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.

 

Which way? God Knows

This morning as I sat in contemplation, I began to think of the choices that people make during their lives. In the tradition that I came out of, people spent their lives trying to “discern” God’s will for them. We would fret and fume about making the so-called ‘right’ choices. We certainly did not want to make a wrong one and risk at the very least God’s blessing. And, at the worst, God’s condemnation. It was a nasty way to live. Always on the edge. Not quite knowing. Waiting for some Damascus road experience so that we could move forward with some degree of certainty.
As I reflected on this, the following began to form in my mind.

Many paths there are that we may choose.
Where do they lead?
God knows.
Which shall I choose? The one with rich, green grass?
What about the one flag’d gray?
Perhaps, the one of rut and mud?
God knows.
“Choose any,” a voice did say.
“For upon all I will with you stay.”

I think it doesn’t really matter. Follow you heart.
For God will be present and will bless wherever we roam.

God Is Not Bound to Our Ways

This is my first post since I decided to change the focus of this blog. After much prayer and counsel from my Spiritual Director and my counselor, I feel that, at least for awhile, this is the direction that I must go.

I’ve reflected on my personal experiences and those of others. I’ve read a lot that has been written by people who have been hurt by abusive ‘teachers.’ Heavy chains have been wrought out of the iron of dogma. This has been done primarily by White men who drape these chains upon the shoulders of the meek; the hurting; the marginalized.

So, this is a beginning. My desire is to reveal what I believe are errant interpretations of the Christian Scriptures. Also, I desire to shine a light on the fallacies of historic precedent that so many leaders try to use to validate these interpretations.

I know that this may appear to be a lot to consider. And, it is. But, it is important that we take this journey together at this time. Many good and sincere people are trapped in abusive institutions. Many others are leaving the faith journey altogether. There has been a marked rise in the number of folks who simply can’t believe any longer. I have been one of those who has questioned that God even exists. But, I can’t go there. Something…that ‘still, small voice’… keeps me from walking away. I BELIEVE that there is more to the Universe…to our existence…than simply cosmic dust. I have only my experience to hang on to. My experience with the transcendental ‘Other’ compels me to continue on this path.

Perhaps, you also, are in a similar place in your life. If so, ‘Come!’ Let’s walk together for awhile. You, me…and God.

The masthead of my blog quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I have thought about this verse for many, many years. What does Paul mean? What did the folks in the Galatian church hear? How does this apply to me/us some 2,100 years later?

For starters, most Fundagelical leaders dismiss this whole concept by saying that the meaning of this verse is that we are all ‘free’ to not sin. WTF?!?! I’m free to not do something? But, what AM I FREE to do? What am I free to think and believe? Who am I free to be?

I have never really felt comfortable with that definition by negation. For one to be free implies that there is something to be freed from. Some kind of bondage or prison that is not good. So, they would say, “Well, you’re free from sin.” As I’ve grown and matured in my faith, I honestly don’t know what that means. No one can provide a definitive answer to what ‘sin’ actually is. (This is the subject for a future post.) Some say it’s simply ‘missing the mark.’ However, the most common term for ‘sin’ in the Greek New Testament is hamartia. This has to do with being evil, wrong doing and guilt. And, many of the people who hold to this holiness outlook are more than willing to pile on the guilt.

There are many kinds of slavery. Slavery to addictions, praise, food, etc. In this passage from Galatians, Paul was writing about slavery to the Jewish works of the Law. These were primarily the ‘identifiers’ of who was a Jew and who was not. Basically, it set the gates for who was in and who was out. Things like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath-keeping were what Paul had in mind. Today, many Christians bind themselves to laws that effectively perform the same function. They have developed ‘laws’ that must be adhered to in order to be members in good standing in their ‘tribe.’ What is one’s stance on abortion? LGBT people? Has one followed whatever ‘formula’ is currently in vogue for tribal initiation, (did I say some kind of “sinners’” prayer correctly)? Do I hold to the ‘correct’ doctrine, (whatever that means),?

