You Will Be Assimilated

Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”

So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?

I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.

But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.

As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’

In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.

What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.

The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.

We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.

Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?

 

 

Human Trafficking/Human Tragedy…Our Tragedy

As I was going through some old material I happened upon this piece that I had submitted to the NY Times in January 2013. During the current election cycle Ohio Senator Rob Portman is using his work on Human Trafficking for his campaign. So, I thought that I would publish this now. I can’t express how important this issue is now…today…in 2016. Follow the links and do some digging to see if there’s a way for us all to help free the oppressed. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

endhumantrafficking January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. Few topics engaged human emotions like this one. Battle lines were drawn and the battles fought. The benefactors of the decision found that their rights as human beings in the U.S. were vindicated. Women across the country were released from the shackles of a male dominated culture. And, they are adamant that those rights will not be taken away.

On the other side, people decried the violence that was allowed to be perpetrated on the “unborn innocents.” Their right-to-life beliefs empowered a backlash against the Supreme Court and the government. To this day they maintain that an unborn human must have the same rights and protections as any other person.

The position of those who proclaim Right-to-Life has grown to include topics beyond abortion. They are against any kind of euthanasia or medical procedures that may bring about death. Removal of life support apparatus can be anathema for these folks. But, there is another area that has as much to do with a person’s right to live as any of these. It is something that very few, if any sermons will be preached about on Sunday. It is the problem of slavery and human trafficking. Women, children and men whose lives are owned by someone else; people who have no rights to live, only to obey their “master.”

I first learned of this problem through a fellow student in graduate school. She was from Argentina and became a staunch advocate of human rights for those caught in the web of human trafficking. I began to learn about the problem and realized that it is part and parcel about a person’s right to life. A good definition of human trafficking can be found in documents from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Quoting from their website, at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html, it reads, “Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” This definition is comprehensive in its scope. It reveals the lengths that some people will go to in order to profit from the lives of others.

In the U.S., trafficking shows up in exploitation of some migrant workers and their families. But, perhaps the most heinous result is the sexual abuse of girls and women. One article reported in 2011, “Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12 years old, are exploited in the sex trade.”[1] This particular article revealed that major cultural events are used by human traffickers to sell their victims.

To me, this underscores the culture of power and dominance that is so prevalent in the U.S. People’s rights, that are supposed to be guaranteed and protected under the Constitution, are trampled upon in the name of cultural acceptance. Rev. Jennifer D. Crumpton wrote, “But we also must go deeper to honestly examine our accepted social structures and our systemic commodification of the bodies of women and girls in our arts and entertainment, our media, our sports, and our general corporate and consumer marketing.”[2] Yet, we do not “go deeper.” We prefer to avert our gaze from the reality that in 2013 America, people are commodified and enslaved for personal gain. We choose not to get involved while the “Right-to-Life” of thousands of our fellow human beings is taken away from them.

There are many resources available that people can utilize that can help to educate and bring to light this horrible blight on our society. One is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their website offers information that can educate as well as provide resources for involvement. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html?ref=menuside)

The Salvation Army offers support at their PROMISE website for people who are caught in human trafficking, as well as for those who want to help. (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-dynamic-index/F71E07755654D27A85257440006860F9?Opendocument)

A quick search on the internet for the various state’s Attorney’s General will provide a wealth of information that can enable people to learn what their own state government is doing in the fight against human trafficking.

It’s not enough to sit and point fingers at Pro Choice or Pro Life adherents. It’s also not enough to define Right-to-Life by one issue. Hundreds of thousands of living, breathing people do not have a Right-to-Life. We must stand up for them.

 

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-31-child-prostitution-super-bowl_N.htm?sms_ss=email&at_xt=4d4d83322a2ff345%2C0, accessed January 10, 2013.

[2] http://www.newevangelicalpartnership.org/?q=node/109, accessed January 9, 2013.

 

Matthew Walsh and American Privilege

flag_art_rainbow_flag_1978_nov-1331pxA friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article written by Matthew Walsh entitled,  “This is my homophobic rant against Michael Sam.” He asked me to comment on it. So, being the easy-going, un-opinionated person that I am, I decided to accommodate that request.

On first reading, I found so many holes in Walsh’s position that I almost decided not to bother. It would be like going to a carnival and playing a game of ‘Throw the Bean Bag through the Hole and Win a Prize’ with holes 24” in diameter. I’m going to win that giant stuffed platypus every time.

