The Moral Imperative of Confronting Racism

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new human logo button black I’m most definitely not alone in my sadness and disgust at the shooting in Charleston this week. I am most definitely not alone in my dismay that we continue to have shootings and violence like this in our country, churches, schools and homes. This kind of despicably hateful racist act must be openly confronted and condemned, and so I’m glad that I’m not alone. It is a shared responsibility of all to confront such hate and denounce it, and especially so for a white male pastor like me.

The problem of white racists who use guns to kill black people is my problem, as it’s the problem of every singe white person in this country. Maybe there are many white people who don’t want the burden of that problem, but that’s just too bad and too sad, because it is part of our inheritance. To continue being silent and to ignore it will only contribute to more deaths among the black community.

Whenever and wherever we hear it or see it, racism must be condemned. No more excuses, no more indulgence and no more apathy. Please, no more shock and no more ignorance. The deaths of those nine people in Charleston are just the most recent nine souls from the black community to reach out to us in a silent plea, “Help us.” There is a constant and real thread of hate in the white community that must be acknowledge, be confronted, rooted out and removed.

Did I say silent plea? Oh my. Their deaths were not silent, but punctuated by the deafening shots of a handgun and the clink of brass shells on church tile. Their deaths were surely accompanied by their screams of pain and fear. The idea that our response to this tragedy, this terrorism, this hate, would be silence? Excuses? Denial? Apathy? No. We in the white community cannot remain wrapped in the apathetic thoughts of denial and disassociation that have plagued this nation for so long.

This week’s shooting was birthed and matured and finally realized in the context of a special racial hatred that was the law of our land until so very recently. Changing laws does not change hearts. We must still do that painful work, and we have barely begun. This was white hate. This was white violence. This was white racism.

When we see racism or hear racism, we must speak against it. Only when we take responsibility for our inheritance of systemic and legalized hatred will we be able to affect real change for future generations and move away from that hate. No father can sit idly by and let his children grow in hatred for anyone of another race, much less teach that hatred. No mother can sit by and let a child grow into a hate filled monster without response. This goes for every aunt, uncle and grandparent, brother, sister and cousin. Enough.

No more excuses about mental illness, please. Yes, there is a reality to mental illness in all communities which we need to address, but we have overused the idea that mental illness produces violent hatred, especially racially motivated violent hatred. We’ve done more to stigmatize mental illness with this excuse than to actually confront the fact which is more pertinent to our situation: living a life steeped in racial hatred produces mental illness.

No more white denial. No more white apathy. No more white excuses. This is our problem, let’s own it and do something to fix it. Speak out against racist hatred. Speak out against hate speak and hateful violence. Speak out the against racist stereotypes and generalizations we hear every single day. Speak out with grace and mercy when needed and repentance when appropriate. This is a human issue and an American issue. This is also an issue for anyone claiming Christ, the very Christ in whom scripture assures us that we are all one humanity (Galatians 3 & Ephesians 2). In the words of Paul the Apostle from Colossians 3:11, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” 

In Christ we find our moral imperative to stand against hatred. No matter how painful and alien it may be for you to own the hatred and violence within the white community, in Christ you can find the moral courage and strength to do so. We will not find the appropriate response in politics or political rhetoric. Put it aside and lay it down. Be broken and mourn the dead. Those who mourn will be comforted, and when we speak for justice our wounds and hurts will be healed. This is exactly what God would be doing among us, once we put aside our stubborn ways and allow it to be.

In our context and in our time the tag #BlackLivesMatter could not be more meaningful and needed. We have too much unfinished business in the eradication of racial hatred in our country to sit by and debate anything but the hate that drives so much violence against our neighbors. Our Christ demands no less of us.

AMDG, Todd

P.S. There are some great clips floating around that I wanted to share here as well… John Stewart & Laci Green.

And a great clip of Larry Willmore below!!!