What these do not do is free people. They heap on the unsuspecting a burden that they cannot bear. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:4 are true of these people, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

This may sound like the rant of an angry person. Well, actually, it is. I am angered by the presumption of these people to say they speak for God. Every time one of them states, “God said this or that” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. When I hear hate speech being spewed from pulpits I cringe. I recently saw a video of a man claiming to ‘know’ God’s will screaming at a second grade girl who had the audacity to hold a rainbow flag. Somehow, I can’t picture Jesus, the One who welcomed the little children and blessed them, doing this.

I think that my favorite passage in all of the Bible is Luke 4:18-19. The story recounts Jesus’ coming out at a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He found the text he desired and read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

I could go on and on. And, I will. Eventually. I intend to broach issues that Evangelicals prefer to ignore. Or, worse, disparage. I am going to poke and poke to evoke a response in folks who think differently. This is a place for civil discussion.

So, let us begin. What do you think about slavery? If there is some bondage, how do we move toward freedom? Does God require that we wear some heavy yoke?

Use the comments. Please note that I moderate the comments. Refrain from inflammatory language.

Happy Imbolc!

ImbolcHappy Imbolc! This is the day that our Gaelic forebears celebrated as the turn from deepest winter to the beginning of spring. In the U.S. we celebrate this as Groundhog day. It is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. New birth is coming!

Imbolc is considered a pagan holiday. So, those of us who have been a part of the Christian community either don’t know about it, or dismiss it as pagan. (It’s not worth our consideration.)

However, I think that we do creation a disservice by dismissing this. The pagan and indigenous communities seem to be more in tune with the true workings of the cosmos than those of us who claim to know better. They understand the cycles of life. And, they respect them. They celebrate them. For crying out loud! Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and bleak and gray and too freakin’ cold! What’s not to celebrate about the turning point toward warmth and new growth?

But, many of us. Especially, those of us in the Protestant persuasion consider this beneath us. It’s not in the Bible, so it can’t be good.

Protestant can look back to our birth…the reformation for much of this thinking. At that time we became “people of the book.” We tossed out the title “people of tradition” and leapt headlong into a different way of thinking.

We looked at the Biblical text and ‘voila’! We read that God had created all things and had made humans the masters! How cool! We’re the boss! We can control and exploit all of the resources that the Earth can provide FOR OUR BENEFIT!! Yea, God!

But, there is another way to look at things. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” In the Hebrew the language is a little clearer. I mean, what does it mean to “cultivate” and “keep” it?

First, the word to cultivate can also mean ‘to serve.’ Surely, ‘till’ and ‘cultivate’ are part of the meaning. But, by far, the references are to service.

Second, the expression ‘to keep’ has as it’s primary meaning to watch and guard. Other meanings are to stand guard and protect.

For so much of our history since the reformation we have viewed the Scripture to say ‘subdue’ the world. But, is that what God has really desired?

Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that the whole of creation is groaning…waiting for the daughters and sons of God to stand up and be recognized. Even Jesus taught about an unfaithful servant who abused his fellows. In Matt. 24:42 and Luke 12:37, Jesus taught about a certain servant who, realizing that his Master was gone for a prolonged period of time, began to abuse his fellow servants. The Master of will return at a time that this wayward servant doesn’t expect and will punish him for his waywardness.

How much more will we, who have the Scripture to enlighten us, be punished for the way we have abuse the Good Creation of God?

Imbolc and the other so-called ‘pagan’ celebrations can teach us all a lot about how our world actually works. We can find life and purpose in them. That doesn’t mean that we embrace the deities and practices of pagans. But, it does mean that we listen to and respect the natural cycles of the world in which we live. The world that God loves and has redeemed.

