Thursday, August 30, 2018

Parallels of Persecution and Community Growth

Parallels of Persecution and Community Growth
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
27 Mar 2017

When reading the descriptions of persecution and martyrdom, I am struck by the parallel with struggle for rights in today’s LGBT and another group of people on the fringes. 

There are several parallels between struggles of LGBT and the early church. The type of persecution holds interesting parallel.  When Gonzalez talks about the persecution by the Romans being declared but not outright delivered (a kind of uneasy d├ętente at times), I am reminded of the persecution experienced against LGBT.  In the LGBT community, I see evidence of this type of persecution where sometimes invoked as a state policy, but its invocation has been nonetheless convenient for some people as an excuse to deliver a perverse sense of righteous violence upon people.

Of these, a parallel is the level of commitment and the ability of members of the group to hide or to declare their involvement. It is to be noted how people could hide their real-self and faith while playing lip-service to live another day. LGBT could/can hide their respective orientations or give lip-service to those that espouse to terminate these ideas. This is not dissimilar to the early Christians that would yield against Jews or the Roman “pagan” authorities.

For my own, I remember not wanting to disclose orientation and attempted to hide via following the expected norms.  I admit that I was scared for my own safety-- from more bullying, HIV, and a prevailing idea encompassing religion about sexual orientation.  During high school, I did not really understand why I felt so different, and I was not willing to be a confessor or a martyr. The only information I had about the LGBT community was viewing the awful film “the Gay Agenda”, and I also observed how people would easily ridicule the slightest prospect of being gay.

I was kind of alone in high school until I went to college. I saw and met people while observing the reality of persecution, along with art, education, and music that became part and distinct of the community. We had a shared bond of not only our orientations but that we were consistently under threat of exposure, violence or worse.  We did not have “communion”, but often, our groups would meet over meals, potlucks or some safe-home get-together. We organized to provide services to each other when no one else would, such as for youth, HIV-related illness or a family outcast someone.

Even then, I remember and continue to see the scourge that would ensue from people that would hide their sexuality and then use their relationship to the community apparently to either in vain attempt to rid themselves of their feelings or to exact revenge upon those that continued to carry the torch of being LGBT. Pride festivals and being out in public offended these because we disregarded the social punishment for a brief moment. On the other hand, these hypocrites-in-hiding, by helping to torture and to hurt people of the LGBT community, these people could somehow feel better about themselves using labels of ex-gay, born-again or some other loose label through the violence and threatening towards the LGBT community. 

An interesting outcome, I remember discussions using different vocabulary about how “pure” a person’s sacrifice was (physical injury, loss of job, property damage, loss of family, or police that just looked away).  Was a person’s inexperience with these sacrifices enough to justify whether they truly could carry the banner for equality or LGBT recognition. Given the issue of confessors in the early Church, the similarity is absolutely remarkable. Especially as LGBT gained more mainstream recognition, the threats kind of subsided and the ability to “come out” was less dangerous.  Yet, those that chose to “convert” as straight looked even more hollow to people in the community.

The experience of being in and growing with the community in the 90s shaped me and pushed me into a position of fighting for rights. Early into the 2000s, I would visit the Iowa legislature and find legislators who would not even look at me without trying to look elsewhere.  They would blame us for things like AIDS, Hurricane Andrew and 9/11, and they would use logic (Logos) that had difficulty standing up to scrutiny.  What is evident mostly is that Despite all the success of the recent decade, there is still much work to be done, and the current political winds have shifted to resume some of those old fears and persecutions.

