Compassion

Blind Piety

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equals human first runPresident Trump’s America is looking less and less American, and totally un-Christian. With the flurry of controversial executive orders our new President has shown the effects of something with which many Christians in the West seem to suffer: blind piety. All in the name of morals and American values, with a strong dash of dishonesty and fear-mongering, our new President shreds the image of America around the world and moves us farther from the Christian values of justice, mercy and love for our neighbors. President Trump road a wave of this blind self-centered piety and unreasoning fear all the way to the White House. Now some of the most vulnerable people on the planet are beginning to pay the price.

What is blind piety? Piety is defined as a quality of being religious or reverent. Blind piety is a religiosity that ignores its negative and hurtful impact on the people around it. Jesus actually condemned it in his own day, and an apt name would also be shallow piety or even mean piety. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day who acted piously in vowing their income to the support of the Temple, but in doing so actually neglected their own aging parents who were in need. (Matthew 15) Now, I always wondered at that passage thinking, “How will something like that ever find a dynamic equivalent, today?” Well, ask and receive. It’s been played out on our national stage just this week. With an executive order that piously calls on abortion as a reason to cut our nation’s international help to some of the most needful and most defenseless women and families around the world our President has endangered lives, and many religious people are applauding and smiling. Blind piety. Mean religion. Just as in the day of Jesus, religion used to deny people our assistance is an affront to God.

sighing jesusAt another time (Luke 14) Jesus chastises the hypocrisy of the religious thinkers who would refuse to help a fellow human being because of the religious obligations of not working on the Sabbath, but of course they would rescue a child or an animal in sudden distress. The hypocrisy is staggering, and it’s playing out before our eyes in this day and age. Our leaders are turning away from the most needful and endangered children on the planet, and mantling themselves in faith and patriotism while doing it! The President continues to narrate his actions with the familiar and completely dishonest alternative facts about a lack of vetting and the danger represented by refugees. He targets Muslim nations and vilifies and criminalizes the most vulnerable people on the planet. He speaks of walling us off from others, as though we are not all connected human beings with a shared and mutual life on this planet. These actions are not Christian, American or moral.

Why did Jesus condemn those religious leaders of his day? It was for what they had neglected: people. People are at the core of religious law, as he named that core: justice and mercy and faith. (Matthew 23) Jesus will later sum up the Law in two expressions of love: love for God and love for neighbor. (Matthew 25) The problem is not that religion is against people, but these people were misunderstanding their religion. We are guilty in the same way today when we turn from justice, mercy and faith to hide behind fear, exclusion and dishonesty. Some have chosen a blind piety that neglects people.

imageThe sad truth is that these Christians in the West are turning from one of our oldest and deepest religious values: the heart of a stranger. Far back in our oldest Jewish religious roots as Christians is this amazing idea of identifying with the endangered. God gave Israel strict rules for protecting the alien and stranger among them, for blessing them and for serving them. The people of Israel were reminded of their own time as strangers in a strange land, and therefore they should hold to the heart of a stranger. (Exodus 22 & 23, Deuteronomy 24) That is an amazing statement and command of empathy and service. Until the incarnation of Christ into human flesh I cannot think of a more identificational statement in scripture.

These current events call for our silence to be broken and our voices raised. This political landscape suddenly shifts to assault our deepest religious values and we cannot withhold our condemnation of these executive actions. Let us be courageous and true. Let us be vocal and honest. Let us speak against these executive actions and their false religiouslity, blind piety and alternative facts. Let us be as courageous as Jesus to speak for justice, mercy and faith. That courage got him ridiculed, cast out and killed, but most of us face far less danger in our privileged status here in our own country. Privilege is never a license to ignore injustice, forget mercy or live faithlessly in our own time.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Todd
(to the greater glory of God)

We Don’t Need More Violence

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50actsoflove squareA four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.

Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…

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My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.21.31 PMWe must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.

AMDG, Todd

Playing With Glyphs

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imageI’m sitting at Starbucks before heading to work and I get a the urge to play with making glyphs. Now, I’m no linguist and I’ve not spent time with any ancient glyphs, so I’m no authority here. I simply had a canvas that I had prepared in Procreate on my iPad and was thinking of looking up a cool Japanese symbol to add to it. But, since I don’t know any Japanese symbols, I’m at the mercy of websites to supply me the image and the meaning.

I don’t know about you, but that always scares me. Like what happens if the website says this is the symbol for purity, but it’s actually the symbol for dunce, as in “Look at this dunce who saw something on the Internet and copied it!” I decided instead to work through a short exercise of what it might be like to create my own glyphs, my own symbols to convey an idea.

It wasn’t terribly easy, and I’m aware that we’ve all seen symbols and used them all our lives. I can’t do this in a vacuum of experience or culture, but can I move somewhat outside of my own experience to make something a little new? It won’t be totally new, but maybe a little novel?

I chose to convey the idea of compassion, compassion being our ability to see the suffering of someone and feeling moved to alleviate the suffering. My glyph is read left to right, top to bottom. I decided to convey four distinct ideas with the glyphs to represent compassion. First, there is awareness, the eye, that is looking upon a person. Second, that person is suffering, as seen by the downward movement of the arrow. Third, there is identifying with that person and making a communal bond, when the curving walls bring us together, like cupping hands. The final and fourth idea is a reversal of the downward trend of life to an alleviation of the suffering, an upward arrow.

