Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlottesville is a symptom of a much deeper issue

Certainly the protests in Virginia were a disturbing thing.   That is not disputable.  

I think the deeper, and more disturbing thing, is that these White Nationalists believe they have more of a voice here in the US.   

Truth is, this violence last week in Virginia is just a symptom of a much deeper issue, an issue our president had an opportunity to address – but instead, candidate Trump used this fear and anger to propel him to office.  

During the campaign trail, he not only didn’t call out those violent and extremist voices, he actually encouraged them with his own verbal examples.

And as President, he has proven himself below the challenge of addressing National unity in any healthy way.  He’s included in his staff people proven Alt-Right, White Nationalists.  Some Alt-Right leaders from the Virginia protests have been quoted as saying they know they are President Trumps base, and that he knows this too.   Is it a surprise that this kind of violence occurred in Charlottesville?    I’m surprised it didn’t occur earlier to be honest.   

And I see this happening again, unless we get some kind of adult leadership in this country, people to step up and lead us through a time such as this.    

On Monday, he initially blamed both side for the violence, then a day later -- after criticism for that first comment, he amended his statement to specifically identify and call out the White Supremacist groups.  But later returned to his initial statement that these White Nationalists/racists weren't the only ones to blame for teh violence.  It is as if he is giving the White Nationalists some kind of moral equivalency with the opposition.   And they are not!   This is stunning coming from our president. 

What do these groups - on the Right and Left stand for?   We know what this Right stands for...   and what they want is just not acceptable in a free and open and diverse society.     What they stand for is antithetical to not only our foundation as a nation of "all people are created equal", but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do they have a right to speak?   Yes, they do.   They have a constitutionally protected right to publically put words to their ignorant and racist thoughts -- as odious as it is for us to hear.   

These words they speak seem to be a precursor to a deeper cancer that exists in our nation.   
Some feel this should be resisted through prayer vigils, others stand against this by standing more firmly for diversity and openness.  Others feel they cannot negotiate with this kind of ideology.
  I'm still making sense of all this...
It goes much deeper than just the protests and marches in Virginia.  And much higher too.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville VA events

I had a pretty busy week last week.  I spent much of it working with someone whose life was falling apart - who's now homeless, battling addictions, and a whole number of other things - still.  

But this was for sure balanced out by the return of our German (host) daughter last week as well.  She completed her sophmore year of High School with us, and has been gone a year - we loved seeing her and her family again!   

During all this, my only real news source last week was NPR radio.  I'd heard about what was going on, but hadn't seen any images of what was happening in Virginia; no pictures, no videos, nothing like this... just radio reporting.   

Then Sunday morning as I was preparing for church I saw an e-mail from someone who was there in Charlottesville, semed to be on the Alt-Right side.   I have to say, that really threw me. 

I felt I had to respond somehow.  I had a sermon already prepared.   Since my only news was through radio, I had an idea of what was happening- but remember... no images!   Pictures paint a thousand words, right.    

So when I got to church I re-did everything I planned to say and talked about us needing to listen first.  In situations of conflict and change, I’ve often found some guidance in the question – “What would a healthy family do in this situation?”  I still think the non-violent response should be first.  And the best non-violent response is to listen. 

Ostensibly, this protest in Virginia was a response to the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee.   But it did not take much deeper digging to see this had a much deeper and darker purpose.  
  After church I went to YouTube to learn more about the organizers of this protest, Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer.  I wanted to get a fuller picture of what they stand for.  And they stand for the opposite of what we as a Americans an Christians to stand for.   I honeslty cannot understand the deep fear and anger a person must have to beleive what they believe.   

Yes, it's better to talk than to hate.  Yes, its better to listen than to fight.  But what I have seen recently has challenged me to my core.  I have been wrestling with what to say about this for two days now.  Yes, I beleive White Nationalist/Nazi ideology is wrong.   Yes, people have a right to speak... even if we detest what they say.  Yes, Jesus calls us to love those who hate us.  Yes, there is a clear biblical prophetic voice calling people to justice and rightness - and to call out injustice!   Yes, Martin Luther King fought the "sweltering heat of oppression" with love and patience and non-violence.  Yes, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian felt it was his duty as a Christian to be part of a (ultimately failed) plot to assassinate Hitler.  And it is true sometimes one cannot negotiate with extremism.     

I struggled... what do I say?   What do WE say?   How do we all respond?    
Truth is, we all need to figure out for ourselves what to say and how to respond. 
I struggled what to say...  until I saw this video I am posting below.   
I have to warn you --- it is deeply disturbing.   Yes, there is foul language.    

But the most disturbing thing is not the language, it's the views the Alt-Right, White Nationalist, White Power espouse, believe and hold to.      

It is indeed distrubing.    
But everyone needs to see this!        

