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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nothingness - living as though it is real

Beyond what is - is nothing. This was an odd experience. I had just gone to bed. This is a time of the day - even though it is usually quite short - that my imagination soars. I don't always like that experience and it is quite hard to turn it off once it starts turning out ideas and images. Often, this is a time in which I figure out a problem or have an idea that seems to bring a potential resolution to the direction of a storyline. At other times, I come to some kind of decision of what I must do. I have even resolved an issue within a sermon on which I have been working. Unfortunately, there are those nights when I think I am going to remember what came to mind - but alas, by morning, there is quite nothing. At other times, I wake in the morning and go directly to some paper and write myself a note. If I am really struck by my pre-sleep thoughts, I may even leave bed quickly and write something down. I should keep a bedside journal but I wonder if I would cut short my flow of thought if I was to get up and write down and idea that was not yet complete.

I say all this because while I was on vacation I considered nothingness. Yes, right there in bed after a full day that should have put me right to sleep. I realized that there was nothing to consider - how can one consider something that is not and will not be!? It all started with the internal question: what if I did not wake up - what if I died during the night? My first thought was - well, nothing. I simply would not be anymore - I would be an inanimate object. To my wife and to my friends and enemies I would be a collection of memories. Yet, their memories would mean nothing to me as I would be nothing - gone - dead. In these bits of pre-dream ramblings, I let go of an after life - no heaven and no hell. No rewards - No punishments. No cosmic party. Just nothingness - the end.

I suppose I was set off in this direction because of a book I have written just recently. It is fiction. It is  in a diary format that records my first year after I came to the realization that I - at age 64 - can fly. I use the expression go up. The connection to my bedtime mental wanderings has to do with one of the abilities that goes along with being able to go up. I have no super powers - but I am able to lift people and take them with me. As long as someone is holding on to me or I am embracing someone who is within reach of me - I can take them all up without it being a burden at all. I test that ability regularly in an attempt to find a limit. None so far.  But, if I try to lift an inanimate object - a stone, a bike, a basket - I can only lift something that my normal everyday - bad-back body - can handle. The people around me - folks that are alive - shit, we're flying baby.

Nothingness comes into play as I toyed with the notion of something being inanimate. In the book I don't try to lift any animals because I don't need to be coated in animal poop nor do I want to frighten a dog or a cow to death. But there is an incident when I attempt to rescue two homeless people who have jumped into a rain swollen creek near our home. I was able to latch onto the woman, pull her out of the water, and take her back up to the bridge and her friends. But then, I go back to find the man. I see him caught up on a thick branch near the shore - his face in the water. I attempt to move him - he is too heavy. I try to take him up - no way. I look more closely at him - he is dead. He has become an inanimate object that is beyond the weight I can lift - or even pull. Nothing at all.

I consider my ability to lift people to be organic. It is as though we are connected - we are able to interact - we are alive and part of something more than simply being individual people. I suppose I see that ability as being a part of being truly human - alive (though I haven't tested animals yet). This is not great notion. Rather, my book of fiction has created a living conundrum for me. There is nothing to come beyond who I am and the life that is available to me everyday. Plans for tomorrow are great and they are fun to anticipate - but right now, how am I alive - how am I alive with others. While I was in my pre-sleep mental wanderings, I found myself to be placed into moments of deep peacefulness. It was - I thought - the way I need to be even during the day. The last time I thought about such stuff was prior to my heart surgery. I am the only family member - among those who have looked into it - who inherited the heart of my gramps - a bicuspid aortic valve. It did him in during the 1960's and near the age I was approaching. Though the surgeon told me it is a good surgery to have and I was in really good health, I had the feeling I was at the end - there would be no other side of surgery. Back then, I first thought of nothingness and realizing that I would not know the outcome if I did not make it to recovery. I thought I was about to enter nothingness - though I did not tell that to my wife or daughter at that time - that would turn the waiting room into a real sea of mourning or a grand celebration - who knows.

So, nothingness. Can you live with that? I am finding that I buy it more and more. I am finding that it is making the stories of the Scriptures come eternally alive for me. Resurrection is endlessly present. God's Reign is utterly available. The Spirit of God pulls at my life like the wind blowing at pentecost and the bringing of creation. Grace a way of life. Hell very present as part of the day. I know, this is no great insight - no profound new thought. But is has made me think of so many people - so many relationships - so many life concerns - so many ways to expand the life at hand - so many ways to actualize a life that considers the welfare of all. So rather than attempt to flee the notion of nothingness, I'm finding myself caught up in more and more moments of liveliness. The stories of Scripture now inform the quality of what it is to be human - humanity when its potential shows forth the wonder of what we are able to be together.

anyone know a publisher who is interested in fiction - book two is already underway. :)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Under God - is a lie

Fear of the other - the ones not like us - rules the land of the free and the home of the brave. I think it is good to note that fear does not make one free and fear often turns the frightened into a mob ruled by fear - not bravery.  

In the 1950s, the prepositional phrase under God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a fear-filled people. It was as though a person or a people - if they mentioned the word God or declared that God was on their side - would then be safe from that which they feared. Those folk back then claimed ownership of God - as we still do. Well, I would prefer to say they created a god. Even today, those who claim to be close to God are really close only to the god they imagine will protect them against other gods - other powers - other demons. Demons become those who do not follow the god of our making.

To make the claim that we are under God is to say we are willing to be a part of the character of the God who shows no partiality and finds rest in God's ceaseless affirmation of all people. This would be a wonder-filled reality. Unfortunately,  I think it is not the reality visible among us. When we use the expression under God in the Pledge, I think we are simply lying. Though we are not lying if we mean: the god of our liking - the god who we can control - the god who acts the way we act - the god who draws lines in our favor - the god who we use as an excuse to do as we please - the god who is ruled by fear just as we are. But we should then write it as under god.

In some way, when I hear people talk about being God-fearing people - I now take them at their word. They are afraid of the God who welcomes all - abides with all - rescues all - loves all - sees to the well-being of all - graciously respects the diversity of thought and actions we each bring to the table within a peaceable Reign. God-fearing people only want their god to reign even if it is at the expense of other people. And yet, their god fears any attempt to display the character of the God who risks everything and anything for those too often labeled as other - outsider - a threat. At great expense, God unites and heals and is creatively shaping our character and therefore, we are always changing - even evolving (ahh). So, fear not.

I get a real kick out of seeing and hearing God-fearing people trying to protect God. In reality they are working like hell to protect their image of god. I used the word hell intentionally here. God-fearing people attempt to paint the world as going to hell whenever it is not going as they want it to go. So we have had to put up with God-fearing people who want to go back to a day when people of color and other faiths and other cultures were not among us - or at least could be contained to places away from us. That attempt to protect their image of their god creates a piece of hell on earth. It is manifest as the power of division - fear - hatred - and a dis-ease of the heart that turns compassion and hospitality from gifts we offer to others to gifts we withhold for a few.

