May I Become

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Altar at First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara, CA Adorned by Julie Hayward

Altar at First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara, CA
Adorned by Julie Hayward

Our congregation has been engaging in learning and conversation about what the Bible and the Christian faith say about hospitality and welcome within the Body of Christ, specifically as these relate to LGBTQ persons. It has not been an easy process thus far. We have looked at the words of Scripture related to same-sex activity and tried to understand their cultural and historical context. I have led a teaching forum on the United Methodist Church and the LGBTQ community, specifically addressing how our denomination has characterized homosexuality as sin and yet many of us experience a deep tension between institutional loyalty and obedience to Jesus’ teachings in the gospels to love our neighbors. We have gathered in a worshipful setting to listen to the personal stories of what our experience and reason tell us about same-sex attraction. I have preached sermons on the necessity of changing the United Methodist stance on marriage equality, ordination, and the full inclusion of our LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and families in the life and ministry of the church.

After a time of Holy Conversation recently, in which over fifty people gathered prayerfully to listen to one another’s stories, I shared my heavy heart about a few matters. A day or two later, someone in the church sent me the following poem/prayer. It was an encouragement to me, so I share it now with you. The words below are not my words (though I wish they were). I hope you find them meaningful for whatever paths God is leading you on today.

May I become at all times, both now and forever,
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those without shelter
And a servant to all in need.
~Anonymous

Jesus is the one who illumines my spiritual path. When others assign false motives to my leadership, I keep my eyes on Jesus. When they question my fidelity to the gospel of Christ, I keep my eyes on Jesus. I let the bigger picture of those who have been marginalized and excluded in church and society remain in my sight, and I remember the pain this has brought to their lives. I pray that in some small way I can give voice to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Words (c) 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson

From the rising of the sun to its setting

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Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, CA

Knapp’s Castle, Santa Barbara, CA

From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
~ Psalm 113:3

The posture of praise
begins with eyes turned toward the sun.

This glimmering star was there
the day the world was born.
It was there as our first parents walked in the garden
as creatures of all variety came into existence
as nations and peoples were formed.

This star warms us
guides us
keeps us
like the one who placed it there.

From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.

Morning praise
awakens us to life’s sweetness
celebrates the gift of being
honors deep relationship.

Noontime praise
walks in the light of love
seeks justice
longs for peace.

Evening praise
gives thanks for a day made holy
surrenders to life’s brief tenderness
drinks from the wellspring of hope that never runs dry.

From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.

Words (c) 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson

Love. Period

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Interfaith Pride Celebration Santa Barbara, CA

Interfaith Pride Celebration, July 12, 2015, Santa Barbara, California

Members of our church recently participated in the first Interfaith Pride Celebration in Santa Barbara. I was pleased to be part of this outdoor worship service in support of the LGBTQ community. There were about 20 sponsoring faith communities, including ours, and an estimated 250 to 300 people in attendance.

The reason we were there is simple really – if Jesus were here it’s where he would be. We are Christ’s body on earth and so it follows that we will go where Jesus would go, and we will spend time with people with whom Jesus would spend time, and we will be the bearers of grace and peace to those with whom Jesus would do so.

It was a beautiful afternoon, with great gospel music and inspiring speakers. I was among the faith leaders who read a Confession written by the Rev. Frank Schaefer acknowledging the wrongs that faith communities have done to LGBTQ persons. We have not always been welcoming and affirming of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We have failed as churches and people of faith to acknowledge the human dignity and worth of LGBTQ persons. We, the Church, have treated them as second-class believers and have harmed them with words of exclusion and hatred, defining them as “sinners,” “perverts,” and “abominations.”

We have not given them their own voice to express their love of God. We have subjected them to abusive “religious counseling” and harmful “conversion therapy” in a misguided effort to fix them. The heterosexism and homophobia of our faith communities has caused real suffering in the lives of our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ community. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, told us to “Do no harm.” But we have been doing harm for decades now.

Following the service, a woman came up to me with a couple of her friends, and with tears forming in her eyes she said, “It was very moving for me to hear the words of confession. It is the first time I have heard anyone say they were sorry for the hurt we have felt. Thank you so much.”

My heart is with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, who have been harmed by the Church’s message of exclusion and condemnation in the past. I have been involved over the years in advocating for marriage equality. I have been involved in trying to change the language in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church so that it no longer singles out one group of people based on sexual orientation to deny them the ability to be ordained as ministers or to receive the blessing of the church for their committed relationships. I will continue to do these things because I owe my primary allegiance to Jesus Christ and his reconciling grace and not to the United Methodist Church.

I want to be unequivocal and stand on the side of love, because as I see it, “love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). “Those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16b). As long as I am the Pastor-in-charge in the church I serve, we will be working toward full inclusion of all people in the church’s ministry, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other ways we have of dividing people into classes.

Christ is our peace, my friends. Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. We become people after God’s own heart as we continue this work of tearing down the walls that have harmed others, and indeed have harmed us all.

Words (c)2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson

As the Sun Paints the Sky

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Birch Bay, Washington state Photo credit: Janelle Bruland

Birch Bay, Washington state
Photo credit: Janelle Bruland


Precious Lord,
walk with me this day
as you have in days past.
Wrap me in your deep presence
for the work you place before me.
Center me in your holy companionship
for these disquieting times.
Lift my spirit
that I might in turn lift others.
Lend me the perspective of your creative love
to help me perceive each person’s sacred worth.
Hold me accountable to the divine image within me
that it might be visible through my actions and words.
Then as the sun paints the sky at day’s glorious end
let my soul find its rest in your peace.
Awaken me renewed in the morning
to rise and meet the summons of a new day
sustained by the bounty of your grace. Amen.

