Communion: Is it About Sexuality or Love?

This past weekend was the first time I experienced someone looking me in the eye, stating that they wouldn’t partake in communion with me.
Why?

Because of my views on homosexuality.

Is that what communion’s all about?

Clinking miniature plastic shot glasses with pre-filled grape juice as an “amen” to deeming what’s “abominable” in the eyes of God? A meal to lambaste a group of people who are “unnatural” and “cannot procreate?” Is communion all about reminding people that “‘they’ choose their own sexuality,” while you negate to mention that you didn’t choose yours? Does the act of communing only involve eating and drinking and doing life with people just like you, who think like you, who hate the ‘sins’ that you hate, who interpret scripture the way you interpret scripture, who vote the same way you vote?

Is that what communion is all about?

If that’s your version of gathering around the table, I’ll take a pass. Instead, I’ll go to the open field of freedom, where we sit in a circle, Kumbaya style, and each share the same cup and the same bread and say a glorious “Amen” to our maker, celebrating the imago dei in us all. We may not agree on everything and we each are passionate about different things, but together we create beauty and peace. Some of us are married; some of us aren’t. Yes, some of us like men; some of us like women; some of us don’t know; and, really, we don’t care either way. Because together, we know what we do care about: loving God and loving people. And anything we can do to advance the Kingdom of God- that Kingdom- we’ll do.

Because the last I checked, communion was about all of us being invited to the banquet table. Celebrating the Jesus who loves us as people first. People who feel pushed aside. People who are lonely. People who are searching for just one person to say, “Let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone.” People who love him. People who don’t. The world called them “prostitutes,” “tax collectors,” “Pharisees,” “sinners,” “adherent disciples,” “disciples-soon-to-be-betrayers.” The question is, though, Who would Jesus say he ate with? How did Jesus see each person he dined with? Does God see the prostitute? Or as author Shane Claiborne learned from a friend who was an atheist, “Jesus never talked to a prostitute because he didn’t see a prostitute. He just saw a child of God he was madly in love with.”

Realizing the beauty behind his friend’s words, Shane continues, “When we have new eyes, we can look into the eyes of those we don’t even like and see the One we love. We can see God’s image in everyone we encounter. As Henri Nouwen puts it, ‘In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own face, and in the hands of the oppressor I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile.’ We are made of the same dust. We cry the same tears. No one is beyond redemption. And we are free to imagine a revolution that sets both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” (The Irresistible Revolution, pg. 266)

It’s easy now to see, in this light, how beautiful our God is and how precious we each are one to another, one to the world, one to our beloved Maker. Oh sure, it’s easy to point out the dissension, the arguing, the “righting,” and “wronging.” But when you take a second glance, when you uncover our fears, dismantle our pride, and each reach out our hands, we discover the love that Jesus sees when he looks into each child’s eyes and whispers directly from God, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

If I can see what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about.
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasing the wind while the pendulum swings
‘Cause we can talk and debate ’till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition that He’s coming to save
And meanwhile we sit just like we don’t have give a sh*t about
Fifty thousand people who are dying today
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The Fiscal Cliff: Like the Wall Street Crash, “We Need a Little Christmas”

There are two hackneyed words that have droned on the web, radio, television, social media, and even in some conversations I’ve had this week: fiscal cliff. Not being an economist, I confess I dismissed most of it, just interpreting it as another way of phrasing the “not enough money” message we’ve been hearing about for the past five years, that further reiterate the messages of budget concerns I hear on weekly conference calls at work. Deciding, however, to become a little more informed, I found this Washington Post article to express “the fiscal cliff for dummies” (my words, not theirs). For those who can resonate with not quite understanding this issue, here’s a few main points:

The 2001 Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire on December 31, causing, among other factors, congress to discuss taxes increases/decreases and budget cuts. Congress has set a limit on how much money the U.S. can borrow, therefore, a deal must be reached.

Half of the scheduled annual cuts will come directly from the national defense budget, half from non-defense.

Social Security, Medicaid, supplemental security income, refundable tax credits, the children’s health insurance program, the food stamp program and veterans’ benefits will not be cut.

Discretionary programs (those that do not have earmarked funds) could face cuts. This includes educational and public health programs, to name a couple.

The Tax Policy Center has calculated that the fiscal cliff will raise taxes on 90 percent of Americans.

The tax hike would be largely progressive, with the tax rate increasing more on high-income Americans than lower-income taxpayers.

Those are a few highlights. There’s still a lot over my head. But that’s enough for me right now. I took a break from public radio this week— even though I enjoy listening to all the unique highlights and interviews I wouldn’t hear elsewhere— because somehow, whenever I’d leave for work in the morning, and whenever I’d leave in the evening, I always seemed to catch the headline news update. And most headline news reports this week have felt dismal. Parking my car after work this week and hearing words like “fiscal cliff” and “economy” swirling around my brain began to dull my ability to enjoy the blissful Christmas lights adorning the homes and entryways of my neighbors. So I decided to take a “media fast.”