It’s Been a Hard Summer

I met with my spiritual director on Monday for the first time since June. I was a bit self-conscious about the meeting. You see, I spent about 6 months in a spiritual formation intensive…the Ignatian Exercises. I’ve shared a bit about this before. The exercises require a lot of focus and energy. By the time I got to the end I was spent. I don’t think that I could have gone one week further.

Then…nothing.

I found myself in a dry and desolate place where the heavens were steel. I have lost all motivation to do anything. I was running. No more. I was writing. No more. My job has lost all appeal. I just don’t feel like doing anything.

When I went to meet with my director I felt like the high school kid who didn’t have his homework done. But, I couldn’t say that my dog ate my prayer time.

He told me that these kinds of feelings are not unusual for folks after they go through the exercises. They’re not expected. But, not unusual.

He was incredibly understanding and non-judgmental.

The encouragement he offered was helpful. Take time to breathe. Realize that God is not absent. I agreed with that. Even though I haven’t been actively spending time in so-called ‘prayer,’ I have experienced God’s presence. I realize that regardless of my condition, God is present.

So, this is kind of a response to his encouragement. Here I am….writing.

Blessings.

I’m Human. Things Have Been Hard.

I’ve got to share that the last 3 months have been rough. I don’t know why. Things were going great as I worked my way through the Ignatian Exercises. Then…Lent. The Exercises took on the texts of the last week of Jesus’ life. Then, the crucifixion. Everything went dark. All of my experiences prior to this had been wonderful. Then, the heavens became bronze.

That’s where I’ve been for the last few months.

I want to share a journal entry from 7/8/14. Please know that I am not usually very open with my feelings. I’ve been ‘bitten’ for this more than once. But, I don’t think that I’m alone.

“Still wish that this sojourn would end. I feel so much shame & anger that life suck.

Is this all there is?

Internal suffering that just won’t end?

I look for peace & solace in the written word & in drink.

Yet, both are selfish.

Or, so I’m told & told & told…

There’s no peace for me with people or stuff.

God seems far off & somewhat aloof.

I do wonder sometimes if there truly is a God.
But, then I can’t believe that this life is all that there is.

I remember past experiences where God seemed to be real.

Was the God? Or, just my mind?

The prophet Albus Dumbledore once said, “ Of course it’s all in your mind! That doesn’t mean it’s not real!”

In my mind I can travel to distant lands. Hell, I can travel to distant galaxies

I can imagine the multi-verse. Fairies, gnomes and other mythic creatures fill my senses with withes & sounds no other person can sense.

So, why am I held hostage by this life filled with “reality”? When will I actually believe & act on what I see as reality?

On My First Official Preaching Gig

Today I had the pleasure of sharing a message with the folks at Nova United Methodist Church in Nova, OH. What a great group of people! Below is a transcript of that sermon. I didn’t present it verbatim. But, this is close enough.

Thank you all for allowing me to share this morning with you. It’s a great pleasure for my wife and me to join with you.

I also want to express a special thanks to Bro. Harry for inviting me. You have a real treasure in him. He is blessed and a blessing.

When Bro. Harry asked me to share, he suggested that it might be good to share a little of my experience with him. Especially, the time we have spent working through what are called the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. For those who are unfamiliar with that, I will explain a little more later. For now, though, I’ll just say that these Exercises were developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the late 16th century as a practical means of discerning, or determining God’s desire and will for a person. In a way, many of us are on that very journey of discovery. Ignatius simply wrote down his method for others to follow.

So, that being said, I would like to share with you a story. I like stories. I like to read them and I like to write them. Stories allow us to share our perception of the world. More importantly, they provide an avenue in which our stories intersect with the stories of others.

I began my story with Jesus about 43 years ago. I was in high school at a time when we in the West were in the throes of tectonic cultural upheaval. There was a war raging in Southeast Asia, morés and traditions were questioned, and many times abandoned. There was growing unrest among young people. And, there was an immense amount of mistrust. In the midst of this, God’s grace touched me. I was soon involved with various religious and church groups. I found stability and acceptance in that time of great change.

