Hunky Jesus Hubbub

kareninthedesert —  April 17, 2014 — 5 Comments
flickr: Steve Snodgrass

flickr: Steve Snodgrass


I had my own blog for a few years.  When I started I promised myself, ‘no low hanging fruit.’  By that, I meant no clickbait posts; no commenting on the scandal of the day; no poking-in-the-eye-with-a-stick of the latest evangelical scandal or rape culture politician.  Maybe I’m breaking that promise with this post.  You, gentle readers, can let me know what you think.

A local, progressive new church start is having a Hunky Jesus Contest on Holy Saturday at a Phoenix gay bar.  How many triggers can be in one sentence?


First, some background… Read about Rebel and Divine UCC here:

Read about their founding pastor Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim here: Echo magazine story

Read about some push-back they’ve received about this event here: Hunky Jesus Contest Event Page

Read about the San Francisco festival that inspired Rebel and Divine here:

Read about the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming designation here:

Does Hunky Jesus offend you?  What does it even mean to be offended?  If you’re offended by someone or something, what response are you expecting?  What does it mean to understand Jesus as fully human?  What is our relationship to our bodies?  How do we see sexuality with the eyes of faith?  Questions like these and more have been swirling around in my head over the past week.  And I admit that when I looked at the Facebook event page and saw a comment “maybe I’ll get nailed,” I winced. Ouch.

I don’t have any answers.  But I do have these reflections and I’m staying in the conversation.

1.  I don’t get to tell a marginalized group how to proceed with their struggle.
I’m straight.  That status comes with certain privilege.  I won’t elaborate (you can Google it), but let’s just scratch the surface by noting that none of my friends feel anxious about how to explain to their children my relationship with my life partner.  I can be an ally, an advocate, a friend… but I can’t fully comprehend the struggle LGBTQ people experience.  Maybe I know how to do things that are helpful to their cause.  Maybe I can offer my gifts and resources.  But I can’t say, “Gee, that’s offensive.  Be patient and be on your best behavior.  Equality will come in time.”  I can’t say, “Wow.  Hunky Jesus… why would you be deliberately controversial like that?”  I can’t say, “But this will hurt your cause among people who are actually supportive!  This might mean a set back for gay rights!”  I can’t say any of these things EVEN IF I MIGHT BE RIGHT.

2.  Ministry can take place in lots of different settings.  I trust life and the Spirit of God.
Imagine a setting in which a young gay man can feel comfortable, a setting in which he can mock the church that wounded him as a teen if he chooses, a setting in which he might be able to have a significant conversation with someone about the hope of Easter.  That setting might look a lot like Hunky Jesus.  There’s a delightful United Church of Christ congregation in a retirement community not far from me.  They probably won’t be hosting a Hunky Jesus contest and it probably wouldn’t be an appropriate choice for them.  But for Rebel and Divine UCC, this event (it is raising money for their work, by the way, which supports homeless and at-risk teens and young adults in many ways) is coming out of the conversations happening in that faith community.  I trust God:  that the Spirit can move in any setting, that what looks like foolishness to many is God’s wisdom in disguise, that it’s precisely when we feel most uncomfortable that we are growing the most.

3.  There’s a distinct possibility that churchy folk take our holy days too seriously.
I’m totally guilty of this.  When my youngest child was in a church preschool, her shiny happy Easter party was on Maundy Thursday.  I protested; this is a solemn day for communion and foot washing.  I wasn’t thrilled with pastel eggs and candy on that particular day.  But today I remember the words of Amos:

I hate all your show and pretense -
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.

So the hangups about Hunky Jesus on Holy Saturday don’t trouble me much.

