Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In which I voted . . .

Today is Election Day in the United States. I can speak with nearly 100% certainty that the candidate I voted for will not be elected president of the United States.

And that's OK.

I voted. I made my voice heard. However, as my picture shows, this was not easy at all.

This has been a difficult election year for me. The candidate that inspired me, motivated me, and gave me hope for the future, Bernie Sanders, lost the nomination of the Democratic Party. He conceded graciously. However, he was and is an Independent Senator from the state of Vermont.

When presented with the two choices of the two major parties in the United States, I was hesitant to support either. The first, Donald Trump, proved to me to be a misogynistic, fear-mongering person, who blamed another people group (Hispanics and Muslims) for the ills of the United States. Having lived in Germany and understanding so much of the German culture, this sounded too much like Hitler pointing out the social ills of Germany (of which there were many when he rose to power) and using the Jews as the scapegoat for their problems.

Yes, for those keeping track, I invoked Godwin's Law. So be it.

Unfortunately, just like Germany of 1933, Republicans for the most part bought his fear-mongering, hook, line and sinker and nominated him as their candidate of choice. As the nomination seemed to be more and more likely, I predicted that Evangelical Christians would find some illogical reason to support Donald Trump based solely on their one main voting issue:  abortion. They were willing to sacrifice their character and their soul to find a conclusion based on sophistry about why it was important to vote for Trump. As horrible as I think abortion is and as sad as I think it is for women to have to resort to it, I do not believe that Republicans will ever make it illegal. They are simply using it to gain votes from Evangelicals Christians to maintain their power.

(Just a side note on the abortion issue:  address the reason why women have abortions and you will see the abortion rate sink, but that's for another blog.)

If ever there were a reason to no longer identify myself as an Evangelical, the Evangelical community gave it to me with their overwhelming support of Donald Trump.

For most people, they would then assume that I am voting for Hillary Clinton. That would be a false assumption.

We humans tend to like to categorize things into polar opposites:  Good vs. Evil. Republican vs. Democrat. Gay vs. Straight. Black vs. White.

In reality, none of this is an easy choice and we fall more on a spectrum than we do to an either/or. This is evidenced by the soul-searching Evangelicals had to do to convince themselves to vote for Trump.

I am neither gay nor straight. I am bisexual.

I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I am a Green.

And with that, I have cast my ballot for the candidate I know with almost 100% certainty will not be the next president:  Jill Stein. For me, her policies most closely resembled those of Bernie Sanders while Hillary Clinton's does not.

Does this mean that I "gave away" my vote to the other candidates? No, not at all. I voted and expressed my opinion on who I think should run this country. Is it in the minority? Absolutely. Does it count? Yes, it does.

For my Democratic friends who believe that I contribute to the possibility of Hillary Clinton not being elected:  well, maybe I did. However, I would be more concerned with the millions of registered voters in the United States who gave up their right to vote and instead refused to vote today. There is an apathy in the United States with our government. Instead of voting, most people give up. In so doing, they make the situation worse.

I have often heard many voters say in this election that they feel they are choosing between the lesser of two evils. My only response to that is then:  If that is what you believe, you are still choosing evil. If you are choosing the Republican candidate simply because he is a Republican, but doesn't represent your views, then you are simply concerned with maintaining power, not with making a difference in society. The same goes for my Democratic friends.

Finally, we have so often forgotten the power of the opposition voice. If we remain silent, then we forfeit the tremendous strength we have in giving our opinions. Even though Jill Stein will not win the election today, she has reminded me of the importance of speaking out against injustice; to maintain the care of this fragile Earth, and to advocate peace over war.

This video from Jill Stein exemplifies why I voted for her:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Divorce and Unrequited Love

photo credit: marchatot Divorce via photopin (license)

"You've Been Served."

And with those horrible, gut-wrenching words, one of the worst fears of my life occurred:  I was going to go through a divorce. I had been served divorce papers.

Now before any of you begin to think that I am going to trash my former wife or malign her family, you will be sorely disappointed. That would not be fair to her, to my sons, or to our family. You are free to speculate why the divorce happened. You are free to gossip about who was at fault, but you would miss the point of what happened:  two people parted ways and both sides are hurting.

"What happened? How could this happen to me? Why?" All of these questions ran through my head as I tried to make sense of my life.

I now rank as one of those millions of people who are now or have been divorced. I feel the societal stigma placed on me.


I felt the most excruciating pain in my life. It ripped at my soul. It knocked me physically down. On the day my children and former wife left, as I remember the tears of my oldest son dripping hot on my cheek as he refused to let me go, I went through almost intolerable pain. My mind tried to block out the pain. My body refused. I went through each room my children and wife had been in. I smelled the scents of their presence. I picked up Lego pieces that were strewn across the ground by my boys and hoarded them as precious treasures.

The pain came on me in waves inexorably like waves crashing on the beach.

