Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Church of Loving Not Judging

What if there was a church whose whole reason for being was “Loving Not Judging”? Well… I’m there. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is like a little love laboratory where we’re learning about loving not judging. Not as an end in itself, but to prepare us for the challenges of loving not judging in the world around us. Here in our little love laboratory, we face one challenge after another that pushes us in our awareness of what it means to be truly loving like Jesus. Just when we think we have it all figured out, the Spirit challenges us to broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding.

We’re not simply faced with a series of decisions about whether or not we will love. That would be too easy. Then we could decide once that we’re going to love and not judge and that would be the end of it. But there’s more to loving, really loving, than simply refraining from judging.

We hear a lot about the need for tolerance these days. Is it loving when you tolerate someone? When you tolerate someone, you’re willing to put up with them despite their behavior. If that’s what love is, it has to be the lowest level.

A deeper level of love is acceptance. Acceptance is more than tolerance, putting up with behavior you don’t like. Acceptance is saying that the other person is okay. Whether or not you approve of their behavior becomes irrelevant. After all, no one’s perfect. You’re willing to overlook anything that stands in the way of loving that person. And you accept them.

But there’s an even better way. Better than tolerating someone. And better than accepting them. It’s the way of celebration. You celebrate another person when you recognize and appreciate their gifts, without any need to judge whether those gifts are good or bad. You celebrate the person God created them to be.

Can you see the difference between tolerating, and accepting, and celebrating? Tolerance says, “We’re willing to include you.” Acceptance says, “We want to include you.” Celebration says, “We need to include you because, without you, we’re not complete.”

Sometimes, when groups of people have experienced harsh judgment from the rest of society, they have to struggle through these stages. The civil rights movement worked through legislating that white people tolerate black people, to gaining acceptance through affirmative action, to celebrating black is beautiful. The color of my skin isn’t something to be tolerated or accepted. It’s something to be celebrated! LGBT people have been going through a similar process in our culture. If you’ve ever witnessed a Gay Pride event and it seemed a little in-your-face to you, that’s probably because you may be willing to tolerate or accept gay folks, but you aren’t yet ready to celebrate the fact that they’re gay. Celebration is loving in completeness. If you aren’t celebrating yet, you’ve got some love-growing to do.

Through the years, Holy Trinity has become known as a community where people who are gay or lesbian are welcome. If you go to our church website you’ll read that we aren’t just gay-friendly, we’re gay supportive. This all started in a time when the straight people of our congregation learned to be tolerant. We weren’t going to hold it against a person if they were gay. And then we grew to become accepting. As far as we were concerned, it was okay to be gay. Now, we’ve grown beyond tolerance or acceptance. We celebrate the fact that about half of our adult members are gay. It’s who they are and we love who they are. We need them to be the people God created them to be in our community so we can all be the people God created us to be.

One of our dear members, Pamela Jones, passed away almost a year ago. She wasn’t with us at Holy Trinity for very long, but she changed us. A transgender person, before she ever stepped foot in our sanctuary, Pam asked if it would be all right if she worshipped with us. I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a position where you feel like you have to ask for permission to do something that other people take for granted. I was always glad, when Pam worshipped with us, that she worshipped from the center of the nave, never in the back pews as so many of our transgender members and guests had done in the past. Pam was more than tolerated at Holy Trinity. At a minimum, people accepted her. That was evident the day she received more votes to serve on our Congregation Council than anyone else on the ballot, including the incumbents. Then, it was a transcendent moment the Sunday she stood in our pulpit and preached. We celebrated her for the gifts she brought to our community. Not despite the fact that she looked so different than the rest of us. And not because it was fine with us that she used to be a man and now she was a woman. But we celebrated because she was Pam, and a part of her being Pam was the fact that she was a transgender person. When she died, she left a void in our community that no one else can fill.

Each person who comes to us at Holy Trinity presents us with an opportunity to grow in love. The more diverse the gifts they bring, the more they stretch us, and the more we have to celebrate. One of the things that I hope for our congregation is more racial and cultural diversity. Not just because it would be cool to see people of all flavors in our pews. But because without the gifts of cultural diversity, our community isn’t complete. We need them to be a part of us.

I can’t help but believe that as we grow together in loving not judging, we will continue to be challenged in this little love laboratory we call Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. We’ll have countless opportunities to extend God’s circle of love to include those who have been excluded. Because we have been intentional about embarking on a journey of “Loving Not Judging”, that’s exactly where our journey will take us.

1 comment:

Nancy Wichmann said...

Pamela was a good friend and she was responsible for quite a bit of my spiritual and emotional growth. Through her and you I was introduced to the Lutheran church and plan to stay here.

I can tell you that the day she preached was transcendent for her as well. Indeed, for her it was a celebration, perhaps kept somewhat hidden, but inwardly fulfilling.

Her acceptance at HTLC (and mine briefly) meant far more than even she could say. Moving on to celebration was truly Life changing.

Thank you for remembering her and for being the church you are.