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.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Violence of Love - at the fence

Love becomes violent whenever love is conditional. Quite like religious folks who tell you how much they love you but let all of their words drip with commands to be and act differently. It is a love that is much like bait. It hangs out there and tries to draw you into its sweet smelling images of smiling faces and words of encouragement. But like bait, it is meant to catch you - put an end to you - serve you up to the others as a catch of the day - for Jesus' sake of course. This baiting-love is always violence that attempts to corrupt the foundation of the love that is to be a self-giving, self-sacrificing love that does not coerce or trick or demean or shame or embarrass. Love that is the creative love of God that has been shown to be pruned of its violence never makes room for violence - any kind of violence.

It is good to stand silently and listen to how violent love manifests itself in the small megaphones that treat people to an endless rampage of words that seek to make a wreck of the souls of men and women who - within the grace of God - choose to live within the freedom to care for their bodies and thoughtfully consider the the many facets of responsible human life. The violence is sharp each time the name of the Prince of Peace is used as a hammer to shatter rather than heal. The violence is vulgar each time the vision of the Prophets - whose words rise up to honor all humanity without partiality - is left dangling without completing the vision - thus left as a word raped of its character. The violence is idolatrous each time it is used to shape young children into con-spirators who must listen to the self-secured voices that completely lack the breath or Spirit of God's endless,bountiful, and hopeful, creativity.

Unfortunately, love becomes violent under the cover of love. The violence is smeared all over the words that say we love you and we will love your child. For not a bit of that line is true - nor will it be. It is a weapon that attempts to take the life of another person and shape it into the life of those who give voice to their own wants and needs. A person who does not take hold of the love that rolls through the fence line is rejected  - lectured - shouted down. Even as it rolls off the lips of those who claim to embody God's love - they forget that their love already smells of hatred and scorn and, yes, violence. It is not at all to be associated with God's love.

I usually stand at a distance when I see and hear love becoming violence. There is a fence. There are small shrubs. There are infant trees. There are even rules - civic rule - that are meant to keep all that loving-violence at a distance so that such antics do not create physical violence and harm. This love that becomes violence looks like our world. It is pushy - it is loud - it is vile - it shames - it encourages disrespect. Some escorts at other facilities find no room between these expressions of violent love (which is an oxymoron) and the people they serve. They are so close to clients they can feel how such violent love cuts and whips and, yes, crucifies clients who enter and leave clinics. Those who say they seek to rescue the unborn - and try to do it with holy words and images - merely repeat the ongoing violence of a violent world. I must bow in admiration of the people who escort those delicate souls who must take the lashing of tongues  and the threat of bodily contact that can wound and kill. I am able to stand at a distance but others must be a buffer even when there appears to be no room for a buffer.

I find it difficult to purge myself of violence. Anger can be flicked on like a switch. Hate can rise up faster than any consideration to love. And yet, it is necessary. It is also necessary to put a name to the violence that defiles love's endless solidarity with any and all - without judgment or condemnation. So, we must escort one another into and through the decision of life the too many people find threatening. I find love to be an amazing power of creativity in which even my enemy - or those who will not be as I want them to be - will find time to dance and sing together. Some may say I'm a dreamer.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Wickedness - at the fence

Last evening a speaker mentioned a difference between evil and the wicked or - as she preferred - wickedness. Evil is out there - everywhere. Evil is a power - even non-religious people will talk about the evil in the world as though it is is a real power among us. Evil raises up its head in and through groups of people - governments - even religious folk. It is there, bent on bring forth those evil ways rather than change them.

Wickedness is a choice. It is how a person chooses to act. It is what any of us can look like when we choose to damage - insult - persecute - belittle - demean - invalidate others. (Let me insert here that it is also when we think we have the right and duty to save others however we interpret save.) So, for example, the forces of power involved in hate groups - the power that takes over a group in order to subjugate another group or individuals to any type of blaming condemnation that belittles or negates - allow the fomenting of their fears and anxieties to turn themselves into agents of wickedness. When there were water fountains designated for whites only and coloreds only - there was wickedness on the loose. It could not be backed up by any religious word from any scripture - it was the making of a life that was a lie. It is as much of a lie as those whose turn toward wickedness - turns them into intolerant people who somehow see people of color and people of other religious backgrounds or cultures as deserving to be cast out - thrown out - left behind.

