Friday, June 24, 2016

Not about you...

It's not about you, really, with all due respect. 

This was about the people who sacrificed and made your journeys possible out of a time of harsh and extended mistreatment in the history of the church. 

This is about the people who were charged, denied employment, had their families, lives and careers disrupted, abruptly halted, terminated. 

This is not about the committee either. 

This was about those outside the church, the youth, the coming-out, the questioning who longed for a welcome in the church but could only find a public witness that filled the air with contempt, argument, hatred and the use of the bible in ways that no Christian should ever consider doing. 

The admission of harms and apology was always about an institution, never about targeting individuals or individual groups. About an institution that turned people away - caving, reverting to the lowest of common denominators. 

It's happened again. 

No family, this was not about compromise, either - or finding an easier softer way. It was about being prophetic in a world that knows other prophets, about an acknowledgment of the harms that our beliefs caused as we used them in argument and witness to debate others. 

This was and is about the people who were the victims of the self-loathing gunman in Orlando as well as self-loathing in other places that has been taught by what the church has said or not. 

This was not yours to negotiate, frankly, but to affirm. Had you been better informed, had more time been taken to make sure you knew that there is no equal balance or fairness or justice in assigning regret and sorrow to oppressor equally as to the oppressed - when you may, in fact be neither - perhaps then your heart and studies would have reminded the deliberative body that this was not about what you all believe the church could live with but what God has called us to do in this broken world we all wish to serve, while honoring those who served before you, bringing meaning to their sacrifice. 

This was never about you. Not this time, except for the willingness to take a risk.

We should have done better in helping you to know.

Friday, November 13, 2015


I heard the news as I drove down Santa Monica Freeway toward Los Angeles Airport. I'm grateful I haven't seen any images yet, as I wait to board my flight back up to San Francisco. Like many others, all I could think of was the sorrow that is ahead for families, France, and the nations around the world - except those few who exalt in such acts of cowardice and hatred. Honestly, I just want the murderers  gone. I want them and their wickedness wiped off the face of the earth. And, at the same time - maybe a second or two later, I knew that was not the answer. So, I pray and remember that broken hearts can still love. That those who have been lost and injured are loved - by those left behind and by those who will embrace them on the other side. There is not enough comfort in that, but I believe it's true in an exceptional way, especially for those who were senselessly murdered today.

Friday, September 18, 2015

This Love is Meant to be Spoken

This Love is Made to be Spoken
On Mitzvahs and Trusting

While a mitzvah usually refers to a kind or charitable act, it actually means “commandment.” The mitzvot (pl.) are commandments given by God to the Hebrews for them to obey in everyday life. It says a great deal about those commandments that today’s colloquial understanding of the word refers to being kind and helpful to others in often unexpected ways.

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’v’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha
V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha..

Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
(Please excuse the gender specific and dominion language, kept for context.)

This excerpt of the Sh’ma comes from the First (Old) Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is the opening of a central prayer of Judaism and often the first prayer a Jewish child will learn. Most likely, it is one of the first prayers learned by Jesus. And, it foreshadows the answer to the question that Jesus was asked later about which of the commandments were most important. His reply, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”’ Matt 22:37-39

This is a mitzvah that is as simple as it is devastating when ignored or diluted. Ignorance and devastation that are two sides of the same coin that is minted without love. It is the coin that Jesus likely referred to when he asked them whose likeness appeared on the money that was used to pay for the poll-tax. When those testing him answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replied: “Then render to Caesar the things at are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” Matt 22:19-21.

Ignorance and destruction to Caesar; Love to God. Classic Jesus!
Shama Yis’ra’eil…

It is why we come back time and again in the face of those who cause us harm because of their ignorance and fear. It is why we “turn the other cheek” away from the sting of being vilified or rejected and respond with love. It is why we cannot judge others, because to do so would break down the prayer, the love, the mitzvot, and any hope to the end of aggression, violence and marginalization for the many of us who have to fight for the very air we breathe.

