Tuesday, January 2, 2018

It is a New Year - why not go for it - it has to start sometime.

As a person of faith - as a Christian - there are two items in the popular culture that drive me nuts. I find them to be phony issues for the phony faithful. Rather than wait and unveil them later, let me briefly put my take on both of them.

1. The Bible should not be taught in public schools
2. No private, religious school should be given tax money to operate - no family should be given tax money for sending their children to such schools. 

There is a part of me that wants to go back to those letters used back in the 1970s - WWJD. When I pause there - for just a moment - I readily agree with both of my above statements. 

In the first case, there is no way that Jesus would have an Empire/a Nation take over the education of the faithful. For then, courses would quickly become full of lessons on the ways of the empire and not the way of the cross. Empires only teach how to use the cross to eliminate those who enter into the way of the cross - the way of following Jesus. They teach how to scapegoat, blame, belittle, discourage, and ultimately eliminate the way of Jesus and the Prophets. Think here of the Holy Roman Empire and any of its successors since.

The vision of the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures is a vision our government would not allow to be taught in our schools - for they teach a way to live that lets go of the power that Empires and Nations long to possess. And Empires/Nations long to train up followers to seek the same power they give their lives to possess. The Bible cannot be taught in public schools because the students would learn how to live and act in ways that would be contrary to the very structures that attempt to keep everything just as they are - that, would be disruptive. For example, consider how long we have gotten along using words like all man (sic) are created equal - and yet, we did not teach that it was to be a reality - even within a 'Christian Nation'. Rather than honor words that would have been in sync with the teachings of the Scriptures, we dishonored them by the teaching of the Empire. That is, those first words of this nation were somehow mistaken or misspoken or misunderstood. But to ignore those words that were in touch which the visions of prophets and saints, was to make American Christianity into a whore - sorry for that. For though we spoke of being a Christian nation and longed to hear the name of Jesus tumble out of the mouths of everyone, it is all a masterful move by the power and principalities - to keep us from becoming anything but the followers of Jesus.

May I ask, who would teach the Bible in public schools? 
The kind of self-taught preacher or biblical literalists who don't know what it is to read Scriptures with the eyes of poets and prophets and historians and martyrs. When they speak, I hear weapons used to degrade, belittle, subject, discount, and draw endless lines between people. They seek to be puppet masters raising up more puppets being pulled by strings rather than walking freely within the vision of God's masterful and ongoing creativity.

They may be teachers who know well the ways of the power of Empires and Nations so that Christianity can become nothing but good etiquette and nice manners and some well place words of wisdom that are always used to support a culture of violence and success rather than one of limitless benevolence and sacrifice for the well being of the other.
I could go on here - but I would rather encourage parents and friends to stir up the imagination of our children (and ourselves) with visions and promises and stories of faithful people whose lives were able to be given away as gifts to those who follow. No public school can or should be doing  this - there is too much fear - especially when all the Empire wants is to teach  that which they think will make things great rather than just and peaceable.

In the second case, if so-called people of faith do not have the courage to teach their own children what it is to be a follower of Jesus - if these same people bitch and moan and whine because they have to pay the full price of sending their children to their 'religious' schools, then maybe they have already traded in the life of faith taught in Scripture for a faithless life that stays true only when there are gifts to be had. We have public schools. They are meant to teach the children all they will need to know to become respectful, talented, and dependable citizens who will together make up this country. Let's pay for that schooling for all children. I did just say all didn't I - as in all. That will take our money. Ah, but one of our great sins is the need to keep it for ourselves - as though it is mine. Ha.

If we are to make the country great, let's teach the children well - all of them. And if, you or I want our children to be taught the way of our faith, well, send them to the faith classes of your preference - after school or in our homes. Or, send them to the religious school of your liking - but don't make the country pay for our choices here. Yes, if I send my child to a school that is religious - I know I will have to sacrifice to do that. It is my choice. No whining - no bitching - no playing the victim - just send them to school and pay for it. Just think of all the ways that tax money that is used  for your children's religious education could be used in a very, biblical way - to care for those who are not able to choose. We don't become great by whining - so pay up. We don't become great by bitching - so pitch in . We don't become great by getting our way - we share the way. Oh by the way, it is not the way of Jesus to be great - not once and therefore not even - again. We are to be about the rescuing of all people - also called salvation - also called real-life deliverance. That may lead to the cross - hmm - that is the way of the faith.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Talk of a war on Christmas - SAD

Let's be clear. There is no war on Christmas. That is, there is no war on Christmas if a war on Christmas means that some group is trying to put an end to the story of the birth of the Christ, Jesus. All conversations suggesting such stuff are exercises in absurdity. No one can put an end to a story when there are always people who are ready to hear that story again - no matter what the context may be.