Evil is everywhere - but wickedness takes aim and fires at whatever image or power interrupts or disturbs that which those wicked ones have deemed to be the world as it was and is and should be. Wickedness is a well-shaped jabbing edge that rises out of the evil of the world. It allows us - all of us - to point a finger and name another person or people as dirty - unclean - sinner - outcast - yes, even evil. I would suggest that every minority - every group of others - every person who can easily be changed into a target to keep us as we are - has been and is and will be cut up by the sharp blade of wickedness. Wickedness seeks to destroy. It may not be by literally killing others. It most likely will be like those drinking fountains and bathrooms that lingered into the 1960s until another power was able to say enough wickedness - enough of the lies that kill - enough division.

To tie into one of my last rants on shame, wickedness uses the weapon of shame to destroy others. That is even done under the disguise of let us help you - we love you. Yet, the proposed help and love only come with conditions that actually negate both the offer of help and love. That is especially the case when that love and help comes from folks who attempt to turn a story of unbounded grace and love into the lie of our way - our wants - our correctness - our vision of good and evil. Wickedness bets on a few choice words - a few verses - a few catchy brands - all of which are not able to carry the message of that unbounded grace and love. In fact, I would suggest that the wickedness around us fears seeing joy and peace and grace and pleasure and love that is able to re-unite all that are broken apart. For when there is a spirit of love - an unbounded willingness for reconciliation and forgiveness - and, an amazing pull to include the other - the wicked lose their power. They have to live with the hell of their own endless attempts to preserve their way rather than walk into the domain of never-ending love for all.

But watch out. The wicked always know how to spot their next prey. They do it by indulging in a great blasphemy. I see this blasphemy at the fence regularly - it is a self-righteousness that appears to know the truth but it is a bound-up truth - or - a lie that cannot live with the truth that there is another valid side to life.  I think disagreement must abound - even argumentation. For both disagreement and argumentation leave room for wonder and change and transformation and the joy of being wrong and finding out that new life is possible outside of my own head. I will always insist that such a way as this is always difficult because we must learn to let go of our stuff and maybe - just maybe - embrace the other side. Yet, for wickedness to prevail it must have its own way - all others have no hope - no future - no life. Wickedness must rule. It does this by calling itself holy or pious or virtuous or righteous or even - godly. Bingo - blasphemy - attempting to turn the wind-blowing - always-surprising - eternally thrilling - and even contentious Spirit of God's Reign into a static version of reality.

Wickedness is weakened and exposed through dialogue. It is overturned when the labels plastered on people and facilities and communities are removed and each of us must engage the other as beloved. Those other ones - who are also beloved - may be acting out in ways much different than me - but why. So there is a need for storytelling - for listening -  a willingness to not be the judge and jury that comes so often when we begin to slip into the realm of wickedness.

I also know that there is a time called the meantime. It is the time in which all of us live our lives. It is a time when the spirit of healing and wholeness whips around us. It is also the time when wickedness works fiercely to have its way in the world. So for now, when voices of condemnation and accusation are pressing in and the finger-pointing weapons of blaming and shaming try to take people down, maybe we need to - sing a different song - play a cowbell or a kazoo - laugh at the sound of the foolishness - record it - video it - or maybe, simply be silent and let the wickedness resound while we counter every wicked word and act with loving kindness, compassion, and solidarity with all the people who are being told who they can and cannot be. Remember, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust - the wicked and the loving - the lost and the found. So in the meantime - take the time to hear the voice of creativity that has always looked upon all of creation and said that it - all of it - is good.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Accuser - at the fence

From the moment a woman or a couple open their car doors until they are behind the closed doors of the clinic - the accuser is at hand. The voice is often loud. The voice is one laced with the tone of condemnation even when they attempt to use words of sound like those of care and concern. The care and concern is only if - if people turn to their way of seeing - nothing else.

The accuser at the fence finds it appropriate - even vital - that they have the voice to define the lives of any and all who approach the clinic. You see, they see themselves as god's children. I used the small letter for God here because in their role as the accuser - they are the children of the one who is really a rival with God. The accuser always wants to have the power of God - offer the voice of God -  claim to know the judgment of God. And yet, the accuser is nothing like God - never has been and never will be. The accuser would have the world and all that is - live within the rule of its well defined boundaries - and to hell with the rule breakers - let them be damned and expelled from the vision of the accuser's life.

