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.