But, then I began to think that perhaps I should. There are many misconceptions about the way in which Michael Sam presented himself to the world. This has tended to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many people. Questions arise about the propriety of Sam ‘coming out’ to excessive media attention and hoopla. Then, of course, there was ‘the Kiss.’ I could just see Tony Perkins throwing up in his mouth a little. So, I decided that it might be helpful to share a little critique of Walsh’s article.

In a word, Walsh’s entire article rests on one word, privilege. Privilege is what those whose worldview is considered the ‘Norm’ exercise. That means that there is a tendency to view everyone and everything through the lens of that privilege. For those of us who are white and protestant that means that everyone is viewed as the equal. At least to a point. We think that since we and our forebears were able to carve out a life that seems normative…we can usually find a job, buy a house, purchase food and clothing for our families, and pretty much speak our minds freely and openly… then EVERYONE can. That leads us to view those who seem to be whiny about having few opportunities, hunger and lack of clothing or shelter should just get their act together and get a job. We also tend to think that these ‘others’ are simply lazy and looking for handouts and some kind of ‘leg-up’ in order to take what is ours and spend it on expensive cars and gadgets. Of course, it couldn’t be because there is a real need. If only they’d get off of the collective, lazy asses and help themselves. After all, this is the land of opportunity.

The problem is, that’s a fallacy. All people don’t have equal opportunity. There are cultural and class biases that blinds the privileged and keeps a foot on the neck of those who are not. Our opinions become the norm against which all other worldviews are measured. Because we compare everyone to ourselves, we don’t listen to what these ‘others’ are saying, let alone try to empathize with them.

So, let’s take a look at some of Walsh’s statements.

He wrote that he is not a “bigot, and…not ‘homophobic,’…I generally carry about my day very much unconcerned with [their] sexual proclivities,” he somehow felt the “need to be a voice of reason amidst this whole spectacularly ridiculous charade.” Why? What made him think that he alone could possibly be the only voice of reason?

Privilege.

In the article Walsh goes to great lengths to equate being gay with “sexual habits.” Stating that, “what you do in your bedroom is between you and whoever you do it with.” He appears to be taking the high road and conceding that gay sex is OK, but please, I don’t need to hear about it. And, he’s correct. It is no one else’s business. But, he totally misses the point. Being gay is NOT about having sex. It’s about whom one is as a person. There are many LGBT people who state that when they were adolescents and the hormones started kicking in, they felt attraction to people of their own gender. This became their identity just as it does for heterosexual youths. It was not something they chose, but the very fabric of whom they were as people. Note, this has nothing to do with the bedroom. But, people like Walsh make that unfounded leap when speaking about gays. For them, being gay is all about what happens in the bedroom. It can’t possibly be about caring people who simply want to be open about who they are. Therein lies the greatest challenge and fallacy that we privileged people need to deal with.

The other main point of Walsh’s article had to do with the ‘big deal’ everyone was making about Sam. After all, how many people who are drafted that late have ESPN show up at their house? Let’s see…I can count them on no fingers. The media painted the event as ‘historic.’ And, the privileged just shook their heads and wondered why? What makes this slightly above average athlete special?

On the surface there’s really nothing special about Michael Sam. In fact, it’s probably unlikely that he’ll even make the Rams’ final cut. I agree with Walsh that “Sam is a small, slow, middling prospect.” There are certainly better players who could have been the center of media attention. But, that’s not the point of this event. People of privilege don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be marginalized in society. Whether it’s race, poverty, gender, sexual orientation or nationality, white America doesn’t see any disparity. But, I haven’t read any news stories about a young man committing suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge because a secret video was made of him kneeling beside his bed praying. Nor, have I heard tell of a teenager who was assassinated in a school classroom because he was part of a before-school Bible study.

By coming out and standing in front of the cameras, Sam has shouted that it’s OK to be different. Young people who wrestle with their very identity have a positive example of someone who is like them. Someone they can look to for encouragement. If events like this can help one person, young or old, to accept and embrace who they are, then the attention given Sam was worth it.

Finally, Walsh and others think that the attention given Sam is indicative of some kind of anti-Christian movement in the culture. They site Tim Tebow as their poster child of the growing persecution of the religious. To that I just say Poppycock! No one has taken anyone’s right to practice, nor speak about, their religion. As Hemant Mehta wrote recently, “…a lot of conservative Christians…also felt the media’s positive reaction to Michael Sam was unfair given that everyone trashed Tim Tebow because he was a Christian! (Don’t even bother trying to point out that Tebow was pilloried for not being a very good player and that his religion had nothing to do with it.)” Had Tebow been able to lead a team…any team…to success, no one would have cared about his religion. If Brett Favre or Dan Marino had chosen to kneel and give thanks it would have been fine. But, Tebow was a hack. That’s why so much attention was given to his religious practice. There was nothing else to talk about!