Oh, I forgot. I should - out of respect, I guess - capitalize that name. The Accuser walks along the fence line -The Accuser operates through the power of shaming - The Accuser is filled with the illusion that it knows what is good and what is evil and that it can act upon that power it claims. Ah, the Accuser has been lingering around cultures since the beginning of time - defining and creating the rules that make much  of some of us and less of others of us - even deciding who must be eliminated and who can be saved. The Accuser can be any of us - yet at the fence there is a strong, vile representation at hand.

The Accuser is dressed in the words and clothing and voices of religious people. Therefore, their accusations that condemn others are able to hit many folks especially deep - wound without consideration for the welfare of others - crucify any who do not follow their vision of how life is to be. Now, I must say that when I call the Accuser, religious people, I do not mean gracious people - loving people - self-sacrificing people - forgiving people - merciful people. No, the Accuser is embodied by people who find the love of God for all to be - too burdensome - too out-of-control - too expansive - too unconditional. The Accuser despises people and actions that appear to be too much like the God-that-lets-no-one-go rather than the god who picks and chooses who can be in and who must be out.

The Accuser lives to condemn although it often sounds like the Accuser is trying to save the world and rescue humanity from others who are corrupt and vile. Therefore the message of the Accuser is often twisted. There is condemnation in order to bring about deliverance. Say what!? Yet that is one piece of the powerful dynamic of the Accuser - shaming people - lying to people - so that they forget that they are already eternally beloved - without condition - even without observable proof. The Accuser tells folks they can only be beloved if they change into something else - change into a character with the likes of the Accuser - become a part of a holy mechanism of accusation and condemnation - one that is not holy at all.

 I am not claiming that the people in the parking lot or at the door are not a part of the games of the Accuser. I think we all play those games - sometimes with a subtlety that is more deadly than loud voices. And yet, the Accuser at the fence defiles the words and images of God's Reign by twisting those images and words into something far less than the unbounded availability of God's love. Instead, the Accuser offers death. This is a death as in - a life of utter conformity to rules that must be followed in order to called inside and not outside - saved rather than condemned. The Accuser only knows how to deal in death. That may be why another name for the Accuser is Father of Lies - content to bring to life one thing - a host of liars.  Therefore, we let them continue their lies. But in the meantime - we never leave the side of those they seek to shame and condemn - though we be shamed and condemned along with them.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Heaven and Hell - at the fence

Is the age to come really to come sometime - out there?
Is it beyond now and set off in another place and time?
Is it a carrot or a candy bar or a reunion to which we have been invited - someday?
Is it a time and place in which there is to be utter bliss or else a place we hope we will miss?
Is it a heavenly reunion or a hell of a reunion?
And if it is - if it is any of these notions - what about today?

Is today simply a time in which we accumulate the points to make it to the place and time that is out beyond this place and time?
Is it a time to manage our lives so that when our lives come to an end - our management skills will be assessed and we will then see where our lives have taken us?
Is it a time with a focus beyond this time and therefore we need only get through all this time so as to open ourselves up to another time - the quality of which will depend on how we spend the present time?
And if today is a time to be played well - like a hand of cards - aren't we in the process of dying rather than living - always filled with doubt - always trying to win the game?

I don't have a problem with heaven and hell. I have a problem with how we play with it all. I have a problem with where - in time or out of time - we place them. I have a problem with folks trying to tell other folks where they need to go or where they will be going.

I remember hearing about a very well-known preacher who was anxiously asking people to pray for his parents because they were not Christian and he wanted them to be saved. Often, that means saved for the age to come - the far away place - the place in the sky place - the many mansions place. I wondered if his parents were nasty people - thus his concern. I really expect that his parents are wonderful people - beloved and loving. Yet, when we begin to make our faithful journey into a journey to another place and time it becomes the perfect set up for a message filled with coercion and doubt and game-playing. 'Don't you want to be with (name goes here)? Don't your want to be with Jesus and God and all the Angels? Then there is that question about the future - that story of the future that comes after death - that one that has nothing to do with Good News for it is dripping with self-centered living that is never the concern of God's Peaceable and Blessed Reign.