Soon, I began to have thoughts of pursuing a career in pastoral ministry. I knew that would involve earning an undergraduate degree followed by seminary. As the time for my departure to college neared, I found a job that paid real money! As an eighteen year old with a car and a few bucks in my pocket, I decided to enter the workplace and lay college aside.

Over the next 30 some odd years I became a father and a soccer coach. I was involved in a couple different music ministries that had the opportunities to play throughout the northern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania region. We also were able to team up with other organizations and play in Australia and Brazil. I worked as the music/worship leader of a small church in Elyria for over 15 years. During that time I realized that much of the music that was being sold as ‘Christian’ was very shallow and theologically questionable. That was the primary reason that I sought a seminary education. I needed to know what God really expected from us mere mortals.

In 2005 we were at our daughter’s graduation from Mt. Vernon Nazarene University. As I watch her cross the platform to accept her degree, I sensed that I should attempt to go back and pursue my own degree. I inquired at Ashland Theological Seminary and attended a fact finding weekend. I asked one of the admissions representatives about my chances. Especially, since I had no undergrad degree. She told me that the chances were slim, but that they were allowed to admit a certain number of ‘special’ students each year. So, I began the admissions process. In June of 2006 I received my letter of acceptance. I was going to college!

During my time at Ashland God began to touch my heart in new ways. My 1st year I took Theology 1. I learned something profound that colored the rest of my time there…and since. I found out that it was ok for Christians to think! Imagine that! Up until that time I had been in a community that pretty much taught us that we needed to accept whatever the leadership said because, well…they were God’s anointed leaders. We were taught not to question them much. And, especially, not to question God.

Later, I was introduced to people who practiced what we today refer to as the ‘spiritual disciplines.’ These involve practices of prayer, meditation, contemplation, fasting, etc.

I began to understand that there were many ways to approach God. There was more than just the Lord’s Prayer and saying grace at the table. I began to follow what is called the Daily Office. This is a series of prayers for each day. Normally, morning & evening prayers and readings taken from a source like the Book of Common Prayer and the Roman Catholic Breviary. Those in my church tradition felt that reciting prepared prayers dampened the spontaneity of the Spirit. These kinds of prayers were always wooden and unfruitful because they could not voice what was happening right here; right now. But, I found freedom and life in this practice. I felt as though I was truly part of a larger body of believers. People around the world were saying these very same prayers. I experienced a sense of unity with followers of Christ world-wide.

After I graduated from Ashland in 2011, I continued many of the practices that I had begun there. Then, on November 3rd of that year, things changed. I woke up on that Monday morning and got ready for work. I didn’t feel well. I bent down to tie my shoes and immediately felt something like bad heartburn. But, it was different in some ways. I told my wife and she, being the dutiful nurse that she is, gave me some aspirin and we drove to the hospital. We arrived at the ER and the folks there hooked me up to an EKG machine. Within minutes I heard a voice over the overhead speaker say, ‘Code Crimson; room 4’. That was my room. They called the code and I was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of people poking me with needles, taking my clothes off, starting IVs and shoving aspirin and Nitroglycerin in my mouth. I was having a heart attack. They wheeled me into the Cardiac Cath lab and began to look at my heart. The main artery of my heart, the so-called Widow maker was 100% blocked. By all accounts, I should have died that morning. But, thanks to the people at the hospital and God’s grace, I’m still here to talk with you.

During my recuperation, I began to get up earlier to spend time just ‘being’ with God. Sometimes I would pray vocally. But, most of the time I was simply quiet in God’s presence. I started each morning by saying, “Here I am, Lord, your servant.” This was my way of stating that I was present and attentive to God. And, I began to pray each day, “Jesus, please come, abide in me. And, let me abide in you.” I figured that if Jesus had said this in John’s Gospel, then it must be a real possibility.