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Do Something Wholesome

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IMG_0541I haven’t talked about it much, but I actually became a bi-vocational pastor this year, taking a part-time job at a local Apple Store. Apple doesn’t like us talking too much about the company in social media, so I’ve been a bit mum on it. It’s been an interesting struggle to strike a balance with two jobs and family and personal needs… but one thing I have learned: take a day off every now and then! For real.

My new work schedule has taught me the value of getting enough sleep and getting good sleep, but also the the need to do something, well… wholesome every now and again. So, I’ve been using my days off here and there to do some garden work.

Our yard has never been a priority for me. No yard ever has. But I started on a day off a week or so ago to clean out an area that has been an especially irksome tangle since we moved here eight years ago. In the midst of that tangle I have occasionally let a tomato or pepper plant go wild, but whatever I planted was always swallowed up in the mess in a few months. I began by slipping on some boots and heavy gloves, grabbing a shovel and various cutting tools, and getting crazy. The gloves and boots were needed because one thing tangled in the mess was a thorny rose bush that almost never made blooms, but always snaked mean-spirited vines onto the porch loaded with pointy pain inflictors.

I ended that first session with a big pile of cuttings, thorny vines and a few innocent bystander plants that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next week, this past Monday, I got down and serious about how I would replace the plants I had so cavalierly deposed. I’d started collecting some planters and bags of soil over the last couple of weeks, and loaded up on herbs and veggie plants at the Sunday farmer’s market across the street. I was ready. Still, I fooled around playing video games for about an hour Monday morning before taking a deep breath and plunging back into the soil.

IMG_0539Here’s the result: My Wife’s New Garden. I like it and she does too! YAY! I have the herbs in various planters (with peppers). The Zinnia’s are in planters for a needful splash of color, and the tomatoes are in the ground making the most of the rain barrel and soaker hose. I moved our bird bath over to the new garden and reused an old chunk of fence that has been laying around to add a bit of background. Our little Tangelo tree got a new planter and a bird feeder.

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous, but I have to admit that I would have wasted those two days, those two unbelievably gorgeous days, on video games if I had not started this project. I’m no master gardener and this little plot isn’t going feed many hungry peoples, but I’m so happy to have spent that time in the sun, getting dirty and doing something that was… well, wholesome. Not that I play video games that aren’t wholesome, but yeah, well, ok. Slaughtering virtual zombies online, as fun as that may be, just doesn’t feed the soul quite like gardening. Not to mention that I got to do this work as an expression of love for my wonderful partner, Teresa.

Not sure I have a word to wise from this experience, but I do have a reminder that I had to get dirty to catch onto: get out and do something worthwhile on a day off! Don’t have a day off? Make one! You need it! Loving video games is fine and dandy, I still do! But I’m also going to be a bit more serious about keeping some time in the schedule to be outside photosynthesizing. We were made for some time in the soil, folks. Dig in!

AMDG, Todd

Gay Pride and StraightWhiteMaleLandia

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IMG00018-20091110-0713It’s June, and June is Gay Pride Month. Whenever June rolls around we start seeing and hearing a lot about parades and things, and there’s always a bit of a push back from some folks about the issue of gay pride. It’s very similar to the push back against the annual Black History Month each February in the U.S.

Antagonistic responses to gay pride will sometimes take the form of exclamations of “heterosexual pride!” The similarity with Black History Month heard in questions like, “Ok, so when is White History Month and maybe Asian History Month, etc?” For many, especially us straight white people, these seem like compelling questions and responses. I’m writing this post in the hope of broadening someone’s understanding of why we have gay pride, and what these responses to gay pride sound like outside of StraightWhiteMaleLandia.

I know all about StraightWhiteMaleLandia because I grew up there… in fact, I’m still a citizen. But being straight and white doesn’t mean that I don’t have a responsibility to love and to know all my neighbors who aren’t straight or white or either. It also means that I am going to have to want to know and love them… I can’t just mistakenly believe that their lives and experiences mirror my own.