 I would suggest it is a soft and fear-filled people who make such an accusation. And yet, it may be that the cultural, sappy, sentimental, everyone-has-to-stop-to-watch 'A Miracle on 34th Street' kind-of-Christmas has become something that makes no sense in the world as we know it. The American Christmas may be fading away but the story of the Christ that is not fading away. No one can halt that story. Rather, our culture (even the so-called religious culture) does not recognize that there would be no interest in the birth of Jesus if there was no execution of a Jewish peasant in Jerusalem - one who actively resisted the culture of the day by living counter to its rules and values. But few see more than bunnies and hard-boiled eggs when we are invited to witness that execution. Also, there would be no holiday glee and gifts and grief if there weren't already popular celebrations of the wider solstice in the cultures of ancient times. War on Christmas?

To be able to say Merry Christmas is not a sign of respect or faithful adherence to the holiday called the Nativity of our Lord. I'm quite sure that this merry salutation has a very short history to it - and it is a salutation not even tied to the gospel story. If it was tied to the gospel story, these last days of the calendar year would be a time of humility, service, self-sacrifice, and an active consideration and presence with those of no status among us. I would suggest that those who cry about a war being waged on Christmas know little of how the biblical story of the nativity of Jesus is tied to the visions of the Prophets that was always a call to a change in life so that the least, lowest, and left out would be ours to serve.

This so called war is a part of the ongoing voices of the weak-of-faith who must try to make their own lives into lives that suffer. And for them, to have others say Happy Holidays - or even have their office rule be one that says, Let's be inclusive of all traditions at this time of the year - is, for them, to have to suffer under the oppression of a godless society. That, my friends is that which we are seeing more and more in our society. It is a need to be cast as the victim when in reality, such people know nothing of victimization. They are usually folk who are quite comfortable and really have lost nothing. Therefore, pain and anguish and being outcast must fall on the notion that a seasonal greeting - not offered by all for all - will mean the end of us.

I find it odd. I have never had anyone tell me I cannot wish them a Merry Christmas because they find it offensive. Just like I do not find it offensive when someone looks at me and says Happy Hanukkah. When we honor the other person - any other person - and also honor their heritage and beliefs and customs (though different from our own) there can be no war against Christmas. For we would be living in the way of the Christ - where there is no division - at all. Instead, for too many, if their way of doing things is interrupted - if their way of wanting the days to pass does not go as planned - if their way of hearing and seeing the society around them takes on a shape that is not under their control, some folks cry foul. To be quite honest, when that crying comes from the lives of folks who claim to be follower of Jesus within these days in which the year comes to an end, their tears and their anger reflects nothing of the peaceable Reign of God. Instead, it comes from the bowels of self-absorbed lives that are unable to see the joy that comes when we do not get our way as we want it and have had it. The joy of the season is the unbending love of others - a love that comes at any cost - and a love that creates a whole new life.

Therefore, if you must weep and complain and moan about a war that you are making out of nothing,  please know it is unnecessary. The season is really quite full of many ways to celebrate how wonderful our world can be at this time of the year.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tax Bills - Taxing moments - Taxidermy - And then...

So the new tax bill has passed. Right now, I am quite neutral about it. Not really.  I have heard some sensible arguments from many fronts as to where we will find ourselves as the page turns. That - is always the case. We are at this point in the ongoing story. I learned long ago that we must always take the story - our story and the world story to the next step and write and then.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to keep an eye on that which becomes our story as the page turns. It is too easy to think we can see it - and yet, we usually see the road out ahead through the lens of that which we have done or seen up to that point or the lens we have been handed. Usually, that lens has been handed to us and we have been told it will provide us with good vision. When we see things through the lens we have been handed or the one we say we have studied or learned in the game of 'hard knocks' - it is much too easy to discount what others see - or, that others could possibly see things differently than me - maybe even more clearly at times. Could it be that we are all too willing to stuff our stories with nothing but our own shit - self-made taxidermist - rather than turn the page ready to be a part of an ever changing storyline?  If we stick to our own shit, then we lose the element of surprise that is possible as we stop and consider the wonder within a story that comes to the turn of the page with the words and then.