It is why any interpretation of the Bible that forgets this love is wrong. It is why any practice based on the Bible that sees "unwelcoming of the other" as faithfulness is advancing ignorance and devastation and is a twisted, dangerous and violent disease. A disease that plagues our full welcoming of one another; a deep soul-sickness that can only be overcome by love.

Without the unconditional practice of the simple mitzvah to love, we accept less than God has made us to be; we relinquish and relegate our hope to a the myth that “time will tell…” It is not time that tells but our hearts and the actions they produce. 

Simple. So, why are we so quiet? What is it that bows to the ignorance and says, "It is ok not to agree with the full inclusion of all our sisters an brothers,” when in practice that translates to: “It is ok for you to embrace a brand of love that harms others.”

Mitzvot and love are easier to talk about than to open their imbedded powers in service. While secular communities embrace and practice such teachings in some instances, the responsibility for this ministry lies primarily is in our communities of faith. And, if you listen for the denominational or institutional religious voice that speaks the loudest in letting all our sisters and brothers know they are fully welcome in a church, temple or mosque - there is not much to hear. 

And, ironically, the voice that is most heard is from the religion that still holds to dogma which refuses to ordain women or folks who are LGBTQ, still refusing Communion to divorced couples, and more. Still, there is such thirst for healing that even the smallest of rhetorical changes are greeted with exuberant attention. This is not surprising considering how much we need to heal and welcome each other just as we have always been, sisters and brothers in this mystery of creation rooted in love.

So, I do. I hold leadership and each one of us in faith communities accountable for what has happened as well as how we will change things from today forward. I do. I believe that until faith communities like the PC(USA) and others speak loudly with love with exuberance about the welcoming that is growing in our denominations; until we speak with love that is not diminished or understated for fear of rejection - until then folks are right to confuse to whom we render what - and whether or not we really have changed, at all.

During the early years of the AIDS crisis, there were actually two diseases plaguing us, each one deadly and both compounding the ignorance that caused our devastating loss of sisters and brothers: AIDS and AfrAIDS (the fear of getting AIDS). We were all afraid in those years, understandably so. And we looked for the voice then, woefully absent in ways that could have made a great difference. Think of the Office of the President of the United States of America from 1980 - 1988 and a president who never once said the word "AIDS" from his bully pulpit and what his voice might have done. “Silence = Death” was an accusation, a cry, and a lament. 

Think of a candidate for President of the United States who nods in agreement when someone says, "We have a problem and the problem is Muslims." 

Think of candidates who see the Supreme Court as "rogue" because of their decision on marriage equality.

It is all part of the same brewing ignorance and devastation...

This absence of our voice of Love, now as before, brings back the horror of the onslaught of AIDS and the growing acceptance of extreme positions as equally valid. 

Let's ask ourselves and the institutions, faith and other communities of which we are apart the question: "What is it about God’s love for us and one another that holds us so captive to silence? What are we afraid of? What holds us back?"

Nothing as important as what we are called to do, I say...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kim Davis is wrong...

Kim Davis is wrong.

She's wrong in her belief that the Bible denies same gender loving couples the same loving relationships that others enjoy.

She is wrong that loving a person of the same gender in all the fullness of intimacy is a sin.

She has a right to be wrong, but it is important to state, for me, anyway, that choosing for or against marriage for all is not an equally weighted choice. It is not.

To deny others anything because of the inappropriate use of the sacred texts based on a reading that implies God's creation is flawed - is wrong; to engage in practices that extend violence towards others through any form of exclusion and imply such practices are just -- is wrong; and to use your office to  hold others hostage to your beliefs by refusing to perform your public duties is not heroic - it's wrong.

And, rallying around folks who would choose second class citizenship for non-gender conforming citizens is dangerous and makes you complicit in the continued violence such actions will produce as long as they are allowed.

What Kim Davis did is not being faithful, as I see it, it is using one's faith in an abusive way to hurt others. That is the aberration, the "sin" if you wish.