A day into this “fast,” I went to Baltimore’s annual Monument tree lighting celebration, in which the city comes together for the lighting of Baltimore’s Washington Monument. Strolling the streets after the lighting and celebratory fireworks, I came across a quartet of women singing, “We Need a Little Christmas,” right there, on the sidewalk, taking a moment out of their evening to stop what they would have otherwise been doing, slow down, and simple sing a song of joy. A multi-racial crowd gathered around, cheering on the carolers, lauding them with applause. I listened to an older man with a broad smile tell me his about his favorite Christmas song -Oh Holy Night- and the joy that singing brings him. As we waved goodbye, tears warmed in my eyes, a little lump forming in my throat. I’m not normally this sensitive, but it’s just that this peaceful act of beauty has been missing from the news, often times, and, while I’m at it, missing in my life. Like when I complain about how long the grocery store line is instead of striking up a conversation with the man or woman in front of me, grateful to have an abundance of food to choose from and the ability to pay for it. It’s been missing from the world, as we shift our attention towards banter and money and taxes, when really, can’t this whole thing work itself out if we’d all just be a little more peaceful, a little more civil, be a little bit more willing to listen, and be a little bit more willing to cooperate cohesively as citizens of the United States of America? What would happen if, say, we shifted towards the spirit of unity that can so embody this time of year, a time in which every major world religion has a holy day to celebrate, or just finished celebrating a month earlier, as in the cases of the Hindu holiday Diwali and the Islamic New Year.

I think that’s what was captured in the gathering of people surrounding this beautiful quartet. Coming together, instead of dividing; finding hope, instead of despair; giving out of a loving heart instead of hoarding our riches to bless ourselves… isn’t that in the teachings of most major religions, anyway?

Interestingly enough, “We Need a Little Christmas” was sung in the Broadway musical Mame. The song is performed after Mame has lost her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and decides that she, her young nephew Patrick, and her two household servants “need a little Christmas now” to cheer them up. Patrick protests, “but Auntie, it’s one week from Thanksgiving now!” Intransigent, Mame insists, “It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough. For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older, and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder. I need a little Christmas now.” I think Mame knew something powerful: the joy of this season can bring hope even in the midst of despair, like in the Great Depression Mame faced.

Though a fictitious story, the lesson that Mame teaches us in the mantra of “We Need a Little Christmas” parallels to times today. No matter how pollyanna or naive it seems, we too can experience peace and joy in the midst of daunting or disheartening headlines that reflect anything but the Christmas spirit. And maybe, if we could focus on things to be joyful about, like stories of kindness and cheer in the media this month, a little bit more than we’ve done during the other months of this year, perhaps that spirit of kindness will help us become united as one this holiday season. As the saying goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” For me, as someone who is guilty of taking life too seriously as I all too frequently rush around with my own agenda, only half-heartedly listening to the world and those around me, learning how to express gratitude and gratefulness in the midst of my selfishness and apprehensions. What about you? What about us? What if this holiday season, we learn that we are truly brothers and sisters, neighbors to love? Let’s reflect this spirit  in anyway we can; you use your gift, I’ll use mine. Perhaps your gift is being able to spread a smile across someone’s face as they gather around neighbors-becoming-friends as they hear you sing mellifluously of hope and joy. Perhaps it’s inviting some friends over for no reason at all other than to be together, celebrating the life we’ve each been given. Perhaps it’s gathering your family together and choosing an animal for a family halfway across the world to use as a source of income. Whatever it looks like, it looks like love, it looks like togetherness, and to me, it epitomizes the true spirit of Christmas. Yes,—-

For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a little Christmas now.

Enough.

After a week of reading and hearing headlines, emails, posts, and radio negative campaign ads, I have one word to say, capitalized and underlined.

ENOUGH.

Rush, please learn to think before you speak and learn the power of forgiveness when you say mean things.

Romney, please get to your know your gay, straight, bi, lesbian, neighbors and realize that they don’t need one more person pointing fingers at them; really we all just need one more person to encourage and love us. And as an aside, if you’re going to make a “Christian” graduation speech, may I suggest adapting from the Sermon on the Mount, not the Mountain of Rejection you’ve voiced of others.

Obama, please stop emailing me daily asking for $3 because I’m sick of scheming up millions for campaign finance when I truly believe character wins over capital ANY day of the week.

And lest I put the blame on others, I will galvanize myself: Otterbein, enough with your cynicism.

ENOUGH.

One soldier committing suicide every day.

ENOUGH.

Another needless gun violence tragedy today.

ENOUGH.

Enough of the name-calling, the negativity, the judgment, the labeling, and complacency too while we’re at it.

Enough of assumption making, enough of pointing fingers (and guns), enough of war, enough of divisiveness.

You know what I’m talking about.

There is a world bursting forth with LOVE just longing to be opened and discovered.

There is a Kingdom big enough for all of us.

It’s time we hold hands. It’s time we link up, arm in arm, go on! I know it might feel silly at first but give it a few seconds and you might feel a tingling in your toes or fingers and it will be holy and beatific and divine.

Yes, yes, go hold hands, go high five, go hug, go laugh, skip and jump with your black, Asian, caucasian, Hispanic, mixed, straight, gay, immigrant, hippie, blue collar, white collar, those who cut off their collars a long time ago, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, haven’t-prayed-in-twenty-years-because you have questions and don’t need trite answers, young, elderly, thirsty, empty, stumbling, bumbling (not sure what that even means), homeless, trafficked, just discovering beauty and grace despite chaos, sisters and brothers.

Yes, On Earth as it is in Heaven.

We can have it a bit of it.

Yes, yes, we can learn that fostering hope instead of further creating division, especially during tender times is an excellent idea.

Yes, yes,we can douse hatred and ignite love with our mouths, our hands, our feet, our very soul.

We can pledge our fealty to loving our neighbor, not our red white and blue embroideries.

We can wave the white flag.

We can throw up peace signs.

We can mourn when our heart is heavy from pain and brokenness and depravity. Better yet, we can mourn together.

And then we can roll down hills together.

And stomp in puddles.

Because we have said ENOUGH to the former and we can now dance in the latter, barefoot and unafraid…

Martin Luther King Memorial
Washington D.C.
April 2012