Justice

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)

Treat People Like People

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FullSizeRender 2I’m on a Sirach kick again, as happens every couple of years. I have a deep affinity with the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus. It might also be called Ben Sira. Fun, huh? It’s a unique kind of book among the Apocrypha and scripture in general as the work of a proud grandson, an interpretation out of Hebrew of his grandfather’s acquired knowledge and wisdom.

Pressing Down. As a young Christian I was taught to primarily read scripture in a transactional way: do this and get this, don’t do this and don’t get this. Life was a cosmic vending machine and God was the correct change. Most things in life were a linear transaction of cause and effect, and the scriptures were a guidebook for making the best transactions. While many passages seem to support this way of reading scripture, there’s much more to be experienced. Pressing down into the way of a passage can remake us into new people, whole new communities.

Ecclesiasticus looks very much like the guidebook to end all guidebooks. However, like shifting one’s focus from the nearest trees to the farthest, we can press deeper and farther. Rather than take the transactional sounding statements as the product, let’s view them as the tools to create something bigger: a more just and blessed world.

Sirach 4:1-10
1 My child, do not cheat the poor of their living,
and do not keep needy eyes waiting.
2 Do not grieve the hungry, or anger one in need.
3 Do not add to the troubles of the desperate,
or delay giving to the needy.
4Do not reject a suppliant in distress,
or turn your face away from the poor.
5 Do not avert your eye from the needy,
and give no one reason to curse you;
6 for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you,
their Creator will hear their prayer.
7 Endear yourself to the congregation;
bow your head low to the great.
8 Give a hearing to the poor,
and return their greeting politely.
9 Rescue the oppressed from the oppressor;
and do not be hesitant in giving a verdict.
10 Be a father to orphans,
and be like a husband to their mother;
you will then be like a son of the Most High,
and he will love you more than does your mother.
Don’t just pass by, but sincerely greet the needful neighbor, all neighbors. Treat people like people. Hear that the Creator loves them, too. Stop what you’re doing and enter into relationship with them. This short passage speaks to deep values of care, empathy, sharing, presence and humility. These aren’t just commands, but a framework for seeing people.
Treat people like people.
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.

WP_20141213_002

   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

Yesterday I Prayed

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i prayedMost of us rolled out of bed yesterday morning and reached for the nearest device that would link us to Tuesday’s election results. We saw the list of winners and losers. We felt like winners and losers.

And I prayed. I was both a winner and loser yesterday, my vote at times landed on a candidate who prevailed and at other times upon a candidate who will not lead us in the coming years. I would imagine that we all faced some wins and some losses as the ballots were tallied. We each will have issues and interests at stake in who leads us forward. We’ll all have hopes and we’ll all have fears.

Today, I’m still praying. Tomorrow, I’ll pray some more. Prayer is not a consolation prize or an escape from the realities of life. Prayer is the ever-present expression of what is timeless, what is transcendent, what is hopeful. Beyond the arguments, the political parties and caucuses, and all the maneuvering of the powers that be, there must exist a truth and a reality undiminished by our collective failure to express God’s love, justice, grace and charity to one another. It must.

When I pray I beg for wisdom and for graciousness to inhabit the winners and losers of Tuesday’s contests. I beg for wisdom to overwhelm them all. I pray for the Spirit of the Divine to overlay them, even if they do not recognize the source of their growing empathy, mercy, grace and courage.

We keep moving, praying and hoping. I know what issues and values I have at stake in these many new leaders, and in the old leaders who will continue in their positions of power and influence. I know what many of you, a diverse group of people I dearly love, have at stake in these leaders. But we cannot let our fear ever extinguish our hope. We cannot allow our disappointments or even our victories to erode our commitment to justice, mercy and equity for all people.

