Thursday, December 31, 2009

Losses of Meaning

I was in a large store with our daughter, yesterday. I asked our check-out clerk how she was, and her response was "not good. not good. My baby girl ain't doing too well." She nodded her head toward someone behind me. I turned but didn't see a little girl. "Who?" I asked. "My baby girl - her cousin committed suicide on Christmas. She's right there at the next counter." (another nod) Again, I turned, and saw the young woman who was running the next check-out line was crying as she worked. Another store employee was hovering over her.

I told our clerk that I was a chaplain, and asked her if she thought I might be able to help. She immediately called to the young woman who had been relieved of her duty and was walking toward the Employees Only area, "Sarah, Sarah, come here, girl." She gave Sarah a hug, introduced me, and Sarah walked with me to a table nearby. She continued weeping quietly. My daughter went nearby to get lunch and ate at another table to give us quiet time.

Sarah (not her real name) told me about her cousin's suicide, her aunt's loss and pain and her own feelings of devastation, grief and anger, and questions why her cousin (only 17 years old) hadn't called her. "I've always been there for her, why didn't she call me? I thought she was doing ok. This came totally out of nowhere." We spoke for almost half an hour.

Many of her questions are impossible to answer. Why? Why didn't I see this coming? Why did she leave my auntie in agony because they'd just had an argument, and my auntie had left the house?

I've been reminded as I've prayed for Sarah, her aunt, and her whole family of the movie about Virginia Woolf, The Hours, in which Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep had leading roles.

The Hours began with one suicide and ended with another. In the character of Mrs. Dalloway, Meryl Streep, posed a question to Richard who was suffering with AIDS, which I recall as essentially asking: "Isn't that what we live for - one another?" Richard had been bemoaning the meaninglessness of all his life and his life's work, and was feeling life was all worthless and nothing. The disjuncture between her affirmation of meaning in relationships and his loss of meaning in his work is stark.

There are usually nuggets truth behind our trite generalizations. Men do find meaning in their work and women do find meaning in their relationships. That doesn't mean, however, that loss in one area can't be softened by presence of hope in the other! Loss of either or both can cripple our hearts and darken our lives and visions of hopeful future. I've noticed that in times of deep, personal pain and self-doubt, people may frequently throw off the ties of intimate relationships because those ties feel like bondage, instead of like hope and love.

This leaves the space of heartache & emptiness, or a space suffused with faith & hope in God. Let me be really clear, here, that space suffused with faith and hope in God doesn't FEEL good to us. That space may feel more despairing than good. It may feel like we're hanging onto hope in God and to one another "for dear life"! In fact, the dearness of life itself may be in question.

But, before giving up, I hope every and anyone of us will ask ourselves the hard questions of what we leave behind. From Sarah's perspective, her anger at her cousin's apparent self-centeredness & selfishness is really hard to bear. While recognizing her cousin's despair, Sarah struggled with deep anger that her cousin checked out on the family who loved her. Only God can enter that space of heartache and despair when someone is at that point of crisis. Will we turn toward God, hope, faith and future or damn those who love us to the present hell of doubt, anger, grief and pain? The saddest part of suicide is that we fail to be God-with-us to our families and friends, and we rob them of the opportunity to be God-with-us to us, too. May we live out what it means to be the Body of Christ in our worlds, today!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rediscovering Values, by Jim Wallis

Check out the first chapter of Wallis' new book, available by download at Sojourners website: Rediscovering Values.

All of us need to act and re-act appropriately if we truly do want the Change that was promised us by Pres. Obama. This isn't a one person play, but a drama with every one of us on the stage, acting in partnership with one another, or in opposition to each other to aggrandize ourselves. Serving, not hoarding and accumulating, is the only way out of this recession.

I believe that the answer to Wallis' question is YES! "So do Christians have a responsibility to turn over the tables of an unjust market?" (p.20)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Laws of Science and Everything Else But...

As someone who always is interested in the view of the forest, and less so in the examination of the twigs and bark of individual trees, there are times when I get a new glimpse from another angle that piques my curiosity.

Have you noticed, as I have, that the Laws of the physical sciences are increasingly acceptable to and accepted by the majority of people, at the same time that the societal mores governing personal behavioral choices of language, sexuality, courtesy, thoughtfulness, and caring words and interactions are increasingly unacceptable and probably unenforceable, unless physical harm is caused and studies are conducted to back up the obvious. (For instance, that text-messaging while driving is discourteous, at the least, because of inattention to other drivers, and dangerous to others on the road, at worst. Until danger was proven, discourtesy is insufficient grounding for laws.)

