Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dedicated to a Friend who embodies the good news within a church that has lost touch with the expansiveness of the Reign of God

For years, Pastor David Meredith was a trusted colleague in Columbus. David was - and still is - a joy-filled person who knows the expansiveness of humanity - all of its glory. Across a crowded room he is a island of hopefulness into which one could go to find solace and support and a loving presence. He is a pastor of depth whose joy - fullness of life - incorporates without restrictions or qualifications. And yet, that is not good enough - that is what we are being told by the religious leaders of the UMC temple of holiness. We must be clear that David is not the problem. In fact, only the religious systems of our culture create problems and hangs on words of death and expulsion -  they make problems - they may well be the problem. And yes, they know not the fullness of the gospel - they hang onto the laws and rules and and limited vision of something labeled sacred - yet, it is not holy at all. It sacrifices others rather than willingly become self-sacrificial - as the Christ.

I do not mean to rag on the UMC. I'm Lutheran and believe me, we know how to exclude and demean and hang out holy banners in order to cover up our corporate violence and contempt for any group who is not as we like or as we have decided to define holy - even when it it an unholy reality. I know church leaders - yes, elected and then blessed - whose notion of holy was nothing more than a will to power - mostly their own. It is a power veiled in theological language but absent of the way of the cross. That - is the protective rule of the institution. It is an institution that insists that we must never embrace the victim but must always act as though we keep victims close - but never within the fold - keep them over there or out there - like thoughts and prayers. It gives the institutions  a sense of power - the power of this world - a power that seeks to overwhelm and outcast others.

But let me get back to David.
That he is on trial (a church trial - ha) is the first absurdity.
That his life is an offense to how some perceive a godly life - is another absurdity.
That a church body still needs to offer up human sacrifices in order to maintain the control they have created for themselves and long to keep in place - is an absurdity.
That his loving-kindness - his humor - his resurrection hope - his joyfulness - his willingness to enter into the life of any and all - is a threat to a church body - is an absurdity.
But then,
when control and order is a higher good than life that is alive along the way of the cross - a way that knows how to give away life and power - we can expect nothing more than an absurdity. It is - quite bluntly - an offense to the Reign of God that we are all invited to share - now.

Now it would be easy to say that David needs to judge those who judge him. But as I know him, he forgives - he dwells within graciousness - his arms are wide open even when those who claim to be the leaders of the faith live with arms folded shut - to some.

We must remember here that the church has thrived on exclusion - even when we are ones who are to live together without partiality - therefore we may not always be the ones of the Way. Our history is a way soiled by the lives of those we have rejected. Thus we must ask - are we the followers of Jesus or do we follow the violence of a world - the way of power - those who seek to be one step higher than others. We must insist on a faithfulness - not the rule books of a broken system desperately grasping onto a power they really never had.

To Pastor David Meredith I lift a glass of wine and a promise of ongoing support.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Is it wise to let a fool whip out his insecurities

When the Emperor walked in the fairytale parade, he was convinced that he was wearing the best wardrobe ever made. Yet, he was naked and exposed - everyone saw him as he really was - a fool who was able to be made into a more complete fool by those who tried to dress him up. His handlers failed to tell him he was nothing more than a person who so needed to be considered grand and majestic - the best - the greatest, that he was exposes as the town idiot. Even the children could see it!

So now, we have a president who needs and wants a military parade. The fools around him will not tell him that the idea will expose his inadequacies and fears and his appetite for self-adoration. He claims to want to honor our brave armed forces. No, and let's be clear here, he wants to honor the weapons of war not the brave men and women who stand in harms way as they step up to serve. He thinks he is a big gun who will be presiding over the display of the biggest guns in town that he claims he now controls. His aides do not know how to be truth tellers. So this derringer of a man - this ankle pistol guy - this bb gun of a man - will waste funds that could be used to take care of the soldiers who go off to and return from war. What he doesn't realize is that the feeling of fullness he is feeling in his pants is not caused by what he had hoped. Rather it is caused by the crappy ideas of a narcissist whose desire for fame and power is uncontrollable and unable to be  contained.

