Here I Am – This is Me

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them. God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die.”

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. — Genesis 1:27, 29; 2:16-17; 3:7

I’d like to take you on a time journey back to the days when we lived in peace and harmony with all the animals, in a place that produced enough food for all. Now I’d like you to scan this world of ours mentally and assess the damage we have done to the animals, plants, oceans, rivers and to one another. What on earth went wrong? Why are we so far from living in an ideal society?

According to Genesis, God told Adam and Eve, everything was theirs to taste, touch and eat, except the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Parents are aware of the times they tell their offspring not to touch things. “Don’t touch the iron — it’s hot and you will be burned.” “Don’t play with matches, you could cause a fire.” “Don’t run across the road without making sure it is safe to do so.” And just how many times do we discover these same offspring do exactly what they have been told not to do.

To our children we spell out the consequences of wrong actions, as did God in this story of the Creation myth. God did not need to “see” Adam and Eve become ashamed of their bodies and cover them with fig-leaf loin cloths, for God was already aware of their actions. As parents we do not need to have eyes in the back of our heads to discover what our children have been up to. Slowly but surely the truth comes out in time, and sometimes the consequences are horrific. Children do run across busy roads and are struck by cars –becoming injured, killed or left with a lifetime trauma caused by the incident.

Genesis relates that Adam and Eve, as a consequence of their actions, were shut out of Eden, and their return was barred. No matter how much they wished they could turn back time, or how genuinely sorry they were for their actions, it was too late, the damage had been done.

The story we read in Genesis is the Judaic version of the Creation story. Across all nations, all countries and all periods of time we find interpretations of the process of creation. We humans need to know the answers to questions. Young children are always asking “Why?” of adults around them. As adults, from prehistoric times we have asked questions about the birth of our world, about the solar system, and the reason for the changing seasons. We have sought to know the secrets of tidal changes, volcanoes and other world phenomena. We have prayed to a variety of gods, and offered sacrifices on our altars to appease the gods in whom we believed. We may have gained knowledge, but in many instances we have lost our closeness to our creator.

Babies at about the age of nine months become acutely aware of the “us and them” situations. They are comfortable within their family atmosphere, but when strangers intrude they become frightened. They have begun to develop a sense of self. As they grow, and in fact throughout their lives, that sense of self becomes more developed, until at times it manifests as selfishness. Through adolescence young people constantly challenge the barriers parents and society place before them, and when these boundaries are crossed, these young people discover the consequences of their words and actions. At work, in team competitions, when the results are disputed, they fly off the handle.

Our civilizations have progressed over many tens of thousands of years. We are no longer innocent men and women who are able to return to Eden for we have changed so much from the souls God created that we no longer fit into that place. We have degraded this planet, littered space with junk, destroyed many species of bird and animal. We no longer know what it is to walk each evening with God. We may proudly say “Here am I, this is me,” but until we reconnect with the God of love, we are but shadows of the souls that we were created. We need, as did Jesus, to spend time each and every day reunited with God.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Undies: A Short Story

LINDSAY leaned over her computer keyboard, intent on the spaceman-green letters on the screen. Though her typing 201 class still used manual typewriters, here in Mr. Coyote’s Business Machines the school went high-tech. The teacher glided past Lindsay’s row like a phantom, peering down at his students through glasses that made his eyes look like pickled eggs. As he passed Lindsay’s friend Candy, who sat beside her, Candy stifled a giggle. She wore baby doll t-shirts, and Mr. Coyote always ogled her boobs.

“Uncle Pervie,” she whispered to Lindsay, as Mr. Coyote finished his rounds. They watched him steal into the mimeograph room, where, they suspected, he got high sniffing ink fumes.

“If you think that’s what he’s doing, you should tell somebody,” Lindsay told Candy.

Candy wrinkled her nose. She did that a lot, because it was cute. “Who doesn’t know it already? Adults don’t care if other adults are perverts. We live in Soap Opera World.”

Lindsay thought Candy had to be wrong. Surely older people still did the right thing, at least some of the time. “If you didn’t act like you enjoyed it, he wouldn’t zero in on you.” And Mr. Coyote did behave like Wile E. when he was around Candy. She might not be a roadrunner, but all the guys, from sixteen to sixty, thought she was a fox.