There is another part of this early church that I find compelling as in the “underground” aspect of the Church and the subsequent changes as it became mainstream. This underground reminds me of the earlier days of heavy metal music. Well into the 1980s, bands were playing and recording a style of music labeled as “heavy metal” music, and the faithful fans of these bands (early Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath) made up a genre with a distinct style of clothing, hair and art.  The style would invoke strong “thrashing” power chords, rapid rhythms along with Gothic and its own black arts, torn clothing (ripped jeans) and darker themes of isolation, broken homes, satirical, anti-establishment—including anti-religion—rhetoric.  Fans of the genre were often the butt of jokes and the fringes of the crowd.  I remember that for a bunch of us – it became kind of rite of passage to finally see one of these bands in live concert and then brandish their concert shirt to our friends the following day at school. (Some shirts were too offensive for school authorities). Yet together we had kinship and community.

That dark music genre found itself thrust into popularity as part of the 90s progresses while the once niche and anti-establishment bands became more mainstream—they were becoming the establishment.  The dark styles evolved and incorporated less “thrash” and the genre themes seemed to mellow as more people with “less-dark” less anti-anything embraced this heavy metal style of music. For the community that embraced the original style watched their music and bands turn into corporate playhouses and inviting people in so many words, who were not pure “metalheads.”  (It is interesting how purity finds its way into describing people).  The shining example of this was Metallica’s court case against Napster and how scores of fans would not listen to Metallica thereafter, despite growing up with their music.  Napster itself representing a rebellion of sorts against the larger music industry as well as a way for people to discover music without having to fork over the cost of albums.

The Church was “underground” in the early times shows the parallel of this with early Christian churches growing from obscurity and hiding in dark places and Christian family homes as well as somewhat anti-Roman, anti-established religion into an “Imperial Church.”

To me, the early church experience showcases the evolution of a community from obscurity into more acceptance and how people both within and around the community impact that growth. There is the additional lesson of how social groups evolve over time, developed niche communities, especially the fringe, and then maybe find more popular acceptance when given a chance. Yet these developed organically both for the Church, LGBT, and music fanatics.  These also show that people both in and out of the fringe want badly to be part of a community to share experiences, tales and relationships.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Love and Joy of Mary is Ours - Luke 1

Love and Joy of Mary is Ours
Tony E Dillon Hansen
20 December 2017

A Sermon based upon Isaiah 61: 1-4,8-11; Psalm 126; John 13: 34-35, Luke 1:46-55

Will you pray with me?  Let God guide our senses, our hearts and our ears to receive the lessons given to us.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.

And All God’s Children Say:
Amen!

I can remember growing up thinking the last week of Advent was kind of like the last leg of the race.
We are almost there and you can almost taste the Christmas ham and an oyster stew
And presents!!
As life moves, the perspective changes a little bit
The hustle and bustle begins to wear on us and may even cause unnecessary anxieties.
For some, as we draw closer to the holiday, memories of loss, loneliness 
or even shame may creep into our senses.

From Hope, we let go of Anxiety by being hope.
From Peace, we let go of violence by letting peace be in our hearts.

Today, we have an illustration of love and joy wrapped …
in a person named Mary.

You see, from before the birth of Jesus, 
our Gospel in Luke likes to give us an approach to God that is different from Scriptures past.  The Gospel of Luke likes to remind us that “transformation takes precedence over tradition.” (Wright, 2011). 

We have distinct ways here, 
1) in a historically male-dominated society, Luke lets Mary reveal her praise (aka Magnificat), 
2) She invokes a praise similar to one from our good lady, Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-11), and 
3) Mary is not royalty or a prophet.  

She can probably barely afford the clothes on her back. 
She is a lowly peasant woman that likely lives in midst of disgrace from family and friends for a pregnancy out of wedlock. 
Her mind is probably bouncing between thoughts of 
the gift of having little footsteps 
while questioning how can she possibly raise the Child in these conditions.  

You see her story everywhere today. 
Like Mary, 
families face parenthood (whether as a single or couple)
with strong and mixed emotions.

She does not know the future of her Child, 
but she knows greatness comes with a cost.
Thus, a child of prodigy, 
(and Gospel of Matthew likes to list lineage) … 

This Child, is guaranteed to face immense challenges. 
She may even foresee joys that will happen to Jesus 
with a rise to fame, only to be rejected, shamed and executed. 

Still, Mary is hopeful because, in her heart, 
she knows that the baby is destined for greatness. 

In this canticle, 
she embodies optimism, 
turns to hope and to peace. 
She gives room for God. 

Then She pours out her love and immense joy 
that she is blessed with a Child of God.

She renews her faith and reminds us that
God’s love and compassion is not just for the rich and royalty, as in Scripture past, 
but God surely is the one for the lowly and the hungry.

She calls upon the covenant with powerful praise. 

Her role in the part of this Holy story 
beyond the glorious birth of her Child.  
is scarcely written.

Yet, we see the evidence of her work-- 
That her love and joy impact the coming ministry.

Decades later, 
When Jesus calls out injustices by leaders 
And call us to love one another - genuinely
(and not just for those with money or goofy rhetorical phrases.)

When Jesus speaks of God’s commandment that “you love one another”, 
(no exceptions)
 – we may witness an echo of Mary’s words to a youthful Jesus
and a response to experiences with injustice during that youth. 

You see, Mary and her family had some difficult experiences.
Remember, no one wanted to give them quarters in Bethlehem. 

That family experienced discrimination,
being a hunted refugee to Egypt, 
and being on society’s fringes.

Yet, Mary’s pouring out love shines through
because there were people 
willing to help them (on society’s fringes)
when tradition and government failed them. 

Thus, you can see that experience in youth play out
As part of Jesus’s ministry where, 
“transcendence takes precedence over tradition”
because while “tradition may exclude, Jesus teaches to include.”
You belong in community with love and joy. 

Perhaps, we witness echoes of Mary’s same love and joy 
here today in this house of worship.
We have a saying in the UCC that 
“No matter who you are
or where you are on life’s journey,
You are always welcome here!”
Every person is to be treated with dignity and authentic love. 
When you love one another,
You matter.
That is the community where Mary and Jesus lived 
and is here today.

God is present here and working in our midst --just as with Mary.
For us here, our love and joys are founded in those poured out to a Child,
From her Love, we learn how to love one another genuine
From her Joy, we learn that hope, peace, and love are possible.

So when you are snuggling up next to friends and family 
with your meals of great tastes and smells, 
and despite worries and fear,
take a lesson from Mary,
Be hope and peace;
remember to make room for love and joy.

When we meet the Great Spirit in our hearts, 
we can welcome the Christmas season 
full of hope, immense peace, and hearts of love. 
Let your mouths be filled with laughter and … shout with joy!

Thanks Be to God!

Put on a Hat? - 1Thessalonians 5

Put on a Hat?
Tony E Dillon Hansen
18 Dec 2017

A Sermon based upon 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer. Amen.

I recall our good minister, Lindsey Braun, talking about this passage.
For my own, I love putting on hats and suddenly transforming into some character.

It can be liberating and fun to take on a character full of courage and wisdom.
With hats, we can also use them to hide away intentions and feelings.
Because we can draw the hat lower to hide our eyes from the world,
especially when the world looks like chaos and fear.

From racial profiling, systemic sexual violence, routine shootings, and challenges to water rights as well as to equal rights.

The world is full of negative energy gripping people.

When everything seems to be chaotic and anxious,
Thessalonians tells us to
put on a “breastplate of faith and love” and a “helmet the hope.”

Now, how does one do that, you ask?

I am glad you asked…
Our lesson also tells us that days of tension and negativity are reminders
to come together to “encourage …and build up each other.”

When you listen to each other, share your talents,
or share a meal with each other,
When you genuinely value all God’s Children,
When you share our authentic compassion
When you are demonstrations of Christ in life and community,
That is when we walk and put on a “breastplate of faith and love”
and a “helmet the hope”.

Further, Thessalonians tells us to go out -- teach the community this love!
When you take another’s hand,
And remind them we are in this together
-- that we are going to make it,
we not only teach but witness how to be a community again.

When we witness all Beloved children of God (1 John 3).
Yes, Black Lives Do Matter.
Blue Lives Do Matter.
Indians protecting their water Do matter.
Immigrant lives Do matter.
Queer lives Do matter.
Persons facing divorce, job loss, serious health diagnosis, or even loss of faith do matter.

All Beloved need and deserve authentic love
-- not just as token phrases,
but from our revealed compassion.
Remember that you are a Beloved Child of God.
That is how you wear the “armor” of faith, love and hope.
When you “encourage …and build up each other” and
when you welcome all to the table of communion,
then you remind each other that you too 
are a Beloved child, 
you matter,
and we are going to make it!

Even in the darkest hour (or longest night),
even during pain or betrayal,
And even when fear and injustice seem to reign
You do not have to hide behind makeshift hats.

Walk with your “breastplate of faith and love” and wear the “helmet of hope
And go forward with the assurance of God.

And you Child of God say with me, “Amen.”

Thanks Be to God. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

I Am - John 6

I Am
Tony E Dillon Hansen
12 August 2018

A reflection based upon 2 Samuel 18:5-33 • Psalm 34 • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 • John 6:35,41-51

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.  Amen.

I remember growing up every year there was a broadcast of a movie called Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is constantly dreaming of a wonderful place “over the rainbow” only to find herself there and realize there is a complicated world there too that ha characters looking suspiciously like people from Kansas. I was always scared of the tornado that propels Dorothy into Oz. I remember watching with intensity as the band grew together on the journey to the Emerald City along the yellow brick road. Actually I was a bit disappointed when the Wizard reveals his true self.

For today, I would like for us to consider a reason why Jesus uses the words “I am”, a predicate nominative. When Jesus reveals who he is, we won’t be disappointed.

With that let’s recap…

It is near Passover. Jesus has performed a couple signs like feeding five thousand and walking on water. Now, there is something like a paparazzi of a crowd that is following Jesus everywhere.  Jesus has become something of a rock star. Still, people are not satisfied; they want more. 

The people see striking parallels to the stories of Moses in the wilderness.  Yet, people have missed the point of the manna and the signs Jesus performs.

That is easy to do because people do this all of the time. We love signs, symbols and traditions, but we misread them.  (Consider How many of you consider a stop sign on a deserted road to be a suggestion?)  The people even get rude with Jesus. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach an important lesson.

The Sign of Manna.

Jesus wants us to look beyond the symbols and rhetoric.  This is difficult for people because we as humanity love our symbols and rhetoric. With those bits, we use those things unfortunately to divide.  We like to determine between who has versus has not; who knows and those who do not. (Clearly, if you know our traditions then you are one of us.)

Traditions have put obstacles to access to God.  What is your sacrifice? Do you offer the correct animal?  Did you honor the symbols correctly? Did you purify yourself? Do you even know what that means? 

Jesus flips the symbols.
Jesus flips tradition.

Instead of telling parables about someone else, Jesus uses a stronger example: himself. 

Without the sharing of himself, God remains behind curtains in the temple or lurking over mountaintops.  God in the wilderness with Moses is hard to see, hard to access.  God’s image is even scary (like the “scary” Wizard of Oz that doesn’t want to be bothered.) That is quite different from what God really does because God loves each of us as a parent loves their children.

Jesus embraces and embodies the symbols and says the bread of God, the bread of life is right here. Specifically, “I am the bread of life” or “I am the living bread…”

So instead of being aloof in the sky and the mountains, Jesus tells us that God is right here, right now – inside. The purpose of the manna was to demonstrate that God is here and listening. God uses the bread to help us grow in love of God and neighbor.

The manna is how God shared fulfilling love. Love fulfills every day. Sharing involves community. This is the power of communion because God shares and wants people to share that love together. We are more than ourselves and lonely thoughts because we learn and grow together. Even more so, that shared love and community sustains us.