I hope we’re surprised and not surprised. I hope that in the coming months and years we realize more justice, more equality, more joy, more freedom, and more of the rich life that we have to share. I hope that we see less poverty, less disease, less violence and less hatred, beginning in the halls, offices and rooms of our own Capitol. I pray that the good stuff God brings us is surprisingly beyond what we can today articulate or hope. And I hope we’re faithful enough in our anticipation to not be too surprised.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. To the greater glory of God. This is my daily prayer, inscribed upon my flesh with ink, that God’s glory grows and abounds in this world. This is my prayer because I am convinced that God’s glory is found in our love, grace, mercy and service to one another. Now and always, world without end. Amen.

AMDG, Todd

Ferguson: The Need to Listen

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Before Ferguson becomes old news in the wake of a more recent death or similar narrative to the sad loss of Michael Brown’s life, I want to ask just one thing of my beloved friends and neighbors who are not African American: Please, start listening and validating your African American neighbors’ stories, fears and feelings.

civility oct 6 2012

It’s time for us to fully hear and validate the narratives from our African American sisters and brothers across this country. We have to listen, to hear the fear and to hear the pain, and we must accept it. It can be such a blessing to be heard, and such a hurt to be ignored.

When something like the death of Michael Brown occurs, the fatal police shooting of an unarmed young African American male, we begin to hear the multitude of voices saying that this is status quo for their neighborhood. They say that this just part of being black in America, that it’s their fear for their own children, and that it’s just another white man killing a black man. We need to listen to these voices.

I resist listening because to do so is painful. Another armed white man has killed an another unarmed black man, and won’t face any charges, because that’s just the way it is in America. As a white man I cringe and want to look away, to “listen away” if only I could. I want it to not be true. I want it to be wrong. I want to deny the voices. But to deny the words, to ignore the words or to argue against the reality of my neighbor’s fear, pain and frustration, is to add insult to their injury. In fact, it’s worse than insult. It’s further injury.

It’s painful to validate the pain of my neighbor because I must then help carry it. I will sometimes do this for people I know and love, say the people in my family or my closest friends… but to carry the pain of a stranger? To carry the pain of a stranger, a pain that is also an indictment of me and the so near and present history that has been a huge part of me being who I am, and where I am, and what I have? That’s hard for me, a white man.

And yet, listening is exactly what I need to do. I have to listen and believe in the person speaking. I have to validate their story. I must value and give dignity to the experience of my hurting neighbor. If I cannot hear and value my neighbor, then I cannot speak to and journey with my neighbor. I will have already taken from them the value of their presence.

We all need to be heard and validated. When our African American neighbors speak, they must be heard. When their stories are told, we must welcome them to share. And when we are shamed by their words and begin to feel the hurt they are sharing, we must carry it with them. This is the only road to the future.

When our African American neighbors speak of their fear of raising children and the specter of death from police shooting, we must listen. When they speak of fearing the police, we must listen. When they speak of being misunderstood and harassed by white law enforcement, we must listen. When their story is painful to us, we must pay the price of listening.

There’s no way forward other than giving the dignity of thoughtful listening, and the validating worth of being heard. We cannot simply choose a side and hunker down with our arguments in our better neighborhoods and hope for compelling distractions to ease our disquiet… at least until the next shooting.

There are many narratives, and they must be equally heard. The Ferguson narrative is not the only African American narrative of contemporary America, but it is an authentic and valuable narrative that needs to stand alongside the other stories of being an American today.

There are also streams of experience that cut across the many narratives. We won’t begin to find a way forward between communities and their police forces as long as we ignore the real fear, the real pain and the real distrust engendered by histories of abuse, injustice and neglect.

A new narrative comes from our collective pain over the past and present, our redressing of wrongs and our belief in one another. When white Americans quote “black-on-black” crime statistics and point to the background looting that so often accompanies the peaceful voices begging to be heard, we do a deep injustice to the future, theirs and our own.

