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November 2023

TDOR Message


Psalm 35

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First United Methodist Church

20 November 2023

               Thank you for the invitation to speak tonight.  This opportunity is both an honor and a privilege.  Over the years I’ve attended some of these services and always felt it important, as a cisgender gay man, to be present and to listen.  I did not feel it was my place to speak.

            TJ invited me to speak this year, and I accepted her invitation, and am honored.

            On this Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience, I want to frame my words with the 35th Psalm, which opens:

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me!

Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers; say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me.

This psalm is what we in the business call an “imprecatory psalm.”  Imprecatory psalms are ones that implore God to deliver us from evil.  And these psalms do that by calling down curses upon our enemies.  Asking God to give them what they deserve.

One of the greatest features of the psalms is that they contain every single human emotion and a poem or song to fit it.  There are plenty of psalms for when we are happy and joyful and celebrating.  There are lament psalms for when we are sad and grieving.  There are psalms to sing and pray when we are offering forgiveness and reconciling with those who have hurt us.  But there are also Psalms to sing and pray when we are angry at the injustices of those who have opposed us and hurt us. 

Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on.

Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.

Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it—to their ruin.

Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in God’s deliverance.

I was a university student in Oklahoma back in 1995 when the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed.  The next day, as we gathered for our class on the Old Testament prophets, we all were overwhelmed with so many emotions.  My professor, Dr. Kevin Hall, used the occasion to teach us about imprecatory psalms.  These psalms are full of emotional and spiritual value.  We need to pray them when we are hurt and angry.  Expressing these emotions and thoughts is powerful and healing.  Our faith and spirituality are big enough to hold space for our hurt and anger.  God is listening.

All my bones shall say, “O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”

Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me about things I do not know.

They repay me evil for good; my soul is forlorn.

But as for me, when they were sick, I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,

as though I grieved for a friend or a brother; I went about as one who laments for a mother, bowed down and in mourning.

But at my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing;

they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth.

Sadly, the lesson that I learned that day after the Oklahoma City bombing, I’ve had plenty of occasions since to put into practice.  When violence has been visited upon the communities I’ve lived in and am a part of.  How many times have we gathered for vigils after a hate crime?  After a trans woman was beaten or killed?  After a drag queen was attacked?  After one of our clubs has been invaded and our siblings massacred?  Many years ago, after having attended and hosted so many, having sung We Shall Overcome and lit candles, I was just too drained.  I was tired of vigils and felt I had no more words to say.  And, yet, the evil doesn’t stop, and neither do we.  We must continue to remember and resist, for that is the source of our hope, the power of our deliverance.

How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!

Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.

Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me, or those who hate me without cause wink the eye.

For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.

They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.”

You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me!

Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!

Last May I found myself reading and praying this psalm often.  It was on repeat in my consciousness.  Our state legislature had failed in its responsibilities to its citizens and enacted a cruel and inhumane law against trans children and adolescents. 

Just like the psalm says, lies were told about us.  We were mocked and ridiculed.  In public we were called horrible things and had too many times to sit there quietly and endure the insults because that’s the protocol.  Then our governor called us minions of Lucifer.

We demand to be rescued from these lies and deceptions.  We insist upon our vindication. 

Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me.

Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.”

Let all those who rejoice at my calamity be put to shame and confusion; let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.

            After the vote last spring, I sent notes to the senators I had personally lobbied who ended up voting against us.  I used the notecards with our church printed on the cover, and then hand wrote inside them these words from this psalm, “Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me.”   I forcefully underlined the word “shame.”  That felt really good.

            And we will be vindicated.  Because we know that truth and right are on our side. 

            We don’t know when or how, but we have faith that our deliverance will come.  We will be rescued.  Justice will be done.  We will receive the honor and respect that we deserve.  Violence and hate crimes will no longer be visited upon our trans heroes.  Trans kids and adolescents will receive the care they are entitled.  Care!  We have to fight so hard for other people to be caring.