Words (c) 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson

With Sighs Too Deep For Words

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Pentecost Sky

Pentecost Sky

We do not know what we should rightly pray for,
but the spirit intercedes with groans that cannot be uttered,
and he searching our hearts perceives the mind of the spirit,
since as God commands the spirit intercedes to help the saints.
~ Romans 8:26-27

The spirit,
from your first breath,
breathes God’s loving intentions through you.

You,
in your weakness,
don’t know enough to welcome this silent grace.

Your days are littered
with numbed neglect of your soul
and unresponsiveness to the groans of creation.

When you pray
the noises of your mind clamor and disrupt
the stillness where you had hoped to find rest.

Yet below the words
in a deeper, mysterious consciousness
the divine within appeals to the divine above.

There your heart is laid bare,
and with sighs too deep for words
the spirit intercedes to help you find your way.

This day’s sorrow
takes the hand of your heart’s undying gladness
and crosses over into the mystery where hope resides.

Pentecost 2015
Words © 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Travelers

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“Life is short. We do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us.
So be quick to love, make haste to be kind.” ~ Henri Amiel, 1868

To acknowledge the brevity of life
is to heighten the value of each moment.

You travel with me,
you take my hand and we walk,
you take my heart and handle it tenderly,
you take my loving and return it many times over.

We travel this road together,
you and I,
and who could be more fortunate?

(On the occasion of our 12th wedding anniversary)

Ashes

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ash
Ashes
earthy gray
dry as parched wilderness
symbol that we too shall perish

Dust to dust
ashes to ashes
each of us makes our humble return
back to the habitat of our origins

All that is false is allowed to die –
misguided allegiances
harmful compulsions
lingering resentments
ego-driven agendas –
dead on the ash heap of confession

Only then is there a new beginning
a reconciling
a turning toward wholeness
a desiring for God

Finally in the fullness of time
the desert blooms again
salvation comes
life triumphing over death.

Words (c) Mark Lloyd Richardson, 2015

When I Die

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I wrote this poem several years ago as I reflected on the joy I have always felt from running, which has been for me a life-long endeavor. Running has taught me lessons about perseverance and potential I do not believe I could have learned any other way. So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I penned the following words to imagine a future where my running career would be admired and not forgotten. Besides, my wife Dallis just captured the perfect image during a recent race I entered on New Year’s Day 2015!

New Year's Resolution Day Run 2015

When I die

I’m thinking of donating my body
to medical research, though I haven’t signed
anything official yet. It’s not that I object to
the idea of decaying under a pile of dirt and leaves,
in fact it seems quite right—dust to dust,
ashes to ashes—the way it should be
if we are to give back to the material world
what it has given to us. But I figure that

if my body goes to science, then on some
perfect afternoon when the sun glimmers
through autumn leaves of red and gold,
pre-med students will huddle around
my cold preserved form with their sharp
utensils to explore what remains of me,
and one will say, “Look at this brain. He
clearly had an active mind.” Another will
comment, “See these shoulders. He must
have carried life’s burdens well.” Someone else
will observe, “His heart is quite big. Do you
suppose he felt compassion more than most?”
Another budding scholar will take the measure
of my arms and wonder, “Did he use these to
hold the ones he loved? Did he embrace life?”

Then someone will take one studied look
at my long sinewy legs
and remark in a way
that would make any cadaver smile,
“Damn! This guy was a runner!”

Words (c)2009 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo (c)2015 Dallis Day Richardson

Newness

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Douglas Family Preserve, Santa Barbara, CA

Douglas Family Preserve, Santa Barbara, CA

Create in us, dear God,
minds that appreciate truth wherever it is found,
hearts that revel in the beauty of this world,
spirits that sing of peace and goodwill for all.

Challenge us to see the problems of our day
and not be overcome by them.

Encourage us to begin one new endeavor,
open one new chapter,
relate to one new person,
learn one new skill,
trust one new intuition,
bless one new relationship,
with our whole selves.

We may not solve the world’s problems,
but we will become part of the answer.

We will be compassionate.
We will be kind.
We will be open.
We will be your children
with and for one another.

Words (c)2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson

If All Goes Well

I wrote this poem in 2004. It was inspired by Psalm 27:13, and a poem written by Juan Antillon Montealegre, of Costa Rica, found in the book Prayers for a Thousand Years.

If all goes well

Soldiers
will find no more enemies
and will come back home
Nations will talk
before picking up swords
Tyranny will tumble
Peace will prevail
Even toy companies
will stop producing arms

If all goes well
Politicians
will become leaders
who care more
about the common good
than their own

If all goes well
Religious folk
will grasp the truth
that God is God of all
not a provincial deity
to be trotted out
for self-serving interests

If all goes well
God will appear again
in the stars
waves of grain and water
in egrets, falcons, otters,
sacred waterfalls, clouded skies
God will show up
at the birth of a Muslim
the death of a Buddhist
in the aching breaches of
misunderstanding and mistrust
God will come to Bethlehem
to birth a dream,
to Jerusalem
to unwrap death’s dark shroud
in the light of freedom

If all goes well
if all goes well
as long as we, the people,
don’t destroy earth’s gifts
We will take our children’s hands
so they may feel
protected by gentle love
We will know the joy of laughter
the reality of tears
We will greet one another
with holy kisses
We will live now and always
in the land of the living
Together we will taste and see
the goodness of God

If all goes well
If all goes well

If all goes well

Words (c) 2004 Mark Richardson

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