I see God as the creative force that opens our heart and minds and lives so that we are able to experience the expansiveness of a love that lets no one go. But God-fearing folks want their god as they have created their god. As that is the case, we have to put up with fear-filled people who think they are being victimized when the world of their own making is not the world others want and seek. When folks who fear the God-of-all it is easy to play the card of a victim and demand religious freedom - but that is a lie also. They don't want religious freedom - they want their way of seeing the world to be held in greater regard than all others. They want us to dwell in their place under god - a place in which the God-of-all is dismissed because that God cannot be controlled by them. The hell that they fear is coming into the world - is the hell that is whipped up by their fears. There are too many lessons throughout history that have shown us again and again that when self-proclaimed God-fearing folk take hold of the steering wheel of the day, they are the masters of creating hell on earth for everyone.

So back to the Pledge of Allegiance for a moment. When God-fearing people fear the world around them they will never be able to offer shelter to the stranger - lift up the downtrodden - welcome the alien - abide with the left out - sacrifice life for the for those labeled unworthy. Unfortunately, if all we can do is claim to be God-fearing people we will never live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We will live only within a lie that attempts to fabricate a holy place and holy people that is nothing more than sheer blasphemy. So fear not - live by grace - live into the image of God - be ready to be surprised by a new life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

There are people walking off the edge everyday

Let me share two situations in which I found myself in the past weeks. I'm not doing this to shine a light on me. Rather, I am sharing them because I realize how easy it is to sit in the dark - let the world happen out there - talk endlessly about what can be - speak and tell stories that will hopefully inspire new life.

I am blessed with all sorts of friends and acquaintances that I consider as people who live on the edge. It is an edge in which their everyday lives are made available for the well-being of others. That is an edge of life that most folks avoid. It is much easier to turn back from that edge and focus on the well-being of my own kind and how I can protect that which I have fooled myself into believing is mine - all mine.  And yet, I know so many folks who seem to walk off that edge - every damn day - in all sorts of ways - and it is as though that is simply the life they live - no reward or praise needed. But when I look closely at them they shine and they make the world shine and most of the time the brilliance take place within the simplicity of being utterly human without partiality and with the courage to be self-giving for the well-being of all.

These blessed ones may or may not be religious folks. The inspiring part for me is that they are folks who step in and go about doing. They don't act up because it is a part of their job - they act up because they consider that being available to others is a vital part of how they are humanly present in the day. They act up on many levels. They write letters. They take time to physically stand with and for those who need the presence of others. They risk saying and doing that which is not a part of the pattern of the day. They use their language and ideas to open up the possibility for a life of healing and then they put meaning to those words through the actions of their everyday life. They see injustice and bias and bigotry and they make sure those sores are laid open so that the miracle of healing can be seen by everyone - even those who are unwilling to acknowledge the wounds around us. Nothing is put off for later. Service is not something that is done in another place and time. What is and what has been is simple a part of that which could be and therefore they do not settle for that which is.

I have always found that as I am near these folks who act up and are willing to expand the meaning of what it is to be truly human, it is like being in the middle of prayer - or - some might say - mindfulness. I begin to see things and hear things and feel things I know I too often have passed by on my way to build the day or the world as I want it or like it. These folks are willing to explore life that is beyond their own way of living face and therefore encounter surprises that disrupt their thinking and acting and begin to shape a new way of living. These folks are ones who are not colorblind because they want to see the differences and the variety and the strangeness of what it is to be fully human. These folks see time as a gift that we are handed and a gift that we are able to share with others - and they have the audacity to  explore the contents of that gift - right now. These folks read and study and ask questions and risk being wrong because they understand that when they think they are right or must be right - they may fall into the many groups of people through history who saw no value in others and even saw them as expendable.

So, what did I do recently that is making me reconsider everything I do within the realm of my ordinary humanity. I made a phone call. And then, on another day, I turned the car around. I will leave it at that.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Because of Them - We are Becoming

Because of them - we are inspired to expand our notion of we. For without them, we will never experience the fullness and wonder and beauty of our humanity. We are less human when we are afraid of them - for they help make complete our humanity.

What is it that causes fear and anxiety around the notion of dreamers and foreigners and exiles who are already in place in our country and long to stay here. I do understand the need to move those folks out who violate the laws of the land. I do not understand the need to deport those who are as much as the fabric of an orderly and creative and productive society as the rest of us. My question today is a simple one. It comes from the realization that I do not know an illegal immigrant who has taken the job of a U.S. citizen. Do you? Don't go on and on about them - the ones in another state - the ones you read about - the ones thrown into that vast pile of no-good foreigners who are not really one of us. Simply reflect on your life. Do you know of a Dreamer that has taken the job of someone close to you - do you know of an illegal immigrant who caused you to get paid less or made you lose the skills you may have needed for your job - do you know of an immigrant who somehow caused you not to fulfill your dreams - do you know of one of these folks who made your educational choices a mistake. We are being told that millions of citizens have lost their jobs (had them taken away) by those immigrants from over the southern border. And yet, I have yet to meet someone who lost their job to one of 'them.'

I don't think the Youngstown steel mills folded because of illegal immigrants. Coal jobs are not being grabbed up by the illegals. Fast food jobs are not disappearing or out of reach for young adults. What I do think is an issue, though, is that there is a great need to place blame on some people so as to explain or give excuse to why other people are not working. When there is that them upon whom we can point a finger or at whom we can throw a stone - for some reason many folks seem to feel better about themselves. For example, when a person must face his/her own shortcomings or inability to reach his/her goals or deal with the simple bad luck in life or anxiety about not having life turn out as expected - it is quite natural to turn to the other (them) and rid oneself of feelings and situations with which they are unable to deal - by dumping all that on them. Those feeling (a whole bunch of them) quickly move into anger and that anger often needs to be directed toward someone other than ourselves. We have to come up with a them. We all do it. It is quite easy. We can make ourselves sound like winners because we work to make them into the losers.

And yet, those who are often painted as thieves or cheats or scoundrels because of their country of origin and their legal status in this country - are most often those who are attempting to live the dream of being a part of this country. Yes, the way it has all been unfolding may not fit the laws-at-hand. But, the laws-at-hand must never been written in stone for then we do not use the law for the sake of creativity and vibrancy and life. Instead, the law can become the stones used to destroy the visions of those who most resemble the proud ancestry of immigrants like my grandparents. Yes, it is different, but we are a people blessed to be a blessing - we become greater when we are free to welcome the stranger and foreigner along with being brave when we encounter those who are not just as we are. The privilege of being a citizen of this country is that we are handed the privilege to make sure that all the people - even those still yearning to be 'we the people' - are invited to share in the experiment that is still unfolding. No need to fear. We need to work at exercising our privilege to serve others as we all become the people who have always dreamed of a new day filled with liberty and justice for all. It is quite possible - even necessary - to live within a rule of law but to do so with a loving heart that is wise and not ruled by fear.