Do what you can to keep this from growing...     

    Believe in Goodness
                             And pray some more.   


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Social Issues coming to the fore.

For these last few weeks, the readings for Sunday mornings have been rather uninspiring for me -- maybe a better preacher would have been deeply inspired by these readings, but alas, this poor community must suffer the "iffy" quality of it's preacher.  They graciously do not often point out how my preaching could be better.  

They are -by default- suffering through my boredom with these readings.  It's pretty much the entire tenth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus speaks this long soliloquy to his disciples about how they are to go off into the various towns and cities in the area to preach about the coming Kingdom of God, of what this all means, what they're supposed to take and/or not take, who they're supposed to stay with, that he's come to bring division and not peace, that he'll give them the right words to say, and that anyone who receives them actually receive Jesus.. and are actually receiving the Father, etc.   Okay... got it.  

This chapter has been divided among the previous three Sundays, and while it does give some sense of what the disciples were to do, and what Jesus was about, I just struggled to find inspiration for real-world relevance.   So I have instead been preaching on things not so related to the readings.  Oh well.  I'll be waiting for the Liturgical Police to come arrest me soon.  

So I talked about social stuff.   You know;  how we treat each other, what the Kingdom of God means in our world today, what it looks like, and how we're called to act.   Basically about what real faith may look like, what it's calling us to live like, how it can inform our lives, lived out among real people in real situations.   And in this political climate... well, let's just say preachers do not lack for subject matter.   

There is a large chunk of good Christian folk out there that have a very hard time talking about their faith (cough... Lutherans... cough) much less praying with others.  Additionally, many of us across the Christian board do not take much time (through the day, week, or month) to process life-stuff through the lens of faith.  

I'd venture to say we - as individuals - don't often have a practice, a personal discipline, of measuring our lives... our experiences, etc., up to the faith we so ardently profess to have.  I'd also venture that if we were honest with ourselves, we've probably admit that our positions on important life or social issues probably stem more from our emotional and/or visceral reactions rather than from a faithful discerning out of what it means to be a follower of Christ.   

A couple of years ago a group of Finns and Estonians came to visit our Synod (in our Lutheran world, a "Synod" is a larger geographic region composed of many congregations, and is led by a bishop).  About 30 came here representing the Lutheran Church from their respective countries.   They were here for about 2 weeks or so - not only seeing the sites and learning the history, but also getting a perspective of what life is like here in our congregations and our part of the US in general.  What struck me about what they did was every few days or so they would ask if we could give them some space to process what they were experiencing, what they were learning and how this was or was not impacting their spirit's and/or psyches.   Maybe how it impacted their faith, or how it impacted their ideas for church back home, etc.  Just that they would even take time to do this to me was pretty striking.    

  To the question - "Why do you attend church?", seventy six percent of respondents in a recent Gallup Poll said a "major factor" was a sermon or talk that teach about scripture.  And 75% said a "major factor" that brought them to church was sermons or lectures that hep connect religion with daily life.  So, wanting to find some relevance between faith and living is pretty important for a pretty sizable percentage of people.... but it seems we at best either are  interested in what someone else has to say about these important issues of our day, or at worse we may want someone (in authority?) to do the discerning for us.        

When I stop doing this church work, one of the things I'll miss most is the conscious time I take every week to process life-stuff through the lens of my faith.  I'm not sure I'd be as dedicated, as consistent, in doing this if I weren't expected to talk about these kind of things every week.  I can't imagine I'd be different from most people in that way.   

And without taking the time to process (to think, to discern, to make sense of, to grapple with even) life through the lens of faith, I think it becomes easier for us to confuse our feelings (the first visceral, gut-level response we might have) on any issue with our faith.  My experience shows me that sometimes what we feel about something is not necessarily where the Gospel message calls us to stay.   But that stretch, that gap -- between what we feel and where our faith might call us to go, in spite of our feelings -- from where we are in the moment, to where the Gospel of Christ calls us to go, often requires us to grapple with not only the texts and our faith, but our own biases, motivations, preconceptions, etc.    

And this process isn't easy at all - not just for us as individuals but also for us as a society!   

In the 50's and 60's those "trouble-making" Black-activists, and Black-activist churches, brought racial justice issues to the greater church and culture.  And this disturbed MANY in the "established" culture (and White church).   

I remember in my first semester in Seminary, I was in a class where one of the students started talking about how all the major problems in our society stem from the removal of prayer in schools.  (I bet you didn't even question the assumption that this student was White?  You're right BTW)   The student next to me - the only black student at Seminary that semester - mentioned that -back in the day- while they were praying in schools all across this country, there were public-endorsed lynchings, there was systemic and legal racism (Black people had to sit in the back of the bus, could not drink from the same water fountains, etc).   His point was that simply adding prayer into peoples lives did not magically "make things better" for all... it didn't make things "right" or "just"... just because they prayed before class.  "Making things better" takes society challenging its own prejudices and biases.  And this takes a degree of self-consciousness and self-analysis our society sometimes just does not have...  unless it is moved to do so... by "radicals" and "troublemakers".  