I nearly succumbed to the pain. It would have been so easy.

photo credit: Freaktography Poison via photopin (license)


As the pain went away, I noticed something else creep into my life:  bitterness. It tasted like poison. I was resentful to so many people and organizations:  Resentful to my former wife; resentful to The Salvation Army, which made me homeless and took away the my livelihood, my insurance, my pension, and, perhaps most significantly, my identity. I was no longer an officer. I was no longer a respected person in the community. I was a disgraced ex-officer and a pariah. This was perhaps compounded by the fact that only 1 officer from my former division ever contacted me to find out how I was doing. No one else reached out to me to see how I was doing. No one reached out to me:  not my divisional commander, not my officer friends, no one on the divisional headquarters, none.

A pariah.

That's what I had become. Because of that, I felt bitter:  bitter towards my former wife, bitter towards The Salvation Army, bitter towards the people I felt had wronged me.

I quickly realized, however, that this bitterness was rapidly becoming poison in my life. It ate away at my soul. I had become a recluse. I didn't want that in my life.

In one of my appointments as a Salvation Army officer, I recalled a tragic tale of a couple who went through a terrible divorce. The former husband held his bitterness almost as a badge of honor. He kept it. He showed it to anyone and everyone who would listen to him. He used it to blame others for what had befallen him. He was unhappy and, in an ironic sense, did not want to let go of that unhappiness. He cherished it because it had become part of his identity. He was a bitter man.

I did not (and do not) want to become that bitter man.


I actually had become blind to people who had been helping me out. The day my former wife and children left me, my counselor called me up on the phone and just listened to me cry. I realize now what I didn't realize then. He saved my life. I poured out my broken heart to him and he took it in. I cannot imagine the burden that must be.

I had friends show up at the last minute to help me pack and clean the last of my belongings. My family came and stayed with me, while I picked up the pieces of my life. I had another friend call me nearly every day, just so that I could talk and cry.

They saved my life.

My sister and brother-in-law invited me down to Detroit. When they asked what I wanted to do, my response was that I wanted to go to Canada and eat poutine. So we went. I ate poutine. I found a new comfort food. (Thanks, Canada! Sorry about singing the song, "Blame Canada," the entire time I was there.)

Unrequited Love

Finally there came acceptance and a realization of another characteristic of God I had never seen before. When I received the paperwork from the courts, informing me that my divorce was final and I was no longer married, I mourned. I cried. I reached out to family and friends.

Then I thought about God. How often does God reach out to us in love? How often do we reject God? How often does God try to persuade us to love? How often do we refuse?

There is a beautiful passage in Hosea about God calling out to Israel and Israel refusing to listen. It is very much the story of an unrequited love:  a love that is not returned.

Although I realize that my marriage with my former wife will never be restored, I do realize that something special had happened. We shared 13 years of our lives together. We have three beautiful boys together and one child lost through a miscarriage. That can never be taken away.

Love is a wonderful and strange thing. Love is powerful.

One thing that I have realized now is that love goes beyond divorce. I had assumed that love was limited for me to being married. I was wrong. I believe that I would not be able to love again or find love outside of marriage. I was wrong.

Divorced Christians have had a stigma placed on them in large part by other Christians. I realize how wrong that is. No matter who we are:  Christian, non-Christian; gay or straight; black or white, divorced, married or single; we are all deserving of love.

I have found love again.

The love of my children never left me. The love of my family never left me. I discovered a new love through a new Church.

The love of God had never left me . . .

. . . and that is all that matters.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Good Samaritan Revisited

Stain-glass Window Depiction of the Good Samaritan
photo credit: Jules & Jenny Doddington, St Peter's church window via photopin (license)

Perhaps one of the most riveting stories in the Bible is the tale of the Good Samaritan. For those who are unfamiliar with it, here it is from Luke 10:25-37 (CEB):

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to gain eternal life?" Jesus replied, "What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?" He responded, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus replied, "A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days' worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, 'Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.' What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor who encountered the thieves?"
Then the legal expert said, "The one who demonstrated mercy toward him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

There are several things happening here and some cultural aspects that I want to bring to light.

Many people have remarked before how the commandment quoted here is the most important commandment in the Bible. It encapsulates all other commandments. In fact, for me, it is the basis for how I live my life. It is can be summed up in these 4 words:  "Love God. Love others."

This commandment is so important, that many observant Jews will state this command several times during the day. I can imagine in this scene where the two rabbis (this unnamed scholar and Jesus) are testing each other. This scholar wants to somehow discredit Jesus, but Jesus gives this man a scenario that he probably never would have dreamed of.

A man is injured after being robbed and mugged on the highway, left for dead. Two men walk past him:  a priest and a Levite. Both the priest and the Levite (who was a person in the priestly caste system) had certain ceremonial responsibilities. If either of them were to stop and help the man, who most likely was bleeding, then they would be ceremonially unclean and would not be able to do their duties in the Temple. If the man were actually dead, they would definitely be ceremonially unclean.

I am not certain on this, but I could imagine that most listeners of this would have nodded their heads. They could possibly imagine that the priest or the Levite might tell other people about the man so that they could help him. However, it was the Samaritan who helped him out.