Lindsay thought so, too, though she couldn’t admit it. Nor could she gape at Candy’s boobs. Friends didn’t do things like that to each other. Especially not when their friends were other girls.

Since she always tried to do the right thing, Lindsay doggedly dated guys. She kept hoping she’d break down and fall in love with one. Now she was dating Rex, another football player with a million hands. That Saturday evening they went to the movies, she reminded him yet again that she was a Christian and didn’t go past first base, and afterwards — so late her mother glared at her for getting a phonecall — she heard from Candy.

“I’m gonna be in so much trouble,” Candy gushed. “You won’t believe what happened!”

“Try me.” Where Candy was concerned, Lindsay would believe almost anything.

“Well, I was babysitting for the Gherkins. Another whole, entire Saturday evening, wasted! But Robb came over, after I put Gigi and Georgie to bed. And we…well, you know…we messed around. Then it was almost time for the Gherkins to get home, so of course I had to make the bed…”

“You made out in their bed?” Lindsay was incredulous.

“Of course we did. Where else were we gonna do it? Anyway, I tried and tried to find my panties, but they were, like, gone, you know?”

Lindsay struggled to keep up. “You lost your underpants in their bed?”

“That sort of shit happens sometimes, you know? Only every other time, I always found them.” There was a shaky breath at the other end of the line. “I had to stop looking, you know? I mean, Robb barely got out the back door and over the fence before they came in.”

This wasn’t even her problem, but Lindsay’s head was reeling. “So your underpants are still stuck somewhere in between those people’s covers!”

“I’ve got to tell you, Lindsay, I don’t know what she’s gonna do when she changes the sheets. She’ll, like, find them, you know? And what’ll she think?

“I don’t know what she’ll think.” Though actually, Lindsay had a pretty good idea. Mrs. Gherkin would find panties not her own, and she would think Mr. Gherkin was having an affair.

Candy laughed nervously. “Well, hey, it’s 1979, you know? People are pretty cool about those things nowadays. She and Mr. Gherkin will probably just have a very interesting conversation.”

Lindsay imagined they’d have an interesting conversation, indeed. Probably involving lawyers, over who’d get custody of little Gigi and Georgie. “I…can’t tell you what Mrs. Gherkin might think,” she told Candy. If Candy couldn’t figure it out, Lindsay doubted it would do much good for her to tell her. “She’ll probably never ask you to babysit again,” she said, knowing that was all Candy would care about.

A snort came down the line. “Which only means that from now on, Robb and I would have Saturdays for ourselves. And he always pays for everything, so it wouldn’t be a tragedy if I didn’t have any money.”

Though Candy always wore blue jeans — the tighter the better — she’d been born without a clue gene. She had no idea the trouble she was bringing down on innocent people. She didn’t need to worry the trouble would fall on her; she’d never even own up to it. Lindsay could already hear her, facing the Gherkins and their lawyers with her Little Orphan Annie face and telling them she had no idea whose underpants had made their way, like the Serpent of Eden, into their matrimonial bed.

If Lindsay had never heard about this nonsense, it would be none of her business. But she had, and so it was. She was a Christian; she knew her duty. Once God had thrust the knowledge upon her, the responsibility became hers. Somehow, however improbably, she had to make this right.

“The time is out of joint,” she read in Hamlet. “O cursed spite, That I was ever born to set it right.” Surely there was a reason they were reading Hamlet right now in Mrs. Mason’s English class. But whole precious days went by, and — like the ill-fated Prince of Denmark — Lindsay stayed silent. “I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall.” She kept her head down, kept studying hard, kept dating Rex the mutant octopus and remained a dutiful believer.

Then came another Friday, three weeks later, when Candy slunk into class with her own head down. Her cheeks burned with what, had this been anybody but Candy, Lindsay would have taken for shame. “You won’t believe what’s happening now,” Candy murmured as they took their seats before the ten-key adding machines in Mr. Coyote’s classroom.

“Probably not,” Lindsay said, checking to see where the teacher was. Mr. Coyote was safely on the other side of the room, dropping his chalk, picking it up and sneaking a peek up Kathy Grady’s skirt.