One could say that we brought the economic collapse upon ourselves, by each maximizing our individual profits and disregarding the serving of our neighbors who lost the money that began to line our pockets. The vortex of the tornado of pocket lining, of course, is Wall Street. However, various satellite vortices exist as well, in Washington DC, and in every city center near you and me. It's useless to blame one vortex as more at fault than another (Repubs blame DC and Dems blame NYC, in my experience). The hard facts remain that our vaunting of individual pursuit of happiness (i.e., money, stuff, and freedom to do whatever we choose) destroys our love for neighbor, and the trust we need to build and maintain healthy communities.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dealing with Criticism

Our natural responses to criticism are related to our god-like views of ourselves and an inner perception we may hold that our purity is unassailable. Only one who is humble and convinced of his/her own inadequacies (or sinfulness) can honestly assess criticism, ignore the feeling of woundedness to step back and take the spiritual view of what s/he may have said or done to elicit such critique.

It's crucial for us to know ourselves -- I chuckled at one blogger's quoting Edwin Friedman (the late author & speaker on emotional processes within family/ congregational systems) as telling him to "Define the hell out of yourself." If we don't humbly understand and seek understanding about ourselves from both our own interior view and the exterior views of how others perceive us we simply cannot know what criticism is valid or invalid when someone or some group blows us out of the water with their criticism-bombs.

As most of
those who've lived long enough probably have had, I've had plenty of painful opportunities to deal with others' harsh criticisms. Words are frequently spoken and written about others to tear them down, not to build up, not to help them mature, not to edify, but to "finalize" them in judgment (as Arthur Frank noted). Friedman also said, "...if you are a leader, expect sabotage." I'd add another insight to his that being a leader is not simply indicated by one's position or title! I've often wondered what the reactions of Jesus' teachers were when they realized that their student was more gifted, insightful and wise than they were. Many teachers and people with positional authority will sabotage their own students or subordinates who threaten them and their illusion of their own superiority or "greatness."

Tim Keller quoted John Newton as saying,

"Whatever...makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit."

Keller's blog ends with another quote appropriate to our task as Christians:

"A man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others."

May we always look to the Lord, being wary of the pride within, and seeking to emulate the humility and service of Christ himself.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Does the Cross Matter in This Conflicted World?

Both self-proclaimed atheists and practical atheists believe the cross is irrelevant to the daily difficulties in life. There are countless "practical atheists" who attend church religiously, wear religious symbols, follow religious traditions, and observe religious days. When it comes to following Christ, however, practical atheists avoid the cross like the plague, rationalize and justify their unrighteous choices, behavior in the marketplace and the home, and their damaging words toward others. The Church is called to be the Body of Christ, made up by individuals who have "been crucified with Christ" and are bonded together in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only through dying to ourselves in order that Christ may live in us and through us, do Christ-followers know that we do and will experience reconciliation here and now.

My answer is to this video is Yes!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eliminate Violence Against Women

End violence, any violence, all violence, every bit of violence against women. Take a stand. Glorify God who created men AND women in God's image.

Every day.

Not just today - the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women - but every single day.

And, women, we have a voice. Use it wisely, use it with confidence in God (not in ourselves), and in manners that bless and not curse men. They are our brothers, also made in God's image.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Psalm 109:8 bumper sticker

If you have any questions about the misappropriation of scripture verses under the guise of sanctifying fundamentally evil praxis, please read Dan's blog, Somebody Needs to Say It. It is fundamentally impossible to be "in Christ" and to pray this prayer, regarding anyone. Please note who is speaking such words in the Psalm, and how the Psalmist responds with love, prayer and goodness:

1    Do not be silent, O God of my praise.

2    For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,

    speaking against me with lying tongues.

3    They beset me with words of hate,

    and attack me without cause.

4    In return for my love they accuse me,

    even while I make prayer for them.

5    So they reward me evil for good,

    and hatred for my love.

6    They say, "Appoint a wicked man against him;

    let an accuser stand on his right…"


The ones praying this prayer are those with "wicked and deceitful mouths" not those who serve the LORD our God! If these verses don't make it clear enough, consider how the psalmist ends:

26    Help me, O LORD my God!

    Save me according to your steadfast love.

27    Let them know that this is your hand;

    you, O LORD, have done it.

28    Let them curse, but you will bless.

    Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.

29    May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;

    may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.

