Thursday, July 21, 2016

Right On & Left Out (Banjo & Bread chapter 3)

The conservative conversions come from a genuine place. Sin-addled yet saved-by-the blood, their testimonies ring true. Because their passion for the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ resound, because the sheer spontaneity and widespread popularity of their revival affirms relevance, I cannot dismiss the long-term impact of—or the lingering musical and cultural contributions of—the Jesus People. But as Preston Shires documents in his book Hippies of the Religious Right, as T.M. Luhrmann notes in her essay for Harpers called “Blinded by the Right,” and as Larry Eskridge documents in his comprehensive God’s Forever Family, the Jesus People represent a clear-cut counterrevolution within the counterculture. 

In 1971, renowned evangelist Billy Graham published his book Jesus Generation, a comprehensive book-length tract—a manifesto for the movement more than a text about the meaning of the movement. According to Eskridge, when Graham’s crusade hit Chicago in 1971, a ragtag rebellion of Yippies and Satanists and the like showed up to make mischief, but even more than the baton-wielding Chicago cops, it was a song-singing and hand-holding group of Jesus People that diffused the situation by infusing a disruptive conflict with love. A watershed moment in the public history of the later “Jesus movement” came with the Godstock festival held in Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1972. Officially titled “EXPLO ’72,” this evangelism conference and energizing concert marks a culminating moment for the movement in the national spotlight, highlighting the sympathetic loyalty to the movement in Graham.

Graham’s energizing endorsements helped clear the way for this “explosion” (which the title EXPLO abbreviates) in the national imagination, but the event was also an evangelistic organizing platform for Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). According to Larry Eskridge, Campus Crusade’s leadership harbored a serious “concern about the nation’s volatile political and cultural scene” and planned to avert the “calamity” of a leftwing revolution (170). Even though the conservative bias of the event was clear, the organizers made sure that “attention was paid to denying claims CCC was in any way tied to right-wing political elements” (Eskridge 170). Eskridge tactfully treats this topic and its apparent duplicity. Because of this desire to appear politically unbiased while cultivating a sincere conservative bias, the EXPLO refused to invite President Richard Nixon to the event, despite the strong private support for Nixon shared by many of the organizers. 

While the weekday rallies were at the packed Cotton Bowl, the concluding Godstock concert attracted almost 200,000 people, so it took place at the Texas State Fairgrounds. Charged with thousands of watts of power, color-coated with a psychedelic backdrop, and starting at 7:30 in the morning, the event’s musical headliner was the great Johnny Cash. The vinyl compilation of the day’s music is a Jesus People collector’s item, capturing the ambiance of the movement with inspiring musical tracks. The music fan in me would have loved EXPLO, but the activist in me would have only gone in subversive Christian solidarity with Jim Wallis under the banner of the People’s Christian Coalition. As retold in two 21st century dissertations on the evangelical Left by David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway respectively, Wallis and his comrades essentially picketed the event with anti-war messages like “Choose This Day—Make Disciples or Make Bombs” or “Love your Enemies or Kill Your Enemies,” then going so far as to disrupt one of the rallies that had overtly pro-military content with chants of “Stop the War!” and unfurled a banner saying “Cross or Flag, Christ or Country.” 

They were hardly embraced by their kin in Christ. Gasaway explains, “The crowd of conservative Christians seemed stunned at first by this brazen display but quickly drowned out the chants with thundering ‘boos’” (40). Wallis and his group of “post-Americans,” the prototype of today’s still influential Sojourners magazine and movement, were not Jesus Freaks; in fact the Jesus people in Dallas, hippies and straights alike, seemed okay with uniting cross with flag, the prince of peace with the President’s war. This tension within culture and church remains today. 

Although I shouldn’t be shocked by these accounts, I admit great discomfort at the implied conclusions: that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christianity was at first dominated by spiritually-dead and ostensibly liberal churches, and then, transformed by a conservative revival of reformed hippies who had once dropped acid and thus could handle the dramatic fire of the Holy Spirit. Were some of these seeds of the Christian right in fact “right on” while others were reactionary? There’s something sacred about Jesus Freaks, but what about the lineages of the Christian Left that are “left out” of the scholarly literature on the Jesus movement?