There is no getting there from here. There is no making our way into the bliss of another time or making our way out of a hell of a predicament that will last forever. There is though, a present in which the compassion of the promises of God's Reign flows into the present and becomes us. I like to say that the Reign of God or the Kingdom of God or the Peaceable Reign or Eternal Life  becomes us because that is all we are invited to be - the beloved creatures of God. There is no getting there - no test to pass - no right way in order to make it. There is - the simple understanding - the simple recognition - the simple bit of rest - that comes as we trust that all that is to come is already present and we become what is promised - the promise becomes us. With that, all things change. Not just in my life - but in the lives of those with whom I have contact. If I am trying to get into something - if I'm trying to get you in also, the task of getting-in becomes the controlling factor of my life. It becomes - shall we say - my god. I did not capitalize that last word because when we become controlling people - monitoring people - evaluating people - rigid people - anxious people - condemning people - finger-pointing people, we are led by our own desires that fall  far short of the wonder and joy of God's desire for new life for us now - and always.

This week I was once again an observer of the battle of heaven and hell at the fence - the battle of the so-called good and the so-called evil at the fence - the battle of 'you bad' and 'we good' - the battle, no, the need - to assume one way to view life for everyone. What a sad existence - what a hellish existence - what a false love, a self-centered love, a self-consumed love. Heaven and hell is a construct that forgoes compassion. It forbids compassion and laughs at vulnerability. Heaven and hell is a contract that puts up the fences that deny people the opportunity to experience the life of God's Peaceable Reign as it is found in - yes - those people - and then in all of us as we risk to welcome the other without insisting on being judge - jury - god. I grow weary - yet not worn down - by those who condemn the clients who come to Planned Parenthood. For the game of condemning is endless and all consuming and leads none of us to peace and healing and joy. In the meantime, I may just remain a distraction - a part of the silence and noise that interrupts the pattern of heaven and hell at the fence.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fake Good News - at the Fence

I serve as an escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The job is simple. It is to be a hospitable presence to the women and couples who come to the clinic for a variety of reasons. My wife tells me I need to tell people I am a greeter rather than an escort - ah, language and images! Both words work as a way to talk about how I see myself out on the parking lot as folks arrive. I do not know the purpose of a visit made by any of the people. I suppose this is much like the waiting room at my doctor's office - no one knows why I am showing up. Unless, of course, I look like death warmed over and seem like someone everyone should avoid less they too catch the plague. Even then, I am simply another patient in need of a doctor's or a nurse's attention. Just as important as not knowing what brings the people to the clinic is that I do not know them - their life situation - their history - their prospects for a life beyond that day at hand.

At our Planned Parenthood building there is a fence around the parking lot. On the outside of the fence there are often protestors armed with signs, pictures, and voices. Fences are not unusual. There are fences - everywhere. There are reasons for fences - many reasons. Fences divide up space. Fences set boundaries. Fences keep people and things inside the boundaries and fences keep other people and things outside. In many ways, it is the perfect image for a story about us and them. It is (this us and them story) as old as the history of the cultures of the world - as old as the history of religious folks within the life of those cultures. Think about it - there is usually no better maker of us and them than religious folk who work to create a world in which they can dictate - like a god - who is good and who is evil - who is in and who is to be out - who is acceptable and who is unacceptable - who knows God's mind and who doesn't. The assumption that one person or a people are able to make such a judgment makes that person or group of people (I would suggest) less than the humanity we are meant to be. We lose our creativity whenever we think we have the right to judge others - whenever our desire for life as we want it gives us permission to negate the lives of others. We refuse to see ourselves and others as the image of God - a we - not an us/them.

In our culture we are being hit with what has been called fake news. It is the antithesis of news. It is made up - it is like gossip - it is filled with stories that give us just what we want to hear - even when it is less than the truth or a half-truth - which is not truth at all. Fake news is not the property of one group of people - it is a self-serving word used by everyone in order to shape a world that looks just like we want it to look. After listening and watching and seeing the display of folks out at the fence - folks who cover themselves with the name of Jesus and select biblical  passages and Christian symbols and words associated with the Scriptures - I am very willing to say that the Good News at the fence is fake Good News. It is not a word or a presence of grace and love that is as available and vulnerable as the Jesus of Scripture. It is a warrior word - a vicious word - a condemning word - a self-righteous word - a finger-pointing word. It is a word afraid of a world that is the ground of God's ongoing creativity that moves us beyond our own fixed desires.

