The Bible Tells Me So…or does it?

I’ve recently talked about my faith and it’s no secret I was raised in an ELCA Lutheran church. I admit however that my knowledge of the Bible is atrocious. There are key things I was taught growing up and I’ve used those keys as a measure against anything that tests my faith. While this works well for me, I realize others need a more specific foundation and often turn to the Bible for answers. Note: My ‘keys’ are also in the Bible, see Matthew 22:36-40

My home church is in the process of becoming a Reconciled in Christ congregation. Basically that means we will openly welcome those among the LGBTQ community. Gloria Dei is already a welcoming community but becoming an R.I.C. congregation puts us on a list and makes it known that we accept anyone regardless of sexual identity or orientation. Part of this process involves studying the Bible and understanding what it says and doesn’t say about homosexuality.

Being the good scholarly type that I am, I attended Sunday School on the day all of this was unpacked for us. We talked at length about various Bible passages, what they mean in context to when they were written and how some things don’t culturally apply today. A few days ago I went back over the material and pulled out my own study Bible to see what it had to say. It turns out that not all Bibles are created equal.

One of the verses presented in Sunday School had slightly different verbiage than my own Bible. After a quick search I discovered most translations had this verse translated one of two ways. The verse in question is Genesis 19:5. Chapter 19 of Genesis is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, a story often used to support the notion that homosexuality is a sin. This particular verse is the instance when the men of Sodom come to Lot’s house and demand he turn over his guests so that they may “know them” in one translation or “have sex with them” in another. The first instance doesn’t necessarily imply sexual intent and the second implies rape not consensual sex between men. I have read and reread that story and found no basis for the notion that homosexual behavior was the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, Genesis 19 never even mentions sexual immorality of any kind. My study bible had notations about this verse (Gen 19:5) which directed me to other passages in the Bible. Upon reading those verses and looking at the notations for them, the publisher draws what I believe to be a false conclusion and redirects the reader back to Genesis 19:5 as evidence, specifically that homosexuality is a sin.

I used a lifeline and phoned a pastor about my discovery and she laughed at me and told me to get a less conservative study Bible. Up until that point I had never really considered publisher bias in “the Good Book”. I know bias exists everywhere which includes the authors of the various books of the Bible. I had foolishly assumed that since this was a study bible, the notations were written from a scholarly perspective which would include arguments for both sides of an interpretation. In the case of the Zondervan NIV Study Bible copy written in 1984, this is simply not how the information is presented.

I might have been able to dismiss this one instance but I continued with the R.I.C. material and moved on to other verses used as bludgeons against the LGBTQ community. I again found another notation where a conclusion is drawn based on the translated scripture passage without taking into consideration the entirety of the passage, only a single verse! (Romans 1:27)

Ultimately the point I’m trying to make is not that you can’t trust the word of the Lord but that you have to look at more than one translation and more than one publisher’s conclusion about what those words mean. This is by no means an easy task and I am anxiously awaiting the delivery of two additional study Bibles so that I may continue to draw my own conclusions.

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I don’t talk about my faith much outside of church and those that don’t know me in a sacred setting might find my faith surprising. As a fan of science and science fiction alike, I am known for rational thinking and evidence based conclusions. Religion often doesn’t provide much of a foundation with either category. So how do I reconcile faith and reason? I’m not sure I can answer that in one blog post but I’ll start with the faith community I was raised in.

Recently I have been working on a documentary style video for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. The celebration was held on Sunday, December 10th and the video was a huge success. In just over fifteen minutes, I managed to squeeze in the history of the church as well as highlight some of the ministries most important to the Gloria Dei community.

I’ve been using the word community a lot lately as I’ve come to realize how important it is to have , especially a faith based one. I was baptized at Gloria Dei and the people there are more than just fellow Christians, they’re family. I’ve always known that should anything happen to my own family, I have a community at Gloria Dei who would be there to support me in every way possible. It wasn’t until I started working on this video that I realized how truly special and unique Gloria Dei is.

I had a great circle of friends in high school but I rarely see any of them as an adult. I had amazing relationships with the men and women I served with while in the Navy yet now I only see them on social media. I connected with the film community while studying at Shoreline Community College. It’s been several years since my last collaborative film project and I haven’t worked with any of those people since. All of these communities were a part of my everyday life for the years I was among them. While I suspect many from those groups would attend my funeral should the unthinkable happen next week, few are likely to show up at my door and hang out on a random Friday night.

Yet throughout my entire life, my community at Gloria Dei has always been there because my faith has always been with me. The strength and depth of my faith in God was nurtured in me by a community of believers in Alderwood Manor, Washington. While many have come and gone over the years (even I have gone away and come back a few times) the sense of family has remained.