While walking yesterday, I spent sixty minutes listening to an economist being interviewed about the new tax bill and where we may or may not be going. He is - to be honest - someone from the liberal side of the spectrum - but no mere talking-head. He is renowned and trusted. Throughout the conversation - though he never said it - I heard him offer an and then that turned my head and made me listen more intently. Several times he said that he held a position and then he was surprised to see it differently - he saw new things within new conditions that were not set into his original way of seeing the story. I think he disturbed the interviewer - but he opened the door for another person - me - to be willing to come into an ongoing story ready to face whatever may come at the turn of the page. Now, I do not think that this means we simply let things come and pass by. Rather, we must turn the page and then settle on nothing but the fact that the welfare of all demands the ability to listen - to argue - to change - to stand firm - and then take the chance to be involved in some kind of joint-authorship in which things change - my things and your things and even their things - even when we want to say to hell with their story. I think the words in Scripture tend to be: Fear Not.

I think I misspoke earlier. I am not neutral about the tax bill. I can see the terror it will bring. Now before you blow this off - I always think such grand schemes of an utopian vision are terrifying. They come out of the butt-holes of all of us when we we think this is it - this is the end -  everyone now will live happily ever after. Those stories are lies - all of our stories that say such things. They really only reveal the falsehood that we are duped to trust when we stop saying and then or refuse to listen to how others continue on after they say or write and then. If all that continues on from one point to the next is the vision I have had - or my side holds dear - we are as a whole people - screwed. We are screwed because we do not take into consideration the other story lines and therefore the culture we attempt to hail as redemptive is really another form of a disease that infects and destroys everything.

I have been blessed to hear many stories. For me, that means I have been invited to hear that which goes on when people of other storylines come to the place when they say and then. They often begin to turn the page and move forward in a way of which I am simply ignorant. How quickly many of those stories do not ring forth with the privilege that accompanies my storyline. It is disarming to hear. And yet, the most common way people listen to other stories - is simply to not listen to them at all - that's pretty damn easy. Or, maybe worse, hear them through our storyline or try to see them through our lens - which really - is not hearing or seeing at all.

Once again, yesterday, I was reminded of how easy it is to stick to my own story - to live as though I know what will be - once I say and then. I was ready to react with a classic 'bullshit' and then dump another storyline to the pile of bullshit I so often reject so that my story can continue on to the next page - my page. It was a disarming moment. I felt the fear - the confusion - the bitterness - the neglect - the self-pity, that - 'within a moment of time' embarrassed me. No one could see it and - to be honest - I don't often feel it so deeply to even recognize it. What was it? Someone else picked up the story after the words and then and it was not one that I wanted to hear - I even wanted to consider it a lie. But, it was no lie. It was the voice of a story I thought I knew. But I was really hearing a deeper level of that story. I was not the story I thought I knew. It was a new turn in that story that was taking me to a new and then. As I walked away, I knew that somehow I had to watch how I follow lies I want to be my truth and my way. For, at times, that which I want to consider the truth may be nothing more than a self-deceiving lie. Shit.

I'm in a coffee shop right now and took a few moments to look around the room. Wow, the storylines that are flowing through this room humble me - or do they make me consider what an ass I can so easily become. When I say and then I want to say it and live into it with a sense of compassion and a willingness to listen. At the same time, I also want to make sure that as I listen I may rewrite my story so as to stand in a line of resisters or builders who may not be like me. Who knows, they may help me be a part of that which makes us all truly human.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Come, Comedians. Come

A friend posted the list of words and phrases that are to no longer to be used in the Centers for Disease Control and other Health and Human Services agencies. Words - banned?  Hmm.  This happens when fear begins to infect even those who claim to be the strongest and the most powerful. Such actions must be seen and heard as the beginning of the attempt by the power of evil to bring about a society that must be held captive - restrained - silenced so that the power of death can grow - like a death star. I find it humorous that another Star Wars movie is upon us as we are creeping into the darkness of our present days. I have yet to see the movie but I have been watching its production taking place in real time and in real life. The first time I read about this banning of words I thought of all the tyrants and tyrannical powers in the last century that attempted to rule by force - tried to press a people into a mold even if it meant eliminating those who would not let themselves be molded by violence and lies. It is always a subtle start. It starts with language - then, the violence and the death grows.