In the 70's the "radical feminists" brought sex and gender justice-issues to the greater culture - again.  (The suffragists did this back in the 20's and 30's).   And this disturbed MANY people!  

 The show "All In The Family" portrayed a conservative Archie Bunker; a crotchety, older-middle-aged man who's seen too much change.  The change of life has happened too fast, and too much, and all around him.  And he thinks things are going to hell in a hand-basket.  "Bunker" is basically where he seems to want to hide.   
But his son-in-law... whom he calls "Meat-head", is the vocal and physical representation of all this social change... living in his house!  He's SO vocal that it presents itself right in Archie's home and life!  Poor Archie just can't escape this social change!  Meathead was the voice of society's New Vision... this idealistic view of life.  

Back in the 80's and 90's Gay activists THREW )not literally, but for sure figuratively) LGBT issues squarely in the face of the established culture - and it COMPLETELY discombobulated (sp?) it!    

Back in the early 2000's a lady in one of my old churches complained, "Why do they have to demand all these extra rights?"   I told her I wasn't sure what she meant by "extra" rights, since Gay people only want the same rights non-gay couples have; the right to transfer property after death if there is no will, the right to make legal and medical decisions for their legal spouses... all the legal rights non-gay couples.   These same right aren't radical at all to non-gay couples... they are considered normal, reasonable, expected even.  

All these things -and others- today seem as if they are "the right thing";   slavery is abhorrent to us today - but back in the day the idea of stopping this practice was a very radical idea!  Many made the scriptural case that slavery was if not acceptable at least condoned!   It was after all an ancient practice thousands of years old... it was just how things were!   But this very same practice today is morally and ethically indefensible!
In the beginning of our country the only people that could vote were land-owning males.  The idea here was that 1- only men had the mental -and divine- "ability" to vote   and 2- only landowning males had enough political and economic investment to responsibly bear the rights and obligations of being an informed voter!
Then this right was bequeathed to all WHITE males... then to ALL males... then to women as well.   But each step in this change was not easy - just remember how dramatic things were in the 20's during the Suffrage movement!   And yet today none of us would consider removing this right to any of the above mentioned groups!  Today this just seems normal and totally acceptable.  

So when we ask the question "What is the Gospel message to us today?" we have to be willing to grapple with some pretty heavy and hard issues in our lives in the here and now!  We have to be willing to identify our biases, or reservations, our preconceptions, our -isms... and hold them up to the Gospel message.   And this takes a degree of reflection we seem to not be used to... and time and space to do these reflections.

---   ---   ---   

A trip to the past... to Judea.  

First a question:  Do you know the difference between "Judea" and "Judah"?   

"Judah" was the Israelite name of the territory where Jerusalem was in.  

"Judea" was the Roman name for the very same place.   

The Romans ruled Judea from just short of the end of the first century BCE until the early part of the second century CE.   The Romans were in charge!   And boy, were they!          

They came storming in to the area, took it over pretty easily (since the Israelites weren't much of a match for the greatest army of its day) and set up a deal with the conquered royalty/nobility/aristocracy/leaders (what they did with all conquered peoples):  "You present loyalty to Rome, keep your people under control, make sure we get our taxes, do not make trouble, etc., ...  and we for our part will not kill you." 
Wasn't exactly the deal, but that was the general idea.  Rome let the 1% keep their titles, power, etc., so long as they paid homage to, "worked for", and controlled the other 99% for the Roman occupiers.    

Actually the Romans did a lot of killing (especially under Pontius Pilate!... don't let the Gospel of John fool you, the historical Pilate would NEVER have asked the Israelites who they would have wanted to free that Passover day).  And one of the most favorite ways of killing people was crucifixion.   

Crucifixion served a few pretty big purposes; first, it dealt with the "criminal" (they paid for their crime), then there was the public statement this made (Rome has the power to do this!).  Rome crucified a certain type of person - the type of person that challenged Rome in any way - through instigation of or acts of revolution, rebellion, insurgency, insurrection, sedition, etc.  So, anyone even smells like they want to fight Roman power... got crucified.  

And the crucified were often left in a place the general public, especially travelers, could see them... on roads leading into Jerusalem for example... or on a hill not far from the road into Jerusalem (Golgotha).   This way, any and all could see both how the Roman Might dealt with opposition, but also that it did deal with opposition!   The message was pretty clear:  DO NOT MESS WITH ROME!

