Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thanks, But I'll Pass

So I am going to probably lose my black card over this*, but I don't want to see the Black Panther movie, for one specific reason - there is no one who looks like me in it.

Now, when I say that, yes, there are all black folks in it, but once again, queer black men are erased on the screen. I get that it is a movie that is good for black folks overall, but at the expense of deleting  people like me.

So before you say "But 'Moonlight'"...yes, amazing film that represented some gay black men won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It only took nearly 75 years for a queer black movie to get any traction in the world of Oscar. Yay...and the movie was a coming of age movie with a drug dealer as a secondary protagonist. Yay.

However, in this movie that is supposed to be so uplifting to all black people everywhere, gay men like me - or gay men in general - are conspicuously absent from this story. Maybe we don't exist in Wakanda. Maybe we just don't exist. But I DO exist, and I want to see some positive depictions of people who look like ME on screen.

So, I will send the children in my world to see the film, because their mothers have said they need to see it. My nephews will revel in a movie that makes them the hero. They will see a movie that empowers their mothers. They will see a project that is good for their self esteem.

Too bad they won't see their uncle on the screen. So thanks, but I'll pass.

*I actually lost my black card for listening to yacht rock, but I might lose my "invited to the cookout" or "he can't have any of the brown liquor at the party"card. Thank goodness I own my own grill and am more than able to pay for my own Henny.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Totally Unacceptable!

I have made no secret about my dislike of the current occupant of the Oval Office. I have been genuine of my dislike about his personality and actions, and like many others, have questioned whether he is playing a part in the Wizard of Oz, specifically the Scarecrow ("If I only had a brain.")

As of today, however, I realize I have miscast him in my reimagined telling of Frank Baum's timeless tale. This man is the Tin Man - he has no heart.

I have watched as he systematically picked on people he believes occupies a lower status than he, whether it's a disabled reporter, or a political adversary, or a former business associate, or a close trusted aide. I winced as he has turned the political process into a literal mud pit, and has shown signs of becoming a second rate replica of a third world despot. I witnessed, I noted, and I bemoaned. However, what he proposed today makes me ill, and sad, and worried - not just about others who would be impacted, but for me.

The Administration formally announced on January 18, 2018, the formation of a new "civil rights division" within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that allows discrimination against LGBT persons and pregnant women.

According to the Washington Post, the newly created division will be "responsible for handling complaints from health-care workers who do not want to perform a medical procedure like an abortion or assisted death because it violates their religious or moral beliefs... The new office called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, is seen by many as a win for conservative religious groups that complained President Barack Obama's administration did not prioritize religious freedom concerns. Critics, however, worry that the language is broad and could lead to discrimination."

That's the understatement of the year, and is totally unacceptable.

Imagine, if you will, an EMT refusing to provide critical assistance to a person because the injured is transgendered, and the person (and their body/identity) goes against their sincerely held religious beliefs. The person dies and their family files a civil rights complaint. If this office were to receive the  complaint, the EMT would be exonerated, because they were standing in their religious freedom.

A woman needs to terminate a pregnancy because she's been raped by her father, but her doctor believes that something good can come out of rape, and refuses to perform the legally available medical procedure. He will be perfectly fine, because, well, Jesus.

I call bullshit.

If you are a medical professional, then do your job. If your religious beliefs force you to deny service to people you don't agree with, then you might want to find another position. And for the love of all that is holy and righteous, PLEASE leave Jesus out of this, because I think he would tell you to "love your neighbor as yourself" and, I would hope, to "mind your own damned business."

And if you don't believe that the two scenarios I described could happen, talk to the families of Tyra Hunter, Shaun Smith, or any person denied treatment at Georgetown Medical Center because of their trans status. If you don't believe me, former Indiana State Treasurer (and US Senatorial Candidate) Richard Murdock believes that "God Intended Rape Pregnancies."

Be blessed, but more importantly, be a blessing.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Conjunction Junction, What's YOUR Function?

This sermon was preached at the Keysville Grace United Church of Christ on December 3, 2017, at the 9 am service. The audio can be heard here.

I was having a conversation recently with my sister, and we were talking about Saturday morning cartoons, and how we use to watch cartoon shorts called “Schoolhouse Rock.” Some of you might not know what I’m talking about, but let me help you out for a minute. “Schoolhouse Rock” reinforced many of the educational lessons children of my generation received during the school year, by talking to us in language we could understand, making sure that we remember these things decades later. Songs such as “I’m Just A Bill on Capital Hill”, and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” simplified what were complex issues into bite sized nuggets, and helped us learn things we hoped to master in the classroom.