30    With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD;

    I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

31    For he stands at the right hand of the needy,

    to save them from those who would condemn them to death.


We serve a God who blesses us and who calls us to bless others with our mouths and lives. (Cf., James 3:6-18) If we "pray" this prayer – which is truly a curse, we will be among those who are "wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shane Claibourne's letter to non-believers

If you have not read Shane's letter yet, please do! (in Esquire magazine)

Quotes that resonated with me:
"I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is lifeafter death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us."
"This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to
ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins."

P.S., yes, I do believe that love wins. As much brokenness and conflict that surrounds us and touches every life, there are sunlit shafts of hope and joy and love, too. God IS good.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not a Coincidence

Seriously, is it possible for anyone to look at this type of male-instigated investigation by a male hierarchy and consider that shifting the focus and blame onto the women is not the central time-worn way for men to ignore their own sins and displace their reactions to the sins of others? Richard Mouw wrote of a conversation with a devout Catholic nun about the Vatican's recent decision to investigate women's religious orders in the United States in his blog, A Vatican Investigation. His report:

She is a wonderful person, a deeply devoted follower of Christ. "I guess the thing that hurts the most," she said, "is the 'Why us?' and 'Why now?' issue. Here we have had this huge scandal of sexual abuse on the part of priests, with no real official action on Rome's part. And all of a sudden they announce, 'We are worried about the nuns, and we're going to investigate them.' What in the world are they thinking?"

I recall a conversation Massimo & I had with a highly intelligent and devout Catholic woman, who had a PhD from Loyola University. She was very active in her parish, employed by the church and had the unusual privilege given by her Vatican II priest of having an equal vote with the male priests. She spoke of her hope that before she died, she would be able to be ordained a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. Massimo and I didn't share her hope.

Massimo and I had lived long enough in Italy for me to realize just how far from honoring women the Catholic Church really is, in the institutional sense. I suspect that hierarchy, in itself, is so male that only a particular type of subservient woman could ever participate in it. (Sarah Palin comes to mind in another hierarchy.) Men resist and exclude women who speak truth "in Christ" out of their deep personal connectedness to the image of God they share with men. Men's resistance to women's truth can often be brutal and destructive. Every hierarchy of which I've been a part, from Wall Street investment banks, to commercial banks, to government agencies, to churches, to classrooms, has had a complicit (male) agreement to protect one another from the discomfort of facing the whole truth about the ethics or wisdom or constructive nature of their conduct. Consider how many whistle-blowers are female. While I can perceive that a political system (generically, a system of governance in a corporation, bureaucracy or ecclesiastical body), in itself, may be neutral when unpopulated, it seems abundantly clear that hierarchical leadership will always damage others. The only top-down structure that is healthy is one where the higher placed see their job as serving, hearing and supporting the lower placed. Ranking and placements are fundamentally indicative of world-honoring measurements, not of God's gracious gift of life and worth to humanity.

When the ten [apostles] heard [that the mother of James and John was advocating for them to have place of honor at Jesus' side in his kingdom], they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:24-28) [Notice how Mom was complicit in trying to abet her sons' hierarchical ambitions!]

So, while I greatly value Mouw's concern and attention to this matter, I draw attention to his use of the word, "arbitrarily", below.

Still, I am with my nun-friend. The Vatican-ordered investigation is deeply distressing. It is hurting some devoted followers of Christ who do not deserve to be treated with suspicion. As one who observes all of this from a distance—but with great interest and concern—I do not want Catholicism to turn back the clock. Neither do I want a turn in the direction of liberal Protestantism. This means that a better option would be to engage in some serious new discussion about what an orthodox Catholicism should look like today. Many of us in the evangelical world would love to engage in some dialogue with "official" Catholicism on that subject. But not with a Vatican hierarchy that arbitrarily picks on Catholics whom we admire as humble servants of the cause of the Gospel.     {bolding with underlining added}

From my perspective, I see no arbitrariness to the Vatican hierarchy's choice to pick on Catholic women. It is male weakness, male pride, and sin.