What is a Samaritan? Samaritans are a group of people, who still exist today, although in small communities, who worshiped the same God as the Jews did, but with noticeable differences. Samaritans were the product of interracial marriage between Jews and non-Jews that happened after the Assyrian conquest of Israel. Since they were of mixed race, they were despised by the Jews. The Samaritan Torah, which is nearly identical to the Jewish Torah, made notable exceptions in it to show that the Samaritans were properly worshiping God and not the Jews. This developed into animosity and racism between the two people. Neither groups of people liked each other. In fact, they despised each other.

A modern day Samaritan
photo credit: Copper Kettle A samaritan via photopin (license)

So this Samaritan, this despised person, helped out his enemy. Normally the story ends there. Does it, though?

I once told this story to one of my translators in Albania when I served with The Salvation Army there. However, I substituted the Good Samaritan for the "Good Serbian," who helped the injured Albanian. The reaction I had from him was shocking. He acted outraged that a Serbian would be so merciful:  the enemy of his people who had driven them out of their homeland. His hate was palpable. (Click here to read more of this story.)

However, let's take a look at the original question:  What must I do to gain eternal life? With Jesus' parable, he implied something outrageous and . . . Dare I say it? . . . Heretical!

This Samaritan was the one who had gained eternal life. This Samaritan had the wrong theology. He believed the "wrong" things. In fact, some people might even dare to say that this Samaritan did not even worship the same God as the Jews did. (I recently had a fellow Christian accuse me of not worshiping the same God as he did.) However, it was the Samaritan who gained eternal life, not because of what he believed, but of his actions demonstrating his love for God and others.

This gives me pause. What about others who do good and show love for their fellow humans? The Muslim, the Hindu, the atheist? None of them accept Christ as their personal Savior. None of them follow Jesus. None of them say that Jesus is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." However, it would seem that Jesus is saying that it is possible to gain eternal life, not by what we believe, but by how we act.

What is the definite answer? I don't know. The reason I don't know is because I am not the one who determines who has eternal life and who doesn't. So I will not be so quick to mete out judgment on anyone, including those of a different belief system. Perhaps none of us should.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wounded by the Church

photo credit: Faith Triumphant via photopin (license)

The Summons

I was summoned to appear before my leaders when I was a Salvation Army officer (pastor). A screenshot of something I had written in a closed group on Facebook had been sent to our National Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia and then sent to our Territorial Headquarters in Chicago.

"Did you write this?" I was asked.

I nodded in the affirmative.

"This is heresy."

I was silent.

What had I written? A fellow Salvationist (member of my denomination, The Salvation Army) in New Zealand was bemoaning the fact that the Bible was clear on homosexuality being a sin. I thought it very strange since this Salvationist was in a group dedicated to the inclusion of all LGBT people in the Church and especially The Salvation Army. I had responded to this young man that the Bible is rarely clear on anything. It is only our interpretation of the Bible that is clear.

For that, I was labeled a heretic by someone I used to respect. I was eventually terminated as a Salvation Army officer because of that and because I stand for LGBT inclusion. Being a bisexual Salvation Army officer did not help matters, either. There was another issue that precipitated my termination, but is not relevant to this discussion.

After my termination, I was denied membership in my local Salvation Army corps (church) because of my views on marriage equality. I had to fight to win that right to be a member.

My story is not unique. I have heard many others tell their tale of being wounded and bullied by the Church. The Church, who should be loving and like a mother, is more like a whore.

Dorothy Day said it perhaps best:

As to the Church . . . though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother. - ("In Peace is my Bitterness Most Bitter," CW, January 1967)

What does one do when one is wounded by your faith community? This is the crossroads I am at right now.

This past year has been a year of wounds for me, much of which has been caused by the Church.

  • Loss of ordination as a Salvation Army officer
  • Being called a heretic
  • Denial of membership in my local Salvation Army
  • Having to fight for that membership transfer

Spiritual Abuse . . .

I once was talking with a woman involved in an abusive relationship. She was having an affair with another man even though she herself was married. After this man had been convicted three times of assault, including on this man's current wife, she told me that she believed he was good in his heart and that he could change.

That's a hallmark sign of someone ensnared in an abusive relationship. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she stays with him and believes that she can change him. Nothing I could say could convince her of the dangerous situation she was in.

Am I in an abusive relationship with the Church?

I don't know. It feels at times like it is.

A Salvation Army officer told me recently that he does not believe I worship the same God as he does.

I was told by some other officers that it would be better for me to leave The Salvation Army and find somewhere else to worship.

I was called a heretic.

Why should I stay?

That's probably the hardest question to ask, but also the most important.

First off:  My analogy of the abusive spouse is just that:  an analogy. It would not be fair of me to characterize the entire Church as judgmental, exclusionary, and abusive.