We cannot just say that we want to move forward. We have to be fully present now. We must trustworthy listeners. Although there is a goodness in attempting to be “color blind,” I’m afraid the weakness of that idea exists in it’s refusal to validate the divergent stories and experiences of different colors.

black like meSo, I’m trying harder than ever to listen, and I ask you to as well. Seek out the stories. Let the voices have their say and be heard. I ask you to want to better understand. Toward that goal, I’m reading Black Like Me at the moment. What the heck, I grew up in Texas and didn’t read this in school!? I grew up a few miles from the author’s home town and never heard of John Howard Griffin!!! Come on, Texas! I only know of him now because my dear friend David Gerard, who is African American, mentioned him in a poem I’m going to share in this post. David is also a musician, a poet and a gracious soul.

wanna hollerYears ago I was affected by reading Nathan McCall‘s  Makes Me Wanna Holler, a book of pain that forced me to hear someone’s story that was so very different from my own. It was hard to read and I wanted to argue at times, but his story needs to be heard and understood.

Maybe you have heard of “the talk,” the talk given to young black men by their parents who fear for them? This is a real part of growing up in America for many families, and we should all own that shame and want a better future.

I ask you, to hear my friend David’s poem, and to love him as I do. I’m going to reproduce the poem here and try to get his arrangement as visually true to his pdf he sent me as possible…

THE RACE CARD

when I try to tell my friends
what it’s like to be a black man in America
they evoke a patronizing empathy

when I try to tell my friends
that there is one standard for me
and a double standard between us
they seek refuge in their denial

when I try to tell my friends
how every black man ever stopped by the Police
wonders if he’ll be shot to death
they say I’m just being melodramatic

when I tell them that i’m nothing
in the eyes of authority
and that my life is easily expendable
they try to change the subject

when I tell my friends
that every black teen from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown
is six feet under due to prejudice and brutality
they ask me to look at “the other side” of things

when I tell my friends
to go undercover, as John Howard Griffin did
and notice the difference in how they are treated
they accuse me of “playing the race card”

when I was twenty-two,
I was talking with a friend
in the lobby of a moviehouse
when a bunch of cops came in

in search of a suspect
they pinned me to the wall and frisked me
because they were looking for a black man

when the victim saw me
and said to them, “That’s not him”
they took their hands off me and left
without apology

when I try to tell my friends
the humiliation and shame I felt
and their casual disregard
they say, “they were just doing their job”

when I try to tell my friends
they will never know what it is
to walk a mile in a black man’s shoes
they just don’t get it

my friends accuse me of playing “the race card”
but that hand was already dealt to me
the day I was born.

18 August, 2014

I thank David for telling his story. I pray that we listen better,  and that together we all can make a way forward, a way that tells and values our stories, and writes a better one for tomorrow.

AMDG, Todd

 

Nov. 22, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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heart of a strangerNovember 22: Civility has always transcended us vs. them limitations, just as justice and “right” has transcended our divisions.

Exodus 23:9, “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” New King James Version

I want to carry yesterday’s idea forward another day. We looked at the passage in Colossians 4 and chatted about the way that our grace, particularly civil attitude and conversation, wasn’t just reserved for “us” but was also for “them.” Today, I want to show that this isn’t a new idea introduced in the New Testament, but this was in the formative concepts of justice when God gave Law to the Israelites.

That verse from Exodus is a nice example of the way God included “care of the other” from the earliest days of expressing divine will on justice and fairness. The people of Israel had been the strangers, the foreigners, the aliens, the “other” while living in Egypt. They began that sojourn fleeing famine, but ended up as slaves. They knew the truth of injustice. The passage above reminds them that they should know “the heart of a stranger,” how it feels to be unknown, on the outside, seen as “the other.” From that experience, they are commanded to care for those not like them and not from among them. Justice was for all, and this is a firm foundation for civility being for all.

There are other verses that echo this idea of God wanting Israel to transcend the “us and them” divide in life, even to the point of acting as if there was no difference between they and the other. All people’s value was to be supported and Israel’s behavior was to be consistent:

Leviticus 19:33-34, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Exodus 22:21 “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 27:19 “‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!'”

I think God has always wanted to break down barriers between us. The “chosen people” language of God’s nation Israel might cause us to think otherwise. The “called out” ecclesial language of the church might cause us to think otherwise. But the choosing and the calling has always been purposeful, and I believe part of that purpose is to break down the barriers of division, animosity and hatred that arise between us.

