I was browsing the internet today and I came upon a blog that was centered around California’s Supreme Court ruling to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage. Needless to say, there were a number of posts that condemned homosexuals and the society that affirms them. There were, of course, no legal reasons given for why homosexuals shouldn’t marry. But there was an overflow of religious rhetoric from Sodom and Gommorah to the Pauline letters. After I read all that I could stomach, I wrote a response that you can read below:

I find it interesting how people cling to the Bible and accuse others that they are choosing to distort the Word of God, yet they don’t adhere to the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. If one is going to be a literalist, then one must take EVERY scripture literally. If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination and should be avoided like the plague because of scripture then one must also adhere entirely to these scriptures:

And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you (Lev. 11:10)

The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean (Lev. 11:26)

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD (Lev. 19:27)

Ye shall keep my statutes… thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee (Lev. 19:19)

And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. (Lev. 14:16)

These are a FEW of the laws in Leviticus alone that are no longer taken literally today. For those non-King James readers, basically it is an abomination to eat shellfish, unclean to eat pork and beef, a sin to shave and get tattoos and punishable by death to curse. There are hundreds of other laws in the Bible that I could pull out that society no longer views as relevant.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion concerning homosexuality. However, in order for one’s opinion to have any validity, there must be consistency. If you believe in the Law, follow it. It becomes disrespectful to God, not to mention the Jewish community, to use the law for the purpose of condemnation. Even Jesus said,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matt. 23:13)

God did not create humankind to see if we could follow a rulebook. God sent us to perpetuate the very existence of God: Love. While we are sitting in the comfort of our homes debating on whether my lifestyle is right or wrong, there are children dying. There are homeless people in our own neighborhoods. The ultimate commandment is to love the LORD our God with all are heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is not our place to say what is desirable in the sight of God. It is our place to love unconditionally.

If you’re a literalist, praise God for you. If not, praise God for you. The important thing is to remain consistent with your belief and to always remember why Christ came and suffered. Not for us to argue about who’s right and who’s wrong, but to love without condition.

God’s Peace…

What are we proud of?

October 11, 2007

During a rather turbulent time in American history, the late music legend James Brown released a song that greatly impacted the morale of the African-American community: “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was nearly impossible to ignore the resonance of the song “I’m Proud to be an American” through media airwaves. Throughout the country, at several times during the year, thousands of people in the LGBT community gather in celebration of Gay Pride. While spending time in prayerful reflection of the turmoil in Jena, LA, I heard a simple question: What are we really proud of?

We live in a society that lulls us into the comfort of sophisticated ignorance. As long as injustice isn’t blatant or directly affecting us we don’t notice it. We are so busy being proud of our comfortable lives that we blind ourselves from the struggles of our neighbors. This haughtiness just perpetuates the injustice. It allows the powers-that-be to slip its oppression under the radar. Luke’s gospel records Jesus saying, “For everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and everyone that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Lk. 18:14 KJV) If we want to be truly liberated and sincerely proud, then we must first learn humility.

I am proud of the community’s response to the injustice of our brethren in Louisiana. Continual actions of the same sentiment must continue all over this great nation. We must continue to put our lives in perspective to the rest of the world and fight for equality on every opportunity. Once this is achieved we can say we truly have something to be proud of.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

I didn’t grow up in the most religious environment. Any church involvement outside of Sunday morning was usually encouraged, or demanded, by grandparents. There were periods in my life in which church was Monday through Friday and other periods where church was seasonal. But, even in my inconsistent involvement with the church community, I was taught that God is real and all I have to do to find God is pray and read the Bible. That is where it all started.  

I’ve always been fascinated by the way things work. I was the kid that would get in trouble for dissecting the stereo to see what was inside. All of my adolescent career goals, from astronaut to archeologist to engineer, had to do with the mechanisms that made things operate the way they do. In my random studies of various sciences I developed a very systematic thought process. Because of this I found it very easy and fulfilling to teach and explain things to others. The problem was that I was not passionate about the things I taught. When I moved from Houston to Atlanta at age 18, I began applying my systematic way of thinking to how God works.               

This exploration was spurred by my knowledge that God is real coupled with the fact that the church rejected me for who I am. I was being taught one thing and was feeling another. The worst part was that I didn’t have the space or the freedom to discuss my confusion. This conflict eventually led to me leaving the church in which I was raised (the Missionary Baptist Church). It was during my exile that I found God to be appearing to me more frequently and clearly.         

Now, growing up I often heard that “God is gonna use me,” but I always wrote it off as church jargon. I didn’t know enough about church structure and tradition, I didn’t shout in church and I didn’t pray the way others prayed. How in the world did God plan to use me?               