4.  There’s a story to be told about the church, about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, about the pain and shame people of faith have heaped on the gay community.
I was just 10 years old when Ronald Reagan was elected to the Presidency.  I picked up on the mood of the country, even then.  Our years-long national upheaval was coming to an end:  Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis.  All that we were putting behind us.  The AIDS epidemic was just not part of Reagan’s Morning in America.  As a teen, I went to a youth conference with church.  A preacher told us that babies come from their fathers only.  That’s why, he said, Jesus could be Mary’s baby and still completely sinless.  That bit of crazy was easy for my United Methodist group to scoff at… wrong biology, at the very least.  But when that same crazy preacher told us that AIDS was God’s punishment on gay people, we didn’t laugh that off.  I had a bumper sticker circa 1988 that said ‘Fight AIDS, Not PEOPLE With AIDS.’  It’s painful to remember just how radical a notion that was.  The church behaved badly back then:  refusing funerals and sacraments and pastoral care to dying people.  Gay men who are now in their 40s and 50s have watched their friends, lovers, partners, and mentors die.  It’s no wonder then, that so many, many people associate religion with suffering and fear and shame.  Can we who have never felt the church turn its back on us accept that maybe Hunky Jesus can open the door to healing for someone?  If that’s a possibility, isn’t it worth any discomfort or offense on our part?

5.  Healthy sexuality and reverence are profoundly connected.
When I trained as an Our Whole Lives facilitator, we did an exercise that helped me see this connection more clearly.  We separated into two groups.  Neither group was aware of the other’s assignment.  One group wrote on newsprint the words they associated with a healthy, loving sexual experience.  The other group wrote on newsprint the words they associated with a spiritual experience.  Expanding, beautiful, hopeful, fun, profound, acceptance, love, energy, holy:  THE SAME WORDS APPEARED ON BOTH LISTS.  I didn’t make this up.  It’s the way we were created.

Now all of this reflection doesn’t mean that I would feel comfortable at the Hunky Jesus Contest.  I have to assist the Big Rabbit in her deliveries to my own kids that night, so I probably won’t make it down to the bar.  But everyone there – Jesuses and judges, angry folks and curious folks, Rebel and Divine people and Kobalt’s regulars – will be in my prayers.

Peace to all.

About these ads

Don’t you just wish that Jesus had been a memoirist?  I know there’s that incident in John when he scribbles in the dirt, but I really want to know more.  As his spiritual development blossomed, as he contemplated his path, what was Plan B?  Lots of scholars think that Jesus probably spent some time with John the Baptist, as an apprentice or protégé.  What made him decide to strike out on his own?  And I’ve always wondered – how much of the bumbling ineptitude of the disciples was real and how much was a literary device on the part of the evangelists?

jesus sandals

We’ll never know, but the wondering and imagination has sparked the prayer life of many Christians (most notably, the Jesuits, whose style of contemplation relies on our vivid imaginations in conjunction with the stories of scripture).

I write stuff.  Unlike Jesus, I depend on the written word to express something that needs to leave me-space and get out into the world.  Why?

5.  I’m shy, so writing is easier than talking.
It takes me some time to suss out what I think about things.  Writing – for an audience or for myself – comes more naturally than speechifying or preaching.  Also, again with the shy thing, writing allows me to find like-minded folks without a lot of meet-and-greets.

4.  The English language is like my dog – it needs exercise.
I get great satisfaction from making words do what I want them to do.  A great article or reflection or blog post takes the reader on a little journey, but (at least when I’m at my best) the path is a circle that brings you back to the idea from which you started.  In other words, I ramble on a bit, sometimes without an evident purpose, but by the end, things are tied up with a little bow.  This way of using language is part of being civilized.  Words are limited, often clumsy, but they are the tools we have.  Best to keep them sharpened.

3.  Sometimes I need a forced slowdown.
Do you ever find yourself thinking in Facebook statuses or tweets?  Our minds move quickly and jump from topic to topic or from distraction to distraction. Writing can be a kind of meditation, an experience of flow, that makes me a better me.  I read cookbooks and it makes me want to cook.  I read glorious prose and it inspires me to sit back down at the keyboard.  My cooking is like making mud pies, just like my writing, but participation in this very human task is imperative for me.


2.  Writing brings clarity.
I begin co-leading a writers’ workshop this week.  My teaching partner loves this quote from Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”  Words force clarity on me.  I write, particularly about religion and spirituality, and I find that I am writing what I need to read.  I teach what I need to learn.  I write, for instance, about the profundity of everyday life… about moments that we treasure with family and friends, moments in nature, experiences that we want to capture and remember.  And in this writing, I find that I do *really* believe in the sacredness of the ordinary, in the experiential nature of a life lived in faith as ultimate trust.  My best self reminds the rest of me.