“Mrs. Gherkin called me last night to say they don’t need me to babysit anymore.” Candy wasn’t following the worksheet at all. She was punching dumb, random numbers into her machine — multiplying tens of thousands until the keys jammed.

“She found the underpants,” Lindsay guessed.

“I suppose she did.” Candy gave her adding machine a whack to unjam it.

“That’s really rough.” Lindsay wouldn’t preach. Friends didn’t do that. “Getting fired must be terrible.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly get fired.” Candy prettily bit her lip, popping open the adding machine and rooting around inside with a pencil. “They sort of…laid me off. They’re selling the house and moving, you see. Mr. Gherkin’s moving to one place, and Mrs. Gherkin’s moving to another, because they’re getting a divorce.”

Cold horror descended upon Lindsay. “Do you…know what for?”

Candy scowled, slamming the top of her adding machine shut. “How the hell would I know? I mean, it’s not like it’s any of my business.”

Lindsay started to tell her that it certainly was her business, and why, but there, looming behind them, was Mr. Coyote. “Young lady,” he cooed, his pickled eggs on Candy’s bosom as he leaned over her, “when you have a problem with one of these machines, call me and let me fix it.”

While the teacher stood breathing on them, Lindsay wasn’t about to say a word. She just sat and stewed. Whether he would pay attention to their conversation, however, was debatable. If she mentioned the word “panties,” he’d be all ears. Otherwise, he could be remarkably obtuse.

Besides business machines, it appeared to Lindsay that Mr. Coyote focused only on sex and sleep. Lindsay and Candy’s friend Helena — affectionately known to the student body as Javelina — had him two years prior for Driver’s Ed. He was little help as an instructor, because he took little catnaps on every drive. Not that Javelina ever minded. Once, before he woke up, she took him halfway from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

“Thanks, Mr. Coyote,” Candy said, in her Marilyn Monroe voice, when he presented the restored machine to her. Lindsay was actually grateful for the time-out. She’d decided exactly what to do.

“I’m going to help you,” she promised Candy when Mr. Coyote had disappeared into the mimeograph room.

For reasons she didn’t understand, any other friend to whom she said this would have looked at Lindsay in horror. Candy merely beamed. “Cool! Oh, Lindsay, you’re a true friend!”

Lindsay’s heart skipped a beat. Making Candy smile was the closest she would ever get to ogling her boobs. After Lindsay did what she had to do, Candy would never even smile at her again. Though she should be glad she was being saved from causing a divorce, she’d probably hunt Lindsay down and beat the crap out of her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That Saturday afternoon, Lindsay went over to the Gherkins’ house. She knew who they were and where they lived because before Candy had become their babysitter, the job of sitting for the then-infant Gigi had belonged to Lindsay’s older sister, Ruthie. The wildest and most rebellious thing Ruthie had ever done was drag Lindsay along with her. There was a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and as Lindsay parked her ’67 Dart at the front curb, the gravity of the events Candy had set in motion really hit. Lindsay wished Ruthie wasn’t away at college, so she could drag her along with her.

When Mrs. Gherkin answered the door, she seemed friendly enough to Lindsay. She invited her in, gave her a glass of iced tea, and motioned her into a big, leather armchair that let out a thunderous farting noise when she sat down, opposite two more just like it. In one of those sat a fat little guy with a bald head and hair growing out of his ears. Mrs. Gherkin introduced him as Marcus Pomeroy, her attorney.

Mrs. Gherkin sat in the third chair, primly ignoring another fart. “How can we help you?” she asked Lindsay with a polite smile.

Lindsay just stared at them for a very long moment. She’d known exactly what she wanted to say — until now, when it was time to say it. She planned on saying it eloquently, as a Shakespearean character might: “That which I would uncover, The law of friendship bids me to reveal.” Now, in her mind, it all sounded stupid. It scrambled up inside her skull like an omelet.

“I don’t like feeling disloyal to my friends,” Lindsay blurted at last, “but those underpants you found in your bed were Candy’s.” She’d come there to say that, though she’d rehearsed getting the words out in a way less-incriminating to Candy. But one way or another, it had to be said, and she’d said it. If Candy didn’t forgive her, Lindsay would simply have to live with that.