As I continued to refuse to go to church, I noticed my casual conversations to be more spiritual. I began to vehemently argue that God didn’t want me, that God refused me because of my sexuality. All the while, internally God was loudly saying, “I love you.” Eventually my stubbornness subsided long enough for me to visit Absalom Jones Chapel in the AUC. I was initially apprehensive because I had never been to an Episcopal Church service before. I didn’t see the point of going to a church in which you didn’t have praise and worship or testimonies or revivals. I didn’t really know what to expect. However, that experience was enough to rejuvenate my zeal for church involvement. It wasn’t because the service was phenomenal. It was because, for the first time in my life, I was allowed, even encouraged, to interpret who God is for me. I was challenged to think critically, which sharpened my ability to systematically examine the mechanisms by which God operates.                

This new-found ability to reason proved to be liberating. In my liberation I was able to see the necessity for others to be liberated. Then it all made sense. My interest in how things work was to lead me to a point where I longed to find out how God works. My fundamental belief in the existence of God and the Bible was so that I could be opened to possibilities outside the realm of doctrine. Most importantly, my passion for teaching finally had a subject matter that was fulfilling.               

So, I had the practical part down. It seemed logical for me to pursue a future in ministry. However, I still wasn’t certain that I was called by God. I felt the presence of God more frequently than I had before, but I didn’t necessarily feel like God was calling me. God didn’t come to me in a commanding, yet calming, voice. All I knew was that God is there and God loves me. This limited ability to communicate with God moved me to study prayer. Amazingly enough, a fellow Episcopalian approached me about starting an order of monks that focused on bringing contemplative prayer into everyday life. The Order of Saint Anthony started with a few people meeting weekly to study and to discuss different ways to open an internal dialogue with God. This commitment proved to be extremely beneficial. I found myself able to not only feel God’s presence but also discern what God is saying.               

As I increased my studies and contemplative lifestyle, I realized that God has been calling me my whole life to teach the radically inclusive love of Christ. I refused oppressive doctrines because I felt God telling me otherwise. I love teaching because God called me to educate others about unconditional love. I think systematically because God gave me opportunities at a young age to think with more clarity.               

Since I have been aware of my calling, I have been working to get to a place in which I could respond. In writing about my calling, I have realized that all I have to do in response is talk to people. My day to day activity is my response to God. Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” In my expression of love to others, to myself and to my God I am responding to my call to teach the radically inclusive love of Christ. With God’s help the rest of my life will be a constant answer to that call. 

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

Coming Out of the Wilderness

September 5, 2007

Every now and then, we all can find ourselves in situations of isolation. We feel like we have nothing and no one. Even in the megalopolis of America we can feel like we are in the wilderness, where the well is dry and the harvest is scarce. This, beloved, is a part of life’s natural cycle.

However, when we are in this phase of life, we can find it difficult to see when we will ever get out of the wilderness. We can begin to lose hope that our new season will come. In some situations we can psyche ourselves into a state of contentment, believing that God will provide for us when God is ready. We think that this wilderness experience is some sort of punishment we must endure to receive God’s grace. Sometimes this could be true. But most often these wilderness experiences are designed for God to reveal to us the power that is already in us. In Ezekiel 37, the LORD brings Ezekiel into a valley of dry bones and commanded him to prophesy to the bones by saying, “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD… I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.”

We can get too comfortable with the idea of letting go and letting God. Sometimes, in fact most often, God wants us to handle situations on our own. God knows that we are created with the power that is necessary to pull ourselves out of the wilderness and breathe life into our dry bones of the world.

Think back on your childhood. Did your parent(s) tell you how to handle every situation? I know mine certainly didn’t. I was made to think critically and stretch my decision-making skills so that I could grow to be a responsible adult. Our Heavenly Father takes the same approach with us. Spiritual growth comes from critical examination of our experiences using the Holy Spirit within us.

So, when you find yourself in a wilderness experience, instead of feeling sorry for yourself prophesy and say “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall LIVE!”

Makeshift Descriptions

July 16, 2007

One who truly knows their religion is well versed in the structure, history and vernacular of that religion. One who truly knows God cannot find the words to describe their experience. We must always keep this in mind whenever we are reading a religious text, reading a book or article, or hearing a sermon. The best any of these teachers can do is to create a “makeshift description” of their experience. If we believe that the Divine is One that transcends full human comprehension, then it is impossible for anyone to fully describe or document the feeling they have when God is working in them.

Some see this concept as one that dismisses the need for Holy Scripture. There is this concept that the Bible is perfect and infallible (I discussed that in more detail in my review of The Sins of Scripture). That concept is what needs to be dismissed. When the Bible is read with the knowledge that the writers were making an effort to explain their Divine experience, something that can never be completely explained, then the Bible can be used as it was intended. The Bible shouldn’t direct or dictate your experience with God. It should be used to enhance that which is already in you.

