Sunday, August 5, 2012

“Eat Mor Love”

Ephesians 4: 1-6 and 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
August 2, 2012
Ordinary Time
First United Church – Sermon by Rev. Caela Simmons Wood

I became a vegetarian five years ago, but there are a few things I still miss. Every time I walk past Chick-fil-A in the mall I get a craving for a delicious chicken sandwich. When I tried a Chick-fil-A original chicken sandwich for the first time in high school, it was love at first bite.

And the only thing better than a Chick-fil-A original chicken sandwich is, perhaps, a chicken biscuit for breakfast. With waffle fries. Because who doesn’t want to eat waffle fries for breakfast?

Of course, when I stopped eating animals I quit going to Chick-fil-A. Except, I’m not gonna lie, I did occasionally stop by for some waffle fries or a diet lemonade. And every time I did I felt a little guilty because I know that the owner of Chick-fil-A is a very conservative Christian who likely thinks a majority of my friends are going to hell. Who are we kidding here? The owner of Chick-fil-A thinks I’m going to hell, too.

So when I saw a little news article from NPR a couple weeks ago about a recent interview with Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy where he affirmed that his company is, indeed, firmly in support of “traditional marriage,” I thought, “Well that’s not exactly NEWS but I’m glad it’s making national headlines. Maybe some more people will realize that Chick-fil-A is anti-gay and stop buying their food.”

And that did – indeed- happen.

Another thing happened, too. By simply giving an interview where he said something that truly was not news, Dan Cathy somehow pushed his company into the center of that giant storm we US-Americans lovingly refer to as “the culture wars.”

Here’s what we know to be true, in case you’ve been blissfully watching the Olympics and not paying any attention to the culture wars this week:

Chick-fil-A is a privately-owned company headquartered in Atlanta. The family that owns Chick-fil-A is devoutly Southern Baptist and proud of their faith. Chick-fil-A has a charitable foundation called WinShape which has the goal of “shaping winners” (editorial comment: creating winners seems like a distinctly unbiblical goal to me, given that we worship a man who was hung on a cross).  WinShape gave $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2010, according to their tax documents.[1] One of these groups is Exodus International. You may have heard of them. They believe they can cure people of homosexuality. Another group is the Family Research Council, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[2]  Some other hate groups you may have heard of? The Aryan Nation, Westboro Baptist Church, and the KKK.[3]  The Family Research Council actively preaches that GLBT people are pedophiles and should be exported from the United States.[4]

Does Dan Cathy have the right to his own opinion as informed by his holy scriptures? Of course he does. Just like we all do. And does he have a right to give his hard-earned money wherever he wants? Yes, of course he does. Just like we all do.   

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to give my own hard-earned money to hate groups. So there will be no more waffle fries or diet lemonades for me. As a side note, I highly recommend the waffle fries at Bubs over by the Showers Building. They are scrumptious.

Do I really believe that by buying an occasional waffle fry my money is going to somehow trickle down to these extremist groups and change the growing acceptance of GLBT people in this country? No, I don’t. I could probably still buy the occasional diet lemonade there and nothing bad would come of it.

But I won’t. And here’s the main reason why: GLBT youth are four times more likely than their peers to commit suicide.[5]

And here’s another reason I refuse to fund hate speech – even in the tiniest way.

In the past week:
A 33-year-old lesbian woman in Lincoln, Nebraska was assaulted in her home where her attackers carved hateful speech into her arm with a knife and tied her up.

A 17-year-old lesbian girl was attached in Louisville, Kentucky while walking down the street with three other boys who were left basically unharmed.

And a 25-year-old gay man in Oklahoma City had his car fire-bomed. He was treated for first and second degree burns. The car had hate speech written on it.

Those three things happened in the last seven days, my friends, while the rest of us were happily watching synchronized diving and women’s gymnastics.

So, no. I won’t take a chance on pennies or even fractions of pennies from my purchases at Chick-fil-A going to fund groups that speak hate.

There is too much hate in this world already.

It costs me nothing to say this or do this. I save money by not shopping at Chick-fil-A. And, honestly, I get points from most of you for standing up here and saying it.

But here’s the other thing the whole Chick-fil-A debacle reminded me of this week. Well, to be more accurate, the passage from Ephesians reminded me of it.

We are called to speak the truth in love.

Speaking the truth? Not a problem. I LOVE to speak the truth. Sometimes I even love to yell it.

Speaking the truth IN LOVE? Well, that’s a little harder.

Would it be easier to rant and rave and yell and say what I really think in my head about all the people who purposely went to Chick-fil-A on Wednesday to show their support for the company? Why, yes. Yes, it would.

But then I open up the Bible and I’m reminded that it’s all so much more complicated than that. Earlier this week I sat at my kitchen table with two Jewish friends and told them that most days I feel like I have more in common with them, faith-wise, than I do with many people who call themselves Christian.