I could start off by saying that I am a fourth generation member of The Salvation Army and it's tradition, but that's the wrong reason to stay. At the same time, I have so much history there. The Salvation Army imprinted itself on my soul and has formed a great deal of what my personality and character is. I would not be the person I am today without The Salvation Army.

The bullying I experienced was not dealt by everyone in The Salvation Army. In fact, I was never bullied by anyone in The Salvation Army during my entire service in Germany. The German Salvation Army is a wonderful group of caring people who regularly called me up to ask how I was doing spiritually and were always concerned about my welfare. Even though I made mistakes there, I was never condemned for them, simply corrected and helped. Danke, liebe Kameraden! Ihr fehlt mir.

Another reason I stay is the fact that I am not alone. There are many others in my denomination who think as I do. We stayed connected through social media, have discussions online, and even do book studies on matters that interest us. I know that if it weren't for this wonderful community, I would have succumbed long ago to resigning outright.

I have also discovered another welcoming Church near me that has greeted me with open arms and accepted me for who I am. Their fellowship has nourished my soul and done much to help me on my spiritual healing.

What is the Church?

A friend of mine and fellow blogger, S. Bradford Long, recently wrote how much he hated Church. I read what he wrote and nodded along with every point he made:  worship was anything but restful; sermons are often boring; Church was work.

Then I realized something:  Church was more than that! I talked with him about it. These are my ideas of Church:

  • Church is not people coming together on Sundays.
  • Church is when I meet with my friends.
  • Church is when I eat dinner with my family.
  • Church is when I have a video chat with friends about books we are reading.
  • Church is the communal dinner I have on Wednesdays and the Bible Study we engage in afterwards.
  • Church is when a stranger listens to my broken heart over a Twitter chat.

We are the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, we tend to believe that there are cancerous parts in us and we treat it those parts (the people we disagree with) like radiation or chemotherapy, or worse yet, we cut them out altogether. If we are the Body of Christ, then we are not cancerous. Would Christ's body really be cancerous? Even if it were, are we even qualified as surgeons? I don't think so. Let the Great Physician deal with that. Paul writes:

You are the Body of Christ and parts of each other. - 1 Corinthians 12:27 (CEB)

What is perhaps more important to me is the verse before that:
If one parts suffer, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. - 1 Corinthians 12:26 (CEB) 
The Church should be there to help each other out and support each other, not beat each other up. Unfortunately, we have not learned this lesson at all. Instead, we tend to ostracize and excommunicate those with whom we disagree.

I have to remind myself that those with a different opinion are not attacking me, they are just disagreeing with me. Better yet, I also realize that I need to befriend those with whom I disagree. There is no "us vs. them."

My Decision?

So what is my decision? Do I stay or do I go? The Church is more than a membership in a denomination. I am enjoying the journey and am healing from the heartaches. This is my life. I have drawn no conclusions. Sometimes it's good to live in the tension.

Note:  Thanks to S. Bradford Long for kindly allowing me to link to his article. Check out his blog! It's well worth reading!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Bible is Clear . . . As Mashed Potatoes

German Colloquialism

There are some German sayings that I really love. Some are bizarre, but then others are very illuminating. One time while I was living in Germany, a friend of mine had called me to cancel an appointment because she had problems with her almonds. I was totally confused by this. I had no idea what she meant. I didn't know if she had an allergic reaction to almonds or if she would rather have walnuts instead. Then she told me that her throat was very sore. Now I was very confused. So I turned to my dictionary. Lo and behold! "Mandeln," the German word for almonds, was another way of saying "tonsils."

I have no idea why that is. There are other bizarre expressions in German. Sometimes a German would say, "That's sausage to me," when he/she means that s/he doesn't care. If you "have a bird," you're "nuts." (Please don't ask me to explain what a "mother cake" is.)

One expression, though, that I really liked was the expression, "clear as mashed potatoes." We have a similar expression in English, "clear as mud." It means the same thing:  that the topic of discussion is actually not very clear at all.

We are the Borg

(Resistance is futile)

Recently in an online discussion group, some of us were talking about how when a person becomes a member of The Salvation Army as a soldier, one of the things that we like to do is to recite our doctrines. All of us collectively read our doctrines. This is similar in other worship services if, especially in liturgical denominations, you say the Apostle's Creed, or the Lord's Prayer collectively.

Our first doctrine in The Salvation Army talks about Scripture. "We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice."

I try to give feeling to what I say when we recite that collectively. Otherwise, we come across all sounding like the Borg from Star Trek. 

I have a somewhat fiendish desire for a session of cadets (Salvation Army seminary students) to say, "Resistance is Futile" after they are commissioned (ordained).

The Bible is . . . not clear.

I have begun to notice a disturbing trend among Christians. This comes from many persuasions, whether conservative or progressive in their thoughts. When discussing theological issues, I often hear the phrase, "The Bible is clear . . ."

I want to wince every time I hear that.

First of all, the Bible is rarely clear on anything. It is often contradictory and filled with inconsistencies. The best example I like to give is with Judas Iscariot.

How did he die?

Most people say that he committed suicide by hanging himself. (See Matthew 27:3-10.)

However, Luke in his account in the Acts of the Apostles, states that Judas died by accident. He tripped in a field he purchased and his guts spilled out.

Unfortunately, I know many people who try to remove the obvious inconsistent stories here with a stretch of logic. They try to reason that Judas hung himself, but then the branch broke on the tree he hung himself and his guts spilled out when he fell. There is a word to describe this type of logic:  Sophistry.

Screenshots are Gossip

Last year, I was involved in an online discussion with some people about this very topic. I was still a Salvation Army officer. In the discussion, my debater told me that the "Bible is very clear" on the topic we were talking about. My response to this person was the grabbed by a screenshot and then sent to my superiors. When I was confronted with my response, my superiors told me that what I said was heresy.

At this point, let me digress. One of my newest pet peeves are screenshots. People use screenshots to prove what someone has said. They can be a useful tool, especially if they are unaltered; however, at the same time, they can be a terrible form of gossip. In fact, I would submit that they are this decade's new form of gossip.

Just recently, some people took screenshots of a conversation I was a participant in and this conversation was shown to a friend of mine. Some disparaging things were said about my friend, but not by me. My friend and his wife promptly "unfriended" me on Facebook and blocked me. Despite my explanations to the contrary, they told me that they couldn't trust me and that they needed to protect their family.

Gossip ruins lives and friendships.

What was so heretical?

What was so damning in my screenshot? In this case (and since I'm no longer an officer), I'll be happy to share what I said.

My counterpart was stating the same sex relationships are sinful and the Bible was clear on this point. I believe he might have also said, "The Bible says . . ."

My reply was this:  "The Bible is rarely clear on anything. It is only our interpretation of certain passages that are clear to us."

I was called a heretic for saying that.

Our approach is wrong.

We often look at the Bible in the wrong way. We approach it with our own understanding, which is guided by our own worldview.

We forget many things. First:  the Bible was not written in English. It was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Secondly, we do not have an entire intact Bible from the first century. We have many fragments of copies and most of these are inconsistent with each other. Granted, these inconsistencies are sometimes small, but sometimes significant. For example, we have 2 different versions of Isaiah found at Qumran.

Also, we need to understand that we are intersecting with our own culture and the culture of the Bible. They are many different things going on there that we might not understand. Some day I'll do a blog on the Canaanite religion, which was basically a sex religion and which would also explain the prohibition laws in the Torah.

When we say "the Bible," this could actually refer to many different versions and translations. Even if we use the Protestant Bible with only its 66 books (Catholics have more!), even the newer translations use texts that weren't available to the translators of the King James Version or even the Revised Standard Version. We discover the huge portions of the Bible were added later by some well-meaning scribes. The last portion of Mark is perhaps the best example. Also, the phrase, "For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever" does not appear in the original Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.

The Bible is not inerrant.

Finally, I believe we are wrong to call the Bible the Word of God. It is not. That implies something terrible:  that every single word coming out of the Bible is actually God talking. When a church fellowship says they believe that Scripture is inerrant and infallible (which thankfully mine does not), they are setting themselves up for a big disappointment. When someone starts studying Scripture intensely and purposefully, one begins to see even in English the minor inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible.

We in The Salvation Army don't say that the Bible is inerrant. We do say that it is inspired, which is not the same thing. Just think of a movie you see with the disclaimer ahead of it, "Inspired by true events." That's the type of inspiration I believe the Bible gives us.

The Bible does not speak. It doesn't state. It doesn't talk. It is a collection of inspired words that try to tell about how these ancient people engaged God, especially through the person of Jesus Christ.

Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike) gave some wonderful axioms for his faith when he was looking for structure after he had lost it and regained it once again. It was a starting point for him, to which he admits he has moved on. It can also be a starting point for us.

This is what he stated about the Bible:

The Bible is AT LEAST a collection of books and writings assembled by the Church that chronicle a people group's experiences with, and understanding of, God over thousands of years. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of the Bible, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.

If the Bible is not the Word of God, then what is?

It's not what:  it's WHO.

Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God's message to humanity, showing us and pointing us the way to God. He showed us how to live, how to love, and how to be.

I found an amusing quote about the Word of God:

Let us not force the Bible into a form that it cannot sustain. Let us realize that the Bible is a wonderful book for us. It is even the basis for Christian belief, but let us not turn the Bible into our idol. Let us not turn the Bible into our sacred cow and try to use it like the Israelites tried to misuse the Ark of the Covenant. Instead, let us turn our eyes to the true Word of God:  Jesus.

photo credit: Making Mashed Potatoes via photopin (license)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chemistry for Christians

Litmus Tests

I loved chemistry when I was in school. Even today, I am a big fan of chemistry. There is a wonderful series of videos on YouTube from the University of Nottingham on all the elements of the Periodic Table and then some. They are truly engrossing and I get as much excitement watching a reaction of potassium with water as they do.