Often in my childhood experience I would become frustrated when something I read in the Bible was different from what I felt inside. Once I decided that I don’t have to agree with everything written in the Bible, I was able to look beyond the words and see the spirit behind the words. That is how the Bible should be read. We must first experience God for ourselves and try to find how our experience can be seen through Scripture. Scripture is made “Holy” because it is divinely inspired by God, not written by God.

The perception is that Holy Scripture is to be revered because it is the “Word of God.” In reality, it should be revered because it was written by those who were filled with the same Holy Spirit that is in us all. Engaging with that Spirit is what we need to do in our studies. We shouldn’t study to make our spiritual experience fit in a box called the Bible. We should study to see what can come out of that box, with the knowledge that it is only full of makeshift descriptions.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

I Need You to Survive

July 14, 2007

To borrow a phrase from one of my St. Anthony brothers, when you close others out of your life you are closing God out of your life. This concept is becoming more apparent to me as I journey through life. I have learned so many small, but valuable, lessons through random conversations I have throughout the day. We live in a society that is afraid of human interaction. We don’t speak to each other, we don’t make eye contact, and we dare not allow someone to sit next to us on public transportation. An increasingly popular theory is that the fulfillment of the Body of Christ comes by a constant increase in human self-consciousness. We cannot increase human consciousness without human interaction.

In order for us to fully appreciate the fullness of humanity, we must learn to embrace diversity. All too often, we limit ourselves to the demographic that is most like our own. We are confined by race, gender, age, sexual orientation and religion, among other things. How can we say we are in touch with God if we aren’t continuously striving to learn more about that which God created? The face of God is not limited to what our minds can perceive. So we should work to see God in the faces of everyone, even those people that aren’t like us.

Does that mean we must make every person we meet our closest friend and share with them our deepest thoughts? Not necessarily. But we should always seek the Presence of God in every person and allow them to see that Presence in us. In a translation of Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “…the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs.” Straw dogs are stuffed animals used for ceremonial purposes. When they are used, they are highly venerated. Once the ceremony is over and they are no longer needed, they are trampled and discarded. Now, discarding other humans would be a little harsh. But the importance of the quote is that we should be like the sage and treat the people we meet with the respect they deserve as divine creations. We should honor everyone we encounter so that we may gain fulfillment in our own lives. Once those people have fulfilled their purpose for our lives, we can move toward finding new human encounters to further our self-consciousness.

We must realize that we are not alone. We are all connected. Our connection transcends language, creed, doctrine and geography. Our connection is innately spiritual. I once heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu say, “I am because you are, and you are because I am.” We should have this feeling about everyone we come across. It is amazing the impact that others have on our lives. Why not allow that impact improve our spiritual lives?

 God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

The Will of God

June 20, 2007

A common idea about God that is taught in churches is that God will work in your favor if you “keep the faith.” It is almost a mantra in the Christian tradition. However, another mantra that is just as common is that we can’t always get what we want and we must live our lives according to “The Will of God.” This seems a little paradoxical. How can we expect God to work in our favor and at the same time say that God works according to God’s own Will? Are we implying that the Will of God is to fulfill our every desire? That sounds nice on the surface, but what happens when two Christians want to win the grand prize drawing of a raffle? Or what if one wants all of their bills to be paid without having to work? Or what if one wanted everyone who doesn’t follow their personal beliefs to burn in Hell? Are these situations justifiable? Absolutely not.  God is not our personal genie.

That is not to say that God can’t and won’t work in our favor, however. The thing is, we often assume that by God working in our favor God is doing what we want, when we want it to be done. We must realize that the Will of God is for all things to be reconnected to God. Therefore, God will work in your life in such a way that you and everything around you will be connected to God. That is how God works in your favor. God’s presence is always around. God is always speaking to you. God’s favor is not about always getting what you want. God’s favor is having the security of God’s presence in every aspect of life, even when it seems like things aren’t going your way.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

The Sins of Scripture

June 1, 2007

The most recent book that has been captivating my attention is Bishop John Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture. With such a provocative and controversial title it is nearly impossible to have some preconceived notions about the intent of this book. Growing up in the Missionary Baptist tradition, I was taught that the Bible was the infallible, undeniable “Word of God.” It was not to be questioned and its teachings, or predetermined interpretation thereof, were not to be trumped by anyone’s opinions. So with a title that dares to accuse any part of this “divine word” of being sinful I was sure to be in for an interesting read! As I have grown more aware of my own relationship with the Divine, and grown out of the Baptist tradition, I have learned that their ideology is neither practical nor is it healthy. Bishop Spong supports this notion in this book as he exposes the mythological attributes of the Bible and shows that literal interpretations of the Bible are illogical. He also shows how this conservative approach to scripture has been detrimental to global society.