1.  Everyday people writing their everyday lives is revolutionary.
History is written by the winners.  We know about Napoleon, not his servant; Charlemagne, not the royal blacksmith; Marie Curie, not her grocer.  Memoir flies in the face of this notion.  In writing our small yet profound lives, we speak the truth that every life matters, that every person is unique and unrepeatable.  Every time I write, I make a claim on the universe:  ‘This is MY story.’  The words and the reading of them; the recalling and the sharing; that beautiful recognition when we read something written by another and can say, “Yes!  This is true for me also!” : this is the reason I write.

Vector of the Spirit

kareninthedesert —  March 30, 2014 — 1 Comment
flickr: reynermedia

flickr: reynermedia


Vector: (mathematics) a quantity possessing both magnitude and direction.  Source: 

Faith communities can be very unpredictable places.  Here’s a sample of what’s going at churches I’m familiar with this week and in the near past:

  • a poetry study for Lent
  • students from UC Berkeley are studying immigration as part of an Alternative Spring Break program
  • parents and babies are doing yoga
  • women and men are gathering for shared meals and fellowship
  • doors are opening for neighborhood groups and Alcoholics Anonymous
  • teams are studying justice AND getting into the work of justice
  • LGBT youth are gathering to discuss consent
  • older members are donating Easter candy
  • compassionate people are struggling with the intersection of and contrasts between charity and empowerment
  • gardening
  • friends are providing a comforting presence for someone grieving

At this church I call home, we are often proud of the fast pace of happenings on our campus and their diversity.  Sometimes we even go so far as to say, “You just never know what’s going on around here!” or “We don’t have ‘regular Sundays’ here!”  And in a sense, this expression is correct:  it’s sometimes an unpredictable place to be.

But in another, deeper way, what goes on here and at other faith communities is entirely expected.  The Spirit of Life is at work.  And while the Spirit is unpredictable, her vector is always the same.  The Spirit moves in the direction of wholeness, peace, justice, grace, and love.  WHERE the wind of Spirit rises and blows is always a surprise to us.  The example during my own lifetime is clear:  I never would have predicted 20 years ago that marriage equality would begin to sweep the country.  The Where and the How Fast have surprised me.

“The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up.  Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God.”  John 3: 8 from The Voice New Testament

We can imagine a map of the United States (pardon me for being ameri-centric, it’s the geography I know best).  Imagine a wind that always blows from east to west.  Sometimes a gentle breeze stirs on the Carolina coast from Wilmington to Charlotte around the issue of erosion and marine conservation.  Sometimes a gale stirs the great plains from Des Moines to Lincoln around worker rights.  Another day, a warm wind rises in El Paso and heads toward Phoenix, with energy and passion for humane immigration.  It’s a different wind, but always in the same direction:  wholeness, peace, justice, grace and love.

ImageOn the move!

So what do we do?  How can we participate?

We prepare.  We ready ourselves for the work that awaits us, with practices of silence and contemplation.  We gather around ourselves others who are also preparing to join in.  We get some supplies ready.  Depending on the kind of wind we observe, we might need a kite or maybe a sail; prayer flags or perhaps flower seeds.

We watch.  We study the horizon, looking for signs that God is at work.  We become like spiritual Minutemen, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

We harness.  We join the Spirit at work, as our gifts indicate.  The work gives us joy and purpose.

Unpredictable?  Sometimes.  But the holy vector is constant.


Hey everyone. This is Brett, head blogger and founder of WOJ. I have decided to take my work to the next level and actively pursue a career in freelance writing. I will continue to develop, however my personal reflections and more self-promotional posts require a separate site. I am now officially launching…

If you have enjoyed by previous work, please follow the new blog. I have written an introductory post that I’d be honored to share with you. Please read, like, share, and comment! I would love your feedback. The site is optimized for all mobile devices, so have at it.