The value of this little exercise of mine was not the work of deciding how to draw a person or make an stylized eyeball, but it was the meditation on compassion as a movement, an action and a process. Can I live this way? Can I see people and move to identify with them and work together to bring healing? Do I want to? It seems to me that we have a daily choice to go beside people in their worst of times, or to retreat and hope that less is asked of us when next we meet someone. This decision was poignantly played out in the story Jesus told about the man we now call The Good Samaritan.

In that story we see two people choose to ignore the suffering of another person, and one person choose to face the suffering and help alleviate it. Jesus taught this story to illustrate love for one’s neighbor, for all of ine’s neighbors. The story transcended ethnic divides, religious divides and national divides. The story unites us as a single humanity that cares for one another. That’s a concept worthy of some imagination. That’s a story worth doodling and imagining as a template for our own walk down the road.

AMDG, Todd

An Unfinished Sketch

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IMG_1965I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.

I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.

One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:

I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.

This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.

My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.

AMDG, Todd

Old Time Religion

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Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy

religion jesus taughtLet’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.

I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.

Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.

Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.

me at my baseJesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.

Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)

Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.

Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.

AMDG, Todd

The Hashtag Matters

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black lives matter banner at crib   Black lives matter. I find it hard to understand why we have to elaborate so much on what this statement actually means. It means that our black neighbors matter. Our black friends matter. Our black family members matter. Following the suggestion of a congregant and leader here at CiB I made a #BlackLivesMatter banner for the lawn out front, to express our solidarity with all our black neighbors and to express our solidarity with a local church that had its own #BlackLivesMatter banner defaced multiple times.

When I got an email asking what I thought of this idea, making a banner for our church lawn, I thought immediately of another local church banner that was defaced. Back in the last couple of years a sister church up on Old Georgetown Rd, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, had a banner asking for us to stand against gun violence defaced by the removal of gun. Really people, words matter.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was born of a very real and present fear among our black neighbors that their lives don’t matter or don’t matter as much as other lives. That fear is born of many actual and verifiable things like:

2nd welcome banner at crib   And if that weren’t enough, too many of their white neighbors just shrug and blame the victim for these inequalities and offer crass advice about too often playing the race card. And of course, we can always find an exception to a rule. There are black Americans who have not faced as much racism or negative attention from neighbors and law enforcement. But even as we are glad that some may not face such trouble, we are not granted a license to ignore the experience of so many who do. Finding a black neighbor without this fear does not erase the fear in the lives of others, just as one police officer behaving badly does not mean all police officers are bad. The hashtag is not just spin. The hashtag is asking if we care about our neighbor’s fear and pain. The hashtag invites us to come together around a truth that cannot be denied: black lives do matter. The hashtag doesn’t divide; it asks us to come together to put meaningful action behind our beliefs of equality and justice.

It seems we do have to say it: #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that white lives don’t, or brown lives don’t, or blue lives don’t (murder of police officers is tragically spiking this year), or that any other lives don’t matter. It simply means that black lives do matter, for real. It doesn’t mean they matter more, but does for sure address the fear that some believe that they matter less. The hashtag was born for a reason, with cause. It didn’t come from nowhere. It came from fear, doubt and experience.

It would be amazing if we didn’t need the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag! It would be an answer to prayers! It would be a great if our neighbors no longer lived in the fear and doubt that they would be aggressively policed and killed without cause. It would be wonderful if they that justice was also for them and theirs. It would be fabulous if their fears and concerns were heard and acted upon. The hashtag dreams of that world! Let it do its work. Let it remind us that listening to one another and taking one another seriously is important. Let it remind us that there are people behind hashtags, people that matter.

People of faith of any color should not be afraid of #BlackLivesMatter, but should embrace it’s truth: black lives do indeed matter. To become part of the solution we have to listen to the voices expressing the fear and doubt, and the pain and anger. Denying the voices of our neighbors who are hurting simply denies us and them the opportunity to begin the healing.

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   Escalate peace. The hashtag is not a call to violence or to more fighting. The hashtag is a call to step back and view one another with dignity and respect, black and white and blue and every shade around. We have to stop escalating the violence and fear and begin to build bridges and relationships between communities that will foster cooperation and growth. We can do this. We must do this. And the people of the book who claim the One who said “my peace I leave you” must work to establish this vision in the soil of very continent, nation and community of our beautiful shared planet.

AMDG, Todd

St. Francis on Compassion

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st francis“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
Saint Francis of Assisi

This is a day and age when we are openly speaking of care and concern for all the earth, and compassion for the lost beauty and lost goodness of an ill-treated creation is an appropriate response to destruction of habitats, litter, oil spills and human negligence.

As an individual, does my stewardship of creation reflect my love of people? Does my compassion for the hurting extend to animals as well as humans? Have I allowed my compassion to be stunted and limited?

I believe that these are the kind of questions that would drive St. Francis to give us such a warning. I can ill afford to let my compassion be stunted or bounded or restrained. If it is to be a ready gift to my own species, a blessing to other people, then I must allow it to be growing and ever-expanding for each and all.

AMDG, Todd

The Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours,
all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High,
do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant
in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which
you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom
you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful,
and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits
with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who
endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds
doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.