The Sins of Scripture shows how misuse of the words and phrases in the Bible have allowed so much sin to permeate through the hierarchies of Christianity, thusly permeating through society. The Bible has been used to justify overpopulation, pollution, sexism, homophobia, child abuse, and anti-Semitism all because of the idea that those writings are considered to be the perfect representation of God Almighty. I think the most important message of this book is that we should spend less time and energy justifying the myths and stories of the Bible and focus more on the fundamental teachings and principles of Christ. It doesn’t matter if Adam and Eve really did exist, or if there was a great flood, or even if Jesus rose on the third day. Ultimately all that matters is that we love unconditionally and live compassionate lives.

The Bible shouldn’t be used as an autonomous rule book. It should instead be viewed as a display of how God’s love has transcended the ages. We should focus on the awesome unconditional compassion Jesus expressed in the words and deeds recorded in the Gospels. We should allow the Bible to not direct or mandate, but support and inspire, our personal connections with God. We must realize that there is nothing that was written thousands, or even hundreds, of years ago that can supersede the Spirit that dwells within us.

I strongly encourage everyone with a passion, or even a curiosity, for scripture and spirituality to read Bishop John Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture. You may not agree with everything in the book. There are lots of new and radical ideas expressed. But we are not required to agree with everything. We should, however, be able to openly engage different ideas and points-of-view. The Sins of Scripture will definitely open your mind to new ideas and possibilities and direct Christianity to a much more positive light.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

During this Lenten Season I have had numerous opportunities to educate people about contemplative spirituality. I have encountered all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of questions. In my teaching, I have learned a very important lesson: It’s not about what you pray. It’s not even about who you pray to, one would argue. The important thing is that you pray.

I have spoken to Episcopalians, AMEs, Baptists, Catholics, Sikhs, people that practice Kabbalah, Yoruba, Astrology and people with no particular religious affiliation. The common thread that holds true is that one must recognize that there is a higher power and one’s life should be dedicated to reconnecting to that power by love and compassion. The ultimate goal of the universe is to reconnect completely with that higher power. We achieve that by connecting our divine essence with those around us, thus strengthening the divinity of God.

We can facilitate these divine connections by spending time in prayer. Not necessarily prayer in the traditional sense, but in spending time simply being in the presence of the Divine. The more time we spend resting in God’s Presence the more able we are to recognize what that Presence feels like. We then can be able to notice that Presence in others and can connect the Divinity within us to that Presence. Every connection we make is another step closer the universe is to achieving its ultimate goal.

Simply put, the more time we spend recognizing God’s presence (whatever we call it) and loving one another unconditionally, the more fulfillment we will gain for our own lives and the closer we are to the ultimate goal of the universe. So the next time you pray, brothers and sisters, don’t say anything. Simply listen to God and recognize what that feels like. Carry that feeling with you and spread it into everyone you encounter.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

Over the last week, I have been reading Bishop Carlton Pearson’s The Gospel of Inclusion. He argues, quite eloquently, the fact that there is no need to “get saved” because the world has already been saved through the work of Jesus Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection. Needless to say, the majority of the Christian community (especially in the African American community) has labeled him a heretic and has shunned him.

As an African American, I am baffled. I would think that our community, whose ancestors knew not of freedom and salvation, would rejoice in this logic. Instead, we have refused it and have chosen this “woe is me, I’m a horrible sinner” theology. In my meditations, I asked why any African American Christian would not embrace this message of liberation. I began to think back on my days growing up in the Missionary Baptist Church and I realized why we don’t like Bishop Pearson’s message. It’s because we have been preaching the same “feel good” sermon since slavery. When Christianity was introduced to us as slaves, it was meant to keep us in line. We weren’t encouraged to study the history of Christianity or explore our individual spirituality. We were given a mind-numbing, watered-down version of the Christ Principle and it has changed very little in the last 400 years.

This deeply saddens me, brothers and sisters. In this day, we have more opportunities than any generation ever has. We MUST take advantage! We need to know the history of the religion we practice if we want to fully appreciate it. We must approach scripture with an opened mind and an opened heart. We must faithfully listen to God and openly accept God’s evolving creation. One of the most profound, yet saddening, points Bishop Pearson makes is that Christians would rather make a deal with God instead of simply accepting the free Gift of Salvation.

We are no longer slaves, beloved… we are FREE! Free to live eternally with the knowledge that the work of Christ is finished. There is no sign-up. There are no conditions. There is just salvation.

Now, people of God, take this Gospel of Freedom and rejoice! Embrace it and explore the benefits of God’s grace, such that you may be able to exhibit the same love and compassion to those that you encounter. God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC