Surrender to the Watercolor Rainbow!

Today kicks off of National Pride month in Santa Cruz and if you trot downtown it is certainly one of the more colorful, “diverse,” days of the year!rainbowwander

This weekend marks my one year anniversary in Santa Cruz and on my first Sunday in town I wandered into the center of the pride parade, thinking it was the status quo Santa Cruz Sunday Afternoon! Coming from Kentucky, I expected some diversity, but wow…

Diversity is our word of the day, so lets jump right in with a diverse hello!
Say it with me…

This Zulu greeting from heart of South Africa can best be translated: “I see you.”
Think about that for a minute. “I see you.” What an interesting, seemingly abrupt, way to say hello.

Our English version, the result of a poor phone connection, ain’t much better and lacks that exotic flair! Turns out Thomas Edison’s first phone worked as well as my Verizon Droid does on the West side of Santa Cruz.
Thus, “hello,” is but a mispronunciation of the high German “ahoy,” the sailor’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m right here, watch yourself!”

Instead of “hey, I am here” (a me statement,) Sawubona recognizes the other. “I see you.”
The response, ”NGIKHONA,” continues to recognize the importance of the other. “I am here because you see me.”

It’d seem that the Zulu tradition sees our being as inter-dependent, not independent, of our community and that doesn’t settle well in the Western World. It seems restrictive! We want to be independent, unique, and “diverse!” I’m ME, and here regardless of whether YOU “see me!” Or so we say.

My desire to be different often reverberates with a deeper desire to be seen, recognized, and respected. My diversity and non-conformity (a word we will touch on later this morning,) is really an insecure call for attention. “Hello” is pretty evident of this. Ahoy! “I am here,” look at me!
Sawubona is the antithesis. “I see YOU.” It accentuates the value and existence of the other. Not neglecting either’s individual existence, but promoting a fuller communal existence.

The Zulu understand existence to be tied to community. Each a part or piece of one whole. Wholly different… wholly ‘diverse’ and because, not in spite, of that, wholly united!
In countering the forced conformity of the South African Apartheid, Desmond Tutu coined the term, Unbantu, “unity through diversity” or as he states, “I am me, because you are you!”
We start our service celebrating our independence while embracing our inter-dependence as a community.

Embrace the spirit of Unbantu and recognize, respect, encourage, and love the diversity in and beyond this room! Man and woman, woman turned man and man turned woman, Christian; Muslim; Jew and Hindu, black; white; hispanic; and Zulu! Old and young, progressive and conservative, and God help us, even Democrat and Republican!!!!

Greet one another, “Sawubona.” (I see you) “God, we see you in every face in the pews today and feel you in every handshake, hug, and hello.”

…and respond, “Ngikhona” (I am here because you see me) God, thank you for seeing us, your diverse children, and for loving us each for it!
Passing of the Peace…

Sermon: Romans 12:1-4

Born a queer Jewish boy, to an African American transgender mother and eskimo father in the heart of Harlem, I was destined for an interesting life! Bound to bullying while passing through grade school and doomed to question and struggle with my identity, sexuality, religion, and purpose.
Mine was the makings of a difficult, albeit colorful, life that utilized the full box of crayons in scribbling outside the lines of traditional coloring books!

…Yeah, not so much.
Despite my greater efforts to stand out (diversity is the new cool,) I was born into… well… boredom. I envied the exotic accents of exchange students whose words flowed like poetry to every girl they encountered.
I yearned to identify with the passionate and prophetic voices that poured out of Liberation Theology readings during seminary.
I wanted to check something other than that mundane “Caucasian” box on grad school applications (especially after seeing all the scholarships reserved for “diverse” groups such as the aforementioned eskimos!)
I’ve long thirsted to be “diverse,” and given the prominence of pride parades, I don’t think I’m alone!

However, I was born into the 2.3 child, dual parent, white-middle-class standard American household (which thanks to a half-sister from my dad’s first marriage is as close it gets to the average 2.3, void of surgical assistance!)

There I was, the boring, strait, blue-eyed, white kid with a standard poodle companion who ate a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich every day for lunch… at least cut diagonally!

Diversity… HA!

So I forced nonconformity with obnoxious clothing and pierced ears, constantly needing to be seen because I understood my being to be dependent on it! “NGIKHONAI” “I am here because you see me!” Right?

slide 7The Greek translation of today’s scripture warns us not to “fashion ourselves” in the trends of the world. Fashion is fleeting and superficial, and regardless of the style (or lack thereof) of my clothing, I was a gallbladder!
Gallbladder? That one may take some explaining, and having just alluded to today’s scripture, lets turn to it.

Romans 12:4-5 reads: For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We want to be the eye or the hand, not the intestine. The quarterback is cooler than the lineman and the point-guard than the waterboy. But from deep within the skin of dull-drum, I was the boring one… the gallbladder (who even knows what a gallbladder even does!)

Paul continues:
“6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (a Gallbladder actually is an essential organ!) “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
We are called to put our gifts to use, not put our energy into broadcasting them. Moreover, to do so “cheerfully!” Again turning to the Greek, the phrase is, “be not slothful!” After-all, what more boring animal than a Sloth!!!slide 5

Cheerfully,” mercifully, and in an encouraging way embracing teamwork! Our body is a system of systems (muscular, nervous, endocrine) and its nice when the parts of the body all work in unison. The endocrine system is inter-dependent on the independent job of the Gallbladder, further allowing the independent muscular, nervous, skeletal, and excretory systems to work interdependently in giving life to our body!

Rewind a tiny bit. When there is a verse four there is more often than not three verses preceding it!