Lindsay started to add something that might make Candy look better, but at the cold look on Mrs. Gherkin’s face her tongue froze. “Did you hear that, Marcus?” the woman demanded to her lawyer. “Peter’s been screwing a high school girl!”

Mr. Pomeroy’s piggy eyes gleamed. “That should up our ante considerably.”

“Oh, no!” Now Lindsay had to set the record straight. “No, Candy had her boyfriend over while you guys were out, and she was…fooling around in your bed with him.

The tension oozed out of Lindsay like the air from a balloon. She sank back in that whoopee-cushion of a chair, waiting for the happiness — the sheer relief — to overtake Mrs. Gherkin. Instead, the lady and her lawyer gaped in what looked, to Lindsay, a lot like disappointment.

“Oh…no,” Mr. Pomeroy said.

“Oh, no!” said Mrs. Gherkin.

“There goes the sailboat,” said Mr. Pomeroy.

Mrs. Gherkin put her head in her hands. “We can kiss the cabin in Prescott goodbye, too!”

Lindsay was mystified. “But now that means you and Mr. Gherkin can stay married!”

Mrs. Gherkin peeked out from between her fingers. “Young lady, you just cost us at least two hundred thousand dollars.”

They hustled Lindsay out the door without even letting her finish her iced tea. She sat for a while in her Dart, wondering why she’d gotten a reaction she would have expected only Candy deserved. As she ground the tired old engine to a start and lumbered off toward home, she realized that older people probably did what was right a whole lot less often than she’d wanted to believe. By the time she turned the corner off of the Gherkins’ street, it occurred to her that people who loved those they were supposed to might not be any more moral than people who didn’t.

Lindsay supposed that in a way, Candy had done her a huge favor. A much bigger one, certainly, than Candy would ever think Lindsay had done for her. That more than made up, Lindsay had to conclude, for the fact that Candy might never smile at her again.

That night over pizza and root beer, Lindsay broke up with the Octopus. All she knew, at the moment, was that she didn’t want to date any more guys. The rest of it, she’d just have to figure out later. Candy was right about one thing: it was 1979, and the world was changing fast.

Here Comes More of the Persecution Complex

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” wrote second century Christian theologian Tertullian. And during his June 30th mass this year, Pope Francis agreed: “The Church grows thanks to the blood of the martyrs. This is the beauty of martyrdom.”

There’s a sense, then, in which Christianities have historically wavered between a persecution complex and the desire to dominate over and control the world’s morality. Christian denominations have had as their goal, after all, the conversion of everyone to their own position as if the old saying is: “The more the truer.”

And they’re not alone. Modern defenders notwithstanding, Buddhist religions have flourished most when they were embraced by governments as have multiple Islams. Confucian ethics became culturally Chinese when the Han dynasty enforced it as a political philosophy, and Shinto has always been tied to the status of the Japanese emperor.

Even Hindu sects became strongest when the kings of India endowed their temples and deities. While in the modern period most traditions have justified nationalisms that combine religious identities and politics.

The sense of being persecuted has been a rallying cry provoking the faithful to protect their brand and even take up arms. Pacifists in these traditions may claim that they have the truer view of each faith, but history shows that often a sense of one’s religion being persecuted has led to violent defensive measures by the fearful.

That defense spawns efforts to get governments on the side of the faith for both self-protection and to enforce a sense that right is confirmed by might. We have certainly seen this in the rise of the Christian right-wing in late twentieth-century US politics.

The need to believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation and also to make it so in the last fifty years has been a major thrust of right-wing religion. Yet the ever-increasing evidence that in spite of their financial and emotional investments, culture is moving further and further away from their sectarian vision of a Christian society, especially among younger generations, makes people who say “God is in charge” but down deep fear that’s not true, slide back into that persecution complex.

The pushers/dealers of addictive religion know that the fear of literal or figurative martyrdom can energize their devotees to action. Hence, the message of the day is: “We are the truly persecuted; we must therefore take the position of martyrs and fight our way out.