One of the earliest experiments I learned in chemistry was a simple one:  trying to find out the pH balance of a liquid to determine if the liquid were acidic or basic. Water would almost always have a pH balance of 7. If the number were lower, then the solution was more acidic (like cola). If it were higher, than the solution was more basic (like something with baking soda in it).

All you had to do was to dip one of these litmus test strips in the solution and then compare the color of the reaction to see if the solution were basic or acidic.

A Test for Christians?

Is there a test for Christians? What or who determines who a Christian is? For some people this answer is quite obvious. They will start off spouting also sorts of rhetoric, including words such as "saved," "born again," "baptized," etc.

My own denomination likes to pass out in its literature the ABC's of Salvation. It is a simplified guideline for those wishing to identify as a Christian. It involves: Admitting your need (used to be admitting that you're a sinner), Believing in Christ, and Committing yourself to Christ.

We Salvationists tend to leave the baptism part out of it and the rest of the Christian world screams in uproar. Most Christians worldwide (with the notable exception of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and The Salvation Army) practice baptism as a rite into Christianity. The Salvation Army did away with those with very good theological reasons. (For an in-depth treatise, I recommend Dr. R. David Rightmire's book, Sacraments and The Salvation Army:  Pneumatological Foundations.)

Baptism is often seen as a wonderful rite into Christianity, until you get into the nuances behind it. When do you do it? The high church tradition (from Orthodox to Roman Catholic and even United Methodists) practice baptism at infancy. Anabaptists tend to do it at an age of accountability, a nebulous time when a person is old enough to decide for him/herself to make religious decisions. Then some churches have it as a prerequisite for their own church membership, whether or not they have been baptized before.

Is it something we do? Then what? Get baptized? Eat some bread and drink wine? Do we help people? Do we serve others? Is it what we believe? Is it what we read? The Bible? Which translation? (Weird tangent:  I hold the New World Translation with the same esteem as I do The Message, which is none.) How many books does it have? Protestants have 66 while Catholics and Orthodox have many more. Why were some excluded? What makes them scripture?

We Christians have been arguing with each other over what we believe that it's no wonder we keep on splintering into more and more denominations.

I sometimes imagine that we Christians just like to argue with each other, quite similarly to this Monty Python sketch:

We seem to thrive on debate, but then the debate turns into argumentation, then into contradiction, and finally into rejection.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I have recently been confronted by people who are trying to find some sort of way to see if I'm still a Christian or not. Some do it out of concern. Some do it out of spite. It seems to me that the latest "litmus test" for Christianity is where one stands on LGBT inclusion. The United Methodist Church is going through that great discussion this week. I am so glad that they can talk about it openly. My denomination regulates such discussions to committee meetings and there is no room for open debate. I believe that these committee could do great things, but I'm just concerned that there is no input from those in the denomination itself. If there is a way for such input, then this information is not disseminated to the rest of the denomination. (A lack of communication tends to be a hallmark in my denomination, all based on the idiom "need to know.")

I am very worried that we Christians are going about trying to figure out who's a Christian or not. I don't think that's our job to do. When we start down that path, we begin to judge other people. We become dualistic:  It's us versus them.

Our job is not to be exclusive. This is a bit ironic. We Christians are called to be holy, which literally means to be set apart, but it's not how you think. Being set apart for Jesus means to do what Jesus did. Jesus set himself apart, not from the sinners, but from the religious. He set himself apart by mixing in with society, by immersing himself with the population and scorning the religious establishment. His harshest words were for those who should have known better.

So what makes someone a Christian? You know what? I don't care anymore. My job is not to define that. My job is to be a Christ-follower and not to determine who is and who isn't. I leave that decision up to God.

My fear is that we are turning into the religious elite of Jesus' day. My fear is that Christ is more welcoming and affirming than his own followers are today.

photo credit: Litmus Bottles.jpg via photopin (license)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Part Two: Reacceptance

The Meeting

If this is your first time reading my blog, you might wish to read the previous blog that dealt with what had happened with me personally. In it, you will read that I was denied membership at the Branson, Missouri Salvation Army because of my stance on marriage quality for the LGBT community.

This meeting turned out to leave me a bit confused. I have drawn my own conclusions and I will allow you to draw your own. I understand that this is my own perspective. How I viewed the meeting will be different that the other two participants in the meeting.

I was apprehensive about the meeting to begin with. A good friend of mine had offered to come with me to the meeting, but at the last minute he had to cancel. I then asked another friend to the meeting, who is the pastor of a local church I had been attending in the interim. He apologized, but he had to be out of town for that time.

So I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't attended The Salvation Army since that first meeting. I actually couldn't even if I wanted to on Sundays because my work schedule (to this day) doesn't allow me to attend Church on Sundays. It has been OK, though. I have been attending a wonderful Bible Study which challenges me as much as it stimulates me.