I find the words of the folks at the fence to be fake Good News because it attempts to drive people into a state of shame. Shame has a way of becoming a deep wound - one that can be inflicted quite easily - one that has a way of destroying the life of God's beloved - one that does not heal through more shaming. The Good News of the Christ of God never shames. The business of fake Good News is carried out by the powers of death - the powers that want to be gods of the world - the powers of religious control that have lost the vision of the peaceable Reign of God. Fake Good News rejects everyone who does not go along with the life that it has deemed as necessary - even if all others must be crucified by the lies of religious shame. Unfortunately, in many ways, I hear fake Good News within the breath of many self-proclaimed 'good' Christians - and it always smells like death and hell to me. No Good News at all.

Remember the woman caught in adultery. The good religious folks wanted to stone her. I would say they want to shame her to death - along with her family - by stoning her - by getting rid of her - by treating her as a threat that needed to be removed from their self-declared good lives. But what does Jesus do in that scene. He does not get in and ride in the boat of the shame-throwers. He does not drive the woman into the ground with sticks and stones and words of death. You see, God does not shame us - God holds onto us through any and all things - even when the depths of religiously concocted shame seem to be winning the day. Forgiveness brings a new day - beyond the powers of death that feed off of the lies - the fake Good News - of religious folks who believe only in the power they can manufacture - the endless lies. Forgiveness heals all things - all people. Then - within the realm of forgiveness - life beyond our own expectations blossoms - like a garden in Eden or one just outside the empty tomb.

Shame is fake Good News - it thrives on demonizing people who are the beloved of God.  It insults the God of creation who calls all of creation good. Fake Good News tries to paint God as a liar - a cheat - a fool. For when those seeds-of-shame can be sown, they leave no room for God's unbounded love that is to be the seed of life's creativity - joy - peace - forgiveness - compassion - and endless hopefulness. I find that religious people who thrive on fertilizing the seeds-of-shame are damned to live within their own crap. That is unfortunate for them and for others they are able to pull into their realm of self-induced - self-created - self-inspired crap. Fake Good News does not bring in the Reign of God - it is afraid of such a Reign of love and grace because it would lose its power that it has worked so hard to build up - in other words - a hell-on-earth.

Fake Good News at the fence cannot and should not be met with violence of any kind. It must not be shamed - for then, that game will then never end. It must be met with the self-sacrifice of the lamb - the protectiveness of the mother hen - the one who bends to serve any and all without partiality. Maybe, we can become a movement for new life whenever we are tempted to live by fake Good News - for it is so tempting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dare to break wind in the face of the cultural norm.

We are a reforming people when we dare to break wind in the face of the cultural norm. Luther did it 500 years ago when he turned his backside to Rome and let it rip. But that was then and this is now. So how do reforming people take on - that which is valued in our culture - that which keeps things just as they are - that which is anxious and then afraid to the point of persecuting some for what is considered the welfare of all others? We break wind. We speak up. We question. We stand in the way. We let ourselves defy all that is considered sacred until the wizards of the culture have the veil pulled back so that more and more people can see how we have fallen for piles upon piles of - well - crap.

Am I talking about religious crap - yes. Am I talking about cultural crap - yes. Am I taking about political crap - yes. Reforming people are not anarchist or revolutionaries - they simply break wind and make people turn around and wonder - what just happened - why does all this life around us beginning to smell? We are all a part of the family system of our culture. There is no way to rise above it or be detached from it. We are a part of what smells. As reforming people we own it and begin to ask things like: What does it mean to be right in the middle of all that is demonic (all that stinketh) and yet stop to acknowledge how vile it all smells? Systems always smell and if we do not speak up or break wind in the face of the norms around us we will and we have ventured more deeply into the violence and brokenness that piles up more and more until it is revolting - quite literally revolting. Reforming people do not fall for the more putrid smell of the violence of revolt - we expose - we unveil - we fall for it no more.

Reforming people are always living within the line of the prophetic - the ones who see that which stinks - the ones who name that which smells - the ones who are willing to be shunned for breaking wind and exposing the condition of our culture/religion/politics. I am too often afraid to be such a reforming person. And then, I hear others disturb the air around me. When I hear and see such life, I begin to wonder if I can face the stench of that in which I have let myself live - and begin to expose it all. That action is often called confession. Reforming people are empowered to admit to the violence - the fraud - the economic and political gaming that we have let define us as though nothing smells.