If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Eclectic Koolaid Vision Quest: Hippy Christians or Jesus Hippies? (Banjo & Bread, chapter 2)

When I told my friend—a Cookeville, Tennessee native and my church and university colleague Mike Birdwell—that I was researching Cookeville’s hippy Christians from the late 1960s and early 1970s, he quipped that Cookeville only ever had one true hippy. Before I began my research, I would have believed him. In fact, when this project began, I was looking everywhere but Cookeville for legends and clues about the lost history of the Christian counterculture —my former homes in Chicago, Cleveland, or Detroit, a monastery in Kentucky, and of course the legendary California. 

Tracing the lineage of my joyful radical Christianity to foreparents in the 1960s is a social question as well as a spiritual necessity—a personal quest requiring prophetic memory. In the early 1970s, my primary school consciousness made sense of my family’s devout Christian faith coupled with our unwavering support of the farmworkers and the feminists. There was a split in the lineage of the hippy-Jesus family tree around that time. Both Left and Right Christians of the era embraced the musical and cultural hippy vibe but diverged in politics. On the Left side, we descended from the Beat Generation, the Berrigan brothers, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, from civil rights and the antiwar movements. Writers like mystic Thomas Merton or artists like Sister Corita Kent were visionary voices. On the Right side, the evangelists embraced the street people and ex-druggies with such fiery grace that, once converted, these so-called Jesus Freaks bought into an anti-abortion, apocalyptic agenda. What about the members of the Jesus revolution who stayed Left at the split? We are just the kind of people you will meet today at North Carolina’s Wild Goose Festival, see lobbying for universal healthcare or prison reform or even prison abolition, protesting the water shutoffs in Detroit, attending the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, or advocating for immigrants and workers. Living with endless war and the weariness of economic exploitation, it’s difficult to locate Jesus as liberator. But it’s this loving and liberating Christ who will show us how to preserve the 1960s revolutionary edge and communal spirit by inviting us to the Kingdom. 

Endless resources already exist about the secular side of the hippy counterculture, and likewise, the Jesus People movement inspired numerous books, blogs, and bibliographies. A complicated but inspiring interrelationship resides between those secular and sacred subcultures, but with this present scholastic adventure, I uncover some lost links at the intersection between these subcultures, pieces that remain largely untapped in the existing academic and popular literature, especially the recent books on the Jesus Movement. This shows how fragments from the New Left became a newer Right—but that is not the whole story. Understanding the conservative rightwards shift causes an uncomfortable degree of dissonant friction. What is true? What is historical fiction? Research is a process where too many doors, windows, crawl spaces, and multidimensional Narnian wardrobes get tapped open, and the information is dizzying. But the answers to my questions weren’t down the rabbit hole of a search engine or online database but at home and down the street; I just had to trust my lineage and look deeper. 

When I first realized that yesterday’s Jesus People are today’s Tea Party Republicans, I got sick to my stomach and wanted to quit the project. But this is what I feel God says I must do: chart a new trajectory between the pacifist collectives, campus movements, and underground church of the late 1960s and early 1970s and show how this Left alternative actually remains intact, in today’s resurgence of evangelical progressives also called the “emerging church.” Unlike the born-again Christian hippies of the 1970s who fanned the flames of reaction against revolution, the original hippy Christians of the 1960s displayed deep connections in the defining moments and movements of the decade that transformed the church and the continent.

Photo is Sister Corita Kent, scanned from an old motive magazine.