I responded to my friend by offering a new Advent prayer - a plea: Come, George Carlin. Come. In the dark days of Advent - in the dark days that have brought every civilization to dream and think of light returning to brighten the world - in the dark days of half-truths also known as lies - in the dark days where threats ring out and truth is locked away, we need truth-tellers who do not abide by that which has been deemed right and good within the bounds of an evil time that attempts to paint itself as having an apocalyptic savior at hand. Fear creates darkness - it longs for darkness - it ferments within darkness - it seeps through the darkness. Therefore, those who resist the darkness - those who pull back the veil - those who report on the clowns who rule the darkness - those who speak up even as the darkness works to silence them, become for us like prophets. I always thought the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures had to be comedians. They saw and heard the same stuff everyone else was seeing and hearing - but they addressed themselves to its absurdity - its oppressive power - its well-groomed laws that led to injustice and war. They often looked and sounded like comedians of the day - stand up comedy at its best.

Come, George Carlin. Come - means we must speak up and make note of the vulgarity that has tried to paint our society in gold that is really the presence of fake power and might. We cannot hold back. I might even plea: Come, Alfred E. Neuman, Come. The day of the fear-mongering clown must be exposed by a culture of comedic resisters whose humor pierces the armor of those who one day will be a pile of relics we will place in museums in order to teach our children how fear brews demons and death - and dunces. Unfortunately, the clowns of tyranny and power cannot see how they have become like demons who - so lost within their own minds - only know how to eliminate others who do not participate in their self-indulgent fantasy. Come, Comedians, Come. Teach us to see through the darkness being spread over all of us. Ignite a fire among us that exposes and reveals and beauty of the fullness of creation that heeds no power other than the power of peace.

If these fear-filled and evil days that are run by clowns whose vision of the-good-life-for-themselves is really a coming day of doom for the rest,  then let us hold a day of humorous protest - a march of fools - a comedy special - a liturgy of laughter - a parade that witnesses to the fact that the emperor has no substance - just faux-golden promises that leave everyone else out in the cold. But imagine if an ocean of people - left out in the cold by the master of gold - flooded D.C. - with laughter that is able to brighten the dark days at hand. Imagine prophetic laughter spilling out across the country - from sea to shining sea - making note of how the ways of tyranny count on us not hearing the lies or smelling how crap attracts flies - when things begin to rot from within.

Come, All who can see and hear free of fear. Come.
Come. Lights that darkness cannot extinguish. Come. 
Come, The least and the lowest whose laughter cannot be halted by any power. Come.
Come, Those who can turn a phrase that brings truth into the darkest days. Come.
Come, The way, the truth and the light. Come.
Darkness will not prevail.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Becoming older and continuing to walk

I was becoming who I am - from the beginning. 

I continue to walk into today aware of the fact that I am continuing to become nothing more or nothing less than I am. Yet, between now and then - today and tomorrow - it never ceases to be a mystery as to who I will become.

I’ve heard people say that when you ‘get up in years’ - people cease to become new - people stop growing - people cannot change - people are set in their ways. Unfortunately, it appears as though people often grasp onto that which was and let go or abandon that which might just be - whimsical wonder - amazing openness - dynamic participation - utter transformation. It is my hope that as I approach death, which, I suppose, is every moment of my life, I will be aware of how I am becoming who I am. 

Becoming who I am is not a self-centered or self absorbed production. I find that the voices and actions of others often creates a ripple or a wave - even a tsunami - that has the power to turn me around. It may even mean that right becomes left - up becomes down - the world as I have constructed it becomes the world I now work to deconstruct. 

Becoming turned around is not easy for me. I’m slow to move in a new direction even when I am overwhelmed with a new vision of how life can be - even as that which is new shakes me to my core and seems to fuss with my essence - my soul - my humanity. Becoming who I am has become for me an adventure that pulls me more and more into the wonder of what it is to be truly human - not merely me - to be human - connected to all and being for all. Therefore, community is essential to who I am. 