For a coward, that is difficult. For a coward though - it is necessary. I often use the words of Spirit - Holy Spirit - to remind me that as we are inspired to face the truth about us - a new day is available to us. It may still be full of the stench of the culture in which we live - but reforming people keep making note of it all - we keep owning our part of all that smells - we make ourselves vulnerable like nailing items for discussion about the things that smell - on the door of a church in Wittenberg - but we do it today - we do it everyday. Prophetic words and actions come out of the bowels of reforming people whose acts of truth-telling may create a stink in the culture at hand - but it also brings in a breath of fresh air.

Have A Blessed Day - Really?

'Have a blessed day.' It sounds like a nice thing to say. In fact, one person came up to me after a class I was teaching and said that one of the things he started to say in the past years is, 'Have a blessed day.' He said he noticed how it seemed to alter the way the people looked at him. In addition he said that he found that it had caused a change in how he viewed his interactions with others. We had just ended a discussion about how the followers of Jesus are to be followers - we are to be a part of an imitation of life that creates new life right in the midst of the steps of our day. The life is to be nonviolent - creative - self-giving - no longer merely life filled with stories of that kind of life - but a life that becomes us. The way of the cross thus becomes the way we walk - the way we live with the story of Jesus showing us how he walked out ahead of us along the way we follow. It is with that image that I started wondering about the greeting or the sending words have a blessed day.

I am pulled to be very Lutheran here because I want to start saying to folks, 'Wait. What does that mean.' Is it like a polite 'God bless you' that fills a room when there is an audible sneeze offered up by a  complete stranger? Another version of 'Have a blessed day' is 'Be blessed.' Again, what does that mean - what is intended. Is is a version of 'good luck' - 'hope all goes well' - 'break a leg'? All of those send us off with a polite verbal acknowledgment of our presence and our leaving. But, as we all know, luck has nothing to do with much of our lives - things do not go well, in fact things fall apart quite regularly - and people really do break their legs and are thrown into chaos.

If 'have a blessed day' is like having a charmed day - as in, hope your day goes well and the world is fine - then I want folks to stop saying that. The day at hand is not blessed with all good things around me. It is blessed - period. I want to ask, what do you mean by blessed? Yes, when you tell me 'Have a blessed day' or say 'be blessed' is there a content to that sending? In some ways it goes back to what I might call: End-zone - Good catch - Nice Run - Great hit - Jesus is with me all the way spirituality that is devoid of an understanding of the life of Jesus - the cross - and I would even say the resurrection. A blessed day is the way one takes the day - how we see it - how we move within it. Are we the blessed of God who take on the imitative way of Jesus - and the consequences of that way? When that is our life - our blessed day - it may be a day full of roadblocks, tragedy, and pain. Blessed is not a good luck charm or a wish for success. It is an invitation to become like - the one who bends down to serve - the one who steps onto the side of the left out so that at least someone is with them - it is the one who receives the stranger with unbounded hospitality no matter what others say or think.

I was really impressed that the person I noted above said that his day was changed - his way to look at the world and the day changed - his actions may have even changed. To be blessed is to be drawn into a life changing reality in which our humanity - the fullness of its blessedness - becomes present as we go along the way today. So, when I say to you 'have a blessed day' it may come to mean a day in which you are totally rejected for displaying a love for others that cannot be contained - it may come to mean a day in which you let go of that which you thought you could to live without - and yet you experience a resurrection - it may come to mean a day in which you experience life through the lens of others and that new vision rattles you to the bone and your once dry bones take on a new shape you never anticipated.

Could it be that many of our religious sounding phrases we throw out into the day cheapen the vision and life we all hope will actually transform all things?  Another person also offered this active notion of 'have a blessed day' - be a blessing today. That my friends sound utterly transforming to me. For most of my days can be filled with nothing but bitching and biting and baiting and bragging - with little room for being a part of the blessed Reign of God into which I am invited to live. Hmmm.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Blessed Redundancy

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him,”Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will faster a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”  (John 21:15 - 19)

A child can never hear “I love you” too much. Quite frankly, neither can I. I suppose I would prefer to hear it with some firmness - some sense of truthfulness - some depth of conviction that calls forth a feeling of security. And yet, I have never been a good judge in regard to the sincerity of someone who has uttered those words to me. 