            And the reason we know we will be vindicated is precisely because we won’t quit fighting.  Each and every day we will remember, and we will resist.  Together, organized, powerful, unstoppable, we will not quit until justice is done and right is restored.

            For God is with us, on our side, as the very power of hope that drives us. 

            And so this psalm closes:

Let those who desire my vindication shout for joy and be glad, and say evermore, “Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of God’s servant.”

Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.



Philippians 1:1-30

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

19 November 2023

In the summer of 2022, during my sabbatical, I set myself the task of reading about climate change resilience, particularly focused on what resources, skills, practices, and approaches we will need as a community of faith to navigate well through this crisis that is coming more and more to affect our daily lives and will be the major global challenge for most of us to face for the rest of our lives. 

Among the books I read was one entitled Words for a Dying World edited by Hannah Malcolm.  The subtitle is Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church.  Her contention is that a vital part of developing hope and resilience is to first face our grief over what we’ve lost and are losing.  She closes her introduction by inviting the reader to be softened, to grow more tender through caring.  She writes:

Adopting an orientation of grief means choosing to invest in things that are small, that are temporary, and celebrating them in the broken, fragile beauty they bear in the eyes of God.  It is soft, cruciform foolishness.

Which honestly doesn’t sound all that different than some of what Paul writes, identifying his own sufferings with those of Christ on the cross.

            One of the essays in Malcolm’s book is written by two South Africans, Peter Fox and Miles Giljam.  One is a Presbyterian minister and the other works in public affairs.  They write about how our listening to each other’s grief can turn us into witnesses:

As we listen, exposed to death and brokenness, we will feel anger, despair, frustration and rage.  If we face these hard emotions, letting them pass through us as a rupturing reality, we may become vulnerable witnesses, able to heal wounds and emerge into a new identity. 

They add that this process of being born into new life, will be painful.

            Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi is written somewhere near the end of his ministry, when he is imprisoned.  We aren’t sure if he wrote it from prison in Palestine or Rome or somewhere else (we know he was jailed many times).  He seems to be in a deeply reflective mood, remembering these folks and their faithfulness to him and the gospel.  The dominate mood of this letter is joyfulness—Paul rejoices in the Philippians, in his ministry, in the transformation wrought by the Gospel.  Yet, in the midst of his rejoicing, he also reflects on his own experiences of suffering, and how they have contributed to the advancement of the church, often doing the opposite of what was intended by those who have oppressed him.  In that, he feels a solidarity with and participation in the life and death of Jesus.  And for that he gives thanks.

            Christianity must be careful with how it handles the topic of suffering.  We know the abuses to which such discussions have often been put over the last two thousand years.  Particularly when the church has taught the poor, the enslaved, women, and children to accept their sufferings as part of their redemption.

            That was always bad theology and spiritual practices.  Fortunately, Christian theology has in the last seventy years come to terms with that toxic legacy and approached the topic differently.  Sadly, it was the shock of the Holocaust and the reaction to it which finally led the church to confront its sins in this regard.

            I like how the French radical philosopher Alain Badiou explains it.  Suffering can never be redemptive, for pain and death cannot be the operation of salvation, the yes to life that is the good news.

            I’ve mentioned before that the best class I took as an undergrad was “Evil and Suffering” with Professor Bob Clarke.  That class formed and transformed my thinking on so many issues.  And one of the blessings was that Wendy Farley’s book Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion was on the syllabus. 

            Farley identifies two types of suffering: meaningful and radical.  Radical suffering is identified as the kind from which meaning cannot be made.  It is affliction, in the worst, most painful, most soul-destroying way.  And is very often visited on people by unjust and abusive power.

            But she says that there is suffering from which meaning can be made, and that meaning is made through resistance, not endurance or acceptance.  And there are two types of resistance.  We resist suffering either by fighting it or refusing to let it dehumanize us.  The best response, if we can do it, is to fight, to organize, to work to alleviate it and prevent it from ever happening again to yourself or to others. 

