generally are.  And when they hear someone blithely dismiss the inequities of access with, “That’s just the way things work,” you may begin to understand how the have-nots hear the haves whining about “level playing fields” and “color-blind admissions policies” and “reverse racism.”  It sounds like a sneaky attempt by those with a head start to hold onto what they’ve historically enjoyed.

And here’s the sad part from where I sit as a Christian and as a minister.  Two days ago, as I write this, a wealthy white man, claiming to be tapped by God for the job, led a group of mostly middle class white folks in a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, declaring a desire to restore America’s honor.  Part of what they believe that honor has to do with is a wish for Americans to stop focusing on the inherent divisions of race, and start focusing on achievement.  But here’s the problem: I’ve heard some of those same kinds of good middle class Christian white folk seek to embrace people of color out of one side of their mouths, while uttering genuinely nice sounding things about “equality” and “color-blindness” out of the other side—because they believe themselves to be starting at the same place in the race as the have-nots, never understanding what the have-nots are all painfully aware of—that the starting line begins at a different point for each of us.  Consequently, our brothers and sisters of color are left to wonder whether or not we really do care about racial unity, because we continue to use the code words that keep them at the back of the line, while making ourselves look fair.

We will have no basis upon which to pursue racial unity within the church until we are honest with ourselves about the fact that the playing field is not level, that it’s not just a matter of hard work, that the language we use, the way we see the world will continue to color our relationships.  Clearly, we all want with Dr. King, a country in which our children “will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of the character.”  But what we Christians need to come to terms with is the fact that not everybody in our country is given the same opportunities to develop the kind of character by which Dr. King thought we all ought to be judged.  Therefore, how we speak about our situation affects our relationship to one another.

Until we begin to understand that as the body of Christ none of us can be truly happy while another of us suffers, we’ll never understand the eschatological vision Dr. King was trying to get us to see.  “Color-blind” is the goal, but before it can ever be embodied among us, we must put away the illusion that we’ve already achieved it.  That’s definitely not “how things work” in the reign of God.

By Derek Penwell

My Stonewall Remarks: 40 Years Ago

40 years ago the silent voice of a community was heard in a riotous action proclaiming that they would no longer be silent.  40 years ago a few hundred gathered to give voice to the marginalization and systemic oppression forced upon them.  40 years ago a movement was born that we celebrate here today.

The most important thing to remember about movements is that they are comprised of people.  People with hopes, dreams, and vision.  People with love in their hearts looking for a place to store that love.  People with the right to be.  PEOPLE! Movements being and end with the people.  Movements cannot sustain the movement when it is boiled down to an idea.

I stand here today a leader in the Christian church.  I stand here today as a white, straight male. I am a part of this movement.

The Christian faith has been utilized in the disenfranchising action of the GLBTQ community.  We have demanded that you must give up your faith if you insist on keeping your love.  We have demanded that you remain silent in order to nourish your soul.  We have demanded that you have a place in the Kindom of God only if you conform to the narrow standards of dubious origins.  For this I am terribly sorry.

It is my hope that we as a church may offer reconciliation and love to our sisters and brothers for the atrocities perpetrated upon them in the name of God.  It is my hope that the beautiful voice of faith embraced by the GLBTQ Community may enrich the faith on communities across Kentucky.  The faith of a few transforms the faith of us all.  This is a lesson we may draw from the actions of those brave people that would not be silent 40 years ago.

I recently read a lecture from Kentucky’s proud son, Bishop V. Gene Robinson, titledWhy Religion Matters in the Quest for Gay Civil Rights. He speaks, “I believe that it will take religious people and religious voices to undo the harm that has been done by religious institutions…It’s time that progressive religious people stop being ashamed of their faith and fearful that they will be identified with the Religious Right, and start preaching the Good News of the liberating Christ, which includes ALL God’s Children.”

It seems that the harm, the damage that is being done is by us, the religious community, by us being in the shadows.  It is time for us to step out of the shadows.  I offer that as this movement progresses and the fires of the Spirit burn in the hearts of the many that we the religious community owe the Gay community love for the silence we offer and the isolation that we perpetrate upon you.  We the religious community owe you that scared space to be fearfully & wonderfully made.  We the religious community owe it to you to emerge from the silence and join our voice with yours and demand that WE shall not be denied the justice imbued within our hearts and souls because we celebrate the diversity of Gods creation.

40 years ago a rebellion began that we are honored to celebrate tonight and participate in today.  40 years ago people came together and would not be silent.  Tonight let us commit ourselves to not remaining silent.  Let us join our voice as we demand that Liberty & justice truly be for ALL.