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.