This week I was able to stand with others alongside Edith. She went into sanctuary at the Columbus Mennonite Church. She is an illegal alien. She is courageous. She is productive. She has raised a family and they are making a place within the creativity of this country. Forget about the when and how they have come to this place in life - look at the substance. We must have new eyes - eyes open to new avenues of being a people in the midst of changing time. We must do that without falling for the temptation to bitch and moan and blame. When Edith willingly showed up for appointment at the ICE office - which meant leaving her place of sanctuary - she was walking into that time and space in which there were no sure bets on how one will be able to move forward. Instead of staying safe - she walked into that which could have been the end of things. As I was standing there and listening and watching, I realized she was walking into holy week. Yep, she was like a lamb willingly walking into that which could have been and that which may still be the slaughter of her life and family. That is a strong image but I do not mean for it to be mere hyperbole. All the powers of the land - the anger - the fear - the hatred - the blame - work to put an end to the marvelous opportunity for all of us to reshape our humanity by working at reuniting the separated. It is an act of re-union because though they are not like us and we are not like them - we are the making of humanity - the image of God. When we work to reunite that which we have caused to be separate - because of all the shit we do to one another - we open ourselves us to a future beyond our fears and within the unfolding of a humanity that has been beckoning us to come and see the presence of God among us. Yes, a presence always in the midst of them and us - that endlessly moves toward becoming we the people of God - the whole bunch of us - even those beyond our laws and boundaries and biases.thenm

Friday, August 11, 2017

There is no fire and fury within God's Peaceable Reign - stop blessing it

This bit of a rant has been triggered multiple times. First it was, as I previously noted some weeks ago, seeing Evangelical pastors laying hands on President Trump. I think I called them court prophets - not meant to be a compliment. Then there is the megachurch Baptist pastor from Dallas who said that Trump is God's instrument for smiting the evil Kim Jung-un. I suppose one can still misunderstand the whole notion of the Peaceable Reign of God to which the Scriptures endlessly give a witness and still convince thousands of people to trust that which he might have to say about God - no matter how badly it reflects the glory of God. Hmm. And yet, if you lean in to hear more, it is the same kind of violence and lies that appears to have a foothold on people in general. Nothing redemptive here. Then there was a person on a podcast who said two things that made me stop and listen. He said that as a scientist, he does not 'debate' so called religious folks in regard to evolution verse creationism because: they do not fit at the same table - they are not in the same discussion - and to do so would mean that he is saying it is worth his time and energy to debate a creationist. To this point he also said he thinks that creationist types want to debate him simply because they then will have a platform for their crap (my word). It was this same person who noted that the greatest religious threat to the U.S. is not radical Islam. He said it comes from radical Christian Fundamentalist/Literalists. Though he is not at all tolerant of radical Islam, he said elements of Islam are primarily a threat to Islamic countries for what they want to install in those places. Thus he points to Christian Fundamentalists and what they seem to want to do here.

The modern American Christian literalist or fundamentalist does not know of the God of Jesus' peaceable Reign. Rather, they are masters at religious rules and rituals and images that are meant to place the knowledge of good and evil in the hands of a few who are to then hand that knowledge over to others. The result: a bunch of so-called religious people who have come to believe that their vision of the way life is to be - is to be the vision all are to have. Why? Because, they would say, the Bible tells them so. Which, by the way, the Bible does not. When the voice of Christianity is left in the hands of these folks, the only seed they really sow is death. That is, they master the rules of division - they perpetuate the brutality of us verses them - they define morality along the lines of certain acts that are easy to scapegoat and ones in which they do not participate (or have not been caught) - they call for emotional adherence to a list of rules that, if not obeyed and followed, will be their demise and the ruin of all things.

Again and again, I have to walk back into the stories of the Gospels and into the writings of Paul to see that the church is defined by how it is seen siding with and entering into fellowship with and living with and dying with and being persecuted with all the folk who the self-proclaimed moral and holy ones would kick out - reject - shun - and even put to death. The Literalist - the Fundamentalist have let loose of church - as a character - and embrace the character of the world. They do this by painting over their actions with religious words and religious symbols in the hope that they will gain power and prestige in a world aligned with the holy violence of all time. So rather than giving us a vision of the Prince of Peace - the shalom of God - they become the children of death held together by fear, threat, and condemnation in pursuit of control of all things. But the control they long to have - is nothing more than the an attempt to have the world made in their likeness - forget about the image of God. So being a religious person or saying that one is religious doesn't reflect God's image at all. It is used as an excuse to judge others - condemn others - justify our own thoughts and acts.

God would not have us - any of us - smite others. The people using religious words and stories for their own benefit like to smite others. It is a tribal and ancient way of control that still has the power to turn thoughtful and loving people into those who are quick studies of the power of fear and threat. Thus, the God of peace and forgiveness and reconciliation and self-sacrificing love is transformed - quite masterfully - into a god who looks like us: the evil side of us - the payback side of us - the frightened side of us - the controlling side of us - the we must destroy and we must win side of us. It is a very easy transformation. Rather than a love that is open for all and is meant to become the life of us, the message is that there are always a few conditions - a few exceptions - a few troublemakers - a few of them who are out to ruin God's goodness and love. Yet, no power - no one - no group can ruin God's goodness and love - it is constant - eternal - unable to be held by one side and not the other. Therefore, when a megachurch pastor or a small church pastor or a group of pastors try to teach any of us to draw back and protect ourselves from them, don't yell at them and tell then to go to hell - for they are already living in it and trying to make sure the rest of us join them within the hell they are trying to create.

The threat of Christian Literalism/Fundamentalism is the real hell trying to be unleashed on us. It uses sweet talk and sentimentality to deliver us into a limited and restrictive reign of division that will always turn out to be a reign of evil and never the promised Reign of God's love. This is why it is almost impossible for those of us who are not Literalist or those of us who are of no 'religious' persuasion at all to even enter into discussions with those who are hawking what I will call a message of anti-love - or anti-Christ - or anti-resurrection into new life. We are living in different realities. Yet, the bridge has to be built - the confrontation must be as gentle and peaceful as Paul's resistance to the religious establishment from which he came and Jesus' unceasing movement alongside and with those who he was told do not count. I don't find that easy to do. It is as though we use the same words to talk of different realities. It might do us well to talk about the hellishness we each fear. Maybe, in that dialogue, we will dismantle the hellishness around us that still talks in words like fire and fury - as though that will bring about peace.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

court prophets at the White House - like court prophets in every age

When I recently saw the photo of Christian pastors laying hands on President Trump - blessing and praying for him,  I thought of the court prophets in the days of the Kings of Israel and Judah. They were the court prophet who said everything the Kings wanted them to say - they went along - they were the spokespersons for the interest of the Kings. Those prophets had their places in the courts of power and only had to make sure the the mechanisms that kept things going - just as is - would continue on their way with the blessing of the religious order. These prophets were good at giving advice that would not ruffle feathers or make the world of the Kings uncomfortable. They were religious yes men afraid of the power of the Kings and willing to do anything to make sure the Kings never felt as though their power was faltering or being threatened. Those prophets brought good news to the Kings but it was not the Good News of God's Reign. That Good News came out of the mouths and through the actions of the Great Prophets - those who could not be bought off - those who understood the vision of God's Reign that was to be embodied by the Kings and the People. They were the Great Prophets who also knew that the Kings avoided living into the vision of God's Reign - so they challenged them and risked their lives speaking the truth of God's Peaceable Reign to Kings who were possessed by the powers and riches that usually rule the world.