As a straight white male I have had a certain general experience of life, that though it has had some elements and events unique to me, is in many ways a shared experience with other straight white males. In general, in StraightWhiteMaleLandia, other straight white males have always held majority control of politics, business, education, economics, military and policing. I have had to work hard for what I have, but in general, hard work will pay off for me. I’ve had some unpleasant people in my life, but again in general I’m not harassed by the police, unduly denied access to financial or employment opportunities… and flesh tone bandaids look awesome on me! Oh, and since my family hails from StraightWhiteMaleLandia, enjoying citizenship therein and avoiding any major mishaps for a few generations now, even my childhood was free of most deprivations.

If you happen to live with us citizens in StraightWhiteMaleLandia, but aren’t… as in you’re gay or non-white (or nonconforming to StraightWhiteMaleLandia’s assumptions on gender roles and definitions), you won’t have had the same general experience of life I’ve had. Without a doubt, your life will be a bit different. You know this already (as you’ve lived the reality of it), but it might surprise you how many in StraightWhiteMaleLandia don’t realize how different your life can be. We haven’t lived with the disenfranchisement or been the object of difference and ridicule. We don’t know the visceral feelings of rejection or the judgment of our value and worth based on prejudice and bias. From those flesh colored bandaids to the very language and vocabulary we use every single day, we are affirmed as normal, right, correct, standard and well. We don’t know what it’s like to be labeled as abnormal, wrong, broken, outside or gross. We take pride for granted.

Here in StraightWhiteMaleLandia it’s weird to think someone else might be celebrating pride in themselves, and it seems to even be a bit threatening to those of us who have cornered the market on pride up until now. So, my fellow citizens, my tribe of straight white males, we need to stop and stretch our minds and hearts a bit. We have seen our country make some great strides in equality in the past 50 years… but we still have neighbors who are dealing with generations of systemic and hurtful injustice. We still have neighbors who haven’t had the centuries of political, educational, legal and economic control as a demographic. We still have neighbors who authentically experience a deep and distressing disenfranchisement in our land.

Please don’t take a gay person’s pride as an affront to your own. It shouldn’t be too threatening to you. In fact, you should be glad that in our country we are more and more experiencing the actualized freedom of being ourselves. You see, one day you might find out that you’re not as straight, or as white or as male as you thought. You might even end up doing some traveling outside your zone and find yourself getting to know some amazing new friends in places like GayBrownMaleLandia! The respect and dignity affirming behavior you would hope to receive from them, that’s the same kind thing they’re hoping to get from you and me today in our land.

All lightheartedness aside, there’s a real need for us to be speaking and responding with much more grace and love. When we facetiously mimic or just ridicule our neighbors for their efforts at expression and celebration we aren’t doing anyone a favor, especially not ourselves. In fact, we simply affirm anyone’s assumption of our mean-spiritedness and lack of civility. You see StraightWhiteMaleLandia is actually for real! We live there! But being the majority is not a license to devalue or to relegate  any minority to unjust treatment or an assumed lack of worth and dignity. Gay pride is needed in a land where too many young people take their own lives, or attempt to do so, and suffer from having their pride and self worth stolen away on a daily basis by violence and bullying. (Stats on violence against gay youth at the CDC, and The Trevor Project.)

You might not be out walking in a Pride Parade any time soon… but you can chill out and love your neighbor a bit more. Drop some of the rhetoric against others. Be grateful for the pride you have in yourself and for living in a land where you can be you. And as Thumper taught us…


Love ya. Love all of ya, Todd

First Principle And Foundation

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my first principle and foundation

If you’ve ever been involved with Ignatian Spirituality then the concept of First Principle and Foundation will be familiar, but if not… Ignatius presents this early in The Exercises as a sort of purpose statement for being. I won’t bore you with the long form of the principle, but it is often abbreviated to something like, “We were created to receive God’s love and give love back to God.” I find two main elements of the principle to be: 1) the foundation of God’s love as what animates us, and 2) our relationship to everything around us is based on experiencing God’s love.

When you are engaged in the Exercises in almost any form, whether a true retreat or one of the annotations, you will be asked to think about and design a first principle and foundation statement of your own. I’ve been asked to do this many times, but have to admit that I can’t remember how I ordered my thoughts in the past. I could go and dig up my journals from those times, but it remains the case that what I thought and wrote did not become a part of my spiritual journey to any meaningful extent. I simply don’t remember what I have written.