The notion of a parade of weapons is shameful. It is a action of unbounded anxiety. It smells of fearfulness masked with an unnecessary dose of perfume. It takes what we have always said about ourselves - the land of the free and the home of the brave - and shows that we are so afraid that we cannot free ourselves from the mannerisms of the regimes of totalitarian acts of control. Have we not learned that when a person whips out a weapon - or other beloved wares - it is an act of insecurity and self-adoration. It is not an act of truthfulness. It is not something to be put on parade as though it is what will save or secure us. But, telling the truth and being able to be self-reflective and cultivating the care of others are not parts of the agenda of emperors or rulers whose vision is contained to that which they see in a mirror and the ways they need to dress up to be more. Therefore, those who seek power will continue to put on parades that serve no one - parades that create more and more of a climate of fear that the cycle of having to dress up our weaponry and put it on parade becomes the way we think we are being strong.

I would suggest we let the President play in the war room at the White House (with everything unplugged of course) so that his fears and insecurities need not be inflicted on the nation - which really is, in spite of his delusions of grandeur, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We must never let him lead us in another direction and under any other banner.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Yes, we can be cowards who let fear rule us - let's not be

When we are cowards we turn to find those against whom we may rise and we call them out and attempt to throw upon them the blame for all that is able to frighten us. In light of yet another shooting spree at a high school this week, have you noticed how some have raised up - once again - those who suffer from mental illness? If we do not lean in and listen closely, it almost sounds as though - people in positions of power - legislative positions -positions from which a more peaceable and nonviolent society is to be constructed - might be advocating for those who have mental illness. Be not fooled.

The ones in power need to stay in power. They need to be able to make the world go as the powers around them want the world to go. Therefore, there will be no talk that will put the powers-that-be in a light that might be negative - that might cause the crowds to turn against the powers. Instead, those in power point to ones on whom it is easy to draw a target. That is how those filled with power work - all of us. We have seen and heard people of color blamed and targeted. We have seen people of certain ethnic backgrounds (changing from generation to generation) blamed and targeted. We have seen religious folks blamed and targeted. As is usually the case, the targeting comes as a mere suggestion like: some say  or I've been told. From a simple suggestion comes a message that begins to sound convincing to some and then to more and more.  The fragile state of the majority must work endlessly to keep the world as they want it - even when it demands that there must be some sort of sacrifice for the existing powers to continue their influence and rule. The sacrifice is always those considered easy targets. Targets are easy to draw - it takes little energy - but the results are well known. The powerful begin to shoot them down - sacrifice them - single them out - push them to the edge - mark them. Oh my, how power convinces us how important it is to mark those people.

It is so damn easy to mark and shoot and then whip up the crowd. Under the guise of a concern for those who suffer from mental illness are we really turning to reach out and stand with and alongside them? I think not - though - through proper branding and good packaging, it may look like that. I would propose that the powers-that-be (Rep and Dem and President) are afraid to do anything but point fingers at those who suffer from mental illness. And yes, many shooters are sufferers of such a wide spread diagnosis - but most, by far, most of those who suffer from mental illness are as close as family, neighbors, loved ones of all types.

My mother often talked to me about her depression. It wasn't situational. It was systemic. It was a part of her - a part as real as her wrinkles and her hugs and her kisses. Medication helped to bring lows up to a smooth surface. Her lows - her depression was like mine - a rolling melancholy. We could laugh and cry at the similarity. I often say my depression comes on quickly and turns me into an overripe tomato - a mere touch, of any kind, would unleash tears or anger or deep silence. Most everyone doesn't know this about me.  I also had a sister-in-law who suffered from mental illness. I did not have the opportunity to know her outside of the grasp of that disease - but I was able to see times of beauty and gentleness and kindness and love for others. And yet, without medication, the disease took her away from all who loved her for who she was - a wounded and beloved woman.