Becoming truly human is frightening. Maybe that is why I go at it so slowly - with great hesitation - selectively taking steps. Having said that, I know that self-preservation often becomes a powerful stumbling block. Rather than being able to step into that which could be, I take steps backward either into that which was or that which goes along within a self-preserving life. Even though I may appear to be growing and expanding my life, if I am seduced by my fears - I am not becoming who I am. I am becoming the person the world around me is selling. Though I have opportunities to become a unique person, I know I become a consumer of that which has already been branded as how one must be. It is so hard to become me in the midst of all the suggestions that I become something else. I call them suggestions because I pick them - I am not forced into them. It is then that I must face the anxiety of becoming the one and only me - not a me constructed by others. It can be frightening to be contrary to that which is acceptable - be considered odd - out of step - abandoned - because of the choices I may make as I look into the story of how one becomes truly human. Thus, the face of the truly human in me is pushed off into another place and time. Fear has a way of directing me away from simply becoming me.

I say all this because I am longing to become a none. This is not a journey that will take me to a place of detachment from the life around me. This is not a journey in which I will turn my back on the roads I have walked thus far and the people with whom I have walked. This is not a renunciation as much as it must be a pathway of affirmation. I want to be more intentional about who I am becoming. Yes, even at an age in which one may be expected to stabilize or settle down - I want to have none of that. I want to boldly experiment with who I am in the face of death and at the brink of new life. For me that means there must be an examination of all the boxes in which I put myself and those boxes into which I allow others to put me. 

Becoming a none may mean I continue walking along the pathways I have let myself travel. It also means there will be those times when I must say with great intentionality - I’ll have none of this anymore. One task at this point will be to face and resist drifting into a void - a life with no substance or meaning. I cannot drift into those unbreakable patterns of life that limit life. Nor can I merely refute all things as though nothing fits me anymore.  I see too many people whose lives simply roll along with what has been - as though there is nothing left to become. 

Becoming is full of the energy of creation. It wrestles with chaos. It wrestles with choices that seem to be overwhelming. It wrestles with that which just happened - that which seemed too dangerous or traumatic to face.  And yet, as we look back at that which attempted to pin us down, even though we may be wounded or broken or discouraged, the trauma through which we have traveled may hand us the proof that there just might be something more to come. So, we can stand up - walk through the limp - jump over the obstructions - face today as though nothing can separate us from the power to become who we are and will be. 

Some might say I’m on a spiritual journey - that I’m becoming spiritual and not religious. I don’t talk like that - that is not my language and it doesn’t fit me at all. I am simply becoming human - becoming the me that never comes to an end and always imagines the beginning. Sure I’m older and keep wondering who I would be today if I had lived a different life up to this point. That, I would submit, is a foolish game. I am becoming me - by way of the journey that I chose to take. Any other path would not have me in this place at this time - ready to continue on the way. So this may all be the alpha and omega of me. Ah, the mystery continues.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Devotionally put the white polos aside

White polos - Hmm.

Remember when it became common for companies to go 'casual'? At first it meant just on Fridays. Then, for a number of companies, it moved on right through the week. Most often it meant that men could wear polo shirts rather than ties and suit coats. Since I'm not a woman, I'm not sure what women were allowed to wear. For this blog though, I'm caught up with the image of  white polos - informal wear - acceptable wear - everyday wear. Some weeks ago, I read a piece on the new clothing of the white supremacists - the KKK moving to everyday-wear - the Nativists attempting to fit into the mainstream. Hmm. I thought it was a timely move.

It is, according to blogs and Facebook pages I read, just fine to be and out and out white supremacist and yet hide it under the white-polo-shirt lives that seem to love the revival of the Klanish voices and actions that are alive and well among us.  When I hear those voices, I wonder if these folks either suffer from amnesia or they love the power one feels when they can blame people of color for all that is wrong in their world. I might even add that some do not even suffer from amnesia. It is worse - they were never taught nor did not pay attention to the layers of history that were part of the oppressive foundation of our country. Even worse, in my estimation, are those who now will not listen to the stories beneath the lives they are so quick to  critique and even condemn. It is as though the only stories that matter are the ones of white-polo-shirt folks who somehow have convinced themselves that they are the victims within our society because of what those folks have done.