Name it, guys, please! Women have our own weaknesses, pride and sin, but hierarchy in this manifestation isn't. We do hierarchy differently (and also damagingly, I might add, although it frequently doesn't have the sweeping power to cause broad harm that men's hierarchies have). Another post on another day about our stuff – feel free to send me links or articles that you think constructively address women's issues.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Working the Angles

It's interesting that Eugene Peterson chose this provocative title for his book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. The sad commentary for most of us who have spent years in churches, as members, as lay leaders, and among paid staff, is that we've seen far too many pastors, leaders, and church members working the angles. They name themselves followers of Christ, but belie their profession of faith with their political and financial maneuvering. From my experiences in reconciliation ministry, churches and chaplaincy, it's obvious that most people who now don't attend church but who did attend, at some point in life, left the church because of the hypocrisy and damaging relationships that many so-called "pastors" and "Christians" have espoused openly or surreptitiously within the "church" system. As these former church members realized in their hearts, it is sheer hypocrisy to claim to serve God while chasing big donors, ignoring the poor, the elderly, and the marginalized, and chopping off at the knees those who dare to dissent with such methodologies.

Peterson writes,

For a long time, I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses.

Course I: Creative Plagiarism. I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.

Course II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling. We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys and unmistakable aura of sanctity.

Course III: Efficient Office Management. There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return all phone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all the letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desk—not too much, or we appear inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed—we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.

Course IV: Image Projection. Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.

(I have been laughing for several years over this trade school training with which I plan to make my fortune. Recently, though, the joke has backfired on me. I keep seeing advertisements for institutes and workshops all over the country that invite pastors to sign up for this exact curriculum. The advertised course offerings are not quite as honestly labeled as mine, but the content appears to be identical—a curriculum that trains pastors to satisfy the current consumer tastes in religion. I'm not laughing anymore.)

I wouldn't be surprised if names pop into your mind as you read Peterson's words. Whether the names were those of pastors, leaders or church members, what turned our stomachs was the lack of integrity between their faith profession and the way they treated others, the way they conducted business and themselves, in their homes, inside the church, in the community, or in the secular workplace. A mentor and friend with whom I met this week noted that the wheat and the tares (weeds) grow up alongside one another. As Jesus told the parable, the field's owner told his servants not to gather the weeds, "…for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest…" (Matt. 13: 29-30) Peterson's quotation above is indicative of how distorted "church" becomes when the one ordained as "pastor" is one of the weeds. Atheists have asked me why the church allows so many of these (frequently) loud-mouthed, slick-talking and self-aggrandizing weeds among us, and the fact is that our answer has to be that God doesn't permit us to throw out these weeds. (NB: Institutional authorities who fail to reprove, correct, discipline and remove leaders who are demonstrably leading according to worldly methods, however, destroy the meaning of "church" – those called out to follow Christ – and become the very authorities against whom Jesus spoke in Matt. 23.) Regarding the members, however, Paul noted, "…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine." (1 Cor. 11:18-19)

It is certain, however, that God would not commend us for endorsing leaders who feed the weeds, who chase after wealth, who demean and gossip about others, who foster divisiveness, and who fail to embody the incarnate Word s/he speaks to the community in life, action, deed, and whose Sunday morning words are contradicted by their lives. As Peterson noted, pastors are supposed to guide the community in the way of Christ, NOT in the ways of the world. "…Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set them apart, and say, 'We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel.'" (p. 23) However, too often institutions with the word, "Church", in their names humanly endorse other humans to lead communities according to human methods and claim their institutional endorsement certifies this person to be "ordained by God." They put an "ordained" or "certified" banner in the name of a god over worldly scheming which subordinates that god to serve their ends. The Almighty God is not there.

So, if people are burdened and burned out by the machinations in their offices and communities and walk into a building named "church", they expect a reprieve and a respite from brokenness, lies, gossip, slander, back-stabbing, self-promotion and incessant undermining, and encouragement to live differently. Instead, too often, they find those same machinations among the church staff, the church committees, and members' relationships with one another. Why, then, should we be surprised to find so many people becoming atheists and people who claim belief in God but would never set foot in another "church"? Biblically, atheism is defined by the actions of doing these very same things! Too many church leaders and members are actually atheists, in practice!

Frankly, one reason I continue in church life is because I have faithful family and friends such as those with whom I fellowshipped this week. We encourage one another to believe God, to live lives of integrity in the face of the charlatans, and to continue to work for the good of God's work here on earth – the mission of Jesus Christ to make disciples, to live in communities that are united in love just as Jesus and the Father are one. The reason we continue, ultimately, is because we have been blessed by God's grace to have the faith to be faithful and to live holy and obedient lives empowered by the Holy Spirit. Neither do we claim more than the wisdom of Jesus and try to sort wheat from tares, now. But, we hope and we pray that by our lives' testimonies others may come to know and love this God whom we serve, and to know God's love for them within the wreckage in which we live. We also pray that those who seek God with their whole hearts will be able to discern lies from truth and not follow these many false shepherds and teachers. Those who are false will be exposed on that Day, we believe, and that which they built will be burned (1 Cor. 3) or swept away (Matt. 7). May the true Lord, our Shepherd, have mercy on us, and lead us in the way everlasting through these valleys shadowed in death. May we be builders approved by God, God-ordained accordingly with lives conformed to the Word who is Jesus Christ, and certified by our love and service that endures the fires and the floods.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Serious Business

At times, I've been told that I'm too serious, too intense, and at times, too observant and out-spoken for others' comfort levels, and for their political and financial ambitions. May I propose this: the central idea of Religion concerns the serious nature of life in all its difficulties, relationships and outcomes.

Regarding justice and injustice:  Most of us think of law and consequences when we think of justice. If people we know, or if we ourselves have experienced injustice or criminal behavior, our thoughts may quickly jump to returning fire for fire. Christians may cringe at the images in Psalm 137:9 "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock."  Many of us cannot imagine wishing such harm to other people's infants and children, much less carrying it out! Taken in the context of the previous verse, the source of pain in this imprecatory prayer becomes clear: "O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!"

The cry of the psalmist is for retributive justice against the perpetrators of the horrible suffering and pain caused to their children, and to them by watching their children die. We cannot ignore these cries from those who are the most abused, the most downtrodden, the poorest, and the sickest among us. Every one of us has experienced some time in life where we have been victimized by others, but few in the U.S. have experienced this particular pain. The message of this psalm should be considered when we consider the pain war and terrorism bring to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. We know that other groups have also victimized the people, but we shouldn't be surprised at the backlash which occurs when US soldiers and military actions kill or injure children and family members. They cry out for justice, and the natural human response is to seek revenge.

If we look at this Psalm's lament, however, we see a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. The psalmist does not claim that the people of Israel will be happy when they take revenge on the Babylonians who have taken them captive and killed their children in front of the parents. The avenging people are an ambiguous, "THEY." Why is that?

We should know ourselves well enough to understand that the enacting of vengeance and the exacting of justice according to human measures harm us. There is no detached "justice"; we can only try to increase the distance between ourselves and those whom we have judged. Distance can be measured in miles: an impersonal missile launched from a ship or a plane may feel "impersonal" to the owner of the hand on the trigger, or the commander giving the order to fire, but the missile's explosive destruction is very personally experienced by the people in the impact zone. Distance can be measured in relationships: a distance of race, gender, political party affiliation, religious system, education, economic status, nationality or ethnicity can permit the perpetrator to depersonalize the offense in her imagination, but the offended party knows exactly how personally wounded s/he is. Distance can be created by lies: liars frequently fabricate a false reality that is a combination of blatant lies, innuendo and semi-truths in order to push the truth or the truth-teller away from the liar's self, or worse, to kill the truth-teller by slander, gossip, libel (all of these are a form of judgment and death).

God-with-us, God-in-Christ, the God who reconciles humans to God and to one another - this God loves the victim and the perpetrator. This God loves Nineveh and Jonah, the Persians and the Israelites, the Babylonians and their captives, the Afghans, the Iraqis and the Americans. Our God knows that distancing ourselves in order to cause pain with words or actions, or distancing ourselves from sensing the pain we cause others inflicts harm on us, not just on those whom we've hurt.

During an internship at the Denver Veterans Administration Medical Center, I saw firsthand the damage done to soldiers by their participation in wars. Perhaps, to the people of Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, these soldiers may have seemed akin to the Babylonians of Psalm 137. Yet, these soldiers also experience pain from participating in war, even those who joined the Army because a relative or friend was killed on September 11, 2001. Their own physical injuries may be healed or treated medically, but the psychological damage may last and last. One Vietnam vet was broken in ways he'd been able to ignore for most of the 40 years since leaving that country. Then, too, our government's system of treating soldiers and vets refuses, at times, to diagnose psychological harm from combat in the interest of saving money, denying benefits' claims, and maintaining troop levels. A soldier may "justify" their actions because "I was only following orders." Nevertheless, he will know - in his body and person - that his actions killed or injured other people. The more people the soldier kills, the higher the risk of PTSD. Imagine then, the soldier returned home is told by the VA that his experiences of anger outbursts, sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, discomfort or fear in crowded places, anxiety if someone stands behind him, are nothing. Our society believes a myth that we have the resources to heal all ills and to treat everything, and to perpetuate that myth people in authority do lie to the suffering, and will "kill" anyone who endangers their myths.