I have no problem with prayers being said for our leaders. I would prefer them being said by faith leaders of many faiths - but that simple proposal frightens some folks. As I say that, I would have felt better about there only being Christian pastors in the room with the President - if those pastors represented the fullness of voice and presence of those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The news story said they were Evangelical pastors. I would love to have seen clergy from other expressions of the Church present and in the midst of the prayers and the laying-on-of-hands. Trust me, it would not have been the same event. I know faithful followers of Jesus who would have wanted to lay hands on the President's head in order to heal him of the dis-eases of pride and arrogance and self-consumption and then deliver him from the power of greed and obsessive self-adoration. As you may be hearing, I think the prayers and laying-on-of-hands may have taken on a different dynamic. Maybe in such a gathering we would be handed an opportunity to hear if there were any Great Prophets in the room. For as I would bet, there was not greatness in that room - just the perpetuation of life that never seeks the Peaceable Reign of God.

I must admit, the clergy and the people of the church can often be the ones who go along with the power of the day. Rather than seek out the welfare of all God's people, we stand back as long as we have what we want - or - we think we will get what we want - or deserve  - or need. Folks turn to preachers of prosperity and gold shimmering lifestyles because it is easy to be seduced to believe that such a life is God given. That is actually ancient, religious stinking-thinking. Yet, if we say God gives such prosperity and such golden lives, it may be that we are really being handed a way to care of others. Teaching the world how to live together - not against one another - often means we cannot and must not go-along and bless that which is. The Great Prophets would never go along and bless the Kings actions or inactivity. They would press for life filled with the compassion of a Good Shepherd - one who would step into the position that helps bring people to new life - new everyday, down-to-earth life. They were never talking about a life after this one - a life in which we would get our due reward or punishments. They would stand up the Kings to call for actions - for life - for peace - for justice - for the well-being of all - NOW.

So, I'm going to be watching. I'm going to be watching to see if our President - so blessed as he was in the oval office the other day - will begin to seek the well-being of all - will take all the power he has been given and use it to to empower the least among us - will lean into the needs of the world and listen to voices of those whose lives are simply not counted - will step away from the power of his self-proclaimed Midas touch and learn what it is to embrace those who have been deemed to be worth-less and untouchable - fired.

I am also going to be listening. I need to hear words shaped by the breath of God that will make us all sit up - for those words may not be words we want to hear. None of us can afford only to be handed words we like to hear - words that build us up - words filled with accolades and compliments. We must be fear-less and listen to words of truth that are the essence of God's creative power for life. That kind of truth comes when we are able to hear the differences between the voices of lies and truth-telling - bigotry and openness -  hate and love - compassion and indifference.  It is then that we will come to understand which voices sound like the Great Prophets of the Promised Reign of God and which ones are the voices of prophets courting favors.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Let me explain my use of the words - at the fence

There have been about twelve posts dealing with the common theme that ends with - at the fence. I realize - with the help of comments - that I must be a bit more clear about my rants that are focused at the fence. In a very concrete way, they have to do with a real fence. That fence is the one that serves as a decorative and protective barrier separating the sidewalk from the property of the Planned Parenthood clinic at which I volunteer at times. It is also the whole ensemble of newly planted trees and bushes that have been placed into a new bed of mulch. It is all quite decorative - but it is also a strategic planting. The signs mounted on street-side trees or on the sidewalk become less visible to clients at the clinic. The fence and the plantings are a much more clear statement as to where the protestors may plant themselves.

In addition, the notion of being at the fence has to do with my way of distinguishing between separate world views. Those who mount their protests at the fence can be loud and they are very pointed in their comments to the women and men who come to the clinic. For those of us who volunteer, we remain silent - we do not try to provoke those at the fence - we speak to and welcome and attempt to be a non-threatening presence to folks who can be very intimidated by the protestors. At the same time, we are there to make sure clients who would like to show their contempt for the protestor are held in check. I find that the folks at the fence are all people who claim to be Christians - of one sort or another. There are the independent protestors - the families - the recruited and trained protestors - the militant folks - the professional protestors. Those of us who are volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds: Christians, Jews, Nones, Atheists, U.U. folks, and people of a variety of political viewpoints.

It is this Christian thing that causes me to rant about the fence. Though the identity of the volunteers is generally protected, that doesn't always work. Along with several very active members of the team (whose social activism makes me look like an old man sitting on a porch swing) - my identity has become know. Each group has learned that I am a pastor. I think that makes them all the more disgusted at my involvement with the hospitality and escorting offered to the clients. I find it to be more amusing than disturbing.  It is amusing because their use of Scripture - their bible bits and pieces - their claim that their words and actions are divinely inspired - their self-righteous and rambling words of condemnation - do not exemplify the vision of Scripture I have learned to appreciate. We physically stand five to twenty yards apart, but the lens through which we claim as our base (the BIBLE) is used very differently. I find that even their uses of love is encased in and surrounded by judgment and condition - which means the love is negated.

I take up the ranting banner because I will not let those words and notions and vision at the fence define a faith into which I continue to grow more and more as I study and attempt to enact that faith in my public life. So, though I do not have the opportunity to talk to those at the fence I do want those who stand with me and walk alongside the clients to hear very clearly that the version and vision of Christianity at the fence - though popular in our culture - is a form of violence that is not central to the faith. The condemnation - the language of heaven and hell - the public shaming - the scripted words that try to set up a zero sum religious game, is antithetical to the vision of God's Reign  of justice and peace - hopefulness and grace - endless forgiveness and reconciliation - that has become so central to the story that is presented in the Scripture I honor and study.

As I once told one of these folks who is planted at the fence at the clinic and at Pride parades, I was once converted to and recited those words he passes out at the fence. Then, I guess I would say those words soon did not and could not match the message of love-put-to-life-even-unto-death-for-the-well-being-of others that is central to the vision of Scripture that has grown up in my heart. In fact, now those words of condemnation and the sour dispositions they create are like spring boards into comedy sketches that play out in my mind - and sometime come out (silently) to those around me. Okay maybe not so silently.

I tend to think that we who claim to follow Jesus or live within the Peaceable Reign of God (in which more than Christians dwell and thrive) must speak of this other vision of nonviolence whenever closed-minded 'good religious' folk are practicing their brand of Christianity. Remember, it is only a brand - brands can be discarded - brands work for awhile until the superficiality of the words and the life wear down. Yet, when their words and actions are refuted and shown to be shallow or ineffective, the last action they will use in an attempt to redeem their lives and values is violence. So we must be watchful. We must never rise up to their violence. We must be willing to stand up and go about our faithful lives even as our lives are contrary to the life that is packaged in those words at the fence.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I don't think you'll find atheists and agnostics - at the fence

I find that the depth of my Christian faith is enhanced when I hear from atheists and agnostics. This is especially the case when I am challenged or questioned or met with a shaking-of-the-head. It is not that I have learned to put up with their unbelief. Rather, it is that I have become more able and more willing and find it to be more necessary - to draw all things into question. Now, to draw all things into question does not mean that I drop them or throw them away or find that I can no longer find deep worth in that which is questioned. It is simply that I find more and more of the life of religious groups to be unnecessary. When I became a Lutheran, I really was thrilled by being able to let go of some things. Usually they were things that did not count - were not essential to the faith - could be moved to the side so that the brilliance of the story of God's love and nonviolence might prevail. In the liturgy that kind of stuff is labeled adiaphora - that which we can do without and it would not change the core of the faith. For me that meant that the Lord's Supper was essential - it was the essential story of God's love for us - handed to us - shaping us - inspiring us. On the other hand, the bowing - the proper setting of the table - the crossing of oneself here and there, did not advance the story - did not instill in me the way of Jesus.