So, what in the world does a Saturday morning cartoon from your childhood have to do with our readings this morning? Hang on – it will become clear as we go along.

This morning, the first Sunday of our new liturgical year, I believe we face a period of darkness in our country and in the world. All one has to do is turn on the television and listen to the nightly news. There are stories of war and famine, despair and desperation.

Let’s take a closer look at our country to unpack this whole period of darkness in our world. Just this week, we have heard the story of yet another missing child, snatched from her home, and possibly her body having been found.

We have heard the story, just this week, of another teenager missing and with a teacher from her school.

Just this week, we have heard and seen for ourselves our political leaders acting in ways that are not beneifical for many of the persons they are tasked with representing, when tax “reform” bills are passed that have not been read or reviewed, and there are handwritten notes in the margins of what will be laws in our country.

Just this week, more corruption and lying was exposed when another formerly high-ranking political official plead guilty to lying to a law enforcement agency. God, how can we find hope in the dark?

This inquiry extends to the larger world as well. Just this week, during peace negotiations in Geneva regarding the situation in Syria, there was increased violence in the same area. There was supposed to be a ceasefire happening at the time.

Just this week, reports about chattel slavery and human trafficking came to light in Libya. 

Just this week, I was thinking about a conversation I recently had with John Dornhauser, the General Minsiter and President of our denomination, and he was describing the situation in the Gaza Strip – he used a word that I never thought I’d hear a minister use: hopeless.

How do you keep hoping, in spite of what you see in front of you? How do you continue going forward, even when you don’t know where you’re going or understand what’s going on? How do you find hope in the dark?

That’s a good question this morning, and I believe both the words ascribed to the Prophet help us understand what we need to start addressing the situation.

Biblical commentators describe this portion of Isaiah as a community lament. And these people had a reason to cry out in pain. They find themselves having to rebuild a broken community, and have a temple that has been destroyed, which indicated, to them, that their relationship with God is in serious trouble. These people find themselves back in a broken and ruined city, after having been in exile, and if we are honest, don’t know what to do.

This is a people, who know they need to ask some serious questions of their god, and have to admit some truths. The anonymous author of this portion of Isaiah, is looking to explain to the people of his day what is going on, and honestly, to ask the question, “Is there any hope?” Look at the text. God, when are you going to show up? When would you open the heavens and come down, and make the mountains shake. When are you going to set things on fire and cause water to boil? When are you going to show up and make your adversaries tremble at your presence?

God, how can we find hope in the darkness? Don’t you know what’s going on? Can’t you hear us? Don’t you want to hear us? The writer tells us that God has heard in the past. The text tells us this in verse 4: From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God beside you, who works for those who wait for him. 

Not only do you hear us, you interact with us God – “You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.” But we fractured that relationship, due to our own bad behaviors: “But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself when we transgressed.”

This is not good. It’s looking darker by the minute. Guy, I hear you saying, can this get any worse? Actually, yes. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a lead, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. We are losing hope.

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

I hate to say it, but it looks like we’re done. It looks like all hope is gone. And we will think like that, especially during this period of the year. The days are short. There is little daylight. It’s dark.

This morning, it was cold and rainy. It seemed like the day would be completely ruined. It was cold, and rainy, and dark. I thought I was going to lose all my hope, especially in this lamentable reading this morning.

But I kept reading….

And here’s where I started finding hope: YET…

There’s your turn right there. For those of you who don’t remember your basic grammar, and that includes me sometimes, the word “yet” is a conjunction, meaning “but at the same time; but nevertheless.” Remember I told you that the cartoon would be important? Here it is – I remembered my Schoolhouse Rock, and one of my favorite songs came to mind:  “Conjunction, Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses!” “Yet” is a conjunction – conjunction junction, what’s your function?

This conjunction’s function serves to give me hope. But at the same time, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

But at the same time, O God, do not be exceedingly angry, and do not remember iniquity forever. But at the same time, O God, remember that we are all your people!

So, my friends, if you want to know how you can find hope in the darkness, remember that it might be dark, at the same time, the light of the world is coming. Remember that it might seems hopeless, at the same time, a new hope is on the horizon. While you make think that all is lost, at the same time, the one sent to save the day is waiting to make his appearance.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

It is Thanksgiving Day, 2017.  I’m going to forget some people and things that I am thankful for. Charge it to my head and not my heart.

Before I get into my list of things I am thankful for, I must acknowledge the harm and horror done to the Indigenous Peoples of this country, who were here when it was “discovered”, and paid a very high price when it was colonized. I remember and honor the folks who were here when the others got here.