No more is this true than in the response to the issue of marriage equality. State by state, the barriers to it have fallen and the end of every state bans looks inevitable.

They now accuse both conservative and liberal judges of being activists who are discriminating against the sectarian right-wing. “Activist judges” as a label, after all, refers to those who decide against the right-wing.

Politicians must, therefore, figure out how to play to this right-wing religious base in the midst of the inevitable movement of history. They must show that they are willing to stand by the gate as the liberal hoards burst through to prove to the right-wing that as politicians they are moral, Christian people — though they know that this tactic will only be useful symbolically for a few more election cycles.

The strategy of right-wing tacticians has changed in turn. It’s now to use the courts and state legislatures to defend themselves from w what they call anti-religious discrimination.

We’ve already seen this in state legal attempts to “protect” businesses from having to serve LGBT people based on sectarian religious beliefs. Think of martyr Melissa Klein, the Oregon baker who shut down her bakery rather than serve gay and lesbian couples and incur a fine for discrimination, framing her martyrdom as the government destroying her career and forcing her to close her business because she stood up for her faith.

The famous Hobby Lobby case has set a precedent for more of the same in spite of any Supreme Court attempts to portray it otherwise. State legislatures will be seeking more exemptions to allow some groups, companies, and people with religious objections to refuse benefits or service for gay spouses, hoping to find themselves before judges with ideologies like those behind the Hobby Lobby decision.

The pattern to be followed, Michelangelo Signorile reported from this fall’s Values Voter Summit, will be similar to right-wing attacks on Roe v. Wade. They’ll have to seek “incremental” wins, Frank Schubert, the mastermind behind the Proposition 8 campaign in California and other marriage ban campaigns across the country, told Signorile, just as they’re doing to chip away slowly at abortion rights, which of course has been very successful. They’ll have to the find the gay “version” of “partial birth abortion,” Schubert said.

All of this, then, has the potential of fueling lucrative new fundraising for religious right-wing leaders. No longer will they be able to raise money with the treat of the legality of everyone getting married to whomever they love.

And the avalanche of victories for marriage equality will be proof to those desperate for such religious and political leadership that they are losing in the battle of the last decades to try to take over the nation. The fight will be more desperate, for the message is that the left is coming to take their very souls.

The fight will now continue on this front and will include lies told by the right-wing in the name of righteousness. Expect many fabricated stories of discrimination like those we’ve seen before. Expect those who get needed attention as martyrs to exaggerate, embellish, and create a constant supply of horrors.

This is when we’ll have to be clear about how what they’ll be doing is a re-definition of the separation of church and state, a re-definition of persecution, and a re-definition of freedom. We’ll have to call “sectarian” what they’re doing, not “Christian.” And we’ll have to be prepared in turn for some very nasty attacks in the name of religion.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

Room at the Table – A Thanksgiving Reflection

As a child, I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in our home were always a big production. This was the time of year when mom and dad would pull the extra table leaves out of storage and magically make the dining room table two-sizes bigger to accommodate all the family and other guests who would gather at the table.

The table itself was then impeccably decorated with the finest China we owned, appointed with freshly polished, real silverware and glimmering gravy boats and bowls taken out only for these special occasions. In the end, the turkey, ham, stuffing, gravies, potatoes, yams and vegetables made the already beautiful table smell so good. You couldn’t wait to sit down at that table and take part in the family fellowship.

However, as a child, that beautiful and bountiful table was not set for you. Instead, there was a bare, rickety card table, holding the barest essentials of salt, pepper, and the everyday plates, cups and bent and marred tableware. This was called, “The Children’s Table,” and it was far less inviting and appetizing than “The Adult Table.”

You knew, though, that you had graduated in both age and respect within the family when one day, as you headed over the adult table to fix your plate and take your usual place at the lowly children’s table, one of your parents stopped you and pointed out that you now had a place set at the adult table.

What a glorious day that is … to graduate from the children’s table, where your cousins and siblings had begun to make the meal unbearable with their childish talk and antics … up to the deeper, more engaging conversations at the adult table.