In listening to ex-Muslims or reforming-Muslims I hear some of that same need to keep the core and dismiss and let loose all the fabric of the religion that is unnecessary to convey the wonder and depth of Islam. I remember growing up and having to attend CCD classes. Back then, as a Roman Catholic, the nuns wore black habits that revealed only a circle of their face. All else was covered. I know there were historic reasons for such garb, but it was not and is not essential to the faith. In time, the local nuns who were friends of mine in Detroit, looked like any other woman. And yet, their substance - their embodiment of their life as a follower of Jesus - remained the same. But now, it did not need any wardrobe to be the identifier of the faith. Sometimes I look at the Vatican and find it to be primarily an experience in creating that which does not matter. I'm sure there are reforming Jews who also long to be rid of that which does not matter.

But even as I say all this, I know that rituals and patterns and dress and lists of what is a correct way to embody the faith are helpful for some folks when they are trying to focus on that center - the love of God that endlessly seeks the peace of our humanity - the peace of the whole creation. I am also not saying that all the rituals and practices that historic churches or mosques or synagogues do need to be ended. In fact, I am most often offended when I hear about new and growing hip churches that incorporate new music, portray more of the culture around them, yet, the preacher still lives in an ancient mindset that looks at a holy book with eyes devoid of the insights of critical scholarship and instead continue being caught up in the tribalism of long ago. Nothing is easier than being a preacher who claims to be someone who preaches the bible. In such cases s/he spouts passages as though they enlarge and enrich his/her words. They use a vocabulary as ancient as the religion itself but without taking out the old-time religious meanings of words and stories that still leave us with a violent God who loves to love some and punish others.

I rant on here because I do not think there are any atheist or agnostics - at the fence. Those who are out at the fence serving as the mouth-pieces of a god who offers limited forgiveness and a singular path to live out life in the real world, have not critically looked at the faith they attempt to spread by megaphone - the signs they manufacture - the blame and shame they throw around as though it is at the core of that which is holy to them. Those at the fence are probably proud of the fact that there are no atheists or agnostics at the fence. They might say it is because all folks out at the fence have been bought into the religious zeal and certitude they need to keep their message correct and right in their eyes. It's often called conversion - it is really religious subjection. Therefore, the atheists and agnostics who relentlessly question would never be out at the fence. For out at the fence there is no dialogue - no vulnerability - no availability that shapes the actions at the fence. Usually, the message is one that says: to hell with all who do not line up at the fence and adhere to that which - I would say - is nonessential.  I am finding more and more that I need to be bathed in the unbounded love of God for all and through all times and forget the god of retribution, condemnation, scapegoating, and violence of any kind.

I find atheist and agnostics do not try to change me. Although I am quite put off by some popular figures who find it necessary to be in constant battle mode whenever someone speaks of a life choice that has brought them into the faith they hold dear. Such voices as that - are basically violent and can be just as exclusive as the so-called faithful lives of others. My activism - as little as it may be at times - is inspired when I am pushed into the peaceable core of my faith journey. It has been the voices and questions of ex-religious or non-religious folks who have made it more essential for me to stand with people of other faiths whose core understanding of their faith holds up a gracious, benevolent, self-sacrificing notion of what it is to be fully human.

I will always find it difficult to accept the adiaphora of religious people. In fact, I know that what I may call adiaphora - unnecessary to the faith - may sound like an offensive word to them. But, I find that as we are open to being offended, we may see in our own ways and words that which reveals how little we seek to embody a loving God whose Spirit is working to make us whole - with all. At the fence - things are right or wrong. They point to Scripture for that notion. That may be why I am not out at the fence but simply listen to their rants as I discuss what faithfulness means with those who question everything about my faithfulness. I find it an interesting and challenging journey.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Nothing more than tweeting - at the fence

One hundred and forty characters - in the hands of a character of questionable integrity - will not be able to offer any bit of creativity that will bring about the well-being of others. One hundred and forty characters used  to demean or belittle or shame, become a weapon of destruction. One hundred and forty characters allow a coward to act with bravado as he shakes with existential fear of being perceived as less than the image cast by his self-consumed ego. One hundred and forty characters is enough to: shake the world - disrupt civil society - instigate a warring madness - reveal that the king has no clothes - let everyone in on the worthlessness of those who claim great worth. And yet, the short message - the short assault - the short jab - the flashing graphic, seems to be able to either win the day or be forgotten within the next news cycle. So, one might say less is more  - little is big - weakness is strong - threats are answers - innuendos trump reality.

Now, you may think that I am commenting about the aberrant behavior of the President of the United States. Well... You have my permission to see in that whatever you like. That which is more pressing for me is the simple half-sentences - partial quotes - photo-shopped pictures - indoctrinated mindlessness that are used by many individual characters - at the fence. For me, the fence is a metaphor that includes statehouse legislators - abortion clinic protestors - pride-full bigots at Pride Parades. If you listen closely, those who protest so loudly and bath their words with religious images in an attempt to make their words sound right and good are sadly nothing more than converts to out of context literalism - ancient fears and violence. They share and carry nothing more than one hundred and forty characters that make them sound like characters caught in a cult of fear and absurdity.

But, fear and absurdity seems to be a viable manner to speak when some are attempting to move back into another age - an age of long ago - an age floating in a ark - an age divorced from the gift of scientific thought and action - an age of patriarchy and abuse - an age of swaggering segregation - an age of scapegoating and sacred violence. And - unfortunately, it only takes one hundred and forty characters (the attention span of a child in pursuit of other toys) to win the day or at least capture the imagination of folks unwilling to imagine a life beyond that which can be grasped for one's self-consumption and self-aggrandizement.

I like the sound of birds tweeting between four and five o'clock in the morning. It gets me ready for the day ahead. It is music - creative in its repetition of sound - eye opening in its faithfulness. Yet, when a tweet is only one hundred and forty characters or like a sign or picture equivalent to such a fart in time, it is nothing more than that which  needs to be dismissed for it bring no lasting life - no beauty - no new breath of life.