            But sometimes, we cannot fight it, “no practical change can be anticipated.”  And so our resistance is manifested in refusing to lose our humanity.

            How do we do that?

            The queer biblical scholar Ted Jennings teaches us that Paul is repeatedly warning us that entering into the messianic life of the church means entering into distress.  Trying to create a new humanity, a new way of living, in the midst of violent and unjust empire will be difficult, risky, and dangerous, like we discussed last week.  Jennings says that the distress we experience is itself a sign pointing to the advent of the radically new.  Which is one reason Paul doesn’t let his imprisonment get him down.  He rejoices that even the jail time is a sign of God’s work, that even this is a witness to the world of the good news.

            And so Jennings encourages a mental toughness that will not be cowed, a resolute endurance, and undaunted determination, which is how he describes the virtue of hope.

            Which all sound like skill sets we need not only to face the climate crisis or war in the Middle East, but even the events of our own lives that try us—like unemployment, heartbreak, or cancer.

            The Taiwanese theologian Choan-Seng Song has written powerfully about the relationship between hope and suffering.  He characterizes hope as the affirmation of life, which echoes the yes to life of Badiou.  In good Christian teaching we don’t find a justification or excuse or explanation for our suffering, instead we find solidarity, compassion, and encouragement.  We find that God is with us, present in our suffering, suffering alongside us.  We encounter God as the power that helps us to transform our suffering into hope.  Song writes that a primary mission of the church is to spread the good news that hope is possible.

            I’m moved by this statement of Song’s: “The courage to hope, which is given to us through Jesus Christ, is the dynamics that enables us to create our future out of our present sufferings.  The future does not come to us, but we must go to the future.”

            We must go to the future.  What an uplifting, exciting, adventurous, inspiring idea!  And we do that through cultivating these skills of resistance, and living with compassion, hope, gratitude, and joy.

            Sometimes the problems of the world, much less of our daily lives, seem so daunting that we likely to despair, rather than to hope or to rejoice.  But to succumb to that despair is to surrender our greatest strengths.  Instead, we should be like Paul, who even in the midst of prison finds reasons to rejoice and give thanks.

            Another book I read in the summer of 2022 was by the English theologian Timothy Gorringe and is entitled The World Made Otherwise: Sustaining Humanity in a Threatened World.  His book is precisely about what we must do in the mist of the climate crisis, and what tools Christian theology can bring to politics, economics, social services, and more.

            In one chapter he draws upon the work of Rob Hopkins, who is active in an English movement called Transition Town that works to create resilient communities.  Hopkins describes the work of climate resilience as “a creative, engaging, playful process” that helps us through our losses and inspires us to do new things.  Hopkins adds that he “hopes to sketch ‘a picture of the future so enticing people instinctively feel drawn towards it.’”

            I love this idea, that in the midst of crisis, instead of despair, we engage in creative, engaging, playful processes that inspire and encourage us.

            In his own context, that’s what Paul was doing.  Despite the difficulties, risks, and dangers that led to imprisonment and suffering, he focused on giving thanks and rejoicing, because he was part of God’s great mission to do something new, to create a new way of being human and living together.

            And in our own time that challenge remains, even while it faces fresh and different crises.  May we continue the work of Paul and our predecessors to be witnesses to the world that something better is possible— for "The future does not come to us, but we must go to the future.”

The World As Will and Idea

The World as Will and Idea: Abridged in 1 VolThe World as Will and Idea: Abridged in 1 Vol by Arthur Schopenhauer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thirty years ago as an undergrad in a modern philosophy class, I first read some Schopenhauer. And despite him being a pessimist, I find the writing beautiful and the ideas exhilarating, even if I didn't fully agree with them.

All these decades later, I feel the same, now having read more fully his major work.

View all my reviews