To read chapter three, go here:

If you would like a copy of the complete
Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Prepare Ye The Way (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 1)

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ (Matt. 3:1-3)

According to my parents Barb and Ken Smith, my poetry and preaching career began at a very young age. We had gone to see the musical Godspell in the theater—this legendary 1970s rock revival rendition of the gospel according to Matthew, the sensational musical that launched the Broadway composing career of a Jewish twenty-something named Stephen Schwartz. As we sat in the audience that night, I was ready for the opening of this play, which involves John the Baptist coming forward with an invocation—the epic, beautiful refrain “Prepare Ye The Way (Of The Lord).” As the people in the theater sat quiet and John the Baptist started to sing, an eager young child interrupted the proceedings and shouted at the top of his lungs, “That song is on our record.” And based on my Dad’s retelling, the entire cast joined the audience in stunned laughter at my spontaneous disruption. 

In the opening of David Greene’s 1973 movie version which I also watched at a young age, the disciples heed the call to follow the hip bearded baptist to a public park for a communal immersion, with the fully dressed disciples soaking and splashing as frolicking misfits in the city fountain. As I would wear out my parents vinyl copy of the cast album, I would “play Godspell,” reenacting everything from baptism to crucifixion in my six-year-old way. In regularly  reaffirming my baptism in such a playful primal way, I became a childlike puckish follower of the hippy Jesus. In early 1968, when my actual baptism took place in Chicago at the Church of the Three Crosses, the hymn that day was Sydney Carter’s anthem of the counterculture church, “The Lord of The Dance.” Although in the 1990s I preferred the drunken visions of New Age hedonism and tried to reject even the anarchic hippy Jesus, Christ’s love would not let me go. Whether sprinkled or dunked, our baptism claims us, and mine claimed me for unconditional love and radical service in the counterculture church. 

As explained in Defying Gravity, Carol de Giere’s biography of composer Stephen Schwartz, the originator of Godspell John-Michael Tebelak developed the play as a graduate school project at Carnegie Mellon (ch. 4). Offended by uptight Christians who harassed the hirsute thespian one snowy Easter morning and energized by exposure to the raw style of the Living Theater, Tebelak theorized his clownface messiah (after reading theologian Harvey Cox’s Feast of Fools) as bringing joy back to the story that the uptight church-types had sucked dry (de Giere, ch.4).  In One Way: The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning, Robert Ellwood invokes what he dubs the “playful Christianity” of Cox as a kind of alternative jubilant antidote to the stern joyless asceticism that emerged among some of the so-called Jesus People (139). Perhaps it’s because I memorized most of Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Free to Be You and Me, and some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches around that time, but the ecstatic picture that Cox and Godspell portray of Christ commingling with counterculture in festive cooperation accurately reflects my memories of church-back-then and captures the spirit of this current analysis.  

Looking at the upheavals of the 1960s through the lens of liturgy and locating ministry in aspects of New Left liberation, Banjo and Bread chronicles the inspired interventions of two “hippy Christians,” who as college students imbibed the avant-garde insurrections of art, music, and performance as liturgy that accompanied the “Methodist Student Movement” as well as the peace, civil rights, and feminist movements. The text that follows is the faithful manifesto of a counterculture Christian born in 1967 and in love with this colorful lineage—organized largely as an oral history, as the first-person theological biography of Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough. The Kimbroughs’ coming-of-age captures a time when the hip counterculture and the activist Left openly conversed and the campus church provided safe space for both. This text draws from extensive prayer and conversation, primary research and oral history, personal interviews and archival documents, charting the Kimbroughs’ lives through a radical campus ministry at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, the locale where I live, worship, write, and teach. We also see the Kimbroughs mature as co-founders of an intentional community in Evansville, Indiana called Patchwork Central, and finally, working hard until their 70th birthdays as partners at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, a covenantal Christian collective committed to solidarity with the poor and the prisoner, to ending homelessness and stopping executions. 

In my visits to Atlanta, the Kimbroughs granted me access to an extensive personal archive of scrapbooks and photo albums, in which we discover the full influences of the day, from psychedelic artwork on handbills advertising the campus coffeehouses to the couple’s hip fashion statements seen in photographs, documenting times like 1968 when these romantic college seniors were married in an impromptu ceremony presided over by their mentor and campus minister.  Hopefully, the reader will sense God’s sacramental presence in the liturgical practices that revolutionized church at the intersection of art, music, literature, and activism.

