Conversation With Danny Morales
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Danny is 37 years old, the youngest of five children. He is the child of first generation Cuban immigrants. He is currently a member of the Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami and a second year seminarian at St. Thomas University.
How has your personal journey to follow a call to ministry in the PCUSA as a Navy chaplain strengthened or challenged your faith?
When I sit back and reflect on my personal faith journey, I think about where it began when I was but a little child, on through my adolescence filled with tumult as I struggled with the acceptance of my sexual orientation, my faith and the fear of an angry God that was instilled in me, and further into my late teens /early twenties when I took the bold step of revealing my sexual identity to my family and those around me. I think about the challenges of acceptance I faced not just at home, but also at my home church at the time, and more recently, over the past decade, observing how the road, through bumps, curves and detours has brought me to the place where I am at now: a second year seminary student pursuing ordination within the PCUSA and a Chaplain Candidate for the U.S. Navy. After all that and taking a moment to catch my breath, I can’t help but to think of the words of Horatio Spafford in his beloved hymn:
“Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
My journey has been rather rocky at times, but over the years I have seen the hand of God shed light in the midst of my darkness. I have seen God’s divine grace and mercy poured out to me in unexpected ways through unexpected yet surprising means, reminding me that “God is always looking out for me, even when I’m not looking.” Yes, my faith has been challenged at times, but all throughout my journey I have found my source of strength in Christ alone, “leaning on his everlasting arms.”
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
There are many texts I cling to in times of trial or challenges, in times when the road seems too long and I may feel too exhausted to continue on my own. However, as a musician, I often find myself praying or meditating through the words of hymns or song lyrics that not only comfort me, but soothe my anxious soul. Just like scripture readings, I also have multiple hymns and praise songs that uplift me in my darkest or most tiring moments. At the top of that list, I would have to say once again, that Horatio Spafford’s hymn “It is well” is a constant source of many uplifting moments, especially after learning the origins of those words. In this hymn, you can hear the soft whispers of Horatio’s many losses, both familial and his personal wealth. Despite all his losses, Horatio found comfort, much like Job, in the hands of the divine.
I have a scripture reading I turn to often, both in good times and in trying times. This passage landed in my hands by divine coincidence. I had been wanting to ask Laurie, my pastor, about being a lay reader when one Sunday morning, she actually approached me first and asked if I would read the following Sunday. I agreed without any hesitation. The text from the Hebrew Scriptures in the lectionary that week was Jeremiah 17:5-10. I skimmed through it once that night as soon as I got home, and then a few more times later that week. When Sunday morning rolled around and I read the text, in the midst of my reading I felt as if the Holy Spirit opened my eyes not just to the words from the lectionary, but rather to words I needed to hear—words that I felt God was speaking through me to the innermost corners of my soul…
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
Whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
Sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
And its leaves shall stay green;
In the year of drought it is not anxious
And it does not cease to bear fruit.
These two verses became the balm that soothed my anxiety as I was walking through a period in my life where I was caught between deep soul searching and feeling desperate to find my way to a better, more fulfilling place. It was only after reading these words from Jeremiah that I came to the realization that only through complete and utter surrender to God, through blind trust, was I going to reach my destination, come what may.
Ironically, almost as if God was speaking loud and clear to me, or so it felt that way at the time, at a Taize service I stumbled across the words of the Psalter that read like a divine order to me more than anything else:
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong, and let your
heart take courage;
Wait for the LORD!
“Patience is a virtue,” so the old adage says, but in my journey it has been a lesson I have not mastered in its entirety. Yet in spite of my failings, God, through his infinite mercy, is in fact patient enough to allot me the time I need to master it well.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
I have come to understand the teachings of Christ to be summed up in what He himself called a “new commandment” —that is to love one another! The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, took that commandment a step further when he stated
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers and understand all the
mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith,
so as to move mountains, but to not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my
body that I may boast, but do not have love, I am nothing.
With that in mind, when I think of a person that embodies Christ’s teachings, I immediately think of my parents and my pastor, the Rev. Laurie A. Kraus. My parents taught me the essence of a humble heart, an important trait I have come to cherish more and more these days as I journey deeper into ministry. Dad, in his unique way, taught me the importance of perseverance— to never lose sight of my calling and above all to wait patiently for God to complete the work that was begun the day I was born. On the other hand, Mom further affirmed my father’s lessons and sealed them with love, always reminding me that whatever my heart sets its goal on, do it with compassion, meekness and above all with love!
Laurie, more than just being my pastor and more recently a mentor in my journey through ministry, embodies with passion and conviction a love for all of God’s children and a desire to ensure that all are welcome at Christ’s table. When I first visited Riviera Presbyterian Church, my fondest memory was how Laurie sought me out to greet and welcome me to Riviera. Like Christ, she met me where I was in my journey, and like Christ, she opened her arms and extended a warmhearted welcome to me, almost as if saying, “Welcome home Danny, we’ve been expecting you!”
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
The Creation narratives, as seen in the book of Genesis, indicate that our God is a God of diversity, as evidenced by the created world with each component—both the natural world and humanity—coming together to form a greater part of the whole that is God’s divine creation. In the 12th chapter of his first letter, the apostle Paul, once again speaking to the church at Corinth, elaborately explains why followers of Christ, in our own unique beings, are part of the greater whole, the Church, or as he puts it, the body of Christ.
I think as LGBT Christians, each of us brings a unique and special flavor, to the table of Christ. Together, we become the voices that speak out in the wilderness and summon all to come to fellowship at Christ’s table and partake of the meal that was prepared for ALL, not just a select few.
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
When reading Paul’s epistles in the New Testament, we learn of the struggles of the early church. Ironically, they too struggled with the issue of inclusion—the inclusion of Gentiles into their Jewish world, into their practices and customs. Time and time again, Paul exhorted them and called upon them to sustain one another in the spirit of the risen Christ. Ephesians 4:1-6 could not have been clearer in its exhortation not just to the church at Ephesus, but I would argue to the PCUSA and further into the global church community of 2012. We have been called to
Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
The message of Ephesians 4:1-6 was relevant for Ephesus as Jews and Gentiles struggled with the complexities of dwelling within the same community. That message remains very relevant for the churches of our time, considering how expansive diversity has become in our nation. Our churches should not be a haven of exclusivity, rather a dwelling place for all of God’s children, where all are welcomed as they are.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
I refer back to the earlier reference I made of the exhortation to the church at Ephesus. If we are to ever reach maturity within the body of Christ, with Christ as the head of our church, then as a denomination we must be mindful of our calling as described in Ephesians 4 to work in the unity of the Spirit. The conclusion of Ephesians 4:16 is a clear description for the purpose of working together
from whom the whole body, joined and knit
together by every ligament with which it is
equipped, as each part is working properly,
promotes the body’s growth in building itself
up in love.
Our ultimate goal then, in the process of dialogue, is to continue the work Christ has charged us with— that is to build up his body, the Church, by working harmoniously, not in discord. It is my conviction that to foster dialogue and work through our differences we must learn to endure and sustain one another in mutual forbearance so that we may strengthen our unity in Spirit and continue the building the body of Christ in love.
*Bible excerpts from NRSV (New York: American Bible Society, 1989)