I want this love to be a word that takes me as I am - not what I could be - not because of something I’ve just done. I think we all want the love someone shares with us to be a word or act of acceptance for who we are - a willingness to take hold of us - a intentional presence with us. It is the power to rescue us from moments of abandonment. It is the salve that heals the wounds of exclusion. It is a touch that cuts through the loneliness of the day when we feel utterly alone or forgotten. It is act of solidarity that overthrows moments of despair and rejection. It is like having someone so for us and with us it creates moments of chaos among those who despise us.

Therefore we tell children we love them - over and over again. Saying it once will not be enough. Demonstrating that love through infrequent or erratic action doesn’t always have the weight to carry them through life. We are invited to take part in a redundant love that is meant to shape who we are and how we see others and how we enter into the relationships of our lives. As a follower of Jesus - as people who are created in the image of the Creator of all life - we participate and share in that creative power as we love one another. It means we must be willing to live within that strange space of being accused of being redundant - saying and acting and living within a realm of love again and then once again - even when it may seem unnecessary or without just cause. 

Our character springs from actions that are able to be noted by others because we seem to be saying and doing the same thing again and again - even when some may say it is too damn predictable. Imagine having people know that we will love them because our life with them has been a ceaseless demonstration of our love. Imagine being a real fool - a grand buffoon - an ass - and yet there are these odd or maybe even strange people who continue to treat you as one beloved. Imagine meeting one of these  loving folks and though you only throw blame, ridicule, and curses at them - they persist in their acts of love for you. That consistency - that character - that love - is the creative power meant to never end. It was in the beginning and it will be - eternally available. It is a blessed redundancy into which we are invited and empowered to enter as the image of God becomes us. 

There are many ways to read the Scriptures. Fill a room with folks who have read the stories within the Bible and we will hear many varied tales from those are doing the reading. Some will grasp on to stories of a God who is a stern figure who is always on the watch to see if we are living in the right way. I always say this is the Santa Claus god who is going to find out who is naughty or nice - a god ready to crack the whip or deny us entrance into the party or refuse us goodies. Some see a God who is all loving as long as we live in a way that earns that love. Some will see a God who is love - endless love - a love that will not be limited by anything we do. In all of these examples, folks will say that ‘God is good.’ And yet, I would submit that too often we let ourselves live with a god only as good as who we are able to be. Fortunately, the God of the Scriptures is endlessly loving not merely good. That changes life.

I need and want to hear a story that engages me and transforms me simply by the love it extends both now and forevermore. It does not have anything to do with that which I have done or that which I have left undone. It is a story that unveils the same God - an endlessly loving God - even when I expect to see or hear another story or I am being told another story. I consider myself lucky to have had Pastor Herb Brokering as the Christian Education teacher while I was in seminary. He was filling in until that position could be filled permanently. First, I learned that the Good News - the abundant and ceaseless love of God  - could be found anywhere - in anything - in any one. To understand that, we were shown that we have to listen to that which is not being said - that which is not obvious - that which could so easily be overlooked. I also learned how to say: ‘And then…’  it is a storytelling technique. It keeps the story moving beyond the point in which we might find ourselves. It pops up in order to help us lean beyond that which is and begin to experience more of the story being made available to us. 

As I read Scripture there are always these kind of transitional stories - ones that make us pick up and think or act as though we are are entering an ‘and then’ moment. As Christians we often turn to the Cross or the Resurrection and the Ascension as a few of those ‘and then’ tales that are meant to carry us more deeply into the blessed redundancy of God’s love. Once we begin to see such a continuation of this one story line, we are able to see how often it cracks open the day and we learn how consistently the power of God’s love is made available as the power of our love - our lives. Now as I read the various stories throughout the Scriptures - the stories that appear to be harsh or ruled by a set morality or setting up a privileged or exclusive community - I find that all of these types of tales often hide the redundancy of God’s love. Whenever that happens it can be very easy to trust in something other than a love that is always ready to say, ‘And then’. 

When a storyline bids us to continue on the way, it is an invitation to take up the action and become the next scene. That is how the love of God works. It is present without failure - it is present without hesitation - it is present as the beloved people we have been told we are without condition. The next steps we take become the same steps as the ones who loved us. We are endlessly being fed and we endlessly feed others. To be the beloved is not all about me - it is about you - it is about me being the love that will feed your life - it is about God’s redundant love being the love that comes alive through me and you so that others will be fed for new life. It is about a love that is so redundant, some folks will want to see the end of it.