Go ahead & read chapter two here:
If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Until All People Are Truly Free: On Going To Selma, Fifty Years Later

One Monday at supper in March of 1965, my father, having watched on television the police attacking nonviolent protesters on the bridge at Selma, blurted to my mother that he should go.

Expecting her to discourage him, he was surprised when Barb and their close friend and neighbor Anne Marie encouraged him. With help from Steve Rose, he found himself on a red-eye flight to Atlanta, then connecting flight to Montgomery, and finally a carpool to Selma. His type-written unpublished essay on this journey shaped me and continues to shape me.

My parents’ involvement in the peace and civil rights causes of the 1960s and 70s has had such a huge impact on me that it continues to focus my spiritual journey, as well as my writing and research interests, to this day. Although in retrospect, Ken’s spontaneous decision to join the movement in Selma is remarkable to me, he always downplayed his role in civil rights to us when we were growing up. This coming weekend, I will make my first trip to Montgomery and Selma in part to recommit to civil rights, in part to lead a trip of college students, and in part to honor Ken’s witness 50 years ago.

Although I have been the teacher of record in the college classroom every regular academic semester since the late 1990s, it’s taken me all this time to finally organize a proper “alternative spring break.” About five years ago, two Tennessee Tech students joined my wife and me in our car on a Presbyterian church mission trip to West Virginia, with about a dozen others, mostly retirees from our local congregation. But this weekend we will be pilgrims with a vanload of college freshman and sophomores on an official field trip from our living and learning village, dubbed the Tree House. This weekend, we are going to Montgomery and Selma.

Thanks to the influence of my parents and others, I have been an activist my entire life and a peace and civil rights activist in particular with a profound personal debt for the work and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When Lewis Baldwin, my professor in King studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School, came to speak to my class at Tennessee Tech last year, he asked if I would be going to Selma for the bridge crossing jubilee. I told him I would like to go. Back in 1965, my father Ken Smith, only 24-years-old and my older brother Arthur just a baby in Barb’s arms, joined the Tuesday, March 9 march, the second of the three major Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Ken’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease, which finally took his life last May, means that Barb and I will need to make this pilgrimage back to Alabama without him and in his honor.

We know that politicians and celebrities will be there. We also know that some of our mentors through the last several decades in a grassroots Christian witness for peace and justice and antiracism and in a liberation theology for North America, people like Ed Loring and Murphy Davis and Jim Wallis, will also be there.

As we met with colleagues and students over the last few days in Cookeville, we discussed our motives for going. In each case, the students expressed their desire to be a part of the ongoing history of this country’s struggle with race relations, and they also demonstrated an acute awareness that work of the dream remains incomplete and carries on.

After returning from Selma to our home then in the city of Chicago, Ken wrote about his experiences. I have treasured that typescript for years and recently transcribed some of my favorite quotes. As the Selma struggle marked a time when white allies like Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo joined the too long list of martyrs from the movement, it’s clear that Ken took a risk in even going, and it’s clear talking to Mom about this most recently, that they both believed the risk was worth it. As he emphasized in his reflections, Ken still wondered why more people didn’t go. Some excerpts from Ken’s notes summarize the passion I inherited and the debt I owe to my Daddy for bringing me into the movements for peace and justice. I will conclude this meditation with four of those quotes. March on!

1.      “The question of course is asked, ‘Why did you go?’ There are of course many answers to this question, but basically it is quite simple. I went in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for ministers and laymen to join in the struggle. I went because I was appalled at what happened on Sunday. I went because I feel so strongly that all men have a right to be truly free, and until this is the case, my freedom is also limited. However, I feel that everyone has really been asking the wrong question. We should be asking why people didn’t go, and more basically, why most people didn’t even consider going. For God was calling us in this situation to make a decision. Unless we really make a decision on Selma, we are really avoiding what life is all about. I didn’t want to make a decision, but when I did I found that there was only one way I could turn.”