On this cold Thursday morning, I have so many things to be thankful for. To start off, I am thankful for life. Having had a cardiac scare earlier this year made me a little more thoughtful about how I live and taking care of my health. I am glad that, while I move a little slower this year than last, I am still moving.

I am thankful for heat. It’s cold outside, and I pray for the persons who slept outside in that brutal cold, or for the persons who were inside with inadequate fuel to warm themselves and their babies.

I am thankful for my calling. Last year, on this day, I was editing an ordination paper that I though would never get done, Four years ago, I thought that the possibility of serving God’s people through ordained ministry was a wish, never to come true. This morning, I am an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ!.

I have to say how thankful I am to serve two of the best small churches on EARTH: Keysville Grace United Church of Christ and the MountPleasant Reformed United Church of Christ. The members remind me how blessed I am to pastor two churches, and also serve as proof positive that Sunday Morning at 11 am does NOT have to be the most segregated hour in America – they allow me the privilege of serving them as pastor.

I am also thankful for my home away from home – Veritas United Church of Christ in Hagerstown, MD. The members at VUCC are doing an integral work in Hagerstown, and on a shoestring. They also allow me to breathe when I am there – I get to be Guy when I’m there, and I just happen to be the preacher of the afternoon as well. I love y’all, and all of your originality.

For the Grace Church and its pastor, my mentor and friend, Rev. Dr. Rob Apgar-Taylor, it’s good to find your home and your people. I found mine in July, 2014. I am forever thankful for the chance you took on the little brown man from DC who was looking for a place to serve. I thank God for you every day and know that I treasure coming home every chance I get.

This year, there have been some…gargantuan…changes in my life. I started working in a coffee shop – a weird coffee shop. I am thankful for framily like the vanHilst crew, who introduced me to this unusual dude named Paul, who basically hired me on the spot, then entrusted me to run his shop. Not only that, they have enveloped all of us in the Johnson-Davis household into the Weird Brothers/Olsen clan, and we are thankful. In the process, I get to do Coffee House Ministry – it’s always good to be able to let your light shine wherever you are. (PS – Come get some Weird Brothers Coffee – 321 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon…it will bless you real good.)

I am thankful for the old and new friends and family members I acquired this year. George, thank you for being a sounding board and a voice of reason when I am often deaf and unreasonable. Kyle, you are the dude. David…thank you does not nearly encompass what your support and friendship have meant to me. You, sir, rock.

Speaking of new and old friends and family, I would be out of my mind if I did not publically holler how thankful I am for my village and kitchen cabinet: Feborah, Kim, AJ, Melonie, Tiffany, Henrietta, Kevin, Monique, all of my babies. My Chicago family and the newest edition to the family, Akel. Lord, I’m a great uncle again. That’s something to be thankful for.

To my girls: Tira, Kellie, Des Shawn, Venus, Lydia, Kim, Michelle, Kati, and Cindy – Y’all make it easy to be a good friend for almost 3.5 decades. I’m thankful that my crew is on speed dial and will show up and cut up whenever and wherever for whatever. Who knew?

To my boys: Chewee, Dewey, Judah, Rocky, Benny, O, Dan, Scott, Scott, and Charlie: Y’all make it easy to be real with you. Thank you.

Oh crap! I am really thankful for Matt and Eric. And Deidra and Alice. And Jay and Antares. This is why I shouldn’t name people (see opening lines).

Thankfulness extends to my blood family, the ones who carry my last name – Kristie and Cheryl, Bobby and Patrick, Briana and Ciera (and Deuce and Zöe), Terita and Chris (wherever you are – you still have a family that loves you and misses you. Come home). Our folks would be pretty proud of us. I am so thankful that y’all acknowledge me and claim me – even when I’m not at my best. 

But I am most thankful for my husband and dog. I am thankful that I can tell the world that my husband IS my husband. If you want to know why I am so thankful this year, it’s because the man who has stood beside me, supported me, believed in me (even when I did not believe in myself), pushed me beyond my comfort zone, spoke up for me when I could not muster the strength to find my own voice, and made it easy for me to do ministry love me unconditionally. Poppins, well, is Poppins. I am thankful for the person who discovered they were allergic to him and opened the door for us to become his forever family.

This year, life has been a roller coaster, but in the middle of the loop de loop, I have made it a point to find things to be thankful for. I woke up on this side of the dirt. I’m thankful. I can breathe without assistance. I am thankful. I have people who love me. I am thankful.

Find something to be thankful for yourself. I am sure you can, even if it’s a struggle to do so.