Folks will argue that we do not have a problem with guns - our problem is with people - people who suffer from mental illness and have guns. So, those who already live with the stigma of mental illness are now cast down into a more public and a much deeper hole. Why? Well, we need to make a target of that which is not really the problem among us. Even if we now begin to spend money to help those who suffer from mental illness (which is unlikely because it involves health and not weapons), I would suggest it is one nice way to divert attention from the violence among us that is ruled by our fear and our cowardice to face our fears. Instead of a vicious lynch mob, calling for the death of those people - we have become quite proficient at shaping a mob that wears the mask of benevolence and care.

We need not turn more and more people into victims by our branding. We need to turn and look at ourselves - our fears - our weaknesses - our frailties - our vulnerabilities - our ease to hate and harm and harbor violence within us. That may lead us to another pathway - one in which my life is worth no more than your life and together we can move closer to others around us and discover their worth. Then, we may work together to take away the rule of violence that we too often use to govern us and discover how we begin to take care of the other - no matter what the expense. We know how to spend money to put an end to others. It would be an amazing move to discover how to use our wealth to build a national character that offers a beginning to others. But, I know that frightens us when we think we will not be able to be the gods of our own lives. Fear not - love one another.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What marks your life - What is the Way that marks you

Well it is Ash Wednesday. So I was wondering how many ash-wearing Christians will walk around town still set on trashing and ridiculing and persecuting hijab-wearing, praying-five-times-a-day Muslims - for displaying their faithfulness. Or do we Christians remember that the cross - yes, the one smudged on foreheads this day - reminds us of the life we are called to live - a life that has a history of being contrary to the rule of law and the rule of the land. The empire still rules and the way of the cross still is meant to lead us to another way of being humanity - together as one - one no matter how we differ.

 I must say that the above bit of an introduction is really meant to move me on to other images of Ash Wednesday. It is new among some Christian communities that a person can simply drive-by or drive-through an Ash dispensing station at a local congregation - for we are so busy to hear the story and gather with others and take part in the meal that defines for us the life that is possible as we face the ashes of lives every day. We are the ones who are also the people who wear the cross as jewelry or a tattoo or trace it on our body before stepping up to bat or after we have had a hell of a good run or tossed and inspired touchdown pass. Could we be taking another step toward a more consumer-friendly portrayal of a life that - in its attempts to be made acceptable - has lost its Way? Have you noticed that there is more interest among Christians in making sure we say God blessing America or put prayer in schools or keeping fear-based additions in the Pledge of Allegiance than having us take sides with the victims of the systems that are all around us. The machinery of the culture makes fools of all of us. I find that painful and also the inspiration to remember throughout the day these piercing words: Get behind me satan.

What were the ashes of Jesus' day? Hmmm.
The burning of animals in the Temple? The trashing of the ones upon whom the religious ones of the day determined were dirty - sinners - ones to be left out and reduced to nothing. I suppose we could say that - to a point. The religious system was as much a power of constructing a biased culture as was the empire. The culture had ways of trashing and torching anything that was not in line with the contrived peace of the day. Both - religion and culture - we might be able to say, build themselves up on the ashes they produce.
BUT, I would suggest that the ashes of Jesus' day was the movement - the actions - the unbounded compassion - the self-sacrifice that did not go along with how power is so willing to dispose of people. Ashes have a walk - a talk - a touch - a song - a dance - that brings  liberation to those bound up and hope to those who are about to put an end to their day and food to those whose hunger devastates generations and justice to those who are trampled by the fears of the powerful and privileged.

When one lives within the breath of such a life - the Spirit of such a life - the Reign of God at hand kind of life, there will be ashes. The followers of Jesus may get burned - by the religious and imperial powers of today. The followers of Jesus may also find that as we face the ashes of our lives, we may become for others - the inspiration for the Way of life we say we follow. This is not a convenient life. Although, I suppose, it is utterly convenient because each moment becomes an opportunity to act in the name of the Christ. Though I would post a warning that this kind of moment to moment convenience to enter into and walk within the Reign of God is full of moment to moment consequences. If you want to see an example of this, read the opening chapters of Marks gospel. Notice how things are done immediately - one right after the other - every day - every movement that is conveniently in front of Jesus is taken up and he has to deal with the crap that is thrown at him by all the good folks - even to the point that they determine they must stop him - make ashes of him.