The cross was a symbol of execution for sure.  Contrary to what many people think, it didn't start out as the symbol for this new religious movement.  The cross came into use more and more after the decades passed, after the shock value of the symbol began to wane a little.   Someone said it would be like if today the symbol of our faith were the Electric Chair... today many of us might have a visceral reaction against this.   Same with the Cross the decades following Jesus's death.  

But the Cross and the Electric Chair are perfect comparisons; they both are representations of State Power to take life.   Crucifixion was a symbol of the strength and might of the Roman Empire.  The Electric Chair is a symbol of the power and might of the State to take life.

When our wonderful Sunday School teachers taught us about Jesus back when we were kids, they told us how much Jesus loved children, and how he healed people.  And when we were kids, this was perfectly appropriate to learn.  But often the problem is as we grow up, the story doesn't grow up with us.  Hate to break it to you, but Jesus wasn't killed because he hugged  children and healed people... he was executed by Rome (remember crucifixion was a ROMAN for of death) for fomenting sedition against the system that kept Rome in control.      

"Stand up - your sins are forgiven!" (-Jesus).  Sounds pretty, well, non threatening.   "Your sins are forgiven".. don't we expect that from Jesus?!   But in the historical context of his day, this was a pretty radical statement.   One went to the temple to get one's sins forgiven.  And since the days of David and Solomon, the temple cult had gotten a lot more complicated, cumbersome... and expensive.   

The cynical perspective could be that the temple leaders (the priests) at some point learned they had a lock on "God".  The way they believed in God, if you wanted to be forgiven, the temple was the only place to do this.  And there grew a whole slew of issues that required temple forgiveness, and/or cleansings.  And as we humans are want to do... this became a vehicle for more and more power and control.  Again, this is the cynical perspective.   There is another, more spiritual/theological perspective.   This other perspective did indeed exists.   But we also cannot forget of the human propensity for manipulation and control either that did play a part in the temple cult.     

And this power and control is an expression of EMPIRE - "Empire"... the "powers that be" having their way with people, violating what we might consider inalienable rights, denying what we might see as matters of justice.  "Empire" can do that!  It can do that because... well, it just can.  That's why it's called Empire!    The Roman empire could do that because... it could.  

There are people across time that not only questioned "Empire" but challenged it.  Jesus was one.   "Stand up... your sins are forgiven."  This challenged the Empire of the temple system of control.   And challenging the temple system also challenged the Empire of the people in charge of the system... and this in turn challenged the status of Rome as the Empire.   
The priestly class might have said:  "If anyone could just proclaim God's forgiveness willy-nilly, then why have the temple?  And if there's no temple, then what will keep order (and control)?   And then how could we prevent a rebellion that might threaten our status of position under Roman rule?"   

 John the Baptist forgave people in the Jordan, remember?   He came "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."  (Mark 1:4) And not too many chapters into the story, John is arrested and executed.  For...???    Take a guess.  Usurping the "empire of control" the temple had.     
Jesus starts out his ministry with the very same cause - proclaiming a Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  A continued threat to this empire of control.  
When they try and trick Jesus by asking him whether they should pay taxes to Rome, Jesus asks them whose image is on the coins.  "Why Caesar, of course."   "Then give to Caesar what is his, and give to God what is God's".  Ahh- to us modern Christians this is an obvious appeal to Christian Stewardship -pay your tithe to church.  Right?   
To the first century listener, this was a challenge to Caesar directly.  In the Roman mind, Caesar WAS God!   But Jesus is saying there is only ONE God... and Caesar isn't him.  
Throwing the money changers out of the temple to us seems to be pious act of religious zeal and passion.   But to those in control, this was not only an act of religious zeal - for sure, but also an act of Israelite populism against the power and empire of temple control...  The temple of God should not be a place of commerce!  It is here to help the people access God... do not hinder this!  
There's more examples of Jesus challenging the "Empire of Control" these systems had over people.   These "empires" had a stake in keeping the systems as they were of course... and challenges to this were dealt with! 
In our centuries, people did step forward to not only challenge Empire, but raise up a mirror to the people behind the systems of control.  Gandhi challenged the literal British Empire of control in India.  
It was the Power of Empire that murdered - executed - Emmet Till in 1955, after he supposedly either made some comment or whistled to a White woman.  He was lynched by White people who had the power to do that.  They could do that by virtue of the "Power of Empire"!  And they did it to present a message to any other Black person who had any thoughts of changing this system... DO NOT CHALLENGE THE WHITE EMPIRE!
Martin Luther King challenged the this Empire... and was murdered by it.  Archbishop Oscar Romero, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador during the late 70's, also challenged the Empire of control of his day... and was murdered by it.
And yet... these people, and many, many others, have helped us as people move towards a more just and equitable society!   

But alas, we are free of Empire in our day!   Free from the sinful control and subjugation of "the power of Empire"!   

Really?  Does it not outrage you that for decades our national leadership has been looking out for Wall Street more than Main Street?  Does it not outrage you that in our country - a country that started out as a Republic with a vision of Rights of the Human Person so central to its founding, many specifically enumerated in the founding documents... a country that developed the technology to achieve tremendous things...   THIS country... still cannot and will not make it a priority to provide basic health care as fundamental to being a citizen?  This great country of ours still has citizens that cannot receive affordable basic health care.  What does it say about us as a nation, as a people of faith, that we cannot see to it that everyone here gets at least the basics of affordable healthcare as part of our social compact with the citizenry?  

I spoke with a friend this weekend - a guy who is retired, who did a career in the Foreign Service, a graduate of Georgetown University - who shared he was happy his son not only got a good job, but that he was able to get one with good healthcare coverage... and he said it was terrible he had to say this.  He was happy his son was able to get a good job with good medical coverage... because the assumption is that good medical coverage isn't standard... in our country...  in the 21st Century.   

The US has the best medical system... money can buy.  But if you can't afford it... you're SOL.  The US ranks highest in the cost of medical care on the list of OECD countries, but we also rank highest (or almost) in the poorest medical outcomes. So for all the benefits of our system of medical coverage, we pay more for it, and get the worst results of all the developed nations.  

Qui bono?  The corporate Empires of  Insurance, pharmaceuticals... and congressional lobbyists I assume as well.   So the question of Jesus remains; is this just?   Is this right?  Is this what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like here?  Is this how we measure up to our call to be a people that care for the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten?  The answer is no.  It is not.  
The journey of our Gospel call to challenge Empire in all its guises isn't over, it never will be, because we will always have to face our own versions of "Empire"; our own version of control and subjugation of one peoples for the benefit of others that control the power.  

May God help us...  

    And I believe God will... 

And perhaps as a part of Gods help, we will all be challenged to look at where the control and power of "Empire" rears its evil head in our lives, society, country and world... and with God's help we'll be able to work to challenge it, change it, and help to give birth to the Kingdom of Justice and Right-ness of God. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

CROSS+GEN Event earlier this month

After-Action Report from the CROSS+GEN MINISTRIES CONFERENCE I went to earlier this month

A few of us went earlier this month to a local version of the Rev. Dr. Rich Melheim’s  Cross+Gen event  that he’s doing around the US.   

He’s a Lutheran pastor who's always struggled with dyslexia, in school wondering if he was dumb, grew up to use his “seeing things differently” as a gift, and uses his musical interests, his interests in neuro science and art and education, to not only help others learn better, but to also help the faith grow!   He’s also very interested in intergenerational faith-work.  And this is what this whole Gross+Gen thing is all about. 

Years ago he and his company became known for their work with church Confirmation programs and materials.  He’s helped many congregations re-think youth education.   It’s no surprise we mainline denominations have a problem attracting and retaining young people in church… assuming we want to keep things as they have always been done.  Some statistics he shared:  Between 1990 and 2010 the number of children attending Mainline Church Sunday School has dropped by a little more than 60%.  While I’m sure this statistic is also affected by things like the drop in fertility rates, and people having fewer children in general, for sure another reality is fewer people going to church. 

There’s no getting around the fact that the Christian landscape across the US is changing from what it was back in “the day”.   Why are people less interested in church than they used to be… while at the same time still very interested in things spiritual?       

He often refers to the “older” cultures where people lived and learned from the various generations all together.  And it worked for millennia.  Our modern church educational programs are all struggling, after just a few generations.  And we have some cultural trends that really challenge the unity and integrity of the nuclear family, not to mention the unity of the extended family.  

The focus was on a pretty simple principle called the “Faith 5”... but with some expansions and explanations through a mix of neurology (interesting things that help/inhibit healthy learning and growing, at all ages, particularly the young) and theology (God and Christ still have something to say to us even… perhaps especially… in our modern world).  

  1.       SHARE – Sharing Highs and Lows.   
    “What does it do for a child to share highs and lows in the context of a loving family or a group of trusted friends?  How might the sharing of joys and hurts, concerns and dreams, values and faith enrich a family?”   

  2.       READ – Reading a key verse, something important to the day/moment, etc.  
     “Explore the power of God’s word.  How might including bible stories in the bed-time routine enrich a child’s faith, emotional health and spiritual imagination?”

  3.       TALK – Make some connections between the Highs/Lows, the bible verse/stories, etc.    
        “What happens when God’s Word is applied to the Highs and Lows of each day?  What does it do to a child, a parent, a family to come together nightly seeking God’s wisdom and will?”      