As we consider the state of the world today, however, we can see that many segments of our own society remain at the spiritual children’s table … relegated to the margins, given scraps from the adult table with their real needs largely ignored. Our world has increasingly segregated itself into separate tables where the like-minded, or the ethnically or spiritually similar all gather together, excluding those who don’t think, or look, or worship as they do.

This is not the state of the world that the Holy calls us to tolerate. Instead, the Holy commands us to make room at the table for everyone. There are no children or adult tables, white or black or brown tables, LGBT or straight tables, Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Tea Party tables. There are no Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist tables.

There is but one table in this world – the table of unity – that the Holy calls us to create, not just in this world, but in our own heart. We cannot relegate anyone to the children’s table of this world, no matter how different or other we may consider their ways and beliefs to be. Instead, the Holy calls us to constantly say, “Yes,” to those who seek to come to our table, to put in a few more leaves and magically expand the feast to fit everyone who seeks room at the table.

Artist and Author David Hayward on Waterfalls, Leaving Religion and the Art of Coming Out

It was a dream about a waterfall that finally gave David Hayward the peace of mind he needed after leaving his career as a pastor in 2010 after almost thirty years of service.

Religion had been Hayward’s life from the beginning. Originally baptized Anglican, he grew up in the Baptist church but turned to Pentecostalism in his teens. He attended seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and went on to pastor Vineyard and independent churches before his questions about traditional Christianity led him to give up his career and leave the church.

The beginning of the end came in 2005 when he began his Naked Pastor blog. A moniker, Hayward told Whosoever Magazine during a recent interview, that means, “I’m going to bare my soul. I wanted to reveal what pastors really think about what we go through and be honest about it.”

In 2006, he added daily cartoons to his blog, calling himself “A graffiti artist on the walls of religion.”

The topics for the cartoons vary widely, but all tend to deal with current events within the church, religion and politics — skewering everyone from disgraced Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll to prosperity gospel preachers.

“I try to address what’s going on in religion and challenge the abusive, erroneous, silly and toxic aspects of religion,” Hayward said. “I challenge it not because I hate it but because I love it and I think people have the right to be spiritual, religious and to gather together but for God’s sake, let’s do it in healthy ways.”

The members of his congregation had little motivation to keep up with his blog when it began. Then, Hayward’s increasingly unorthodox views on Christianity began to get noticed by outsiders.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve always struggled with the exclusivity of religion,” he said. “Christianity in particular which teaches the only way to God the Father is through Jesus Christ the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Although it sounds wonderful, it is exclusive. I met nice Jewish people and Buddhist and Roman Catholic people and atheists who are better people than I am and I wondered, ‘How would they deserve eternal punishment and I wouldn’t?’ It was a mental anguish of the kind that was unbearable.”

When word of what Hayward was blogging about — those tough questions he was posing about traditional Christian spiritual beliefs — got back to his congregation and church leadership, they began to question his commitment to the faith.

He and his congregation parted amicably enough, but Hayward found life difficult after the pulpit.

“When your whole life and identity is wrapped up in something like that and you leave it, cold turkey, it’s a tough go,” Hayward remembered. “I nearly self-destructed. I nearly lost my wife, my family and myself. You lose friendships, networks, income, career, religion. We had to file for personal bankruptcy. It was just the perfect storm.”

It was during that perfect storm that he dreamed about a waterfall. In the dream, Hayward is standing at the bottom of the waterfall. He realizes this is a symbol of reality. Looking up, he knows that, above the rim, is God in whatever form — or no form — we may imagine that higher power to be.

The water coming down was the manifestation of that universal source and the water hitting the ground was the Holy Spirit “engulfing and integrating everything,” Hayward said.

“It had a Trinitarian structure to it, but I knew we are all experiencing the same thing but we are all understanding it and articulating it through our own paradigms and language. That’s the only difference,” he said. “I knew this immediately that there is nothing worry about. The atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jew, the Muslim were all experiencing the same thing but we have our particular paradigm and language that seems to separate what we’re experiencing into exclusive ideologies or religions, but it’s only an illusion.”

In that moment, he felt what he called “a theological peace,” and then realized that he was probably not the only one who felt this way — trying to come to terms with a spiritual life after leaving organized religion. Many people who choose to leave the church, he said, feel like gypsies or refugees without a safe and supportive place to deconstruct their beliefs and build new ones.