2.      “I went back in the church and heard Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King’s organization, make an impassioned plea for the march to go on. Concern was definitely growing whether or not the march would go on in the face of a federal injunction. This personally created no problem for me. I had come to Selma to do my small part for the ‘Movement’ and had long ago accepted the fact that civil disobedience is often a necessary part of this course of action.”

3.      “As we walked back, I was on the outside and passed very close to the troopers with their billy clubs held behind their backs. Sometimes I had to change my course as I passed by to avoid running into one of them. I looked at them, but found it difficult to ascertain their feelings; some fear, some hate, but mostly professional stoicism. The singing on the way back was much freer. On the way, we sang verses like ‘Black and White Together’ of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which must really make those Southern gentlemen feel ungentlemanly.”

4.      “The 3000 of us who assembled in Selma last Tuesday, March 9th, in a space of less than 24 hours from distances of more than 2000 miles, were a living demonstration that freedom must come to all. I still have doubts and questions but I was deeply moved and may well return to Selma again.”

Sunday, July 6, 2014

God, Presbyterians, and Sex, Oh My!

Originally written as a guest-post for The Rude Pundit on July 3, 2014. Reposted here in part for archival purposes. 

This is a (probably-not-rude enough) guest post on God and sex from a Presbyterian pal of the Pundit—hope you enjoy!

Because of our mainstream American media—and that may include some of the posts on this potty-mouthed blog—it’s easy to stereotype Christians in this country, painting the social construct of their God as the gun-toting, bomb-dropping, cage-fighting, woman-hating, earth-raping, gay-bashing, sex-fearing, duck-hunting Jesus. But that leaves out the enlightened, queer, feminist, antiracist, peacenik, treehugger, economic justice Jesus that I’ve encountered and followed for most of my life.

Facts are that the historical Jesus of Nazareth as depicted in the gospels never encountered the nasty realities of napalm and atom bombs, of dirty bombs and drone warfare and drug overdoses, of global climate change or global economic injustice or the current global population of 7.2 billion and climbing. Jesus never faced the problems that we do, but He had the Roman empire and the religious hypocrites of his day to deal with. In light of pressing contemporary issues, isn’t it strange how some of my fellow Christians seem like they want to boil down the Bible into a book of stringent prohibitions regarding human sexuality?

I grew up in church in the 1970s and 80s, and the most memorable advice about the Bible and sex I ever heard came from a counselor at a Bible-beating summer camp. The sage and simple suggestion was: don’t read Playboy; read the Song of Solomon instead. Have you ever read the Song of Solomon? Lovely, lusty luscious love poetry—those verses are hot, what a student of mine recently called Fifty Shades of Yahweh!

Surely, the fundamentalists were teaching abstinence before marriage even then, but it never came across (at least to me) that this was because sex was forbidden and wrong and worth repressing, just that it was so unbelievably sacred yet salacious that it required reverence. As far as I know, in the 70s and 80s, those creepy daddy-daughter date-nights where young women pledge to protect patriarchy’s plush property for future papas had not been invented yet.

For many progressive Christians, our view of the Bible as mythopoetic mystery is shared by secular readers, critical thinkers, and even folks from other faiths. Most Christians I know read the Bible as an anthology of ancient literature, not as a rulebook resulting in arcane romantic restrictions on the daily lives of consenting adults. It’s a book inspired by God—not a bully’s whip required by law. The spirit of its law is love, no matter how the rigid readers try to torque it.

The church where I was baptized in Chicago in 1968 sang a song at that ceremony called “The Lord of the Dance.” This God I learned about through songs like that—this God is a liberating dance not an authoritarian trance. That same year, people from that same church took stands for peace in Vietnam, being part of a cluster of urban churches that let antiwar activists sleep in their buildings during the tumultuous actions outside the Democratic National Convention, with some preachers going so far as to join the melee in the parks, trying to bring peace between protesters and police.