During the meeting, we read over the Soldier's Covenant, our Articles of War. During the meeting, I discovered from my divisional commander that he was concerned that I would use the topic of marriage equality to derail the work of The Salvation Army in Branson, Missouri. He wanted assurances from me that I would abide by my covenant. I had already done so before in my previous correspondences. So I reiterated the same to him that day and he accepted me as a soldier in the Branson Corps.

We briefly touched on the differences between abiding by Position Statements versus our Covenant. I brought up the fact that our Position Statements have changed over the years.

However, what was most interesting to me was to discuss the whole issue of #BlackLivesMatter as it relates to the events of Ferguson. My divisional commander is African-American. He has been in charge of The Salvation Army based in St. Louis, MO (of which Ferguson is a suburb) since before the tragic events there. I actually appreciated his spirit and his candor as he expressed how difficult it was to be both a voice for the oppressed as it was to support those in Law Enforcement. It was something I greatly enjoyed listening to and would have loved the opportunity to discuss it further with him.

What now?

I am not certain. Shortly after I left, I received a text message from my corps officer, saying that he supported the outcome of the meeting. I told some of my friends about the outcome of the meeting on Facebook. Their responses were from incredulous to happy.

This has been one of the most difficult experiences I have faced. I have no doubt that my corps officer, my divisional commander, and our headquarters were trying to delicately find a balanced situation here that would appease everyone.

What do you do when a relationship has been broken and trust is now an issue? Do you work through the issues, or do you bid a fond farewell?

This is the question I will struggle with. This is the question I will confront.

I love The Salvation Army. I love how we serve humanity and go where others refuse to go. I have been saddened by the Army's marginalization of those in the LGBT Community, including myself, and I wonder whether it is now worth the struggle.

I have not come up with an answer; however, I am grateful for the outcome of this session and the fact that I am still a soldier of The Salvation Army.

Monday, March 21, 2016


"May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! He is the compassionate Father and God of all comfort. He's the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. That is because we receive so much comfort through Christ in the same way that we share so many of Christ's sufferings. So if we have trouble, it is to bring you comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is to bring you comfort from the experience of endurance while you go through the same sufferings that we also suffer. Our home for you is certain, because we know that as you are partners in suffering, so also you are partners in comfort." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (CEB)

I know something about rejection. This past year could have been my "Year of Rejection." I lost nearly everything that was dear to me.

However, things began to look up. I became a Dispatcher for the City of Branson. I was being welcomed very much in the corps (church) where I lived. I had some excellent talks with the corps officer about what had led to my no longer being an officer. We agreed that although we were of a difference of opinions, we were still brothers in Christ. I was participating again in the meetings. The only thing I really regretted was that this corps has no Bible Study for the members.

So I did what I thought was natural, I asked to have my membership transferred to the Branson Corps. The corps officers even took my orders for my soldier's uniform. Then on the 11th of February, my corps officer asked to have a coffee with me. This was not unusual. I had done it before with him. We talked over an hour and a half. Then I had to get to work. That's when he delivered the bad news:

The divisional commander (like a bishop) and my corps officer had decided to deny my transfer as a soldier to the Branson Corps. The reason:  They did not believe that I would uphold "the sanctity of marriage," as is expressed in our "Articles of War," which is the covenant all soldiers sign when we become members of The Salvation Army. The relevant portion states, "I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life."

What was the reasoning behind this? I support marriage equality. I believe everyone can marry whomever he/she desires to marry. If it is someone of the same gender, I do not have a problem with this. Unfortunately, The Salvation Army has been wrestling with this problem, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully.

The topic of LGBT inclusion has become a polarizing issue in The Salvation Army. Because of my stance on it, I was told that I was not allowed to be a member of the corps. This infuriated, saddened, and upset me. I asked our headquarters in Chicago if I was still a soldier in The Salvation Army since my transfer was being refused. They wrote back to reply that I was indeed. So it seemed that my problems only are local.

I shared my concern with some friends of mine in a group on Facebook, called "Salvos for a More Inclusive Church." Unbeknownst to me, an officer from the Territorial Headquarters in Chicago took screenshots of what I had said in this private group and spread them around, including to my corps officer. This was against the rules of the group, but that officer did it anyway. My father confronted him about it and he admitted to it.

Things seemed to be getting worse.

Rejection Letter

I had written to my corps officer, asking for clarification about why he was rejecting my transfer. He wrote the following:

At this time, your soldiership roll will not be transferred to the Branson, MO Corps. There is absolutely no restriction on your attending, participating in, or being active in the Branson Corps. I would hope we could review the transfer together at a later time. I would enjoy the opportunity to discuss with you in person, and in more depth, our reasoning behind not accepting the roll and the things I'd like to see happen before reconsidering an additional request. . . .

As a Corps Officer I am responsible for the membership and the involvement of soldiers within my appointment. As a Salvation Army Officer I feel a great sense of sacred trust for which I am accountable for to both the institution of the Army and most importantly, to God Himself. As much as this choice to not accept your Soldier's roll seemingly erects a wall around the Army for you - making the movement who's been your own avenue of sacred service a vehicle of hurt - be assured that God's grace is greater. God wills to use you just as much as He did the day you were commissioned. His love is steadfast towards you and I believe that the same Holy Spirit who began in you with a ministry of wooing you to Him still works amongst you.