I'm in the midst of a book about how those wonderful folks of the blossoming Nazi party in Germany turned to the United States to get their ideas straight about how to divide and conquer - which eventually led to divide and destroy - which eventually led to deaf ears to the power of death under the Reich. Yes, German lawyers found it helpful to investigate how the USA was able and willing to build such a powerful wall of us v them. The impact of Jim Crow laws were of keen interest. Yet, the way we implemented those laws were considered too harsh. Yes, I just wrote too harsh. How in the world could blossoming Nazis think Jim Crow as too harsh!? Yet, the holocaust hucksters - the mainline oven-stokers - decided they could not follow our lead to the letter of the law. What would people think if such laws were put in place???

White polo shirts are a sign of how the repulsiveness of Jim Crow - a repulsiveness that even the Nazis would not consider - is becoming more and more a part of the voice of bitterness in the USA. Remember, that many of those southern statues that white folks are crowing avert are from the Jim Crow years well after the civil war (I wonder why). But more and more today that voice is covered up by everyday, acceptable wear. It is covered up by the lives of those (sometimes even those voices very close to us) who have somehow taken themselves to be victims of hardships because of those people unlike us. It is covered up by folks who claim to know or work or live near them - even - many of them. Just listen to what is said or written whenever there are stories about urban crime or action by Black Lives Matter or taking a knee during the National Anthem. The spirit of Jim Crow can be seen flying around in the sky above us - like a stealth bird. The words of blame resound like an approaching and frightening storm. Calls for the rule of law abound - but only as they apply to the acts and words of those folk. Ah, white polo shirts start showing up trying to say they need to make America Great Again.

Don't buy it. That Again simply means live in accordance to a world that consists of the utter separation and condemnation of those who are not as white as our polo shirts. That separation - negation - denigration has become so ordinary among so many of us in the USA  that we seem to wear it like a  metaphorical pin that reads: Making America Proud Again. But proud means??? It cannot be referring to America -the land of the free and the home of the  brave. I don't want to be proud of a de facto apartheid system that simply puts on a fresh polo shirt in an attempt to allow separate but equal stealthily fly beneath the radar. I don't want to be a part of the sacred violence of a culture that will not - or cannot - acknowledge the cruelty of our historic and prevailing actions and attitudes. Or a culture that makes endless excuses for our white polo shirt lives that will make our attacks on people of color somehow sound valid. Oh, it is amazing how we like to make our involvement in our cultural sacred violence valid. It is as though we must build walls or else they will somehow outnumber us. Oh my.

Finally, this all hits me so hard because too often white supremacist is white polo shirts are the voices and actions of 'good' Christians who us the name of Jesus just like those white polo shirts. It is used to cover up the insidious fear that betrays the word of the cross - the solidarity with all people - even unto death. I wonder if those blossoming Nazi lawyers - looking for a way to rid themselves of the Jews - were looking for a Christian way to do what they wanted to do (they were, you know, good Lutherans and Catholics). And, they found a possible answer in a place that re-branded Christianity as the power to separate and eliminate. Remember, the KKK does not burn crosses. They say they light those crosses so that the light of Christ will shine. As threatening as those burning crosses became to black Americans - the normalcy of white polo shirts continues to be a part of the clear and present danger to Americans of color - all Americans. There is no light within the darkness of white supremacy - for the Christ - the truly human one - does not cry about being a victim. Therefore, we do not cry in our beer. Instead, we stand with and live with and walk with and cry with and bleed with the victims of the violence of clean-cut white polo shirt folks who are all around us.

One daily practice  - some might call it daily prayer - may be to hold up a white polo shirt (or its gender equivalent) and purposefully put it aside as a reminder of what we will not become. That devotional refusal to take part in the sacred violence of the culture may help us begin to  become a part of the real light of the Christ - now and forever.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wearing 'religious gear' - inhospitality in action

I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about religious gear. Think of it like this. If you are an Ohio State football fan - you wear OSU gear. This is almost mandatory if you go to a home game. You will receive strange looks and possibly comments if you show up with some other gear - especially if the gear you are wearing has nothing to do with the two teams on the field.

Religious gear has nothing to do with the substance of a life that is shaped by the teachings of a religion. It is just gear. I can wear a cross around my neck - but it is not necessary for me to do that in  order to be a follower of Jesus. In fact, it does no one any good for me to wear it for the whole world to see. And yet, some would say it helps to remind them that they are a Christian - or that they are reminded of the kind of person they are to be if they are a follower of Jesus. Is is necessary? No. A person can be a faithful, living follower of Jesus and you may never see that person wearing any Christian gear.