We need to reconsider our myths! That reconsideration is part of the "serious business" of religion.

The Psalmist knew that any revenge against the captors by the captives would harm the captives, too. The implications of our belief in One God and One Creator of all things, and in humans being created in God's image resonate strongly. If God is truly with us in our experiences of suffering and injustice, and not distant from us in dispensing justice, then the Christian call to be conformed to Christ means that Christians love the victims and speak truth to the perpetrators; we reflect grace and truth to every person just as God-in-Christ has done to us. We know that for all that we have been victims of injustice and suffering, we have also been perpetrators of injustice and suffering. We are responsible, we are accountable, and we face and confess the truth about ourselves knowing that the judgment of God against sin has been lifted from us by Jesus Christ's sacrifice.

Christians and our churches must not participate in the polarizing rhetoric that characterizes our national political debates right now. We should and will testify to justice, against unjust and inequitable systems, to the care our society should give to all people, and to the harm we cause ourselves by our distancing ourselves from one another. Our system of providing medical care only to the rich, the employed, and the dying is akin to passing by on the other side of the road from the poor, wounded and sick. Our strategies that harm others in the name of the harm done to us will always damage us, too.

On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway." ~Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hand in Hand

This video gives us a visual metaphor of how humans need one another. We miss the truth of our interdependency in every regard, not just the physical interdependency which this captures. We miss the holistic interdependency of human and God, male and female, between races, between all ethnic heritages, tribes, nations, humanity and environment, humanity and conditions in which we live. Humans naturally striate and separate themselves from one another, but God's love is found in our unity.

It seems to me that the health care debate is really between those who envision independence and those who are aware of dependence and interdependence. James spoke to this profound reality when he contrasted the partiality being awarded to the privileged with God's choosing of the poor: "My brothers and sisters, you do not hold the faith while practicing partiality. ...Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has God not chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?" (James 2:1, 5)

Hand in Hand


Tom, thank you for your comment. I do believe you completely missed the point that I made, and inadvertently, you strengthened my point. I hear your words as dividing humanity out of people who work in government offices - you characterize them as "bloated, impersonal government bureaucrats" not as people. Any person - whether in a bureaucracy of a governmental entity or of an insurance company - can become "inhuman", as it were, in relation to others. As soon as we stop seeing another person or group of people as anyone we want to be "with", we've divided ourselves from them, instead of listening to and hearing them. I don't trust in a "faceless social responsibility." I hope and work for a society of humans who individually place people's welfare and well-being above self-interest & profit-making.


FWIW, it seems unlikely that anyone working in a democratic governmental structure would be able "to corruptly aggregate to themselves more power" at any level that even draws close to the corrupted power among leaders of Wall Street and insurance companies! The myth of free-market capitalism has been exposed in recent years for market leaders' inability to regulate participants' own sinfulness. The insurance company, AIG, was right in the thick of the corruption and dehumanization. Government jobs simply don't pay that well. There are people in government who care about doing their jobs well and ethically. I'm sure there were individual people working at AIG who were dismayed about the directions their bosses were taking, ethically and in terms of risk-taking.

Human sinfulness being what it is, our society, governmental structures, corporate structures, groups and individuals will always need to be adjusting to compensate for the advantage that self-seeking people will try to take of any system. Right now, the profit-making system holds sway. The human leaders of that system who pursued only profits have harmed too many families and individuals with their carelessness for providing care to the poor and the sick. They do not see themselves as being "with" the poor and the sick, or as being part of a society which is mutually interdependent.

Obviously, the same danger may surface with leaders and individuals working in government offices. But, at the least, they won't personally profit by refusing to be "with" the poor and the sick.

I've always tried to listen to everyone's POV, and although I disagree that the "good and workable suggestions" proposed by Republicans are sufficient to deal with this problem, I do think that leaders should heed what's valuable and true about them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Church Formation?

Internet Monk's post on church de-formation or mal-formation and new formation (my words) are healthy and helpful for those leaving institutions masquerading as "church."

He wrote, "short of a view that certain Protestant congregations are the only portals to eternal life, it is hard to say that those who leave these churches are imperiling their souls. For many people, the peril of their souls is exactly why they are gone."