Quit your job, Ms. Davis, write a book, let someone else sign the licenses but don't use your position to spread your brand of hatred and bias. That's wrong.

And those who use you to further their goals and selfish concerns at the expense of others are guilty of greater wrongs, willing to incite violence and hatred for personal gain. Run from them as fast as you can...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Questions for Donald Trump...

August 21, 2015

Two Questions for Donald: 

First Question: You talk about Ronald Reagan being an inspiration and model for you. Yet, in the eight years of his presidency from 1980 - 1988, when the AIDS crisis began and gained momentum that has taken countless lives - during those eight years he NEVER ONCE said the word AIDS from the bully pulpit of the presidency. What would you have done differently as a leader to have helped stem the tide of a pandemic, responsibility for which, in part, is rooted in his presidency.

Second Question: You said that you abhor violence and that the acts of two brothers who beat a homeless man in Boston, shouting epithets and using your rhetoric towards immigrants as a reason for their actions. As a skilled communicator who wants to lead this country, how can you use language that incites folks to violence, while claiming you seek no one harm by your words. To say you did not mean for this to happen by what you said is an abdication of the responsibility every leader faces - that even you have no control over the meaning of your message when it crosses into rhetoric that is inherently divisive and ultimately violent. How can you communicate as POTUS in a way that brings the nation together while moving forward when your best effort at getting a point across is to prone to inciting such acts as those in Boston. Are you a good enough communicator and have a heart big enough to understand the responsibility of your words - for all?

Happy to talk with you about this and more, Mr. Trump, anytime.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Is the "Big Tent" big enough?

A letter to those organizing the Big Tent event of the PC(USA):
I have been considering attending the Big Tent event, and I was wondering if there are any scheduled forums or discussions that directly talk about our LGBTQ community, especially following the ratification of 14F, which now makes us one of the most truly welcoming communities of faith in this nation and the world. 

The literature says, "Big Tent is focusing on three areas of missional living: Advocacy, Poverty and Discipleship." In the printed schedule, this includes forums on renewal, poverty and hunger, sex trafficking, charismatics, evangelism, racism, emotional intelligence, young adults, youth education, calling pastors, Middle East Christians, training ruling elders, racial reconciliation, climate change, Christ-Centered Masculinity, Women and Women Leaders, Inclusion of People with Disabilities [Exceptionalities] and many more important areas of discussion...

Yet, I have not been able to find anything that refers to our LGBTQ members and community and recent changes in the church, which easily include topics of advocacy, poverty, and discipleship - integrating our community into the full work and worship of this denomination and our lives together. 

For example, in the scheduled discussion area of calling a pastor, an important question might be: How do PNC's consider the gifts of candidates and ministers who are LGBTQ and seeking a call? Or, in the area of evangelism: How do we carry the Gospel message to all people in ways that lift up our faith and the diversity of gender and gender identities?

These and more topics easily come to mind...and point to the many ways in which important discussions about inclusion of our LGBTQ membership can help raise the "big tent" in which we actually live, rather than keeping it smaller than it actually is. 

I feel it is the charge of our denomination, especially in gatherings such as this, to lead us intentionally in ways that can faithfully help us to live into the decisions that we, as a denomination, have chosen as our way of mission in the world.

I have raised similar points around past "Big Tents" and was told that these topics were too controversial for this type of gathering, which was "more about family". That stung at the time - we are family, and I am hoping times are different, and that I have missed something in the schedule and literature.

So, thanks for your thoughts and all you are doing for our denomination and all its missional calls. I know that it is never the intention to exclude anyone; I know you all better than that. I just hope something can be done to eliminate any whisper of that perception in your continuing planning and publicity for this event, so that all are able to hear the message we have been given to carry into this world in the name of the Risen Christ in our midst.



Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, That All May Freely Serve
Specialized Ministry of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley
121 N. Fitzhugh Street, Rochester, NY 14614-1214

Personal Mailing Address:
Ray Bagnuolo, PO Box 1262, White Plains, NY 10602-1262

(914) 217 4173 (cell/sms); @tamfs