After moving to Cleveland in 1970, we joined the Congregation of Reconciliation, a small, experimental Christian group committed to antiracist and civil rights work. This group was part of a small house-church movement and had “rap groups” to focus on various issues. My surprisingly vivid, yet scattered, early memories suggest that we also sang “The Lord of the Dance” in Cleveland, and I recall learning to take communion by intinction, where we would tear a piece of bread from a loaf and dip into a chalice of real wine. Doing research years later, I learned that our pastor at the Congregation of Reconciliation, Bob Hare, had risked his career and faced criminal charges for counseling and aiding a young woman in obtaining an abortion out-of-state, this in the years before Roe vs. Wade. It’s comforting for me to remember his prophetic witness for reproductive choice at a time when many Christians wish to roll back those rights for women.

Even though I left the Christian church in 1988 for a spiritual adventure that flirted with New Age, neopagan, Taoist, Jedi, Buddhist, and other teachings, I kept up with the goings-on in the liberal progressive church, mainly thanks to my parents, now living in Michigan. By the early 1990s, gay-rights had become the domestic civil-rights cause of our times, and my folks were actively crusading for what they called “full inclusion” for LGBTQ persons within their denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). Fast-forward to 2009, and I reconverted to Christianity and became an active member (now elder) in a PCUSA congregation.

Through study groups and activism at the local level, my parents and their colleagues made great strides for change within PCUSA for more than 20 years. But for decades at our national polity gatherings called General Assemblies, votes hindered and all but halted progress on LGBTQ civil rights. As Presbyterians, we are part of what’s called the “reformed” tradition within Protestantism, which means that we are always reforming, but for some smaller Presbyterian groups that means becoming more clearly right-wing conservative, in part in reaction to PCUSA’s recent redefinition as a more liberal, progressive place within that tradition. (For non-Christians to understand the splintering of denominations within the church, I find the “People’s Front of Judea” scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian explains it best.)

My father Ken Smith died at home in the Detroit suburbs on this past May 8, a few weeks before the historic June 14-21 General Assembly in downtown Detroit (in all the years Dad attended, GA had never been in his hometown). When the GA arrived in June, it was cushioned by Ken’s memorial service on June 7 and the interment of his ashes on June 21. And it was in his spirit that Mom and I attended, for my part as a volunteer blogger and editor with the More Light Presbyterians, carrying on the struggle for equality within PCUSA.

On June 19 (the day of African-American civil-rights celebration called Juneteenth at that), the PCUSA affirmed pastoral discretion for our teaching elders (ministers) to preside over same-gender civil marriages in states where it is legal and changed the description of marriage in our church’s constitution to say “two people,” where it previously made the opposite-genders of those people explicit. The latter change carried a 71% majority and awaits ratification by a majority of our regional bodies called Presbyteries. The very next day, PCUSA voted by a much slighter margin to divest from three companies that profit from the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

Christ’s law of love, often called the Golden Rule, finds correlating teachings in most other religions and would rarely be disputed by sensible secular thinkers, not even by the rude host of this blog. It’s an uncompromising ethic of love and forgiveness that attracts some of us to Christ (still a majority of Americans, according to surveys) and yet fewer of us to church (the fewest ever in the pews in recent history).

That some Christians cannot measure the law of love against today’s hateful legislation and come out the other side with logical conclusions of peace and tolerance baffles me. Of all the teachings in the Bible that people might choose to apply to their lives today, conservatives tend to ignore those overwhelming ones about war and poverty, and instead focus on taking teachings on sex far outside their intended contexts.

It’s in the Christian spirit of repentance, I would like to say “I am sorry” on behalf of the bigoted actions that some of my Christ-following kin have taken against personal freedom, especially as it pertains to trying to legislate the private lives and health decisions of people that might not share our religious faith, in this our allegedly pluralistic society.

It’s probably worth noting that for some leftish LGBTQ activists, marriage equality feels like a conservative concession to mainstream values. And for some in the PCUSA, its passage means that folks can focus on what they perceive as the more pressing peace and justice issues.  