"The current defense of the church may be necessary, but many of the assertions being made are not necessary and have about them the scent of males in power having far too much fun flirting with infallibility. The Christian ministry is one of the few places in our world that men can assert that they and their institutions must be submitted to in the name of God. That's heady stuff, and I'm not even close to being prepared to buy the bona fides of everyone who claims it."

Those of us who seek to follow Christ each day are bound to run up against hypocrisy – in ourselves and in others. We can't avoid it because we're still imperfectly "crucified with Christ"! The power against hypocrisy is repentance, confession and forgiveness, and any institution embodying self-assurance in and of itself (or in and of the priests' or ministers' "ordination") doesn't embody the self-sacrificing love and service of others which we see in Christ Jesus.

Lord, have mercy!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Our daughter pulled a sharpening steel out of the drawer, tonight. The rest of us at the dinner table laughed and wondered what knife she was going to sharpen and why!

I was reading articles and posts about philosophical debates, today, too. All of the writings were by men arguing with other men.

Does it occur to us that what passes for "debates" is, too often, one side trying to win vs. another? I.e., the debate's goal seems not pursuing greater truth or exhibiting the "love of wisdom" (philo-sophia), but rather one intellect's victory over another's, one's worldview over another's. The raised arms of victory over another view's "foolishness" crown the conclusion.

Proverbs 27:17 states, "Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another." (NRSV)
In the NLT, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."
The Tanakh translation is a more literal translation, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the wit of his friend."

The problem I have with many debates is the goal of victory and triumph over any others. Isn't this simply another perverse form of proselytization by academic or philosophical warfare?
Be a Christian! No, be an Atheist! To be religious means you're an idiot. To be a non-believer means you're going to hell! Religion is anti-intellect, anti-logic, and anti-mind. Atheism is anti-god, anti-believer, and anti-order.
To return to the metaphor my daughter pulled out of the drawer...

Anyone who has sharpened a knife by hand realized that if our angle of sharpening is too high, we dull the blade rather than sharpen it. The knife sharpening experts recommend 15/20 degree beveled angles. In other words, the stone or sharpening steel is more alongside the knife than against it. It is counterproductive to confront the knife edge with a harsher angle. The Hebrew isn't impersonal; the one sharpening the wit of another is a companion or friend. In the context of wisdom literature, "love of wisdom" isn't a love of abstract, detached knowledge and logic but love of wise and thoughtful living in the companionship of fellow humans.

So, to those who love debating, may we examine the product of those arguments! Do you gain or lose friends of differing views? (We all know that gathering people of views similar to ours is the norm!) Do we fail at relating well to the person, or do we gain both increasing insight and relationships that last?

Finally, to make a comment on what may have seemed the "coincidence" of men's debates, may I offer another look at the infamous text most frequently cited vs. women?

1 Timothy 2:8, in my opinion, begins a discussion of negative gender paradigms in that culture. Paul began with the men, "I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument..." The Greek word for argument, dialogismos, has the meaning of a "verbal exchange that takes place when conflicting ideas are expressed, dispute, argument." (BDAG)

I've been around enough discussion boards to recognize that the disputes are most frequently dominated by men. There are some women in the fray, but many have told me in "asides" that they are quiet because they don't want to get beaten up in the "discussions."

Guys, please tell me. Is that a coincidence? Or, would you recognize Paul's admonition as countering a particularly male penchant for warfare - whatever the battlefield?

I love wisdom. I find philosophy intriguing, inspiring and provocative, at its best. But, the warfare, folks, the warfare has gotta go. Telling others they're stupid or hell-bent won't win them to your logic, but it may serve to beat them down into submission to your god. (That god isn't mine.) However, loving them and walking alongside them may build up and encourage them in wisdom.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Perception & Reception

An essential lesson that most parents learn - and one they hope their children learn, too - is that while we may correct or restrain our children from doing something dangerous, unethical, selfish, or harmful, those very corrections and restraints aren't received by our children as "love." Their reactions inform parents of their displeasure: temper tantrums, sulking, throwing toys, stomping, door slamming, sibling fights, and the like. As adults, we know the consequences that our children do not. We perceive correction, restraint and discipline as intrinsic to loving our children. We don't want them to harm themselves, others, or suffer the consequences of their bad actions. We want them to consider their actions well before they act. (As they age, the actions assume greater significance, involve more serious consequences, and attain life-changing proportions.) Parentally-imposed consequences of correction, restraint, and disciplinary action when children continue to act destructively, harmfully, selfishly, or carelessly, therefore, are essential to appropriate parental love. The Biblical definition of Love incorporates all of this. God's Love includes truth, justice, consequences, mercy, and the promotion of just actions. (The biblical definition of Love is distinguished here from the folk-religious understanding of love by the use of capital "L".)