  4.       PRAY – For one another, for their Highs and Lows…  
        “What happens people pray?  How does prayer change the situation?  How does prayer change you?  What happens to children who grow up with their Highs and Lows brought to God in prayer every night of their lives?   What happens to children who grow praying for their parents?” 

  5.       BLESS – one another.   
      “What happens when a child goes to sleep every night knowing they are loved, safe, and blessed?  What happens to children who bless their parents every night?  What does blessing do to the blesser?  To the blesse?   To the world?”   

We investigated not only this Faith 5 concept in particular for use with families, but also looked at this concept for use in a larger church context.   From the paperwork he gave us that day: “Our goal in this conversation is to design a new model on Sunday morning that sets aside prime time for the prime purpose of holding families together in a world that can tear them apart.”  He shares…   “why not create blended ‘eduworship’ environments that gather families around the same Bible story or theme, equip them with Cross+Generational allies, and launch them out the door together for a week long engagement with the Word and World?

I came away from this day with an overall sense of time well-spent.  Some of this wasn’t new to me, so this was a good refresher for sure.   Although there was the unmistakable sense of someone selling a product (in this case to help you with ministry)  I suppose this is how we do things.   And in general, I do “buy” the idea that we have to “do church differently” or we’ll face a continued drastic decline in participation.   One of these changes is to make faith (and God) more accessible, more connectable…  while still retaining a sense of the holy.  And helping families, friends, congregations, connect (in a time and era where we have more electronic ways to “connect”… but people feel more alone than ever) is certainly a good thing.   


I have not seen these videos, but I assume (knowing him and what he does... I think it's a safe assumption to make) they are a good start-point to delve into the world of the Faith 5 and why Rich finds this important.

Here's one about the Faith 5

And here's one of him sharing about the importance of keeping the family together

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Love Has No Boundaries

Love has no boundaries

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Pentecost.   The Holy Spirit coming to the disciples!

Jesus Just before he left them he opened the disciples to a New Vision.    He preached to people about a New Way.  He showed people what this New Way looked like.  

A New Way – A New Vision…   In contrast to what they had seen and knew. 

A New Vision – A New Way – A New Kingdom – A New Empire…

                Not like the Roman Empire – or for that matter ANY empire they’d ever known…   one that wasn’t based on force      or strength     or occupation        or submission        or fear      or privilege       or preserving inequality- and magnifying inequality.

Jesus showed his disciples!   He showed them what this new way could look like.  “You have to watch this… because I’ll be asking you to commit your lives to this!”   Jesus preached that all people were God’s children.   Jesus reached out to the marginalized, and the outcasts, and the rejected; those that were beyond the reach of society’s short grasp… outside the bounds of religions short laws.
Jesus pulled the lepers in – those with skin diseases, and ailments, and pulled them into community again.  They were pushed to the margins because this was how society in his day dealt with these types of diseases. 

I had a classmate at seminary who had a severe case of eczema.  She had spots and blotches of dry skin visible on her arms.   And she mentioned that had she lived back then in the land of Jesus, she would have been among the excluded.  

And exclusion meant not only being outside the community, but also outside the grasp of God’s grace!  

The texts say Jesus dined with “prostitutes” and “tax collectors”.  That may sound relatively benign to us 21st century American Christians, but in its day, dining with these people was a profoundly radical act!   Our reaction to “prostitutes” might more be based on moral grounds…

   – For us, “sins” are pretty much centered around moral issues; for us, a “sin” tends to be defined as some kind of moral failing.  But for that era, “sins” were more often than not less a mortal issue and more a ritual cleanliness issue.   A sin was something that “defiled” a person ritually, something that hindered or prevented someone from being able to approach the presence of the Lord in the temple or otherwise.  

Prostitutes were ritually unclean in that respect – they could not “approach the Lord” so long as they did not repent and go through the proper (cumbersome and expensive) ritual cleansing process.   And tax collectors were reviled perhaps even more so than anyone else; they not only made their money by extorting from their very own people, but they did it for -and in the name of- the Roman occupiers!   And that obviously did not sit well with most Jews at the time living under Roman occupation. 

Eating with someone back in that time – as with many cultures in the Middle East still – meant more than just sharing some table space.   It was an intimate act of familiarity.  So eating with them… dining with them… with prostitutes and tax collectors… meant he was telling the world he accepted these people!  It meant he saw these people as part of his family! 

The prostitutes and tax collectors didn’t change because of social ostracization, or social rejection, or from the sense of contempt others felt for them.   They were indeed well aware of how others felt about them… and those feelings others had for them in no way helped them change.   In fact, these things kept them away!    They changed because of the act of love – of acceptance – Jesus showed for them. 