I need more than one hundred and forty characters - more than a sign or picture. I need to hear the larger story - hear about the depth of life behind actions chosen - hear about the struggles and the wrestling that goes into one's actions. I don't often have the time to sit and listen - but I must. There is no way to have everything in place - set in stone - designated as unloveable - beyond transformation. Yet, when we attempt to enter into life by merely bleating of one hundred and forty characters, we will be left with life that is full of stoning and violence against all those other than my own. That is not the life we have been handed - that is a cheap life often like that of a golden calf that attempts to replace the dignity and blessedness of all people.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A god of policing behavior - at the fence

So, I was reading along in the third book about the Tearling Queen and I was struck by this comment about the emerging church that was attempting to take over where the queen once ruled. A character named Row had become caught up in the lifestyle of the church and its growing rule over the lives of the people. He was becoming one of the leaders. Here is a comment about the movement: Row's God was an avid policeman of personal behavior, and the idea that such policing was anathema to the very idea of the town no longer seemed to disturb anyone. God as an avid policeman of personal behavior - hmmm. In this storyline, this church stuff was a growing movement - it was a way of seeing things that was able to grab attention and followers - it was becoming the base line of a people who were fear-filled, anxious, and feeling out-of-control. The book is a novel - it is not about real life - it is about another place and another time. Really?

Prior to reading this portion of the book I was contemplating all the churches that have become masters of branding and naming. All of them looking to attract a community of people who will be connected to their brand, support them, and adhere to their teachings. They look new. They have a younger following. They are even looking a bit diverse. And yet, the smell of the vision is one of policing personal behavior - old religion packaged for a new audience. Hell and damnation sugar-coated with Alleluias belted out by excellent musicians who help pave the way for the local religious leader to keep the old, old story of violence and condemnation alive. And yet, it is all packaged with smiling faces - lattes - youth programs - and rules of conduct that are meant to develop a keen awareness of the difference between us and them. Ahh, let the policing continue.

The policing of personal behavior is not merely setting down a guide for one's own life. It also involves the necessity to guide the lives of others - those not like us. I see the same kind of holy shit portrayed in television series featuring fictional kingdoms or history based fiction. The ability to brand someone or some group or someone's actions and choices as something to be band - forbidden - dirty - evil - devilish - is a powerful sales pitch. It is ancient and it is still very, very new - it still seems to work. To give people the power that comes with blame and shame is very attractive to many folks. It is a violence that attempts to packaged its vile acts and attitudes within the language and images of love. Unfortunately, such packaging works too often. The violence is nurtured through images that note that it is out of love that we condemn - it is our duty - it is what our God demands of us - our loving God. Hmmm, really?

Even as we live within a culture where such religious violence of language and actions are easily ridiculed and dismissed, such religious violence and hate is growing - even thriving. My fear is that as more and more people are exposed to the religions of hateful love (an oxymoron and - blasphemy) they will counter this beast-of-hate with hate - counter the condemnation with more condemnation. That cannot be the way to go - for we would simply become as they are - merely packaged differently. We must learn to listen. If you are a religious person - listen to what is being said. When it is a message of control and division and condemnation and us verses them, get out of there. But don't give up on the word of love that can be a reality without the need of violence.  

I find that a love not dependent on winning or controlling the day, can become a life in which we let go of our need to rule the day and then, lean in to work on ways we all can save the day through a love and respect that opens the doors of our own hearts. Having said that, it is important to note that simply ignoring such religious violence is not the way that such love can come to life. Hate and condemnation that attempts to be sold as words of love must be met with the a band of noisemakers that helps everyone see how rude and mean and hate-filled some churches can be.  We cannot silence them. That would simply make us - another brand of violence against others.  We must  let them speak but we will speak also. Not only speak - but also act. Our speaking and our acting is how we display the contrary vision of loving kindness, mercy, forgiveness, compassion and peace. So, we may need to dress up - be noisemakers - even stand silently in the face of violence without resorting to their games.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's not the same Jesus - at the fence - at the parade

That's not the Jesus I know. That's not the Scriptures I know. In fact, I had to tell a protestor that it would be quite impossible to hold a discussion about the Bible or Jesus or God while standing out on the curb at the Pride parade. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know why we could not be engaged in a thoughtful conversation. Well, it would take hours - if not days - to simply clarify our use of biblical and religious language. In a very short span of time he made sure I understood that all the answers and all that needed to be known were available in his Bible. I suppose he was correct. In his bible - within his view of Scripture - taking on his interpretation of verse and chapter and book - I suppose he was correct. At least in his own eyes. In short, he did not want to hold a conversation. He wanted to bring about a conversion to his way of seeing the whole world of biblical understanding.

He is also a regular protestor at the Planned Parenthood clinic. He arrives with a megaphone and high on his agenda is to talk and talk and talk. He talks at people. His talk reprimands. His talk degrades. His talk is laced with the assumption that he is how people coming and going from the clinic will hear - though his words of condemnation - love. Yet, his notion of love comes only when a person is subjected to shame and accusation and condemnation - as though love must first be like an abusive person who says a beating is handed out only because of a deep love.  In reality, I call that deep shit - deep bullshit.

He came up to me at the Pride parade and said I looked familiar. I said the same to him. He then made the connection and asked if I had heard anything he had been saying through the fence at the clinic. It was as though he was saying - if I heard it - I would side with his condemnation of people in the GLBTQ community and his view of abortion and birth control. I instantly said, I listened for a short while and then realized it was the stuff I stopped listening to forty years ago. Back then and even more now, his presentation of Good News is Bad News and it is a foul smelling and discouraging word.

Once again, in that brief encounter, we did not share the same vision of God's Reign. I also realize that his Jesus and his understanding of the unfolding story of the love of God was conditional and damning at best. It is not at all the story I embrace. And yet, we read the same stories. Hmm. All his talk through the fence was nothing more than a tale of Santa Claus. It thrives on the story of a god who will find out who is naughty and nice and then this god will reward and punish as is deemed necessary. Grace is available - but it is a conditional gift - which is no gift at all - it is not grace at all. Instead, get your life put in order - the order that he and his church friends say is the life all should live - or - go to hell. Ah, nothing like a word of Good News that is nothing more than another grading system like all the rest of the systems of the world that offer nothing new - no Good News at all.

When we serve as escorts, we do not engage the protestors at all. We let them shout. We let them call out names and make accusations. We let them exercise their shaming that they think is a word of love. We let them shoot their biblical bullets at clients and other escorts. We let them try to convert the world around them - it is a desperate thing to hear and watch. It is very odd. I never hear the characters in Scripture sounding desperate. They are usually joy-filled and thrill when love sends them beyond their limited way of experiencing others. I often say the voices at the fence sound vile. And yet, it is not what they say for much of what they say I also say. I quote some of the bits of Scripture they use. And yet, it is as though we hear a different message within the exact same words. The way they use the words - throw the words - sounds vile to me.  When they yell out and question me as to how I can, as a pastor, escort at the clinic - or for that matter - side with the GLBTQ community - I smile. It is very simple. We do not know the same Jesus - the same God of Abraham and Sarah - the same Church whose doors were endlessly blow open the the Spirit so that no bias or prejudice or god-fearing bullshit would keep those doors closed to the fellowship of saint - who are known by their expansive love.

Our little band at the Pride parade simply made noise so that the violent noise being thrown out at the festival participants might not linger with those participants like the smell of dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. Our daily small band of escorts at the Planned Parenthood clinic simply offer words of welcome and hospitality and support to those who are facing life situations that no one should try to condemn or judge or degrade. Our band may have simply been heard as a bunch of noise to the protestors. But over and over again, while playing my cowbell and others blowing horns and others playing drums and guitar and one offering the flourishing flutter of a clarinet, we had multitudes coming up to us offering words of thanksgiving and love and peace. Seen as devils on the loose by those carrying signs and pitching bible bullets - others saw us as an angel chorus.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sweet Baby Jesus, Why have things gone so sour?