Be blessed, but more importantly, be a blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Equality Loudoun 2017 Transgender Day of Remembrance

This reflection was presented at the 2017 Transgender Day of Remembrance Event, held at the Purcellville Library, Purcellville, VA, on November 21, 2017.

Good evening. I am the Reverend Guy S. Johnson, pastor of the Keysville Grace and the Mount Pleasant United Churches of Christ, both located in Northern Maryland, and while I am grateful to be here, I wish I weren’t. I know that sounds contradictory, but in 2017, I wish I didn’t have to be here to remember our trans brothers and sisters because they are no longer here.

It is 2017, and we are remembering 24 amazing people who, in any other circumstances, would still be with us. Most are victims of homicide. This is unacceptable. 

It is unacceptable for several reasons, and for me, the first is because these people – our trans family members – are children of God. Now, as a Christian pastor and faith leader, my first frame of reference is that I use the Torah as a guide, and I honestly believe that we imago dei – the image of God. And I use the book of Genesis to make that claim – Genesis 1:26 -27 says it this way: “Let US man HUMANS in OUR own image.” That tells me that WE are made in THEIR – multiple – images. 

And we are. Our trans family members are made in the image of God, and because of that, deserve the rights that all people deserve – the right to life and liberty. Our trans family members deserve all of the rights that we all deserve. Our trans family members deserve the right to live without harassment, without fear, without disruption.

And we have a duty and a responsibility to speak out when we hear of violence. We have a duty and responsibility to make sure all of our family members are safe. We have a duty and responsibility to ensure our family members live. 

We have a duty and a responsibility to love God with all of our hearts, and minds, and souls, and to our neighbor as ourselves.  That’s what we are to do. 

And that might mean we have to contact our officials. Make the call. We might have to contact the press. Make the call. We might have to step in. Make the call.

We must love our neighobors as ourselves, not because we might have a certain faith tradition, but because it is the right thing to do. We must love our GLB, and T family members without reservation or hesitation, because it is the right thing to do. 

We must remember our trans family members and love them unconditionally.

THAT is our call.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Blessing of the Animals

This reflection was presented at the Blessing of the Animals Service for the St. James United Church of Christ, Lovettsville, VA, on September 24, 2017.

There are some services that are quite important to the life of a congregation and a community. For example, there would be an uproar if there was no Christmas Eve or Easter Vigil in some congregations. Can you imagine the outrage that would commence if there was no Pentecost?
Well, I have learned that the St. Francis of Assisi service, otherwise known as “The Blessing of the Animals Service” is as important to the life of the community, even if we don’t know realize it. In case you didn’t know, St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment, and, as the Old Testament reading reminds us, God created humans to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Many times, I am convinced, we think that dominion over all the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit it, means that we have free reign to do whatever we want to do, regardless of outcome. That, my friends, is not so.
While dominion and authority indicates supreme control over animals and the earth, there is a second component to having control over something – a requirement to ensure care of and maintenance of. For example, the government, in most cases, has dominion over roadways, they are required to take care of and maintain them so that they are navigable. Now whether the government does that well is another issue, they are still required to do so.
Another example I thought of is that of an absentee landlord. You know the kind – purchases a property, rents it out, yet neglects to take care of it. The landlord enjoys the income they derive from the property, yet does nothing to maintain its wellbeing.
Unfortunately, in some instances, we humans have become absentee landlords. We love all of the benefits we derive from the earth and animals, yet we have failed to take care of them adequately. We are required to care for the animals that God has given US dominion over, and we are required to care for the EARTH as well. In case you have missed it, there are indications that we have not done such a good job of the “taking care of and maintaining” part of dominion. We’ve pretty much mastered the “absolute control” over, but if we are honest, we need to do a better job of taking care of and maintaining.
If you don’t believe me, there are far too many animals being mistreated. We are not taking care of and maintaining the animals we have dominion over. There are far too many animals in shelters or homeless. We are not taking care of and maintaining the animals we have dominion over. Our earth is telling us that we are not taking care of her, and she is telling us through the weather. We are not taking care of the earth we have dominion over. We must do a better job.
This is not to say that we are totally absent in our care. Those of us here this morning KNOW that we have a responsibility for caring for the animals that are in our care. Those of us here KNOW that we have a responsibility for being good stewards of the earth. Those of us here KNOW that we must exercise responsible dominion over the earth, and everything on and in it.
So, this morning, let us be thankful for the animals that we have in our lives, and remember that God made us in God’s image to do take care of and love them. What an honorable assignment to have – loving and blessing animals.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Getting It Wrong

Sometimes I get it wrong.

There. I said it.