Let me interject a caveat here. I had been a follower of Jesus for about 40 years. I had tried innumerable methods of prayer. I tried to ‘will’ myself to spend even 10 minutes each day in prayer. Nothing ever worked. Having some kind of regular devotional time just eluded me. Now, I found that it was no problem spending time in God’s presence. I firmly believe that this was not the result of anything I had decided to do. There was no ‘willing’ it to be so. This was entirely the result of God’s grace alone.

This brings me up to the time I met Brother Harry. I felt a need to have someone in my life who could help me to develop this new relationship I was experiencing with God. I searched online and came upon a source that talked about Spiritual Direction. I contacted them and they sent me a list of names. Brother Harry was one of those named. I e-mailed him and we set a time to meet. That was 2 years ago this past March. After a year or so of meeting, Harry suggested that we begin Ignatius’ exercises. We began that process in November of last year. This is where I began to experience the reality of today’s Gospel text. Jesus said, “Abide in me, as I also abide in you.” Many translations of this use words like, “remain in me,” or “dwell in me,” or “live in me.” These are all valid translations. But, I like “abide.” That word, to me, is inviting and homey. It has the sense of being comfortable and relaxing with a friend. That’s exactly what I’ve experienced with the Exercises. Whereas, many people look at this text and see “believe in me,” that is, “give mental assent to what I have taught you,” Ignatius invites us to put ourselves ‘into’ the text. We learn to experience the stories. It allows us to build a relationship with Jesus, the apostles, and the others who were part of Jesus’ life. Memories are made as we imagine the scents, sounds and sights of ancient Palestine. Trust is built. Trust in God that what we are doing is guided by the Holy Spirit. I think that it is all part of our living God’s graciousness toward us.

Let’s take a closer look at this passage in John. I’m not going to do a full-on exegesis of this. There is so much that could be noted in here that I couldn’t possibly touch on all of it. But, I do want to share a little of what I think Jesus was trying to communicate. There’s a lot of talk about ‘pruning,’ and cleansing. This sounds painful. I don’t want anyone coming near me with hedge clippers! However, Jesus stated that the point of that was so that much fruit would grow. Then he said, “Hey, trust me. Abide in me.” At first glance this looks like a conditional statement…“If you abide in me, then I’ll abide in you.” Read this way, the emphasis is placed on human action. Jesus will abide only and if we abide in him first. However, this whole passage is focused on Jesus not on human activity. Jesus is the vine. Jesus abides in the Father. Jesus is the source of life for the branches. It’s all Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. If we can take into account all of the linguistic gymnastics that the translators have gone through, I think that we can find a better understanding of this text. Rather than an ‘if/then’ conditional statement, I think Jesus is offering an invitation. George R. Beasley-Murray, who wrote a commentary on this Gospel, suggests that a better rendering would be, “Come. Step into union with me, and be assured that I am remaining in union with you.” We are invited into a relationship with Jesus because he knows that he is the true source of our faith. Parabolic analogies and metaphor can only go so far. But, I don’t think it would be out of bounds to take the ‘vine and branches’ illustration a step further. Yes, the vine has its roots deep in the earth. From there nutrients are carried upward and outward to the branches. The branches, in turn support the leaves and the fruit. In return, the leaves collect the sunlight and transform that energy into food that supports the vine. It appears that Jesus was stating that he desired to have a living relationship with people. That this was not a one-way deal. We can’t just sit passively by and wait for inspiration to rain down on us from heaven. Yes, God’s grace is the engine that drives the relationship. But, our response to that grace is of vital importance. God really, really wants us to know Jesus. And, God wants us to realize that Jesus really, really wants to know us.

This is revealed explicitly in vv. 13-15. Jesus told the disciples that they were no longer considered servants, but that he thought of them as friends. Friends whom he trusted with the words of God. Friends with whom he found comfort and pleasure. Friends who he was willing to lay down his life for.