Verse 2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world (“get lost in the fashion trends), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We often strive to be different for the sake of being different and adopt the “non-conformist” role to be cool! However, raising our renegade rainbow flag with an intention to be seen is an outward sign of an inner need to fit in.
Bold identity statements often symbolize deep struggles for self-acceptance. How beautiful an oxymoronic concept is that… or maybe just a moronic one? However its one we know well!
“I want to be different… so that I can fit in.”
“I need to be bright… because I am insecure.”
“I need you to accept and see me… because I have not accepted myself.”

Misguided pursuits of independence restrict us to a life of worldly dependence; whereas, accepting our divine inter-dependence frees us from the conformity of the society.

How is this for a progressive view of nonconformity? What if the most “diverse” flag waved wasn’t a rainbow, but the dull white-washed flag of surrender?

With that we’ve made it backwards all the way to verse 1: Therefore, I urge you to offer your bodies (traditionally read, “surrender” yourselves) as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”

Travel back to elementary school science class and a lesson on the spectrum of light.
The rainbow that floods downtown streets today, is beautiful and accentuates, colors, and energizes the full range of existence.
However, as those who didn’t sleep through science class may remember, pure light (simple, boring, and white on paper or flag) is actually the apex of all the colors.
Christ is the prism, the unified “light of the world,” that brightens all of creation allowing all the colors to shine!
In this month of rainbow flags remember that the flag of surrender is not divided into colors, but a blank canvas, made possible because all the diverse (independent) colors have come blurred together.

What if we surrendered our need to prove our existence? Surrendered the labels of this world (white, black, republican, democrat, strait, LBGT or Q, etc) and simply accepted ourselves for who we are?

Maybe the question of what bathroom to use wouldn’t flood our newscasts and courtrooms…
Maybe the political season wouldn’t be full of low blows, digs, and labels…
Maybe red and blue would fade to purple and join the pride parade…
Maybe we would realize that despite our beautifully diverse existence, we aren’t all that different…
Maybe if we expanded our scriptures to include diverse readings of progressive theologian’s such as Dr. Seuss, we’d grow confident enough in who we were that we wouldn’t need to label, defend, or broadcast it!

“Today you are you… that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than YOU!”
-Dr. Suess

When our perfect God revealed his true identity to the world, she said in utter simplicity, “I am who I am.”
Today it is truer than true that you too are you; an imperfect and independent hue forming a perfect interdependent rainbow.

Bouncing from science to art class we’re tasked to paint the rainbows we’d just learned about and watercolors work much better than markers.
A marker makes a distinct line and traditionally the children who do the best job coloring within the lines get the best grades.

We celebrate our diversity in the same fashion, by dividing and labeling! However, when we use watercolors, our yellow may bleed into our green… which kinda turns to blue… than dabbles with purple until we don’t quite know what color is which!

Our “messy” attempts to paint within the lines are what make us, the imperfect members of the body of Christ, able to follow the rather intimidating call to “Be perfect as God, your father (and, not or, mother… sister and brother) is perfect!”
In Greek, “perfection” means wholeness, and we are each, though beautifully diverse, made perfect and whole through our messy, blurred, and beautiful unification with the whole rainbow of creation.
Sadly, mixing our worldly paints doesn’t result in a heavenly white, but an earthly brown; however, maybe thats not be so bad after all.

Imperfect attempts at perceived “perfection” are exactly what allow us to be ‘wholly’ and divinely perfect in God’s sight.
It is in God’s sight that we find the foundation of today’s Zulu welcoming. “I am here because you see me!” God not only sees and loves you for who you are, but paints the beautiful dynamic story of creation through you.

I may not be a queer Jewish boy born to a transgender African American mother and eskimo father in the heart of Harlem… or maybe I am!
Maybe I am Zulu; Hindu and Haitian…
Maybe I am a man and maybe a women, or maybe a man in a woman’s bathroom in North Carolina because for as much as we try to conform to these worldly labels, the lines are blurred.

We are all and none of these things because regardless of how people “see us,” our being is true and our true identity is divine.

Who we are in this world is not dependent on the perceptions and sight, or shortsightedness, of others. We are not of this world, simply in it and when we see ourselves and our neighbors through the prism of Christ we find, as did Paul, that…
“there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Remember a few things as you wander out the door today.
First: We’d love to carry on the discussion and grow wiser through the diverse perspectives of all of YOU! As Malcolm Forbes declares, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together!” So come to Faith on Tap and partake in a beer (and rootbeer) fueled discussion of diversity at 8pm!

Second: Be proud of who you are! Simple as that! (the craziest thing about this whole Jesus thing is that all said and done… it is pretty damn simple. Love, accept, and cherish yourself and your diverse siblings. As Chris says with prophetic eloquence, “don’t be a jerk!”

Finally: Have an opinion! Our struggle with self-acceptance and attempt at political correctness (another oxymoron) can mute or cause us to question our own opinions, preferences, and perspectives.
These are part of who you are! Be confident enough in your faith, your beliefs, and your opinions to celebrate them without needing to broadcast or force them on others.
We are human and we have preferences.
Preference occurs when we see and respect all the choices, prefer one over the other. It requires dialogue and open-mindedness. Preference allows our diversity to foster a unifying mutual evolution.
Prejudice occurs when we choose one without opening ourselves to learn from and grow with the other. Prejudice is the root of conformity and is founded on fear and insecurity.
Finally racism occurs when our fear, rooted prejudice, turns to hatred and we believe that the only way to be ourselves lies in belittling or discriminating against our neighbor.

Go downtown today or any day and you will see all three in action. Hugs of people with different preferences, prejudice fueled segregation, and hate filled speech or signs with angry or condemning words… and from both sides.

Friends, I am me because you are you… and together WE are Christ, who declares, in John 17:23, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.”