Sometimes I marvel at the fact that I was called to ministry. Not in the “Oh my God, I’m not worthy” sense, but in the “Really, God? Me? You DO know who I am right?” sense. By the way, that’s a rhetorical question – of COURSE God knows who I am.

I am not perfect, in any sense of the word. I have some faults, but not according to my husband. He thinks that I am perfect in every way…except when I fail to put dates on the calendar, or I forget to do something that I’ve promised, or I neglect to make the bed properly, or I’m gone from home four nights in one week. I think the one that drives him battiest is that I forget to take the clothes out of the dryer before the next load goes in. Maybe he doesn’t think I’m perfect.

Well, I KNOW Poppins thinks I am the best thing to arrive on earth since boiled chicken. Hey, he has low standards. Well, almost…except when I don’t take him out in time, and then tell him how he’s a bad dog when it’s totally my fault, or when I go to sleep and leave three slices on pizza in the box on the table and he jumps up onto the table, drags the box onto the floor, eats the pizza (but not the green peppers or black olives…but devours the onions, causing his Poppy to go into a panic [nothing funnier than a panicked Poppy]), and then belches. Best one so far – has to be a toss up between the three cupcakes he scarfed down and was on a sugar high for two days or the brownie he scarfed down (another Panicked Poppy scenario, complete with tears, a call to Poison Control and the Vet – the Vet laughed at me) and was high for two days.

So, my congregations must think I’m perfect…except when I totally miss changing the date on the front of the bulletin, or choose a completely horrible hymn that we can’t sing (and let’s be honest, there are some hymns that should be retired from hymnody…forever), or miss a breakfast, or….

My friends CERTAINLY think I am perfect. They have to…except when I am running 30 minutes behind schedule, or have totally forgotten to put their event on the calendar (see my husband), or have triple booked myself in 3 different cities (that happened just this past weekend), or totally botch their birthday greetings or their anniversaries, or in one case, their birthday a month early…and I have 5 friends, who all know each other, with the same birthday. Yes, I made the same mistake 5 times in one day – no one answered their telephone when I called!

My siblings know I am not perfect – they grew up with me.

Maybe I’m the one who thinks I’m perfect. Except I don’t. I know that I am a heaping helping of hot mess, especially when I get nervous. I know I’m not perfect, and I’ve stopped trying to convince myself that I am. In fact, I tell folks, especially people that I am going to serve, that I will get it wrong sometimes.

And that’s why this is important. I do ministry. I serve people.  I love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. (And it seems that I have an “I” problem in my writing. Oh well, this is about me. Great. Now it’s an “I/Me” problem. This is what…get back on track Guy…)

In life, we ALL get it wrong. We do. It’s human nature. I hope we get it right more than we get it wrong. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. But most of the time, I honestly believe we get it right. But it seems that the people we serve expect the servants to be perfect all of the time, even outright dismissing folks who, because of a mistake or two, think the person they’re hiring (that’s the first mistake – you don’t hire a pastor…another post for another time….) calling gets it wrong all of the time and in every way. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And if that is going to be the standard, let’s look at Jesus’ track record. Even the Son of God got it wrong once or twice. I mean, he compared a sick little girl to a dog. THAT’S getting it wrong. He had to do a healing twice. THAT’S getting it wrong. He killed off a fig tree because the tree wouldn’t give fruit out of season. THAT’S getting wrong.

He killed off a herd of swine, ruining a whole lot of bacon, ham, sausage, and ribs. Really dude?

So, I guess (there’s that “I” again) my point is – if we are followers of Jesus, we too will get it wrong. The one we follow and call Savior did, and if he got a do-over, so should we.

Sometimes I will get it wrong. I’m human. But here’s what I won’t get wrong – love. Love is unconditional. I may not agree with you all of the time, and I don’t want to, but I will love you, and hold your hand, and stand by you, and visit you in jail, and call your Mama and Daddy, and cheer at little BoBo’s (fill in the appropriate sport) game, and even make a total fool of myself in a costume, or reading something…I will love you.

All I ask is that you be patient with me. Yes, I can be obstinate, and according to a certain pastoral associate who shall remain nameless, I can also be frightening…until you get to know me. I am none of those things. Now, I AM fiercely protective of people, especially those I love and those that are ignored and or dismissed by/outcast from society. I will ALWAYS go to bat for them, because Jesus would have done the same. I am called to do that. Voiceless people need a voice, and believe me, I have a big mouth.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” Sometimes I will get everything else wrong, but I will do my BEST to get the love thing right.

Unless you’re a Packers’ fan. Then all bets are off.  Well, almost. Cheese is good.

Be blessed, but more importantly, be a blessing.