We have choices that must be made. We can take a stand for human dignity, or we can dig our heels in and try to hold on to our privilege. I truly believe that this so-called battle over LGBT rights is over. Now, it’s just a matter of letting the cleansing breeze of God’s Spirit carry away the smoke. It is simply unethical to demean and diminish people for being born a certain way. Until that happens I’m sure that we will continue to see people like Michael Sam portrayed as pioneers who forge trails into new and uncharted cultural territory.

Matthew Walsh…not a homophobe? Yeah, and Donald Sterling’s not a racist.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. How have any of you experienced privilege, or lack of it?

A Response to my Friend

BibleA couple of weeks ago I shared a blogpost written by Benjamin Corey . It was basically a critique of the way in which many people in our Western, particularly American, culture read and interpret the Christian Bible. A very good friend of mine commented about that posting:

“It seems that you have shared a number of articles about what Christians are not doing right. They take scripture here or there to justify something or to maybe judge. The article you shared once again is telling people to understand what is being said in scriptures based upon the times and how they were written. So, I am asking the question, how do you use scripture to reveal the truth of Jesus and his saving grace?”

As I reflected on this, I realized that this is not just one question, but two. First, he is leveling an accusation that I am antagonistic toward Christians. The question seems to be, ‘Why are you attacking those with whom you have identified for so many years?’ The second question is, ‘How do you present the gospel to others?’

I responded to him that I thought that these were valid questions that would require further reflection. What I’ve written here is that response.

Question One: ‘Why are you attacking those with whom you have identified for so many years?’

Actually, my friend, I’m not. As I’ve grown older I have found that I’m not nearly as sure of the things that I thought, felt and believed earlier in life. Back then it was easy to be absolutely sure of myself. I knew that God had created the universe. I was convinced that anyone who did not accept and believe the Christian Bible as we in the West accepted and believed it were wrong and in danger of eternal punishment. The foundation of my world view was set firmly in a patriarchy. And, I had no doubt as to my eternal destiny as a child of God.

Then, the doubts started to seep in. I learned that others who were not a part of my ‘tribe’ were not the evil, depraved creatures that I had been led to believe. Many of them were hard working, family-loving people simply trying to get by in life. Many others were devout believers in God, but not in the same way that I was. Still others diligently searched for God in other cultures and settings. I saw women who were gifted to lead and teach. These people were able to stand before God and others in confidence. Were the things that I had held up as ‘gospel truth’ able to stand in light of these observations? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. One thing I did know, however, was that things I continued to hear week after week from the pulpit were quickly becoming incongruent with my life’s experiences.

So, I became a seeker. I needed to find out if my thoughts were, in fact, opposed to the ‘orthodox’ position that those around me embraced. Or, was there hope in this cloud of doubt.

I entered Ashland Theological Seminary in the fall of 2006. (That’s a whole story in itself. I’ll save that for another time.) I didn’t know what I would experience there. I only knew that it was the place I needed to go. The next five years took me on a journey that changed my life and my way of thinking and believing. I learned that it’s ok for followers of Jesus to think! Imagine my surprise. I had been trained, or better, indoctrinated to believe that everything that came out of the mouths of church leaders was to be accepted. After all, these men were God’s anointed shepherds. To question them was to question God. I also learned that there is really no one…let me say again, No One, who can know totally and with certainty what God thinks, cf. Isaiah 55:8-9,

8    For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.

One cannot read the text ‘simply’ and understand the mind of the writer, let alone the mind of God. Especially, when one is reading a translation of a translation. These texts were written millennia ago in cultures and languages that no longer exist. I learned that we cannot take these texts out of their social and cultural context and place them directly into our culture in the 21st century. What this led to was an understanding that the playing field of orthodoxy is a very large one. As long as one is able to keep the ball from going completely across the boundary line, that person must be considered orthodox.

With this being said, my intention in sharing the kind of material I do is to present other views of orthodoxy. Rather than attacking the church, I offer a different opinion. I’ve shared many times on Facebook that I like to stir things up. I want to stretch people’s understanding. Is what the predominantly white, male-dominated evangelical church’s view of God and scripture the only viable one? Obviously, I don’t think it is. Simply put, I want to give people an opportunity to think.

Question two: ‘How do you present the gospel to others?’