On a larger scale, know that there is no intention, nor do I hold the authority, to pursue the removal of your Soldiership from The Salvation Army. Territorial Headquarters has confirmed that your soldiership is active with the territory, but you just won't be a soldier of the Branson Corps.

Reading this, I was crushed.

This is what I felt he was saying to me:

You cannot be a member. You can attend, but we don't really accept you. We accept you, but you need to sit at the back of the bus.

When I told my friends, many of them quickly came to my side.

What was even more heartening: several officers from around the world offered to take me on as their soldier, even though I wouldn't be able to attend regularly. Some as far away as Australia and New Zealand said they would take me as a soldier in their corps.

So on one hand I had rejection, on the other hand I had acceptance.

Then one of my best friends, who is an officer in Iowa, told me to transfer my soldiership to his corps. I am in the process of that right now. I look forward to being a soldier of the Newton, Iowa corps. His divisional commander did not have any problems with me being a soldier in his division, either.

I decided to write to our Chief Secretary (like an archbishop) about my situation. I felt it would be best to explain to him what had been going on with me. I know him to be a prudent, kind, and caring man, with whom I closely worked in Albania. This is what I wrote to him:

My response:

First of all, it implies that they view my personal beliefs as a form of adultery. However, I have always been faithful to my wife.

Secondly, it implies that I have somehow broken my covenant when I signed my Articles of War.

Thirdly, I understand in my conversation that day with [the corps officer] that this whole controversy stems from my belief that The Salvation Army needs to be more inclusive in its membership, especially towards those in the LGBT Community. [They] have used a tenuous logical thought to state that since I believe that The Salvation Army needs to be an affirming Church (i.e.: welcoming to the LGBT Community), that this in some way means that I do not uphold the sanctity of marriage.

Fourthly, I find it duplicitous that [they] would deny me the right to be a soldier at the corps when my soldiership is in good standing and I do not have any restrictions placed on me in regards to uniform wearing. I have even participated in Sunday Worship meetings, being asked by the lieutenants to do so and with their full knowledge of my personal beliefs.

So, although in his letter, [it] states that I can still come to the meetings and worship there, he denies me membership. It is very much a "separate but equal" situation. Can one wonder why The Salvation Army has such a negative image with the LGBT Community when people in their own ranks are discriminated against and not allowed to be soldiers? How can one feel welcome at all in a corps, but at the same time be told that you can't be a member because of a point in theology? Also, it is in my opinion that it is an insignificant point. When Christ himself said that marriage would not be an issue at all in Heaven (Matthew 22:30), I do not see how it should be so divisive for us. I still hold to all 11 Doctrines of The Salvation Army. I still hold to my Soldier's Covenant in the Articles of War. I still hold myself faithful to my Officer's Covenant, even though I am no longer an officer.

In speaking with Major Dick Justvig, he told me that this was unprecedented and that he had never heard of someone being denied a transfer because of his/her personal beliefs. Since I am not allowed to be a soldier of the Branson Corps, I will not be attending until such time as I can be accepted.

I am extremely grateful to Majors Jeff and Mikey Carter and Major Greg Thompson for looking past this and allowing me to be a soldier of the Newton, Iowa Corps. However, I believe this issue should be addressed.

I am very concerned that this issue will tear The Salvation Army up when it doesn't need to. We have marginalized the LGBT Community far too long. Being bisexual myself, I can only emphasize just how unwelcome this whole action makes me feel at the Branson Corps.

What I would ask of you is that you would countermand [the] decision to deny my transfer to the Branson Corps and allow me to be a soldier there. If, however, you deem this to be unnecessary, I am content to be a soldier of the Newton, Iowa Corps.

With kind regards,
Timothy McPherson

New information!

And so, with this last bit of information, you, the reader, have found out something about myself that I have been reluctant at times to broadcast to the public world: I am bisexual. I did not come to terms with this until this past year in 2015. It had always been a part of my identity, but one that I had been trying unsuccessfully to repress, but that is perhaps a point for another blog.

Do we stand up for an ideology? Do we stand on principle, or do we stand up for people?

In the midst of all this rejection, I have found acceptance and comfort. I have found friends who have come to my side and stood with me, loving me for who I am and for whose I am: a child of God.

I will always love The Salvation Army. I believe in many ways we encapsulate what is best of serving those in need. I think we have lost our way and have decided to marginalize people once again. I, too, have been guilty of that, even as an officer. However, we need to stop being like the learned scholars of Jesus' day.

Love God. Love others. If anything we do goes against that, we are doing something wrong.

My letter seems to have had some effect. I received a text message from the corps officer, stating that the divisional commander wants to meet with me to discuss everything that has been going on.

I am hopeful that something will happen, but also am extremely nervous, given how I have been recently treated.

To be continued . . .