While I hoped with a sense of humor that this guest post might better reflect the Rude One’s consistently lewd and crude tone, at least this blog’s readers may realize that not all Christians are prudes. It’s not that we don’t restrict some of our choices based on a relationship with God or even our interpretation of biblical teaching, it’s just so far from the far right extremes, that to some, progressive and conservative Christianity seem like different religions altogether. While I am much more modest and conservative today on some issues than I have probably ever been, my views are a far cry from the caricature of the religious right. Happy holiday weekend and here’s hoping for some fireworks with the consenting romantic partner of your choosing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

When I Woke Up This Morning (#love221 #GA221)

Posted on June 19, 2014 at the beginning of marriage deliberations at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

When I woke up this morning, my mind was stayed on freedom. When I woke up this morning, I poured the coffee and put on the headphones and began to play songs that put my heart on freedom, especially the freedom to love.

When I woke up this morning, my mind was stayed on freedom—singing a movement song I learned from the SNCC freedom singers. I am singing that movement song for this new civil rights movement whose time has come.

When I woke up this morning, I put on my wedding ring, knowing that the bonds I celebrated and consecrated in a PCUSA church with my partner who happens to be a different gender than I am are strong bonds and will be even stronger if similar bonds may be celebrated and consecrated in a PCUSA church for sisters and brothers whose partners may be the same gender as they are.

When I woke up this morning, I put on my Pentecost clothes, flames of orange and yellow and red, the flaming fire of freedom for my queer—yes not just LGBT but also Q for queer—family.

When I woke up this morning, I was reminded by friends online that this day is Juneteenth, a day to celebrate the end of slavery for our African-American brothers and sisters, a day to celebrate the importance of freedom.

When I woke up this morning, I meditated on the marriage committee meetings where we spent much time making clear that we want to comfort and keep those conservative folks in our family that disagree with marriage equality, so that they might not leave our church if marriage equality passes at this assembly, and I also meditated on those LGBTQ Presbyterians who already left our church because they felt alienated and excluded and not sufficiently comforted or reconciled by the actions of previous assemblies.

When I woke up this morning to the Detroit rain then fog, I felt the misty night clear, so that we might cling to the day, for it is this day when we choose whether or not to walk in the light of More Light Presbyterians, to ride the winds of change and unfurl the rainbow flag among us, declaring that the loving bond is between two people, any two people who know and feel it to be true and from God, declaring that this bliss is the joy of being one in the mystery of Christ’s body and this love fills us with a foretaste of heaven.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I Am Still In Detroit (for #PCUSA #GA221 advocating #Love221)

Nine days after my Dad’s memorial service on June 7, I am still in Detroit.

I am still in Detroit to volunteer as a member of the More Light Presbyterians communications team at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I am still in Detroit because, for the better part of three decades, my father was an active member of the progressive movements within PCUSA for affirmation and inclusion, for peace with justice.

I am still in Detroit because my dear friends who got married on my former land in rural Tennessee could not have their vows acknowledged by church or state because they are both men.

I am still in Detroit because my heterosexual marriage with my wonderful wife Jeannie means more if it is not a categorical privilege denied my same gender loving friends in Tennessee who now need to leave the state to affirm their relationships.

I am still in Detroit because I believe the church should be more inclusive and progressive than the state on the civil rights issue of our time.

I am still in Detroit because I believe the moral arc of the universe is bending towards justice on the issue of marriage equality.

I am still in Detroit because I am sick and tired of the beatings and the bullying, the bigotry and the bloodshed, the shame and the suicides.

I am still in Detroit because as Matthew Vines so explains in his recent book, biblical marriage is about love, joy, and unity with God not about gender binaries or sexual practices per se.

I am still in Detroit because I follow what Jesus did in every context before I listen to what Paul said in a different context.

I am still in Detroit because Jesus is love, God is love, and we in the PCUSA are love.