The simple answer to this question is, I don’t. At least, not in the way it has been pursued by most evangelicals. I don’t knock on doors. Nor, do I ‘cold sell’ to people. I’m not going to assault strangers and begin to ‘witness’ to them.

What I am going to do is be prepared to give a reason for the hope that I have,         (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). That reason, or explanation, is based on personal experience. Lofty, theological vagaries don’t help. What good is it to speculate and theorize with people who have no interest in the text to begin with? However, no one can take away nor refute what I have experienced. Like the beggar who Jesus healed, when questioned by the authorities, responded that all he knew was that before he was blind, now he could see. It is our life with God that speaks. A statement attributed to St. Francis sums this up. “Always remember to preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

What does this say, then, about my approach to using scripture to “reveal the truth of Jesus and his saving grace?” I’m not sure that’s the right question. This question diminishes the scripture and makes it a users’ manual of sorts.

How to get someone ‘saved.
Step one: The Roman Road.
Step two: The Four Spiritual Laws

A more accurate question would be, what is the purpose of the Scriptures? Is it history? Science? Myth and fairy stories? Or, is it what it claims to be…the inspired Word that is living and active in the world? I think that the text provides us with a glimpse into the heart of God. It allows us to see how people have related to God and one another over the centuries. And, it gives us hope that we can share in these experiences as we grow to know this Person. That is what I share.

Ok…So What?

The fact is, I don’t know everything. (Surprised, right?) In most things I’m most likely mistaken. As I’ve written before, I follow the theology of Snoopy. This allows me to be myself as God has made me. I am extremely confident in my ability to be wrong.

I can be friends with people for who they are as God has made them. It doesn’t matter what their politics are or their station in life. I am not concerned about their sexual orientation or their view of science and the cosmos. I love and accept them as they are. After all, didn’t Jesus himself say that to love God and our neighbor summed up the entire Law?

Yeah, I disagree with people. Sometimes with vigor. But, that doesn’t diminish them. That elevates them to dialog partners. Like I wrote above, I am a seeker. By definition that makes me someone who is not afraid to go places that are unfamiliar, and perhaps, uncomfortable. It opens me up to opinions that are different than those that I hold. For me, this has been freeing. I don’t have to fear other opinions and concerns. I’m pretty sure that God’s not afraid, either. My friend, this life is a journey, not a destination. To hold lightly to what we think and believe, yet to hold tenaciously to God makes the journey a good one.

Who’s Your Best Friend? Pt. 1

Best-Friends-Closed-Friends-keep-smiling-9934190-1024-768This is part one of a discussion I’ve been considering for quite some time. And, it has been one of the most difficult pieces that I’ve attempted to address. At this point I can only say that there will be at least a part two. Maybe, more. I will publish part two next week.

A couple of months ago I read a post over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog. It was a guest post written by Alise Wright entitled “Not ‘Just’ Friends -Thoughts on cross-sex friendship.” Alise has her own blog here. The piece was a critique of the common assumption that when women and men get together, they cannot possibly be friends because the ‘sex thing’ will always rear its hoary head. I read the post and comments. I chased several links through many other similar posts by other authors. And, I noticed that this topic was addressed mostly from a women’s perspective. Other than a few comments, I did not find any posts written by men about this. While I thought this was a tad odd, I was not surprised. I find that, in a broad generalization, men are somewhat reluctant to discuss matters that touch on ‘cross-sex’ friendships. So, I thought that I would offer some reflections from my very male perspective.

I can only speak to those of us who live in Western culture. For much of the world, gender roles are specifically delineated. For instance, in parts of the Muslim world, women are totally segregated from men. Different clothing and different rules for appearing in public are written into civil law. In these instances the kinds of relationships I want to discuss are simply not possible.

However, in the West we are not subject to such strictures. Overtly, there is an understanding that women and men are equal and, therefore, are able to seek whatever companionship and camaraderie they desire. (Although, covertly there is still a long way to go before ours is a truly egalitarian culture.) But, are we able to simply ‘be friends’?