It was that thought, and his own craving for safe community, that led him to found The Lasting Supper, an online community for people who have left religion but still want to retain their spiritual orientation.

“A lot of people who leave religion realize the risks and they quickly jump into something else that provides community such as yoga or other wellness movements. None of that is bad, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if people kept pressing to find their own spiritual identity. I’m trying to provide a safe place for people to process in a healthy way,” Hayward said.

Among those who flocked to his new community were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who had found themselves on the receiving end of so much abuse at the hands of the church. They have been welcomed into the diverse community which includes people who are married, divorced, atheists, agnostics and people who have left the church and don’t want to return.

Many of the cartoons that Hayward has produced over the years have been aimed at revealing some of that abuse LGBT people have suffered in traditional churches. He’s taken 100 of those cartoons and put them in a new book called The Art of Coming Out: Cartoons for the LGBTQ Community.

The book is divided into three chapters: The Discrimination, The Struggle and The Affirmation that traces both the fear and love that LGBT people have experienced in their spiritual journeys.

Hayward hopes that his images of Jesus fully accepting LGBT people as they were created will help others achieve the same theological peace he found when he dreamed of that image of the waterfall of God’s all-inclusive love spilling over into the world.

“There is something magical about an image,” said Hayward. “You can say to somebody, ‘Jesus loves you as you are.’ But, when you show them a picture of it, people can understand that it’s true! It’s another way of truth telling.”

Use this link to purchase The Art of Coming Out and David’s other books.

To learn more about The Lasting Supper, go here.

Listen to a podcast with David Hayward.

Can Evangelical Americans Sleep Through This One, Too? —David P. Gushee’s Evangelical Winds-a-Blowing

Photo by Rev. Steven Parelli

A personal first-hand story: David P. Gushee’s address “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities” delivered at The Reformation Project Conference in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8, 2014

The hurricane I never heard, I never saw
Twice in my life now I have slept through what would have been two exceptional once-in-a-life-time experiences. I regret it on both accounts. The first occurrence was at age 17 when I slept the whole night long in a small room in a missionary’s home in the steep hills outside of the town of Robert, Martinique, while hurricane winds blew against the island so hard that it took two months of rehabilitating the necessary facilities before public schools could reopen.

When I asked everyone — from the missionaries to my traveling companions from Central New York — why they let me sleep through it all, they told me, with horror, that I was the lucky one.

The evangelical winds of change — gathering now?
Two nights ago, knowing in advance the ‘storm-winds of evangelical change’ gathering about, ready to descend from the lofty pulpit of the Washington, DC, National City Christian Church at The Reformation Project, I was psyched and ready to witness with my own eyes and ears the historical address that David P. Gushee, the featured speaker of the conference, would give in his defense for personally affirming and welcoming on all levels within the church the queer Christian community.

I totally missed it — well, almost all of it!
But I slept . . . through most of it, although I was in and out of sleep at times! I was exhausted from my days of conferencing for a week at ILGA in Mexico City and now three days here in DC. My husband’s jabs to my side did little to avert the sleep.

“Unchristlike!” — Say it again and again, 14 times!
But I did catch the force of his address, like when David Gushee said he wanted his listeners to note that he carefully chose the word “unchristlike” and that he would use it 14 times throughout his address.

Those by-gone Jewish-hate-verses of the Bible
From the very first words of his address, before sleep engulfed me, he pulled me in. The parallel between the church’s centuries of hatred for the Jewish people and their now like-hatred for the LGBT community was stunning. David said the pre-WWII Christian community, by-and-large, believed their anti-Semitism was scriptural, as the church now does in its animosity toward LGBT Christians. And then, I dozed off again.

Love — the central message of the Bible that brings change
I was momentarily awake when he said Gentile Christians who helped the Jews during the holocaust of World Word II did not do so because they could correctly exegete the often-cited Jewish-hate-verses of the Bible, but because they could feel, know and live out the Golden-Rule verses of the Bible.

