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A Heretic Reflects on Spiritual Compassion 

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Last month, I happened on an article in the Times-Standard headlined "Pastor Cites Violent Tale" and written by Sage Alexander. The article was about Tyrel Bramwell, the controversial anti-gay pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Ferndale. The article referenced a monthly periodical produced by Bramwell called the Ferndale Fortitude, so I decided to look the publication up online. Eventually, my enquiries lead me to Bramwell's website, where, much to my surprise, I found a picture of myself and an hour-and-18-minute rant on a homily I had given the previous June at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, also in Ferndale. The video (rant) examined every statement of my homily with commentary and biblical proof texting from Rev. Bramwell.

In my homily, I had quoted the Islamic poet Rumi; I had spoken in favor of LGBTQ+ rights and also made favorable comments on Native American spirituality. This prompted an emotional and visceral reaction from Pastor Bramwell. To make a long story short, he accused me of being an apostate, heretical, a false prophet, a pagan, poisonous, the devil and the anti-Christ.

In response to these hurtful and slanderous remarks, allow me to share the following reflections, which I hope portray a more rational and compassionate understanding of religion.

In working and living in community with Native American peoples, I have learned some simple truths. I have learned that spiritual wisdom is not the sole possession of any one person. But rather spiritual wisdom is the recognition of the multicultural and dialogical nature of truth. It is the opening of the heart and mind to the genius and insight of the "other."

It is a belief that truth will be found within the collective wisdom of our shared religious experiences, and not solely the possession of one particular tribal or cultural revelation.

One of the unfortunate dynamics of contemporary American culture is the rise of extreme right wing political ideologies. These beliefs seem to go hand in hand with various forms of religious fundamentalism, characterized by an intolerance and contempt for non-Christian religions.

In these communities, being a religious person has become synonymous with toeing the party line, believing certain things, thinking certain things, having "right" thoughts.

Many religious people are stuck at that level. Unless you believe exactly as they do, you are wrong in their eyes, and in the not-too distant past, they would have felt justified in killing you for that.

Regrettably, we live in an age of religious bigotry. We live with religious institutions whose level of religious consciousness is often defined by their inability to appreciate or even understand the language of poetry. And that inevitabley results in spiritual tyranny; the tyranny of a people who have lost their poetic nature, who have reduced metaphor to fact, connotation to denotation; a people who have lost any sense of the sacred.

When I imagine the future of religion, I see something quite different than the current institutional religions of the modern era. I see a religion beyond the tyranny of religious fundamentalism, beyond spiritual ideologies. A religion not of the mind but of the heart, spiritual communities who have been freed from the tyrannies of guilt and shame.

I see people given for the first time in their lives the freedom of self-expression, the ability to express their true selves in an atmosphere of acceptance, respect and love. That is human spiritual liberation, that is the beloved community, that is the Body of the Living Christ.

It is such a spiritual community that I have dedicated my life to creating. And if that makes me a pagan, a heretic and demonic, well so be it; at least I am in good company!

What spiritual communities will look like in the future is not yet clear. However, whatever the future holds for Christianity, one thing is clear. A new spirituality has dawned for the children of this earth, and whatever challenges that will bring about will not be solved by looking to the past and trying to reclaim a dead theology, but rather through the creation of a more tolerant, contemplative and multi-cultural understanding of the gospel. An understanding that was not only present in the life and teachings of Jesus, but is still manifest in the lives of those who follow in the "way." Those who choose to walk in the humility and the compassion of the Christ.

Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard is half of the husband-wife pastoral team at Grace Good Shepherd Church/Abbey of the Redwoods, an interfaith spiritual community in McKinleyville.

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Lynn Hubbard

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