More and more, I find that I have trouble listening to that which is labeled the good news by those who are considered Fundamentalist or Conservatives or Literalist or Progressives or Liberals. I will own it - it is my heart that is troubled. But Sweet Baby Jesus - this is driving me nuts more and more of the time. I've lost my interest in heaven and hell. I've grown sick of threats and rewards. I've had my fill of mandatory religious clothing and ritual actions and pious words and pronouncements. I abhor designated holy places. And yet, I have never been more inspired and moved and given a sense of meaning and worth from what has been called the Good News. Although, these days I am becoming more aware of how I hear that News from wider circles than the New Testament.

This next bit of ranting may repulse folks - but hell - that sometimes happens when I'm working through things. There have been a number of triggers that have set me off. The most important one was as I caught myself standing at a rally with a bunch of religious leaders of all sorts of backgrounds. The language being used was reminding us of God's invitation to be people of justice and peace and mercy and hospitality and grace and compassion. It was inspiring. It is the stuff that gives me hope and moves me to take risks and act with and for others - no matter who they may be. But then, in the middle of this rally - this resistance movement - this call for the healing of all people, came that bit of nuance - that reference to a day of Judgement - that word of threat to those who we think better start acting right - that picture of standing in front of One who just may shut the door on folks unless they change their way. And there in those passing moments, heads were shaking, Amens were given voice, and all the creativity that had been offered up was swallowed up in a simple mist of righteous flatulence.  Ah, Sweet Baby Jesus, we have such a way of turning your words and promises sour and foul.

Morality smells each time we claim to be a moral people calling for others to live a moral life. It smells because now God is left on the sidelines and religious folk take on the task of defining morality as we want it - need it - and insist all must take hold of it. Quite honestly, I find that our calls for morality that are laced with images of heaven and hell or last day judgments brings about nothing more than death. It is a part of a terrorist movement. Yes, a terrorist movement that is popular and accepted and even greeted with grand applause and a thunderous Amen. In, with, and under all the religious words are percolating threats that thrive because so often, threat closes the deal - the loud voice of justice that leads to either/or decisions drives people to sign up.

I need to hear the voice of God's endless Creativity that never deals in threat - but alway unfolds the promise. This voice is the voice of confrontation - a confrontation with how God promises to creatively empower each of us to walk within God's Reign - an everyday life that endlessly seeks peace and reconciliation and even risks being damned by good religious institutions and powers. Recently I heard many good words filled with inspiring images that caressed the boundaries of the wonder of God's promises. But then, there is the attachment - the must - the shall - the condition - the babble of heaven and hell that inevitably makes it easy for folks to miss the promised land and the life therein. Sweet Baby Jesus dropped those sour words and actions for the unbounded sweetness of a love that lets no one go.

When we dabble in the babbling of threat - we linger in the domain of violence. For to suggest that one may not make it - doesn't deserve to be included - has to clean up or dress up or fess up, is to violate the person who is already judged as the beloved of God. Too many religious groups settle for ways to make more religious folk who are grasped by threat or fear or shame. I can only suggest that we all listen to what is being said at our religious gatherings. The message may be inspiring and even filled with all the power and creative images of God's love for all. We may even sing songs with a message of love that may bring a tear of joy. But listen again. Is there any suggestion of that sour taste of condemnation that somehow is able to keep on the mask of grace, forgiveness, and mercy even as the bottom line calls for a formulaic response that is always the death of us. It is always the death of us because when we talk in the images of heaven and hell we are already dealing in death and not life. Sweet Baby Jesus somehow gets known for leaving a sour taste in our lives - a taste we unfortunately come to expect and accept. When it tastes sour - when it smells sour - when it leaves you wanting to judge or condemn or exclude - when it sours your thoughts and actions toward others, Sweet Baby Jesus, confront it with love - unending love. Sweet.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Violence of Pious Accountants - at the fence

When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, I would go into the confessional and name the sins I had committed since my last confession - names and numbers. Faithfulness often was measured by my participation in this routine exercise. To keep a good accounting was to make myself worthy of the goodies of this religious system. That could be heard as critique of Roman Catholicism - please don't let it be. Just today I once again was treated to the accounting system of the most pious and religious Evangelicals. They threw around the word grace but their verbiage was that of accounting and thus - condemnation for those not living in a way that adds up to their vision of holy.

When faithfulness is measured by our accounting, it is a self-serving faithfulness. Therefore, a life spent trying to measure life as though it is an accumulation of what we have done and what we have not done seems to be a lost life. Bean-counting of any kind simply leaves us with a pile of beans we must guard with our lives. Such a calculated faithfulness is short-sighted and eventually becomes the fuel for condemnation. A calculated faithfulness is short-sighted because it denies the vision of love that moves to bring all things together within a peacefulness that looks out for the other - no matter who the other may be or whatever the other has done. A calculated faithfulness is a source of condemnation because it has its limits - it thrives on comparisons - it feeds off of the self-serving notions of good and evil. In other words, I think a calculated faithfulness is idolatry - it betrays the Creator by claiming to have the right and power to define and then assign worth to the actions and lives of people all around us.

Today one of the pious accountants was on the megaphone. Oh how he seemed to love a faithfulness that can be scored and compared and then even weaponized. You may have heard an expression like bible bullets. They are often the weapons of choice by those who are vigilant in their life of accounting - especially if they are actively attempting to show another person how his or her life stacks up or falls short within their chosen accounting system. Bam. You will always be able to hear it if you lean in and take the time to listen to their accounting system in operation. Bam. You will hear words of judgment. Bam. You will see faces that attempt to appear angelic even as they spew vile accusations. Bam. You will see a great divide being constructed between those who are considered to be Inside (or holy or saved) and those who must be Outside. Bam. It is the oldest of games. It is also the deadliest of games. Calculated faithfulness longs to look and sound as though it has the game down - either by the words spoken - the routines followed - the piety displayed - the clothes worn. But the game is deadly. It is under the control of those who want the world to bend to their vision of life.

At best, a calculated faith simply serves to exclude. From what I heard today I'm all for being excluded from that kind of accounting at the fence. Though I might be excluded - literally counted out of their home-grown divine view - I have heard other news of life that opens itself up to a hospitality in which people are treated as whole and beloved. From experience I have found that the accountants at the fence will have nothing to do with that kind of vision for life. It is at that point that a calculating faith becomes weaponized - it will lean toward violence. The violence is obviously verbal - that comes by way of all those bible bullets that are used to defeat and subdue. Unfortunately, we all know of stories of how devout faithful calculators also find it necessary to turn to  physical violence. It is at those times that they reveal that their religious accounting is off - their story is off - their whole life filled with attempts to make everyone add up to their vision of life is off. Calculating faithfulness must fight to the death of everyone in an attempt to keep its illusion of holiness or goodness in place - leaving them neither holy nor good. A calculating faithfulness is never able to let down its guard or drop its weapons. It must be vigilant. It must become louder. It must work to put an end to all of us who are not able to add up to their rule - their dominion - their way of doing their faithful math. Calculating faithfulness longs for an armageddon - for it cannot tolerate the compassion of God's Reign of peace.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where's the compassion - at the fence

In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson writes: An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Without compassion it is so very easy to keep on our own track - go our own way - look to meet our own wants - follow our own dream. But then, as one story goes, Jesus was heading out to get some rest - take a retreat - finally have some time alone, when something in his gut started stirring. He saw people on the shore following the path of his boat - racing around to make it to the place where his boat would come to rest. Without the gift of compassion he might have said, Shit, (sorry I don't know the Aramaic for that), turn the boat around - I need a vacation. We can help them later. 