The embedded clip from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” is actually a pretty accurate assessment of what many people think. In the circle that I’ve been a part of for the last 30 or so years people will swear by this. It’s the gospel. Men and women cannot be trusted to be together outside of state and church sanctioned wedlock. And, to be quite honest, I have experienced the difficulties and consequences of relationships like this. They can be extremely precarious. As I was training for various ministry positions and even at seminary, we were often told that the best rule to protect oneself and one’s reputation was to simply avoid being alone with someone of the opposite sex. (Or, with someone who is the gender that one is attracted to.) This ‘necessary’ precaution would provide a barrier against ‘impurity’ or even the appearance of impropriety. In practice this would mean that pastors and counselors could not meet with these people behind closed doors. Or, at the very least, windows should be installed so that nothing could be hidden from view. Meetings with cross-sex colleagues and coworkers should be avoided. And, never, ever was it appropriate to go to lunch or spend non-official time with them. These rules were put in place to protect individuals from following their inherent ‘lust’ from spilling out and contaminating everyone.

This way of thinking has naturally grown out of what has become known as the ‘purity culture.’ In this culture two characteristics predominate. The first characteristic is that women are Jezebel seductresses who dress and act in ways that are designed to capture men’s imaginations and cause them to stumble and fall. Members of this culture decry the way women dress, particularly in the summer or in warm climates. I heard one church leader say from the pulpit that he hated summer for that very reason. This position not only objectifies women in a negative way, it opens the door for shaming that always demeans and silences women. The second characteristic is not unlike the first. This suggests that men are weak, carnal beasts who cannot control the sexual lusts and desires that the seductress women cause them to have. (Please note, it’s the women who bear the onus of this charge, not the men.) Both of these characteristics diminish people and marginalize them. The scriptures tell the story of humans created in the ‘image of God,’ as eikons who represent God on Earth. Granted, humanity is fallible. We are not far removed from other animals. We are, in a word, sexual beings. But, to reduce us to the two characteristics mentioned above is to caricaturize people. It also tends to cause folks to obsess over the issue of sexuality. Much like telling your child not to eat the cookies, continually telling people that they must avoid any kind of behavior that may smack of impropriety may, in fact, draw them into it. I think that there must be a better way to address cross-sex relationships. A way that not only honors marriage and family, but that allows people to express their love and friendship freely and without all of the baggage of the ‘purity culture.’

In my next post I will share some of my thoughts and reflections about how we may have and enjoy these relationships. I would also like input from readers.

How do you view cross-sex relationships? Do you think that it is even possible to have them and not engage the ‘sex thing’? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Who Knows the Wind…

HolySpirit

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear the sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

Yesterday, I met with my spiritual director. We get together about once a month and talk. When I first started to meet with him, I voiced a great deal of frustration about where my life had been and where it appeared to be going. I did not see a great deal of God “working” in my life. I had completed seminary and felt that God would somehow open opportunities for me use that education. The months passed, and…nothing. Well, not entirely nothing. I had a heart attack. But, that’s a different chapter in this story. When I shared my feelings with my director, he listened carefully. (I appreciate that in people.) He did not offer answers.

 “Sometimes we don’t see what God is doing unless we look back,” was the gist of his response at that time. By this he meant that transformation and maturity usually happens in bits and pieces over time. In our busy-ness we don’t see this happening. We are not ‘mindful’ or present to the way that the Holy Spirit encourages us and draws us ever nearer to the heart of God. “The wind blows wherever it pleases.”

I’ve begun to take his advice and have been reflecting on some things recently. I guess that’s what old, feeble people do. We look back over our lives, the decisions we’ve made, the people we’ve known and loved, (and some we haven’t loved too much!), and consider the legacy we’re leaving. Much of that reflection for me has revealed a long track filled with many train wrecks. Don’t get me wrong, there has been much joy in my life. But, for me, personally it’s been difficult.

I began to realize that not all of who we are as people is revealed in what are referred to as ‘outward’ attributes. Things like relationships, financial stability, jobs and the like. Perhaps, the greatest light shines on our ‘inner’ selves. These are the things that can drive our outward responses and actions. An example would be the frustration and anger that rise to our middle finger as that other idiot on the road cuts us off. I started to look inwardly, into my heart, to see what was there. What I found has encouraged me.

Over the past half dozen years, or so, there has been a growing compassion and empathy for others. Especially, for those who are not like me. Many evangelical churches encourage their members to make ‘unsaved’ friends. The reason for that is so that they can cultivate relationships that would enable them to share their message and, hopefully, get that person ‘saved.’ Well, I’ve found that I have more friends and people I communicate with who would not fit into that ‘born again’ demographic. And, I like them. They are wonderful people who care about others. They laugh and share and enjoy life. I have no intention of ‘preaching’ to any of them. I am, and have, been ready to share my experience with God when the subject comes up. But, there is no pressure on them or me for anything more than simply being together. I’ve found that I can empathize with them. My heart fills with compassion as I listen to them. And, I have the freedom to just be with them. No agenda or ulterior motivation. We are fellow humans, spinning through God’s Good Universe on a big rock. It is good.