The Ignatian exercises are all about this friendship. From the beginning we work to understand our place in God’s world and our world. We travel with Jesus from his baptism through his ascension. We talk with him and allow him to speak to us. Like I stated earlier, we need to trust that the Holy Spirit leads us. But, I think that’s part of having faith. I’ve learned that the Spirit works in our hearts and lives even when we don’t see it. There is renewal and transformation happening for those who love God and are called according God’s purposes.

This morning I’d like us all to reflect and see where God might be working in our lives. Perhaps, God is calling us all into a more intimate relationship. A relationship with Jesus, not just as Lord, but also as friend and brother.

Let’s pray…

Heavenly Father, we are so grateful to you for loving us enough to come and join with us in humanity. You are a God who knows us and understands us. And, You are a God who desires us to know you. Please, allow your Holy Spirit to fill and guide us as we seek to build a meaningful relationship with you. Amen.

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?

More on My Journey with Ignatius

ignacio1I had promised some months ago to share some of my experiences with the Ignatian Exercises. However, the Exercises took away most of my writing time. Now, with my new work hours, I can take a moment to share a bit.

Over the past 6 months I have experienced prayer and contemplation in new and refreshing ways. Perhaps the most dynamic way has been to visualize and ‘enter in to’ the various stories that Ignatius used for prompts. He chose stories from the Gospels and encouraged others to imagine themselves in the stories. I was encouraged to ‘walk’ with and ‘talk’ with Jesus, the disciples, Mary and others. I found this to be an incredibly potent tool in learning to know Jesus as friend and brother. And, for the most part, the images were vivid, full of light and full of hope and joy.

The past few weeks, though, have been spent contemplating the Passion story. Almost immediately I sensed a change. Where there had been light, there was now darkness. Earlier I had clear images and experiences. Now, the images were obscured, as if a dark cloud was between me and the other participants. Before I had sensed joy. This turned to hopelessness and fear.

I shared these things with my Spiritual Director. I was concerned that I was missing something. Or, that my own shortcomings were a wall separating me from fully experiencing the stories.

He said that this was not unusual since the stories, themselves, were of a different nature. In them, Jesus was separated from others. He was pulled away and arrested. He stood alone before the Council and Pilate. Beaten and dragged away to be crucified, he was alone. On the tree of crucifixion, he was abandoned.

Then he was dead.

Joseph and Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial. Mary and some other women were present. I looked on and felt the despair. They had all hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who was going to restore Israel and reign over God’s kingdom. Now, all they had was a lifeless corpse. Hopelessness; fear; shadow; darkness; cloud; doubt.

I felt doubts creep in. Didn’t Jesus say that his followers would do greater things than he? He healed the sick and raised the dead! Where is that happening? Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was at hand? Where is it? Why can’t I experience God’s presence throughout each day? GOD! WHERE ARE YOU?

I’ve read where pastors have asked these same questions. And, not having adequate answers, have left the faith entirely. After all, if we can’t hear it, see it, touch it, taste it or smell it…it must not exist.

However, that was not my experience. I know that God is not afraid of, nor hurt by, our doubts. In fact, I think that God encourages them. It’s easy to say, “I believe.” In fact, many in the Church look at doubts as obstacles to belief. They say that they will lead people astray or hinder their experience of God. I have found, though, that it’s much better to embrace them. It’s harder yet I think better, to doubt and still believe.

I suddenly realized that I had experienced these same feelings. Rather than the images and experiences of being in the story, I had been experiencing the actual emotions of those who lived through it. In the desolation of my prayers and in the depression of my days and in my doubts, God had allowed the reality of these stories to become my reality. I was not an observer, or even a participant. I had become one with the story.

I don’t know where the next stage of the exercises will take me. I am sure, however, that Jesus will continue to meet me and continue to say, “Come…follow me.”

What have been your experiences in your life’s journey? Have you encountered yourself revealed in someone else’s story? How are you writing your own story?

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.