So, as I came to the part of the Exercises as I am following them now, and I was again asked to pray about my own first principle and foundation, I decided to really think and pray and bend my energies toward something that will be lasting for me. I want to make some words and meaning which will stick. I’ve worked in the words during this past week, and I’d like to share them here…

I am a student of LOVE
in all its complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.

If I can’t recall anything else in the days and years to come, I want to remember that I am a student of love. As I get older and continue to sift and weight the many scriptural themes and ideas I have come to understand, I rely more and more on the ascendancy of love. Love is not just an idea, or a feeling, but a basic understanding of life and a way to relate to all things in life. I also believe that God is best understood as and thru love, and so I could also relate my first principle this way…

I am a student of God
in all her complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.

I hope that this kind of foundation helps me to be both fully human and fully connected to the divine. From this position, with a Christ-centred and valuing and understanding of both our shared humanity and divinity, then love is better able to manifest in me to the betterment of the kingdom of God and all the world God has caused to be.

AMDG, Todd

Grateful for Justin Lee

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justin lee and meToday, I’m feeling really grateful for an acquaintance of mine, Justin Lee. He’s the kind of guy I want to say is my buddy, but we haven’t hung out all that much. We did have a chance to sit a few years ago at the Wild Goose Festival and enjoy some beer and pizza one afternoon… and to offset the anemic feel of our just being acquaintances, I’m throwing in a pic of he and I together last year in DC! =)

Justin wrote the book, Torn, and it’s great. He’s the founder of the Gay Christian Network, and he also recently gave an excellent ten minute snapshot of both the predicament in which LGBTQ Christians often find themselves, and the wrong hurtful ways that straight Christians are responding to that predicament. It’s worth so much more than ten minutes of your time! Here’s the link, and Justin’s ten minute remarks begin at the 41 minute mark of the video. Enjoy!

AMDG, Todd

Click below to jump to Justin’s site with the video, and go to minute 41 for his remarks!

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Some Days We Just Are

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just abideI’m not a big name blogger, I’m a little name blogger. I have a few blog followers and a few friends on Facebook… Twitter is seriously low on the totem pole of life’s values for me, but I will tweet on occasion. And even with such a low potential impact on the world, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the need to be saying something. Lately, I’ve been intentionally sharing some pages from my prayer journal on Facebook. It’s been fun and stretching for me to articulate the ideas I’m praying about in a way that invites other to share the journey.

Yesterday I’m wrapping up some travel to officiate a friend’s wedding, and sitting at Starbucks on the morning of my evening return flight, trying to get through my morning prayers, thinking about how I’m going to burn some time, and wondering what deep insight I can drop on Facebook. Been there? Have you ever been there and been dry as an old bone in the Saharan midday?

I was tired. I was already too amped on coffee. I had nothing to do, my prayers had been rather perfunctory, and was just waiting on when I’d start my drive from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to catch my flight… and I was trying to stir up something to share. The almighty Share. You know, it’s the burden of modern life in America: You’re only as good as your last share. (To borrow a Hollywood quote “You’re only as good as your last picture.” Marie Dressler.)

I can’t imagine how this weighs on the big name bloggers, the ones who need those clicks to keep the search engines buzzing and the advertisers paying. But yesterday, I remembered that it’s ok to be dry sometimes. It’s ok to have nothing to share. Sometimes, we just are. We aren’t funny, aren’t insightful, aren’t pithy, aren’t edgy, aren’t original, aren’t cool… we just are.

And being is good enough. Jesus called it abiding. He asked us to abide in his love. (John 15) He didn’t say that we should out perform our achievements of the previous day. He didn’t say that we should manage to have a certain quota of Likes or the coveted Shares on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Those things are cool, and they still give me a charge when I get them, but thank God that I have an abiding love to sustain me and am not dependent on the fickle hit or miss of social media affections.