Ten years ago, the story would have been much different. I was much less tolerant of others’ differences. I accepted a ‘black and white’ reality that had no room in it for the rainbow of God’s grace. I was angry and my life was a mess. But, God has been faithful and good. In my reflections I see hope. Hope that somehow our good God will continue to walk at my side, guiding me ever-so-gently, into a closer relationship with God and all of God’s Good Creation. “You hear the sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

No Longer Borg

borgIn June of 1971 I became absolutely convinced of the reality of God. I was at a retreat sponsored by the Roman Church called ‘Search.’ Being protestant, much of the structure was foreign to me. What was not, however, was a sense that something Transcendent was present. I experienced…felt…a true ‘touch’ that left me changed in a deeply significant way.

Over the next few years my fledgling faith was given substance and form through, first, my Presbyterian church and second, a free style commune-type Para-church. I found that the experience I had could be named. It was being ‘Born Again.’ Wow! Just like Jesus told that guy Nicodemus in the gospel according to John. In a way, this connected me to the earliest Christian church. And, I and those I hung with exploited that connection. Other churches like the one in Rome and any flavor of institutional Protestantism had somehow strayed from the path that Jesus, Paul and the others had originally intended. We, however, had regained the truth. (Sounds kinda cultish…maybe, it was.)

My journey eventually took me into what has become known as the Evangelical Church. Yeah, I put on the whole right-wing, conservative ‘Go Reagan’ regalia that has since stereotyped that entire segment of society. I even wore a suit for awhile! (GASP!) Eventually, I and my family fell in with a group that tried to be less formal; some may say ‘cool.’ We held church in people’s homes and sang contemporary songs. Many had long hair and just about all of us wore jeans and t-shirts with some kind of pithy Christian saying on them. Ah, yes! We were the chosen generation! Chosen to win the world for Jesus. Chosen to lead everyone to the Promised Land.

But, a funny thing happened on our way to heaven. We became more and more antagonistic toward our ‘other-religious’ neighbors. We began to politicize our version of the ‘gospel’ in a way that excluded everyone but us. It was ok to have friends and associates who did not believe like us. That is, as long as we were working and praying for their ‘conversion.’ Our emphasis became the assimilation of all people so that they could become just like us. (Resistance is futile.)

In the process something happened to me. You see, when I was younger I was an aspiring young freak. I wasn’t quite old enough to be a bona fide Hippie, but I was totally immersed that attitude and culture. We saw ourselves working for freedom. But, wait, there was more. We wanted to create a new reality in which people of all races, religions, genders and orientations were welcomed and affirmed. We saw ourselves as the vanguard of a new social reality in which government actually served the purpose of justice. Oh, and we wanted our rock-n-roll LOUD! As I reflected on this, my inner liberal came back to life. You might say it was resurrected. I began to realize that the Evangelical culture that I had so long been a part of simply did not fit me anymore. I’m not sure it ever did. The worship and the message coming from the pulpit were shallow. The confrontational spirit and exclusion of all ‘others’ was distasteful. The words I heard simply could not be reconciled to my understanding of Way of Jesus as the gospel writers presented it.

In the past couple of years I have found myself identifying more and more with people often referred to as Millenials or Gen Xers. These people have come to the table with observations and questions that are refreshing and not easily dismissed. They doubt. They don’t accept rote dogma nor pat answers to their concerns. They are seekers. Theirs is an inclusive spirituality that defies the specific, hard-edged parameters that earlier generations had built. I LIKE THAT!!! Forty years ago, that was me. Now, that’s me again.

So, what do I want? I want transparency. I want to be able to reveal myself as I am, not as someone in some pulpit wants me to be. I want to be part of an inclusive community filled with a diverse contingent of fellow-travelers. I want to be able to ask hard questions of God and God’s people without receiving some well-rehearsed but, ultimately, meaningless drivel. I want depth in our discussions and music and art. I’m tired of the cookie-cutter mentality of the Evangelical tribe. And, I’m no longer afraid of the gatekeepers who try to keep people out. Rachel Held Evans articulates well what many of us desire. She wrote, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” That’s what I want, too.

People…Commodities to be Sold? Or, God’s Image Bearers.

Slavery. What images are evoked by this word? In the U.S., I’m sure that most people think of the Antebellum South in the late 18th century through 1860. Although African people had been stolen from their homeland and shipped to this country from the early 17th century, this later period saw the greatest increase in slave trafficking. Advances in technology, most notably the cotton gin, produced a huge demand for labor in the fields. Those in the dominant culture sought whatever means that were available to produce more in order to make more profit. This included buying more slaves.