Thanks for all the support. #heregoesnothing


Flickr: Waiting For The Word

Flickr: Waiting For The Word


When we hear the word apocalypse, we often think of the Book of Revelations in the Bible. This is most likely because of the amount of power Christianity has gained here in the Western world in the last 2000 years, and the fact that two authors wrote a very popular, fictitious series of the biblical apocalypse.

However, while we hear plenty of people talking about the apocalypse and that it is upon us- we never see people truly living like it is the end times. I am not referencing everyone getting saved or everyone flocking to churches, but rather in how they treat their fellow people and creatures upon this planet.

But but but..

No. No buts. I realize the cognitive dissonance this may cause some of you, but I am not touting the end times. Honestly, it will probably happen the year that there are no prophecies or proclamations of the end being nigh, because then we will not be looking for it. I have noticed God seems to perform a sleight of hand, when you are least expecting it.

And that’s even if God is the one that ends the world and us.

What do you mean if God does it??

I mean…

We tend to treat each other poorly, we show absolutely no respect to the planet, and never mind how we treat the various other creatures upon this Earth. We are constantly fighting with each other, going to war, developing bigger and badder technology, all the better to destroy each other with, and we refuse to even help the homeless person the corner because they are lazy and need to get a job.

We allow animal testing that is basically sanctioned torture, knowing the outcomes anyway, and then seem surprised if a child acts in an equally careless way to another creature as if they didn’t learn heartless disregard for others suffering from us.

We aren’t paying attention to how the polar ice caps are melting or whole ecosystems are disappearing. We ignore the record snow storms in places that did not have them before, record temperatures in places that are not usually as cold, and that the sun is burning brighter than it ever has. We allow smog to fill our air and our lungs, we poison ourselves with chemicals in our food and medicine, and yet we sit and stare at the drivel on the boob tube that they spoon feed us.

As we destroy the world around us, we worry more about God’s wrath concerning same sex marriage.

The Nature of the Apocalypse

My point in saying all that is this; we do these horrible things, stand idly by, or refuse to speak out, or even speak out in support of it, but we’re worried about God destroying us? We’re worried about God’s wrath?

The nature of this apocalypse is one full of greed, hatred, bigotry, and selfishness. The apocalypse, should it ever happen, will most likely occur at our own hands because we were too blind and arrogant to take care of our fellow man, fellow creatures, and the Earth that so graciously provides for us in so many ways.

We will destroy ourselves before God has a chance to.

World Vision, LGBT community, and hungry, thirsty children.



As we all know, World Vision recently began accepting LGBT people as employees, provided they remain celibate if single, and faithful to their other halves if married–just as they require of their heterosexual employees. However, after World Vision announced their acceptance of LGBT people as employees, many of the modern legalists of Christianity today threw a fit and threatened to withdraw funding. Because of the outcry that resulted in an enormous amount of people withdrawing their support, World Vision then reversed their decision, catering to the Pharisees of Christianity today.


Much like Judas betraying Christ for thirty pieces of silver, World Vision has turned their backs on those that are being targeted and oppressed by legalists of today. I understand why, but this does not make it correct or right or just. In fact, it flies in the face of everything Christians should stand for and it also flies in the face of World Vision’s mission statement.

“World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”

World Vision Mission Statement, “Who We Are

Tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. And discrimination, oppression, and denial of rights to ANYONE is not injustice?

Who Does This Hurt?

Not only does this hurt the LGBT community, it also hurts the children and families that World Vision helps.

This organization employs 44,000 people and helps 100 million people in 100 countries (including 1.2 million in the United States).

This is not just some company like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s that reigns supreme right now because of capitalism.

This is a charity that makes a huge difference!!! How can you turn your back on all of the people that this helps and call yourself a Christian? How can you completely ignore the message of Christ, just because of some employees?

If you committed to sponsoring a child through World Vision, you probably did so because you saw a need, and felt convicted enough to help. So what happened to that conviction when World Vision announced its new hiring policy? Suddenly the need to stand against LGBT people became more important than feeding and bringing fresh water to children? I wonder what Jesus would think about that.

Returning to the Bible, Jesus did say,

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.”

And he also said,

“Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me also.”

Oh wait, I know I have that exact verse somewhere. Right, here it is:

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Matthew 25:44-46 NIV


For Thirty Pieces of Silver.