To conclude, you must know that this rant comes from someone who has always seen himself as a coward - on so many levels. That is because it is real. And yet, the fire that threatens to burn us will not consume us - be not afraid. I have to wrestle with ashes and dust and the reality that it doesn't matter if my life gets blown away like ashes and dust - yet, fear still abounds. Therefore, I need you to live out in front of me showing me how to be truly human - in the image of God - that no fire can destroy. When we think we can drive by or drive through the way ashes mark our lives, we fool ourselves again. That seems to be part of our history. If you 'do ashes' this year, go and hear the story - eat the Meal - sit and sing with the other pile of ashes around you. If you cannot, mark your life with ashes.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Where are your most beloved orange barrels?

So today I was going to rant about Deplorables - Deportables - Disposables - Despicables - Dreamers. But then I realized I can add nothing to the discussion right now without becoming upset - negative - accusatory - condemning - biting - bitching...

So today I want to offer praise and thanksgiving - for orange traffic barrels. This all came to mind this week as I was driving a civil engineer to an office party. I have always taken an interest in traffic patterns - freeway construction and planning. I'm not a nut about the big equipment that is used to move and reshape the earth. Instead, I am fascinated at how it all gets done - how in the middle of the utter chaos - there is transformation. More importantly, things are done safely.

In our discussion of roadway transformation, I told the young engineer that I used  the image of orange barrels to teach 7th and 8th graders about the law. The Law - as in the Ten Commandments. But also, the law as in the laws that attempt to keep us up and operating as a society. One of my main points of focus was the simple commitment to make sure that each person who must move through a road project or must work within one - gets home safely. The need to respect and honor the well being of the other is huge. Orange barrels are like laws that are meant to secure the well being of all. They are a nonviolent system that counts on a common respect for neighbors and not just ourselves. I find that they are in place under the assumption that all are worth an ounce of safety. I have never seen an orange barrel strike out at a car or truck. They stand posted and in place and - at time - get trampled under the wheels of folks like you and me who somehow find our need to move along the way as a reason to subject the barrels and other drivers to our whim and wants.

I used the orange barrels to try and explain the simultaneous notion of you shall not and you shall. Orange barrels draw us a map - a picture. In that setting, we are being instructed that we shall follow the pathway the orange barrels open up for us. At the same time, it is quite obvious that there are ways we shall not take our cars. In the case of the command to not steal there is also the expectation that we look after the goods of our neighbor. The result - a safer community - a respect for our neighbor - order - even an awareness of what we each have and that we do ourselves no good if we covet the stuff of others. Protect it all.

In many ways, the orange barrels are enough to make for a safe passage. I would even say they welcome the stranger and they create an atmosphere of hospitality so that all of us can be put on an even plain as we move through the transformations of life that always seem to be taking place. Yet,  many folks - like me, when I want the world to go my way and the asshole ahead of me is not moving as I desire things to go - are so self-consumed and self-focused, the orange barrels are a pain and a reason to bitch and complain and even turn against a neighbor. In those moments, the orange barrels don't move - they don't strike out - they don't move to give me more space than you might have - they don't show any sort of favoritism. They simply keep the path clear - they keep you as safe as me - even if I think I deserve to be given a better way than you. Orange barrels don't scapegoat - they remind us to  honor all others.

The orange barrels - the law - are meant to nurture an atmosphere of care for the other and oneself. The law is not - in the first place - meant to punish. Though that is how we like to use it. I find that orange barrels put us all on a common level. If we are able to see the other as one deserving care and protection and the freedom to be who they are - and that is a foundational aspect of our society - we may be involved in building a peaceable society. Oh, that will be a pain in the neck at times - it will cause me to be late sometimes - it may force me to go a route I would usually not take, in order to complete today's journey. Though when the day is over, we all may end up at home with a greater appreciation for graciousness and kindness and self-sacrifice.

I need to be more aware of those around me. I don't need them to move as I move. I don't need them to choose the path I am going. I need to see them - know that they are not like me - see in them the worth they have. And then, though we are different and do not know one another and we may think those others come from the wrong side of town or belong to that group, we are able to build a road into a future that will be transformed for the well-being of all.

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.