I need to be a safe person for all others, even “the other.” My civility is an extension of this truth. I cannot reserve a special hatred for the outsider because she is an outsider. I cannot reserve my love only for those I know. I cannot hoard my peace and civility for those who like me or think like me. My heart needs to beat for the stranger, for the outsider, for the alien. I need to be “safe” for all.

AMDG, Todd

Jesus Didn’t Weep Over Liberty

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me at my base

With the historic ruling this week by our Supreme Court on same-sex marriage we have been inundated with media coverage of responses from both sides of the issue. I understand that emotions run high on issues like this one, but I also know we still need to speak and react in responsible ways, especially if we step out to offer what we suppose would be God’s commentary on events, or more specifically, commentary from Jesus.

I was honestly, totally, down-right majorly peaved off when I saw this Tweet start making some headlines, from Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee), My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: “Jesus wept.” He also Tweeted this gem, 5 people in robes said they are bigger than the voters of CA and Congress combined. And bigger than God. May He forgive us all.

Now, first I want to give the one nod to the Gov. that he’ll get from me, the fact that he began the “Jesus wept” Tweet with the words “My thoughts on…” But that’s all the praise he’ll get from this Pastor after moving on to a complete misuse of the tears of Jesus to essentially make Jesus appear as the enemy of our gay neighbors. Wrong, sir. For the love of all that is Holy, stop it! Here’s a bit of the text the Gov. quotes from, John 11:32-37:

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34“Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Let’s just break a few things down, shall we? Why did Jesus weep in that famously short verse the Gov. quoted? He wept over the death of a good friend whom he loved. He wept with hurting people, hurting friends. The weeping of Jesus is not a rejection of anyone, but a connection to all hurting people. Jesus wept in love, sorrow, loss and the experience of both his own pain and empathetically the pain of those around him.

To take the empathetic, beautiful weeping of our Lord and turn it into a hateful rejection of our neighbors’ search for civil justice is despicable and unGodly in the extreme. As a Pastor, I renounce this distortion of my Lord, I renounce the Gov.’s words and intentions. The Gov. rightly speaks for himself, himself alone. If he cannot do better textual work than that, he needs to shut his mouth and spend some more time in study and prayer.

Why take the time to blog on this? Because every voice that counters that kind of textual abuse is needed. Our gay neighbors who have so long been civilly disenfranchised from basic spousal rights and privileges have a lot of reason to celebrate this week. And to posit the idea that Jesus would weep at their joy, weep at their liberty, weep at this corrected injustice, is horribly wrong. In fact, I find it counter to the Jesus who wept at that scene in John 11. I find it counter to the Jesus who wept in love, not in rejection of people’s joy and liberty.

I respect the Gov.’s right to speak his own mind, hold his own opinions, and even maintain his own beliefs of what his faith may or may not say about same-sex marriage and attractions. To deny the Gov. his liberty would only lessen the hard won liberty bestowed on his gay neighbors this week by the Supreme Court. But I will not respect, condone or be silent at the abusive misuse of Jesus for the Gov.’s political, social or ratings gain. 

Just as a reminder, back when so many children were viciously gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary, when it would have been SO INCREDIBLY CORRECT to say that “Jesus wept,” the Gov. chose instead to rail on his political stump against gun control. He says something about slipping over to the “pastor side” and then speaking in blame about a mythical removal of God from schools. Why not let Jesus weep then with those hurting people? Why not let God be seen in the amazing person of Jesus, present with us and hurting with us and ready to make any journey with us, on good days and horribly bad days? Because the Gov. did not ever slip to the “pastor side” of things, but instead remained intrenched in his political/social agenda.

There is a lot more injustice to be righted in our country. There are still many disenfranchised neighbors waiting for us to move in their favor and right the wrongs that have often shaped their lives to their loss. God is not ignorant of their tears, even if pastors sometimes are. Jesus weeps with them, never against them, regardless of any pastor’s personal agenda.