Religious gear often becomes more of the life of religious folks than the life into which those people have been drawn. Communities of people are known by their look. The religious gear somehow becomes seen as essential. In fact, the gear can even become how one is included or excluded - how one obtains access or is shunned - how you are identified or become the recipient of hospitality. I remember when I was growing up my mother and grandmother always kept an embroidered handkerchief in their purse so they could put it on their head when they went to mass. That's religious gear. Somehow the gear became vital - essential to how one went about the life of the faith. If I would have put on such a piece of gear I would have been asked to take it off when I went to mass. Hmm.

Usually I am told that religious gear is meant to help a person or a people remember the life they are to live. That has never been a good reason to me. I do not think religious folks suffer from amnesia because we do not put on the right gear and wear it in the right places. We suffer from amnesia because we forget the life that is to be at the center of our living. I do not need to wear a Browns ball cap to remind me that I am a Browns fan. In fact, with the way the Browns have been playing - it might be good for me to forget. But I will not. I do not need to wear a cross or eat fish on Fridays - especially in Lent - in order to be reminded that I am to follow the way of Jesus.

Religious gear - I would suggest - nurtures inhospitality and serves to divide people even when the core of the faith talks of peace and the oneness of humankind. The expression putting on your Sunday best was common and the expectation was that you would dress up for worship. In fact, if you did not - if you went to worship in a t-shirt and jeans - you might be asked to leave or there would be made very made obvious that you were in the wrong place - you were not one of the good religious folk. Sunday best is really nothing more than everyday best - it is not a dress - it is a character, a life, a way of being a neighbor to all. It does not matter if your head is not covered or your shoulders are exposed or you wear sandals or your ankles are visible or you are not in a suit or fine dress. All the gear can be shed and it need not be called necessary. It is not.

Religious gear is disrespectful even though I have heard so many times that you should wear this or not wear that out of respect for a person's religion. Really? The faith of a person is not about clothing. We would do much better if we would respect the actual lives of those of various faiths - maybe even listen to what it is they teach. Religious gear becomes a way religious folk attempt to respect their image of God and yet I find that it often creates unnecessary distinctions among people who are looking toward the vision of a peaceable reign for all. I might even go so far as to say that religious gear mocks such a vision. Religious gear may seem to build an identity among people of this or that faith tradition - but how often is that need to identify become a primary component in how we stay separate from others. As at a football game between rivals, our religious gear invites rivalry to intensify. It allows for the creation of an us v them that can lead to violence and simple disrespect. And yet, it doesn't always. Many people are able to see the superficiality of religious gear and respect the lives of those others.

If you noticed, religious gear is not merely that worn by folks who are part of a traditional faith community. Religious gear is also quite secular. It sets limits as to who is welcome. It creates a community for those who abide by the guidelines for appropriate gear. It cares not for the character of the people or their values or how they will act if an emergency situation is created. No, it draws lines and makes for distinctions that often fuel disrespect and even a warring madness.

Maybe I should consider gear that is vital and necessary and critical for a person to be or do that which s/he is expected to do. In the Columbus Dispatch this week there is a series about fire fighters. Now, they wear GEAR. If they did not wear their gear we would have no fire fighters and we would lose many people in and around fire settings. The flame retardant clothing, the masks, the oxygen tanks, the helmets, and the boots make up gear that is necessary for fire fighters to do their work - complete their mission. Religious gear is not like that. A certain hat or head covering is not necessary to live the life of one's faith. A variety of clothing tied to a group of religious folks is not necessary to live the life of one's faith. I can be a faithful follower of my God even as I have no clothes of any type that might associate me with any religious people. That, I would submit, is central to life that seeks to make all of us truly human - in the image of God. Our lives - not that which we wear - becomes the way we identified along the way.

But as I end, I would urge all of us to respect the religious gear worn by people of various faith communities. Maybe the respect comes by asking, 'Why is that necessary? Why do you wear this or that?' Then, also sharing what religious gear you wear or do not wear and why you wear it or why you have put it to the side. But most of all, I find that it is not necessary to wear the gear of others even if we say it is out of respect. Maybe we would all move around with each other a bit more easily if we left the religious gear to our home or places of worship while simultaneously making damn sure we do not let the visitor/stranger to our communities of faith think they are not one of us - not one of the good ones - not welcome. But I rant.