And yet, the author of Ephesians tells us we’re supposed to remember, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

How on earth can I feel comfortable being called to unity with people who are preaching hate? How can I ever hope to find peace with the idea of calling myself a Christian when every single article I read about Chick-fil-A this week only mentioned Christians as a hateful?

Fortunately, the author of Ephesians doesn’t leave me hanging but gives me some concrete tips about this wild idea of unity among a very diverse group of people.

The author of Ephesians says, I “beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

It seems like good advice for the people of Ephesus and good advice for me, too. I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not it’s good advice for you.

In order to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, we are first to live with humility. Being humble means that I am to be acutely aware, at all times, of who I am in relationship to other people. I am to remember that I am not the only person who matters. I don’t have the lock down on truth. In fact, the best way to be humble is to come to every conversation with these four words in the back of my head, “I could be wrong.”

Four tiny words, but, oh, my, what a difference they make when you’re having a discussion with another human being. “I could be wrong.”

Even about the things I most deeply-believe. Even about the things that seem obvious to me. Even about those things I’m pretty sure God said in black and white. “I could be wrong.”

Can you imagine what would happen in the culture wars if every person had that mantra in the back of their head when they approached someone on the other side?

The author of Ephesians says we are also to be gentle. It’s actually a lot easier to be gentle when you’re humble because you’re less likely to shout at someone or firebomb them or be violent with them in any way if there’s a recording in the back of your head reminding you that you could be wrong.

Being gentle doesn’t mean we have to be quiet or silent. It means we have to be respectful – even of people that we think are totally crazy and evil. Because, guess what? God loves even those people. And when God speaks to them, God speaks gently. Sometimes firmly, sure. But it is absolutely possible to be firm and gentle at the same time.

Perhaps you’re gentle by nature and if you are, I envy you. I am not. I’m more of a yeller. I love today’s story from 2 Samuel because I’ve always envisioned Nathan sort of shouting at David, “YOU ARE THE MAN!” Perhaps with a big “Ha, HA!” at the end.

But then I re-read it after pondering this whole gentle thing and I thought, wow, how much more powerful would it have been if Nathan had said, instead (in a whisper), “You are the man”?

I confessed to my mom a few weeks ago that I sometimes find it hard to keep a calm voice when my two-year-old is really pushing my buttons. I told her that I had no memory of her ever yelling at me as a child. I asked her how she accomplished this seemingly impossible feat. And do you know what she said to me? She said, “Well, I guess I just have never found yelling to be very productive.”

She’s right, of course. It’s not. Speaking gently is almost always more productive.

Finally, the author of Ephesians says to be patient. And this is, I think, perhaps the hardest part of all. The waiting for a resolution. The Greek word here can also be translated as longsuffering, endurance, or perseverance.

It’s about showing up to the conversation.

Even when I’m tired of arguing, I’m supposed to show up. Even when the other person is yelling at me, I’m supposed to show up. Even when I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall and I worry that if either of my sons turns out to be gay someone will hurt them someday because the world isn’t changing fast enough, I’m supposed to show up. And keep showing up again and again and again.[6]

And I believe we’re supposed to hope against hope that the people on “the other side” show up, too. With any luck, they’ll have read their Bibles and they’ll show up with an attitude of humility and gentleness. But even if they don’t – even if they show up filled with hate, we’re supposed to remember that Jesus loves the little children – all the children of the world.

And Jesus loves adults who act like children. Even them. Even me.

And we’re supposed to love them, too.

Because there’s already too much hate in the world. And hate has never been very productive.

We are called to speak the truth – but not with words of hate.

We are called to speak the truth in love.

[6] If you want to read a beautiful story about “showing up” even when you don’t feel like it, I commend to you this lovely blog post by Glennon Melton:


Holly said...

I loved reading this Caela. I, too, am apalled at the way some Christians choose to represent themselves. I do not think that the majority of the Christians who patronized Chick fil a on Wednesday realize that they were supporting anything other than freedom of speech and the belief in traditional marriage. The fact that the funds from Chick fil a went to support a group who thinks homosexual people should be DEPORTED from the US was somewhat washed over. I didn't even realize it until I read more into it. I think people are quick to jump on the bandwagon without really checking things out first, which is unfortunate. They think, oh, traditional marriage? I support that. Freedom of speech? I support that. I should get some Chick fil a to show others that I support these things. Really the whole situation is just tiresome and sad to me.

Rev. Caela Simmons Wood said...

Holly - I think you're so right. Thank you. I hope that people will become more informed so they know exactly what they're supporting. It's a lot of work to get the right information, so I completely understand that a lot of people don't take the time to do it. I know I'm certainly guilty of that many times. I am sad and tired right along with you.

Peg's Journey said...

Well done, Caela. Mind if I post it on my FB page?

Rev. Caela Simmons Wood said...

Please feel free to share, Peg. Thanks!