I am…

Further, it is no longer about privilege to access because when you say “I am” a child of God, you have access to that wisdom and community.

Think about it, “I am” is taking power from afar to right here in Jesus, in me and in you. We not only share that love, but we embrace and embody that love and community.

(The revelation of the Wizard of Oz was the lion had courage, the tin man had a heart and scarecrow had brain all along. The Wizard just provides symbols of that which they already had.) In our lesson,

Jesus is giving us permission. Jesus invites us to community and to embody God’s work in ourselves.  Jesus gave us power to learn God personally.

Eating of the bread or manna is learning the love of God.  One who trusts can be fulfilled in the community of love, of God.  (Trust is faith -- that you will understand and be satisfied.)

Do you trust God to fill you with hope and inspiration? 
Try it, just stop and breathe in and let God be!

Even more, how do you as a child of God, share with others?
How do you provide hope and inspiration to those around you?

You have been invited to the table to say “I am a child of God”. (How awesome is that?) When you have a seat at the table, you have power -- With power comes great responsibility.

This means that we do not just settle with only our own knowledge and experience to guide us.  Our own is incomplete and does not give absolute answers or foolproof plans.  God wants us to question the experience and share in community.  Wisdom will be revealed to ones that trust (e.g. give oneself over to the Way of God.) 

This Way and path is ready for us, and with faith, great will guide us on this journey of life. With Jesus, we are invited to participate in that community of wisdom-- with whole heart and “bread of life.” We can become that which God calls of us.

Expression.

You and I are children of God, but how do we express that? how can I be the best that God has to offer?

Ephesians reminds us of a few ways we can express that life in community of God in this world.  “…be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us…”

Yes, “I am” one who knows pain – so did Jesus.
“I am” broken and sorry for my wrongs.
“I am” looking for answers, for hope.
“I am” one who fails.

And Yes, I am sharing my gifts
“I am” one who learns.
“I am” one who teaches, who creates,
“I am” one who laughs and cries.
“I am” one who gardens.
“I am” one who cooks.
“I am” a listener.
“I am” an expression of God’s love right here on Earth
I am a child of God.

Are you?

Oh child, I believe you are!
(We don’t need to travel down yellow brick roads to find out who we are.)
Share what you are and be joyful.

Be God’s wonderful expression
and always remember that you are a worthy, beautiful child of God!

Thanks Be to God.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Biblical MeToo - 2 Samuel 11


Biblical MeToo

Tony E Dillon Hansen

29 July 2018 


A reflection based upon 2 Samuel 11:1-15 • Psalm 14 • Ephesians 3:16-17 • John 6:1-21

Link to Scriptures


Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.  Amen.


This week’s lectionary offers a couple options for us of which we can we will look  at in the coming weeks.  This week’s lectionary also raises a story about human failing and the manipulation of power.  This is a biblical #MeToo story.


Bible does not want to ignore Timely Parallels


Should we ignore these uglier stories for the good ones?  Well if we did we live in a fantasyland where everything is rosy and Disney-sized parades, that might be nice for a while.  Personally, I cannot ignore these ugly truths, the church should not ignore them, and neither should we as a society.  Unfortunately, This story and the many like it are part of humanity. 


Let them serve as lessons for all of us, and are among the reasons why the Bible is such a rich textured collection of stories.  The Bible is not just a feel good book for us, but a hard look at all aspects of humanity and our relationship to God.  The Bible challenges us to be more than who we are and challenges us to be the best our humanity can be.  Thus, there should be no real surprise that the Bible does not pull punches. Yes, the Bible calls out serious infractions because clearly the Old Testament characterizes this whole story as terrible. 


No matter how despicable or painful this is to consider, this is a story in humanity that we need to address. The same character of David is known as king to many, but also one who commits serious wrongs. Yes a “great” king is also one that manipulates power and destroys lives of those around him. We know this happens today, and thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, there is serious dialog about this. 