That stirring-in-the-gut is not merely a physical disturbance. It is how the spirit moves humanity to give a damn - to see those from whom we would rather turn our eyes - to listen to the voices of those others - to lean into the story of those we do not yet know. That spirit is always pulling us into a deeper experience with others. Compassion opens us to the stories and needs and gifts and troubles of others. It is a gift that we are handed as we move along the way of becoming truly human. I find that compassion has nothing to do with how much of my own skin I have in the game. In fact, compassion moves us despite a lack of connections to others. We are moved to be connected. We are moved because the life of the other is not merely the life of the other - it is my life - our life - humanity's opportunity to be whole. Maybe compassion causes a stirring-in-the-gut because without being connected to the other, we will never be well - we will always live with a dis-ease that can only bring about death - never new life.

Compassion makes us come closer to others. We may not want to go there. We may even be taught - again and again - not to go there. We all know the many rules that have kept us away from them - those others. Compassion - a real vibrant part of our humanity - sends us running toward the distress of others - not running aways to save our own life. Compassion helps us wonder about others - their condition - their joys - their troubles - their well-being. As we wonder, we allow ourselves to step into the the arena of others - into their lives. It is there - in the mix of things - we are able to see how others may be quite like us - even as we appear to act so differently. In those moments we are able to experience the common within our differences. We become open to a world of experience and ideas and actions that we may have once found to be odd or repulsive or forbidden. Compassion opens our eyes and nudges us into that other world - a wonder-full world. 

We all may find it easy to have compassion for folks who are just as we are. Though it is still compassion that draws us to walk with and alongside those who are like us, such compassion as this - seems to be self-serving. It is another part of how we keep the world as we want it and keep the existing order in place. I find that the compassion that pulls Jesus' boat into the mix of folks who are quit literally not in the same boat and even an out-there mob of sorts - is a stirring power that throws him into a moment of creativity. There on the shore - there in the mix of all of them - there, close enough to see and touch folks not in the same boat as he is,  he becomes a miracle worker. No magic here. No out-of-this-world food fest. Rather, compassion is like a healing contagion that pulls everyone outside of their self-centered and self-secure lives and introduces them to the world as it was created - a benevolent and bountiful experience of life. Everyone out in the wilderness along that shoreline of want and need had something to offer to the well-being of all others. It takes only one act of compassion to transform a sea of such folks into a community of compassion in which it is possible for a bountiful exchange to take place.

When words of love and words of hope and words of concern are motivated by the need to have others walk and live the way we live, those words only create a death spiral. The love and hope and concern is not for the other - it is for our way. At the fence I hear many wonderful words - but they are divorced from the power in life that brings substance and creativity into our human community. They are words - that's it. They are self-indulgent words. It would be like Jesus waving from his boat and saying, 'I'm with you. I love you. I want to help you.' But then he has his friends steer the boat away from shore and off on his way to another place. There are times when I think the megaphones used by protestors need to be re-directed into their own ears - for their words are meant for them. It is almost like a pat on the back - a self-fashioned blessing.  

Compassion puts an end to lectures and condemnation. Compassion saves people from the ugliness of our humanity that longs to make others into the image of our way - my way - the right way. It is always my hope that as we come to feel that gut-stirring-movement within us, we each will be changed. I like to say converted. I like to use that word because it has nothing to do with a switch from one religious notion to another. It has to do with be converted into a humanity full of compassion for others.  I even like to say saved. I like to use that word because, too often, at the fence, folks think it is their job to save others from people in the clinic or save them for another time and place far off in time. Instead, we are saved from our turn-in-on-lives (too often limited to our religious/political games) and saved for a life full of compassion and mercy and justice that is willing to risk all things for - you got it - all those in need on the shore - no matter who they are - what they have done - who they may become. 
TRRRthe the arena of others - into their lives. It is there - in the mix of things - we are able to see how others may be quite like us - even as we appear to act so differently. In those moments we are able to experience the common within our differences. We become open to a world of experience and ideas and actions that we may have once found to be odd or repulsive or forbidden. Compassion opens our eyes and nudges us into that other world - a wonder-full world.

We all may find it easy to have compassion for folks who are just as we are. Though it is still compassion that draws us to walk with and alongside those who are like us, such compassion as this - seems to be self-serving. It is another part of how we keep the world as we want it and keep the existing order in place. I find that the compassion that pulls Jesus' boat into the mix of folks who are quit literally not in the same boat and even an out-there mob of sorts - is a stirring power that throws him into a moment of creativity. There on the shore - there in the mix of all of them - there, close enough to see and touch folks not in the same boat as he is,  he becomes a miracle worker. No magic here. No out-of-this-world food fest. Rather, compassion is like a healing contagion that pulls everyone outside of their self-centered and self-secure lives and introduces them to the world as it was created - a benevolent and bountiful experience of life. Everyone out in the wilderness along that shoreline of want and need had something to offer to the well-being of all others. It takes only one act of compassion to transform a sea of such folks into a community of compassion in which it is possible for a bountiful exchange to take place.

When words of love and words of hope and words of concern are motivated by the need to have others walk and live the way we live, those words only create a death spiral. The love and hope and concern is not for the other - it is for our way. At the fence I hear many wonderful words - but they are divorced from the power in life that brings substance and creativity into our human community. They are words - that's it. They are self-indulgent words. It would be like Jesus waving from his boat and saying, 'I'm with you. I love you. I want to help you.' But then he has his friends steer the boat away from shore and off on his way to another place. There are times when I think the megaphones used by protestors need to be re-directed into their own ears - for their words are meant for them. It is almost like a pat on the back - a self-fashioned blessing.

Compassion puts an end to lectures and condemnation. Compassion saves people from the ugliness of our humanity that longs to make others into the image of our way - my way - the right way. It is always my hope that as we come to feel that gut-stirring-movement within us, we each will be changed. I like to say converted. I like to use that word because it has nothing to do with a switch from one religious notion to another. It has to do with be converted into a humanity full of compassion for others.  I even like to say saved. I like to use that word because, too often, at the fence, folks think it is their job to save others from people in the clinic or save them for another time and place far off in time. Instead, we are saved from our turn-in-on-lives (too often limited to our religious/political games) and saved for a life full of compassion and mercy and justice that is willing to risk all things for - you got it - all those in need on the shore - no matter who they are - what they have done - who they may become.