I am not going to tell you to not donate time or money to this organization. I recognize that World Vision does so much good for many people across a wide spectrum of the world. But I am going to point out that this episode of hypocrisy is appalling. They should expect the backlash that will occur.

You cannot preach love and speak against injustice when you actively participate in injustice and when you do the least loving things imaginable.

You cannot proclaim to love God or to know God while speaking hate or holding hate in your heart.

This will result in more divides and more hurt occuring between those who are LGBQT, those who have already been hurt by the church, and those who are struggling with their faith.

We need to be more concerned with our fellow people and creatures, and stop this hate, this oppression, and stop actively participating in it.

World Vision and the legalists today are betraying people for thirty pieces of silver…

And for their precious Old Testament law that they do not even follow themselves, all in the name of eternal salvation.

Let's get this worship service started!  Image credit, flickr: Udo Schröter

Let’s get this worship service started! Image credit, flickr: Udo Schröter

Getting feisty helps me write.  As part of the feistiness associated with this post, I thought of some possible subtitles:

Karen Riffs on Niebuhr
Suck it, Barna Group!
Let It Go (church folks cover the Frozen soundtrack)

Relevance is something of a buzzword these days.  A quick search of the Barna Group church research website found 30 matches for the word relevance.  “Everyone knows” that Millennials don’t find church or organized religion relevant to their lives.  “Everyone knows” that churches are in decline.  “Everyone knows” that we are becoming more and more secular, with ‘None’ the fastest rising category of faith identity.

So what?

Now, to be honest, I’m a churchy person and work on the staff of a medium-sized progressive Protestant church. But I’m not the person on staff who stays awake at night worrying about quarterly insurance payments or making payroll.  So, in other words, it’s easy for me to be blasé about declining butts in the pews and shrinking budgets that are both so well documented since the 1950s.

I’ve written before about the blessings of being small.  I believe that church works better at doing what we do when we are small – lean, green, Good News machines.  I pray that I have the grace to continue to believe that if or when my own job disappears.

But there’s a deeper reason that I’m unconcerned about the question of relevance.  I’m leaving the job of judging the work of the church and my part in it to those who come after.  History will decide after I’m long gone… and I’m okay with that.  My willingness to give up relevance is a debt I owe to the writings of H. Richard Niebuhr.

Niebuhr (yes, there are two of them – brothers – but here I am talking about H. Richard not Reinhold) wrote an essay about the role of the church in contemporary society.  We’ve changed over the 2000 years since the time of Jesus.  In The Responsibility of the Church for Society, he names three roles for the church:

  1. Apostle – It’s the church’s task to spread the news of grace.  In Peter’s words from Acts, “I perceive that God shows no partiality.”  As an aside… I’m not too good at this task.  But I’m getting better.  I love church and I love the peace that I receive as part of a worshipping community.  That makes it easier to talk to other people.  One friend of mine puts it this way, “I’m just a beggar, sharing with other beggars where I’ve found bread.”
  2. Shepherd – It’s also the church’s privilege to serve the world.  We take care of people in ways big and small.
  3. Pioneer – huh? whaaa?

It’s this pioneering responsibility that insures the reality of the church.  In its role as pioneer, the church is the first to perceive and respond to the Spirit.  I always imagine the church metaphorically scanning the horizon, looking to where God is going to work next.  This searching and responding is one way to look at our history:  in the 1500s, we responded to God’s work with the Reformation; in the 1800s, we responded to God’s work with Abolition; in the 20th century, we responded with nuclear disarmament and the civil rights movement.  Where is the spirit moving right now?  The environmental movement, LGBT rights, worker justice, humane immigration policies… these are the macro level answers.  Where is the spirit moving right now FOR YOU?  It might be peaceful parenting, nonviolent communication, simplifying your lifestyle, or other activism large or small.

Being part of any effort to bring social change is not without cost.  Pioneering actions of any scale are risky, to say the least.  Just look at what our culture does to pioneers.  You can start with Jesus.

But the reward of our pioneer spirit is setting aside our hand wringing about relevance.  Reaching out, shepherding, pioneering… we are just too busy loving the world to worry about being relevant.