Manipulation of Power


Some might suggest that “she came to him” (as it is written) but was that really voluntary?  Consent you ask? She did not have the option. David is the king, and the king just sent people to get her. David holds all the power. Bathsheba is in no place to deny the king. David uses power to get her and then later to murder her husband, Uriah. 


We see parallels to behavior in some high-profile people today that manipulate power for personal benefit, regardless of whom they hurt and many without a shred of remorse 


I have seen the horror this can do and the emptiness it causes upon a person.


If this has happened to you, know that it is not your fault. You are not alone. Know that God is with you.


The destruction and soul-shaking cannot be understated. There is a wonton disregard and yes often no shame in this conduct.  They often recharacterize the conduct as she deserved it or she wanted it. 


A song lyric is appropriate here, 

“When a man lies, he murders some part of the world. 

These are the pale deaths with which men miscall their lives.”


Perhaps, that also shows how little regard people like David feel about others all around them.  This casts people as mere property, slaves and disposable objects.


Quite frankly this is an example of “locker room” banter that diminishes people to mere property and slaves of desire. (Note that this “locker room banter” does not fare well in the presence of women because we are more than objects and women know this. )


This is destructive to not just her life but literally to those around her.


How many people would say that we are just property? No one.


That disregard for humanity might explain why David finds it easy to cast out the husband Uriah to misery and certain death. All one can do is pray the experience gets over soon.


No matter how much we try, survivors cannot simply numb our senses of the pain, drown out the terrors because it just doesn’t go away. We cannot just pretend all is well when everything inside feels hollow and void. There is immeasurable guilt and shame that we attach to ourselves in these. The questions of why me and how did I let this happen? As survivors, this will be carried for the rest of life, even as the Davids-of-the-world continue on with their lives. 


Still God is willing to forgive and does and calls us to help that effort.


How to Live with the Damage


In the wake of such terrible news, whether it is a king in old ages or even a president’s off-record remarks in our age, we are called to compassion for each other and to help each other heal.


I cannot answer the questions with anything that might resolve the personal pain underneath. I can do my best to walk with people and be mindful of my own failings and my words.  We all can.  


I can, however, through Bathsheba’s experience here, demonstrate how one was able to move beyond the pain.


For my own, cats and a dog help.


Even more so, our lesson has an example when we continue to read about Bathsheba. 


Does Bathsheba let this define her? We don’t know much about her reaction or words said. Yet, Neither she, nor I, nor anyone of us can change the past. We can only live in today. No, we cannot undo the painful deeds. We can learn to live, and we can remind people of their responsibility to others around us and our society.  


Yes, this is a part of my experience and many more.  We can question many things of why, and the answer is not always what we want. 


We may find comfort in knowing we are not alone, and that there is someone with big shoulders and hugging arms for us where we can be safe, without manipulation and without judging.


We are reminded through this story to teach our children and community the good way: the God way — rather than the impulsive, destructive disregard for people , especially from those in power. People are more than objects or property, and we all have personal dignity. 


The epistles of St John remind us that we are all God’s children — as valuable human beings with worth and love.  Let that sink in. Let that be you. Let that help us heal and fill our hearts. Let us go forth and teach that worth and that lesson.


With what we know from history, with what Jesus teaches, and with this story, we are called to listen even when the message is difficult.  We cannot and should not accept being slaves to anyone.


We are all God’s children: broken, sinful and hurt. We have worth, and God will forgive those willing to make amends. The lesson from this story is that we deserve life that values us as worthy. 


If anything should speak to us in this lesson is the consequence of living as property. We do not want to go back to being just property or slaves. Our story will be heard if you speak it, our lesson will be learned if you teach it, and our community will be stronge when we live together as equals.  


From Ephesians, I pray that God may strengthen our inner beings with power through the Spirit and that Christ may dwell in all our hearts, especially those afflicted by such damage. Find your roots grounded in love. 


Remember that God is with you and that you are worthy of God!


Thanks Be to God.