So how do people without a church community connect in deep meaningful ways to people outside their family? What does community look like when it’s purely secular? For me, it’s transitory, limited, fun but lacking depth. Like I mentioned before, I had a sense of community in high school, in the navy, and at college but those communities were limited to specific places and times in my life. At graduation, at end of service, at the project’s completion, those communities faded away. There was nothing to link my connection to those people for the duration of my life. I have good relationships with many of those people but they don’t play an active part in my everyday life today. In fact reconnecting with some of them is sometimes awkward because our lives have gone in very different directions since our last meeting.

That’s not to say the people of Gloria Dei are perfect. Like every family, it struggles with difference of opinion, personality conflicts, and balancing tradition with innovation. But our faith connects us in a unique and special way. Each of us comes to the table with the desire to serve the Lord and serve each other in a positive way. When we run into trouble, our faith demands that we listen to each other and find where God wants us to go. Sometimes the struggles are too much for some and they walk away for a little while, sometimes for good. But always, that community is there, waiting should anyone feel called to return home.

I believe there is a place for everyone at Gloria Dei, sinners and saints alike. Whether you come from a Lutheran background, or no church background at all, the community, the family of Gloria Dei stands ready to welcome you should you brave the threshold of its doors.

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The Last Time…

On Sunday, All Saints Day as it were, a person I have known my whole life lost her battle with cancer. Since her passing I have been thinking about the last time I saw her and at the time I didn’t know it would be the last time. It was probably a Wednesday evening; it was probably a bell rehearsal. I imagine that was the last time many in my church community saw her. None of us, not even she knew it would be for the last time.

Many things we do in life for the last time we don’t always realize it will be the last time to do it. None of us think about the last time we wore a diaper or drank from a bottle as child. Those “last times” are probably more significant to our parents but even those last times are important as they mark an end of one phase of growing and the beginning of another.

For all of us there will be a last time to drive a car, play in a park, and see a movie. On the day my friend passed, she was preceded by a church full of people in Texas who woke up that morning for the last time. None of them realized they were going to church for the last time, saying prayers and praising God for the last time. Had they known that any of those things would be their “last time” would they have done something different? Eaten something different for breakfast, driven a little slower, maybe slept in a little longer?

The next time you hold a door for a stranger could be the last time they enter that building. The next time you wave to your neighbor could be the last time they see you. The next time you smile at a homeless man, yours could be the last face they ever see. What have any of us to lose by making our everyday actions count for something? And what do we gain by making an effort to be better people?

The truth is most of us never get to know when our last time for anything will be. We shouldn’t wait for a mass shooting or the death of a friend to help a stranger, to stop and smell the roses, or slow down in our chaotic lives and appreciate all that we have. When our last breath comes, when our heart beats for the last time, it’s too late to make a legacy, too late to say all that went unsaid, too late to make right any wrong we leave behind. We all need to live as if our last time to do anything is now because the “next time” is never guaranteed.

Rest in peace my friend.

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A Lego Reformation

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation. This is kind of a big deal for Lutherans, the followers of Martin Luther’s teachings. To celebrate the anniversary my church held a Reformation fair during Sunday school. I was asked to create a Lego mosaic of the Luther rose that could be assembled during the event. I jumped at the opportunity. Of course I’d jump at just about any opportunity to work with Lego!

I wasn’t the first to attempt such a feat. A quick internet search came up with this design which is amazing…and a bit expensive. I’m all about go big or go home but when the church is footing the bill, I must take a more practical approach. Instead of the 5×5 32 stud base plates I scaled the design down to 3×3. Keep in mind these baseplates alone cost $7.99 apiece.

I searched online for a good picture of the Luther Rose that I could use to create my pattern and found one easily. In the past I used a program called Legoaizer to create patterns for mosaics. I simply import the image and the program does all the work. This time, however, I wanted to limit the number of colors and edit the design. I couldn’t do that with my program so I was stuck…for all of a minute. I also dabble in cross stich and last year I downloaded a program called PC Stitch that does the exact same thing for stitching as Legoaizer does for Lego mosaics. I imported my image and set the parameters and there was my rose! PC Stitch let me edit individual stitches or in this case Lego studs to the colors and configurations I wanted. Here is the final pattern!

The biggest challenge to a project like this is coming up with the actual brick. It’s difficult to calculate how much of any one size and color pieces needed unless I broke down the pattern as such. I knew the kids who would be assembling this wouldn’t want to be slowed down by having to following a pattern so closely. I had to guess. I spent several days sorting bricks in my private collection and when I came up short, I went to BrickLink for the rest. I guessed I’d be short on some things but I didn’t want to over order parts, again to keep costs low.

I did all the work in black. By having the outline done, the kids could grab the right color plate of any size and get to work without much instruction, and they needed no instructions! Needless to say the project was a huge success. I ended up being short on the white pieces at the fair but thankfully I had enough spare parts at home to finish the rose.

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