He met them on their turf, where they were.  Then he called them back, reminding them they really were part of the community, and to come home.   This goes to the Luke story of the son who leaves his family.  The one that asks for his share of the inheritance early –before the father dies-   basically saying he wished his father were dead.  So he leaves for a far-away land, and spends his money on “sex, drugs and rock & roll” kind of stuff.   The money finally ran out – and when it did, so did his friends. He was left alone with his poverty of his financial resources.  So he gets a job feeding pigs.  Pigs of course were taboo for him as a Jew, but there he was… feeding an unclean animal.  And they were eating better than he was.   So he recognizes at this point the poverty of his character and spirit… and decides to return.  This in AA is the “bottom”… feeding unclean animals that eat better than he does… he couldn’t see a worse bottom than that.  

So he heads home repeating to himself what he was going to say to his father; that he wasn’t worthy to be called his some any more, that he’d pretty much shamed himself, his father, his family name, everything he once held in value; that he wanted to come back home even if it was just as a hired hand- at least he’d have a safe place to live, a clean place to sleep and some food.  

As he gets close to the house, his father sees him “while he was still a long way away”, and runs to greet him.  Before the son even has a chance to get his words out, the father has wrapped his arms around him and begins to talk about the party to celebrate his return.   Jesus wanted to show that people are better loved back into community, rather than shamed back.     

None of us question this about Jesus.  We find it admirable, we praise Jesus for this, we worship Jesus for all the loving and inclusive stuff we read about in the Gospels.   But we forget, in his day, this stuff he did and said was not only eye-opening for some, but too challenging for others. 

It was eye-opening for the disciples for sure too!  Jesus was teaching them a New Way!  They were taught to re-think what they knew.   This was indeed a New Vision!    The disciples didn’t really begin to seriously work on this themselves until after Jesus left them.

The story says he sent them the Holy Spirit.  Then they “got the Spirit”!   Then they got that New Vision!  And this changed them forever! 

The story in acts says they dedicated themselves to good work –like Jesus did, to calling the marginalized back into community –like Jesus did, to the poor –like Jesus did, to the hopeless –like Jesus did.  They became the voice for the voiceless.  They dedicated themselves to this New Vision… to this New Spirit!

This New Vision   New Empire     New Kingdom   was based not on coercion, but on a vision of mutual respect…   based not on the rule of the strong, but on a vision of justice, of doing what’s right, regardless of public opinion.  

Prostitutes and tax collectors became brothers and sisters when they felt included in community again!  Then they had the ability to see this New Vision for themselves!  

Jesus challenged the religious and political powers of the day.  He brought a mirror to their eyes:  Do not create injustice!   Do not perpetrate in justice!  Do not profit from injustice!     

We can see these things in Jesus’ story, and we admire what he did back then!   Jesus spoke the words of a New Vision to the powers of his day.    He spoke words of how the “Empire” abused the people!  He spoke words of challenge!    He spoke for the oppressed, for the voiceless, for the violated, for the outcasts.   We admire this, we say this is such a noble thing.   We praise Jesus for this…    but it was for these reasons he was killed by the powers of his day!  He was murdered through a twisting of justice, a warping of justice twisted to defend a corrupted political and religious system.   He was murdered by that system for the very things we say we admire in him!

In the mid 70’s in El Salvador, the leadership of the Catholic Church rested with the political leadership of the country.  And the political leadership of the country was at war with its people.   And in this war the people had virtually no power other than the power of truth.  But other than that, the state had the power; the money, the weapons, the media, and the support of the leadership of the Catholic church. 

It came time for the bishops in El Salvador to elect their leader… to determine who would be their Archbishop.   They elected a bishop known for his bookish, academic, intellectual bent.   Oscar Romero became Archbishop of the Catholic Church in El Salvador in 1977.   Not long after this, he became more and more aware of the hypocrisy of the church, of the abuse of the power-system against the poor, the people who had virtually no voice in their own government.   And he began to speak out against this abuse and violence of justice and rightness.   In his weekly radio addresses he warned the political leaders that what they were doing to the poor was unjust in the eyes of God, inhumane in the eyes of civil society, and illegal in the eyes of the law.  He called on the perpetrators, those who were ordered to commit this violence -the soldiers, the police -to turn, to repent.  He encouraged the oppressed -those suffering under the yoke of this oppression- to remain strong and hopeful, to keep alive Christ’s New Vision!   And he was murdered by the corrupted powers of his day three years later.     

If we can agree that Jesus did the right thing in the name of God… and we admire his work at that time… if we can see the goodness of it back then… why do we have so much trouble seeing it today?

How do so many of us fall for easy demagoguery?   We hear what we want to hear.  We hear our anxieties, our fears, spoken out loud… lifted up.    And then we’re invited to step into those fears more, to inhabit the fears and anxieties;  to put them on, to wear them as if they were our daily attire.   We’re invited to fill our minds up with these fears and anxieties… to cloud our visions.   