The folk-religious, popular and facile definition of love relates love to feelings (e.g., "happiness"), emotions, and self-centered perception. Even the delivery of factual information regarding the inevitable results of one's choices, words and actions, is considered to be "unloving" and "judgmental." Consequentially, any correction, discipline and restraint are out of bounds between adults (even within voluntary organizations such as churches, or in corporations). Correction, restraint and discipline are also increasingly considered inappropriate, even unlawful, between parents and children in many areas.

It is certain that humans would prefer never to be informed that our actions are harmful to ourselves or others,
never to be corrected, and never, ever to receive consequences for any act we commit, omit, or any errors we make. Thus, we misuse our reasoning abilities in order to externalize all the results we experience; i.e., we blame other people, circumstances, generalities, and Godself for the natural results of our choices, actions and words.

Pearl Mary-Teresa Richards Craigie (writing as John O. Hobbes): "Men heap together the 'mistakes' of their lives and create a monster they call, 'Destiny'." [NB: the quotation marks around 'mistakes' are mine, and reflect my understanding that many actions we retrospectively call, "mistakes", were intentionally committed at the time.]

The transformation we hope to see in our children, while continuing to parent appropriately and carefully, is the transformation in reception. Children growing into teenagers, and then into adults without this transformation will always tend to misperceive Parental Love. This Love includes boundary-setting, information, reality-checks, and then correction, discipline, consequences and encouragement to exhibit behavioral changes. Children receive that Love in a lump as Judgment. In actuality, judgment is not found in Loving (or even unloving!) discernment of error and warning of consequences. Judgment is realized consequences, whether good or bad. The Hindus name this result, Karma. "What goes around comes around." "You reap what you sow." Christians should not depose God as Judge by becoming judges ourselves, imposing consequences for one's situation, unless we're exercising godly authority in an appropriate position and setting, and being Spirit-led. (cf. James 2:1-7) In fact, without God, we may naturally misread another person's situation itself to be a verdict and judgment, when it's not that at all. (cf. John 9:1-5, or the Hindu caste system, or classism, or racism)

The transformation parents long for is in the reception: "can't you see that I discipline, correct, and restrain you because I love you?" We want our children to be re-wired to receive us as "loving" not as unloving Judges. In the parental role, we should impose just consequences on childish and selfish behaviors. Yet, we need to be judges within the context of Love, and we need to contextualize, interpret, and apply the reality of consequences to their level of understanding. We realize that our children need to grasp that there are good/bad bodily, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual consequences to every action, reaction, word, harbored thought, behavior, and habit. A friend who worked in an inner city high school for troubled youth once told me that all he did, day in and day out, was try to teach teenagers that there are consequences for every action. The older we get, the more baggage we accumulate, the stronger we resist correction, the harder it is to experience the transformation in reception.

There comes a time in each of our lives, though, when the "safer" and limited consequences that healthy parents impose are laid aside because they're overtaken by the harsher consequences that outsiders will carry out or that we receive in ourselves and our families. These consequences occur because we refuse correction in the name of a "happiness" which is marked by a presence of pleasure, with an avoidance of discomfort, responsibilities and self-discipline. Schools and teachers may impose disciplinary procedures upon children. Children may bully, ostracize, and physically hurt others because they don't know appropriate boundaries. Police, courts and prisons may get involved as children become disorderly, uncorrectable young adults. More unwise and untransformed adults form families. Dysfunctional marriages and maltreatment of spouses and children may result, creating a whole new generation of unreceptive, untransformed, unloving people. These people are not only unable to receive or offer Love, they simply cannot even perceive Love. Because of this inability to face themselves internally and assess the real consequences of their own choices, they externalize the blame - they "create a monster they call, 'Destiny'."

They've missed the message of God's holy and holistic Love: "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature." -- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

We grasp the despair of God lamenting over his children when we lament over untransformed, unreceptive and unwelcoming people around us: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.'" (Matt. 23:37-39)

Let us welcome Love, today!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Warring YouTube Videos

These videos should remind us how important reconciliation is. The status quo is not acceptable. Alienation in all its manifestations is not "peace." Alienation manifests as passive division, active divisiveness, injustice, lies, slander, gossip, divorce, barriers, walls, and wars.

Ephesians 2

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it."

Israeli cell phone advertisement

Palestinian response