With the end of the Civil War in the U.S., many people thought that slavery had mercifully come to an end. After all, didn’t President Lincoln issue a proclamation that freed every slave? Apparently, slavery has survived. It seems that not even the federal government can effectively stop people from exploiting others for their own financial gain.

I’m one of those people who have been blissfully ignorant of human trafficking here and around the world. It was not until I was in seminary a few years ago that someone brought this to my attention. A student from Argentina began to talk about it in class. She had a passion to make modern slavery known and to fight to end it. I found out at that time that Ohio ranks near the top of a list of states in human trafficking activity. As I found more reports and stories, I realized that this is a huge problem today. I was outraged and overwhelmed. Yet, I did nothing. Yeah, I applauded the few victories that I heard about. But, I have not joined in the fight. Maybe I’m afraid. More likely, I’m just lazy.

In the last few years there have been more stories about modern slavery. One report from China told how many men had been freed from slave labor at a brick kiln. Another, just yesterday, reported on the sex slave industry operating at truck stops in Ohio. Jamie Wright, a person who blogs about the exploitation of people, wrote two posts this week about a recent trip she and her husband went on to Southeast Asia. They went with an organization called “The Exodus Road” that investigates the sex slave industry and partners with local governments and law enforcement to free the slaves and bring the slavers to justice. Jamie’s posts are linked here and here.

I have been reflecting on all of this. To be sure, I feel paralyzed at the magnitude of the problem. What can I do? What can any of us do?

Awareness. This is the first step. We can become aware that in this country, this state, and maybe in this community there are people who are being exploited in order to keep someone’s wallet fat. We can educate ourselves to know what to look for that would indicate that a person is a victim. We can join with others who are already fighting against this heinous crime.

There is another thing, however. In order for traffickers and those who support them to exploit their victims they necessarily must dehumanize them. They must see these poor, marginalized people as commodities to be traded and sold. The pimps and the johns who buy from them see only dollars, not real human people. The farmers, fishermen and other industrialists who use these people as human resources to gain profit see only necessary machinery that is needed to achieve their financial ends. Even in legitimate businesses employees are considered human resources. Just another piece of the business plan along with electrical and mechanical resources. Employees are not real people. They can be moved around and dismissed at the whim of the business owners in order to accommodate their economic ends. Even in the church we consider others as sinners…commodities that need to be acquired and assimilated. Ours is a mindset that looks at people as less than God’s image bearers and sees them as disgusting and dirty and ‘less than’ us. Of course, we would never word it like that. But, that is the attitude that flows from many pulpits.

In truth, I don’t see this problem ever being finally extinguished. At least not in this age. But, we can learn to see people as real human beings, not property or ‘resources.’ There is a passage from the Christian bible about a rich man who came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus proceeded to tell him what he must do to live in the realm of God. You see, I think the rich person asked the wrong question. He asked about eternal life. He should have asked, “What must I do to live in the realm of God here and now.” We, too, should ask ourselves that question. Perhaps that answer will allow us to see the goodness and worth of each and every man, woman and child. Perhaps then we can begin to live with and love one another in God’s Good Creation as God desires us to.

Atheists are People…First

A couple of days ago I read a blog post by Fred Clark. I follow his blog, Slacktivist, and find much of what he writes compelling. This particular post was a rant about how many fundamentalist Christians confuse winning an apologetic debate with knowing actual truth. For those who are interested, the post is here. (Note: there are some pretty cool card tricks in this post, too.) Fred cited two blog posts for his inspiration. Both of these were testimonies of people who had been brought up in fairly strict Christian homes. They were both taught propositional truth about what the Bible “says.” And, they both walked away from the Church and have embraced atheism. Fred challenges those who think they know what God’s will is for everyone, in all places and at all times. He shows that winning the apologetic argument does not mean the same thing as knowing the truth. People that get these things confused raise children who grow up like Libby Anne and Rachael.

I read both posts. (Libby Anne’s is here. Rachael’s is here.) I shared them both on Facebook because I thought they might get some interesting responses from my friends. I was right. The responses, though, troubled me. You see, unlike Fred, I did not see these two people as evidence of how the fundamentalist right misrepresents Christ in American culture. I saw them as victims. These are two very intelligent young women who were injured by those who should have protected and nurtured them. I can relate to this, because I was part of that same culture. I have seen the fruit of this kind of one sided, us-against-them mentality that both of these people experienced. I thank God that my wife and I did not embrace the “Christian” school or home school paradigms. We allowed our children to be exposed to the culture that they would ultimately need to navigate as adults. However, in our zeal to promote evangelical orthodoxy I think we missed opportunities to embrace and train our children to live openly and honestly as Christ followers in the wider culture.