An inter-generational movement
At one point, Gushee corrected his written manuscript: He had written that this was a youth movement. No, he said, as he assessed the actual age continuum in the audience before him, that this was an inter-generational movement. All he had to do was look out over his audience, his said, to see that! I believe we all clapped. I think I did. And then, this tired, 61-year-old LGBT Christian, from the other side of the millennium-divide, fighting back the sleep, dozed off again.

Telling my dis-believing daughter her local evangelical pastors will one day change their views
On Monday morning, talking to my daughter on the phone who loves “both her dads” but is not welcoming and affirming asked me why the event, if it was so historically significant, wasn’t, for example, on CNN news.

I told her Gushee is big in the evangelical academic world, and that while I can’t predict what will be the impact of his words (and his newly published book), it is a force that has to be reckoned with both in the world of scholarship and, at some point, even in the common pew.

So, how will the Rick Warrens and the Tim Kellers respond?
But then again, will the Rick Warrens and the Tim Kellers, pastors of the church-going evangelicals, undaunted and unimpressed, sleep through this one, too — like I did, when I slept through the night-long hurricane winds of Martinique? I hope not.

It’s time to awaken and say (as horrifying as the storm may be – and more accurately because it is already horrific for all presently engulfed by it) that evangelicals do not want to be (any longer) on the wrong side of history, not to mention on the wrong side of the gospel.

To read Gushee’s address to the conference, go here.

When I Doubt

It is said that one who has never doubted has never had their faith tested, this is never a comfort when you’re experiencing doubt, but it’s still important to remember. We need our faith to be challenged now and then, if only to determine what we really believe or how strongly we believe it. Sometimes we find that we have believed wrongly about something in these moments of doubt, other times we hold on to what we believe already and trust God to fortify our belief.

I recently had such an experience with a friend of mine who is also a Christian. This friend has not had the best experiences with the lgbt community and judges all who are part of the community by those few bad apples he’s met and observed. He also uses his knowledge of scripture to condemn lgbt people, unless they allow God to change who they are, that is. Needless to say, this friend and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. He is especially offended by transsexuals; he begins from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender as well as a complete misconception of what gender reassignment surgery is. It doesn’t get better from there, I have tried to help him understand these things as they really are but he will not hear it.

So, recently he introduced me to an old doubt that has come up again and again in my life. “Is it wrong to be transgender?” I sometimes ask myself. “Does God really prefer that we stay within the binary genders the doctors assign us at birth?” I ask myself these questions in moments of doubt and I’m just not certain of the answers. It tests my faith and taxes my belief, so far I have always maintained what I believe and ridden out the storm until it passed. It can be emotionally exhausting and the amount of negative reinforcement I get from other Christians and the culture at large threatens to swallow me up at times.

But just as it’s true that doubt is needed to test our faith, sometimes bringing necessary correction, it is also true that God rewards the faithful. I read a news story earlier this year about a transwoman who heard the call of God to devote her life to Him by becoming a nun. When she chose to accept this call a way was provided for her in the form of a Carmelite order that welcomed her as one of their own. God asked this woman to become a nun, He didn’t ask her to reverse her surgery so she could be a monk, he didn’t chastise her for “mutilating her body”, as my friend would have put it, He told her to be a nun, to devote herself to Him just as she was. Not only that, but He made it possible for her to do so, He opened that door for her Himself.

I think about this story and I just can’t buy that God’s love for the trans community is conditional. My friend would have me believe that God requires us all to identify with the genders we were assigned at birth and that if we “mutilate our bodies” with surgery in order to change them we are violating God’s law. What’s more, he believes that God actually wants him to treat transfolk like the freakshows he sees us as. There is no sense that he should be unconditional with the love he shows or the respect he gives.

I am not a transsexual myself and have therefore no desire to receive sex reassignment surgery, but I fully support any of my trans brothers and sisters who feel they must have it. Their walk with God is as different from mine as their walk with life, I have to believe that those brothers and sisters of mine who have faith are just as beloved to God before and after their transitions. The body is just a shell, it is our hearts and souls that matter most to God.

I still hold out hope that God will change the heart of my friend toward the lgbt community and transfolk in particular. I think in time He will, though doubt currently discourages me on this point. Until such time I simply need to whether the storm and remember what I believe. God will take care of the rest.