Thank God that you have an abiding love, too. Social media is a tool, a vehicle for connecting to people. It’s a way we communicate. I like social media. But at the end (or beginning) of the day, there’s always a deep well of peace to be found, however your pressures in life may manifest. So take some time and just be. I may not see you abiding, so I probably won’t have a chance to Like it. I won’t see you sitting and soaking up some God-love, but how cool is it that we do still Share it?

AMDG, Todd

Source and Resource, Made and Remade

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I feel like an apology at the beginning of the post might be appropriate… I’m feeling wordy today. This is going to be a little long and maybe even a bit convoluted, even though it’s just some current devotional thoughts. If you can dig that, then carry on. You have been warned. =)

I’m going through a time of exploration again with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I am in wonder at the way familiar verses open up to me in reading, meditation and prayer. Not that it’s magic, or that I’m magical, but the old words find new ways to resonate in my mind and soul.

Ignatius called this resonance and awareness a testing of the spirits when we feel a response rise from within us and we stop to explore that feeling. This is just a way of practicing awareness and allowing God to be heard with more clarity in our lives. Today’s reading in my prayer time was Isaiah 43:1-7.

     1 But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

     3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life.

     5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

This is a repeat passage in that I have already spent time with it in the past seven days, but reading the words this morning again allowed me time to recognize a new response within myself. It was the dual movement of God describe as made and redeemed. In my previous reading I had focused on the beautiful imagery of not being washed away by the floods or consumed by the fires.

There’s a lot going on in this passage… notably, some nations are not just passed over in favor of Israel, but given in ransom for her. To be honest, I’m immediately in cringe mode over the disregard for Egypt, Seba  and Cush. They were rejected and became a sacrifice for Israel’s safety and inheritance. It’s important to stop and take a deep breath and place the passage in its historical and original context, which was nationalistic and specific. Israel was threatened by other nations, and in her deliverance, those nations were rejected by God. This doesn’t mean that they are forever rejected or forever out of God’s love and favor. But they were at that time a sacrifice given to save Israel.

So when I feel my very personal reaction to the words, “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'” I begin by realizing that these words are for Israel at a particular time and place. The movement of made and redeemed belong to Israel and her story with specificity and context, and not to me in the same way. And yet I do feel a resonance that God may have made me and redeemed me similarly, God being both my source and resource, my beginning and my future.

I believe that we always want to start with the specificity of a passage like Isaiah 43, and then move to place our own claim of faith on the words. Just as we lay our claim of faith upon the God of Jacob and Isaac, the God of Sarah and Abram, the God of Eve and Adam, the God of Hannah and of Isaiah, we by faith place ourselves into an extended context of messages like this one. We by faith reach for a handhold on the promises and the strength of God being our source and re-source, our making and re-making, our past and future.

This dual movement of having been made and remade (redeemed) give power to next couplet, that God has summoned and called by name. This movement of God speaks of love, intimacy and good things to come. By faith as followers of Christ we place ourselves in that love and covenantal grace existing between God and Israel in these words of Isaiah. I myself, in faith, can hear that God did indeed make me and then has continued to make me, and will continue to summon, call and I believe to even keep remaking me as necessary. I have both source and resource. I am not alone, finished, done or un-summoned. I can look forward and see God making a way for me.

This was a resonance I needed to hear, today. And I trust that I do not place my own claim of faith upon the making and redeeming activity of God in vain. Maybe it’s the Spring tulips outside after a long winter chill in our region. Maybe it’s the sun finally shining warm and my chance to flex some bare toes in my sandals again. Maybe it’s new life of each breath I’m suddenly aware of as I sit and type away here at the coffee shop, but I see God doing these things… I see the redeeming. I see what has been made being remade. I see hope happening all around me, and in Isaiah, and I want to take a satisfying measure of that hope into me as my sustenance and life for the day. If you’re thirsty, Jesus invites you to drink deep and trust that the flow never ends.

AMDG, Todd

PS, I’m going to share a song with you, When The Night Is Falling performed by The ZOE Group. As I prayed and went deeper with Isaiah, this song began to be sung in my soul.