How do so many of us fall for easy demagoguery?  Of blaming marginalized groups of people are hardly heard, except when some do violence.     To blame all illegal immigrants, all Muslims… for the acts of some… is politically expedient at best and easy scapegoating at worst.  It’s easier to do this than it is to delve into the complicated matters of our time.  It’s much more difficult – and less politically expedient – to invite others -to lead others- to take the time to process, to analyze complicated social, governmental and moral issues in a more serious and nuanced way.  That’s hard, and it takes more leadership to do this!  

And to wrap scapegoating inside patriotism makes me sick.

This isn’t only politically expedient, it’s also statistically inaccurate and logically inconsistent.  And on a faith level, it does violence to the Gospel we say we believe in!

I’m not saying there aren’t Muslim extremists – or that they shouldn’t be dealt with.  I’m not saying there aren’t criminal elements within immigrant populations – or that they shouldn’t be dealt with.  This is real and tragic for sure.    I’m saying that instead of closing our borders with the primary justification centered around the fanning of our fears, we should use a little more reason – and realize that people are leaving their own countries because they fear staying where they are – whether it’s Syria or El Salvador.  Or they are coming here because they are looking for the very same opportunities we believe we have here.  Some of them are looking for a better life… not unlike many who have been born and raised here.   While I don’t think becoming an American should be necessarily easy, the truth is, for those that can’t afford to buy citizenship, our immigration system is pretty broken; I don’t think most Americans born and bred here have any idea how long, cumbersome, and expensive the “citizenship process” really is.   I’m in line with others in saying our immigration system should be reformed.

It is wrong to believe in free speech on the one hand, but silence people for saying things you disagree with on the other hand!   It is wrong to stifle speech with violence of word or deed just because you don’t like it.  So long as the words of the Nazi’s on campus remain within the legal constraints of our First Amendment right to free speech, they have a right to speak whether we agree with them or not!

I remember when I was in college, a man used to come every spring, plant himself somewhere in front of the library and would preach for a few hours on how evil people were, and how God wanted everyone to live.    And as you’d expect, he gathered quite a crowd every year. 
Most would just listen for a while, find it interesting in some kind of twisted or illogical way, then walk away after a some minutes.   But some others would stick around for a little while, and get into the monologue by arguing with the guy.   They would respond verbally; either calmly or animatedly pointing out biblical or theological inconsistencies in his arguments – he would respond in his stoic manner, as if the Lord Almighty himself had already warned him he’d be facing a resistant world.   And I remember one year as I was walking by this guy and his misguided theological rantings, another student walking by from quit a distance away and yelled out “Why do you give him the ---- pleasure?”

Did he have a right to speak?  Sure he did.   He was stating his opinions about the bible, he wasn’t hurting anyone.   And it was our choice whether to listen to him or not.   And it would have gone against all we as a nation and culture stood for in regards to Free Speech!

But when words are used to incite violence…  to fan the flames of violent action…   to incite destructive actions based on hate or intolerance or fear…    to foment an air of violent retribution against opponents…    to condone or encourage violence on their behalf…   that’s not only illegal but wrong!

Both sides of the political aisle feed this!  Both sides feed the fires of separation and suspicion!

We need a New Vision!

If you think I’m picking on one side or other, that I’m unfairly criticizing your party or candidate only (or more than the others), pick the “unfairly criticized” words or actions, and replace the person saying or doing them with a person from the “other” party” and honestly tell me whether you’d approve of them, whether the criticism is justified in your eyes or not.  Would those words or actions –coming from the “other side” be as acceptable?        

We have to run all this through the test of reason, and not fall for the facile rhetoric of quick and easy blame.   Solutions to our national problems are much more complicated, and are far more intricate and difficult to solve than the easy blaming one group or other for these problems! 

This…  what we’re doing to each other…  on a national level, on a social level, on a face-to-face level…  is not okay!   Don’t I remember we’re better than this? 

We need that New Vision!      We need that New Spirit!      We need the Spirit of the New Kingdom…   that New Kingdom Jesus talked about!    Based on respect!   Based on Listening!    On Just-ness   and Right-ness!

If we admire Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels when he challenged the religious and political leaders of his time, when he spoke for the marginalized, when he included the unincludable, when he lifted up the trampled…    then by God it is okay to hear these same words in our day…  to us   as a nation   as a culture    as a country.    

Because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the future –
If we let fear and suspicion to rule us…    if we let hate and contempt to dominate our political and social language, then it will not be long before there won’t be much of a country left to fight for

We need the power of the Spirit or Pentecost!    We need the Spirit of Pentecost today!   We need to change our hearts.     We need each other.    And we need the Spirit!

Monday, May 29, 2017

All That We Share

It's Easier To See

                   What Divides Us
                                 Than It Is To See

                                            All That We Share