The responses I received on Facebook were indicative of the mindset that I’ve seen in the conservative evangelical culture. One person responded that Rachael had simply not had a true conversion experience. She would, one day, realize the error of her ways and the Holy Spirit would fix her. Ok, to him this woman is defective and in need of ‘fixing.’ This person, who I know and love like a brother, thinks that the environment in which the woman was raised was good. It gave her a solid foundation on which God the Holy Spirit can one day build. Maybe, maybe not. From the story she told, I learned that she is a person with fairly good critical thinking skills. She took the information that she had been taught at home and considered it in the light of knowledge she gained outside of the home. She found that her parents had been mistaken on many levels. Trust was damaged. Her worldview crumbled. She rebuilt herself in, what she feels, is a better way.

Another response I received stated that since the blog was an atheist one, of course atheists are going to read and respond to it. There wouldn’t be any contrasting view. Well, Christians will go to Christian sites. Conservatives and liberals will visit their own sites. It’s what we do. People tend to hang out with others who hold similar beliefs and interests. As we do, we reinforce our own beliefs against those of others. I think we can develop a kind of intellectual in-breeding. After time, defects can enter into our thinking and morph and mutate until we actually believe that ours is the only way to know truth. That’s one of the reasons I try to branch out into uncharted areas. Yeah, I’ll find a lot of junk, but I will also mine rich nuggets that I would not have found otherwise.

All of the responses I received contained a tone of dismissal. Not of me, so much. But, certainly of these women. Their stories were simply not taken seriously. Either they were a problem to be solved, or their particular worldview was not worth the time to listen to. To these I say “Shame!” Where is our empathy? Where is our affirmation of them as human beings cast in the image of God? I commented on Rachael’s story how I felt that my respondents just did not “seem to get that people are more important than propositions. Relationships are more important than religion.” Not only had those who responded to me, but the parents of these women and other leaders missed that point. Jesus was not like this. Jesus looked at people compassionately. Jesus was empathetic. Jesus embraced others as daughters and sons of God. If we truly desire to see the reign of God break out in this world, we must begin to see others through the eyes of Jesus. We must maintain a ‘human’ perspective rather than a proposition-based perspective.

Privileged, and Mostly Oblivious to It

I am a white male. That’s what I’ve always been. That’s what I always will be. I can’t help it. It’s how God made me. If everything was equal, there would be no problem with that. But, things are not equal. I am privileged in this culture. And, God did not make me that. The systems that have been built over centuries have ensured that I would have a privileged position in society. These systems are so deeply embedded in our culture that most of us who are privileged don’t even realize that we are. It’s just ‘the way it is.’
Recently, Tony Jones, a highly educated, white guy made a presentation that rubbed some people the wrong way. One of the people in attendance,Christena Cleveland, called Tony out for being exercising his privilege. Jones responded with obviously hurt feelings. Now, at first, I didn’t see all that much that was offensive in Jones’ remarks. Shoot! I’ve probably said similar things myself! As I reflected on it, though, I became more and more uncomfortable. Then, a few days later Jones, I think in an attempt to show how egalitarian he is, posted a request for women and feminists to join in his blog. Again, an understandable response from a privileged person who sincerely believes that he is above reproach in these matters.
This morning I visited the blog of Caryn Riswold. She pretty much dissed Jones’ offer. And, she challenged readers to go and read what people who are NOT privileged have to say. One of those links led me to Cleveland’s blog. I spent the next 30 minutes reading a 5 part series that she had posted. What great stuff! You see, we who enjoy privilege are blind to it. We simply can’t understand why ‘others’ don’t like us. We don’t get it when marginalized and oppressed people don’t ‘get’ us. In fact, many of us don’t realize that there are any oppressed people out there. After all, we live in a land of equal opportunity. But, as the old cliche goes, “some of us are more equal than others.”
I am adding a link to Cleveland’s series. I would encourage anyone who happens to stop by here to take the time to read it. It is of utmost importance if we are trying to be the Body of Christ to understand where the other members of that body live and breathe and have their being. It is important, no necessary, that we embrace kenosis, emptying, as Jesus did if we are to live as God’s people.