neighbors

You Are Not Alone

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new human logo button blackYou are not alone.

To every one of my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are not alone. The demonizing of your religion will not go unchallenged. Threats to discriminate against you because of your faith will not go unchallenged. You are our neighbors, friends and family. There are so many Americans, so many Christians, who will defend you.

To every immigrant, even those who came to us undocumented, you are not alone. We will still speak of your dignity and worth and celebrate our connection as human beings. You are our neighbors, our fellow humans, and you matter to us. Your children matter, and we will not leave them forsaken.

To every woman who feels that deep pain in their soul when men use and excuse demeaning language like “grab them by the pussy,” you are not alone. We will continue to hold people accountable for their words and actions. We will always speak of your value and we will defend your bodies and rights.

To every LGBTQ friend and neighbor, you are not alone. We have seen important civil liberties achieved in the last decade for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer minorities, and we will not sit idly by when those are threatened. You matter to us, and we will continue to safeguard your life and liberty.

To the millions who have healthcare for the first time, and those who finally have coverage even in the face of preexisting conditions, you are not alone. We will not sit idly by while your health is threatened by political games and rhetoric. We will fight for you and with you to keep the healthcare you so desperately need.

To our non-white friends and neighbors who have been vilified, faced condescension, and suffered demeaning, racist abuses, you are not alone. We will continue to stand with you for equality and truth. We will continue to work for a day when no one’s race or ethnicity is used as a weapon to disenfranchise, demean or discredit them.

To refugees around the world and those who have made it to US soil, you are not alone. We will not allow you to be further victimized by fear and suspicion, but will loudly proclaim your dignity, value and humanity. You are our sisters and brothers.

Those holding public offices change, but some things will never change. We will always stand together to create a better world, a safer world and a more beautiful world where our diverse gifts and shared dignity brighten every dark time. We will work harder each day to embrace love and accept our differences, and we will safeguard one another against all threats. We will stumble and we will misstep, but we will always rise and be better for our shared efforts.

You are not alone.

Reframing Our Expectations for One Another

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all that matters

Did you see the prank video floating through our Facebook streams recently about who helps a nicely dressed business man who falls and who helps an apparently homeless man who falls? The video opens many questions for us and itself seems to focus mainly on the appearances of the two men… I immediately wanted to go deeper with the video. If you haven’t seen it, here it is…

Perhaps like me, you live in and among a homeless population. We have many homeless folks in downtown Bethesda and more and more you can’t catch a red light on many main streets without a homeless or needful person asking for help while you wait. Homeless neighbors sit by us at Starbucks, greet us at the Metro and some will come and sit in our church building during the day as a quiet respite from the street. For the most part I believe we have created a different set of rules for interacting with our homeless neighbors, and that is a large part of what is happening in the video.

I dug around to see if my thoughts were online anywhere, and I at least found this bit on social interactions that better defined the thing I think we’re talking about in this case of this video… (the bolded emphasis in mine)

In sociology, social interaction is a dynamic sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions due to actions by their interaction partner(s). Social interactions can be differentiated into accidental, repeated, regular and regulated.

A social interaction is a social exchange between two or more individuals. These interactions form the basis for social structure and therefore are a key object of basic social inquiry and analysis. Social interaction can be studied between groups of two (dyads), three (triads) or larger social groups.

Social structures and cultures are founded upon social interactions. By interacting with one another, people design rules, institutions and systems within which they seek to live. Symbols are used to communicate the expectations of a given society to those new to it, either children or outsiders. Through this broad schema of social development, one sees how social interaction lies at its core.

Source: Boundless. “Understanding Social Interaction.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 06 Feb. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/sociology/textbooks/boundless-sociology-textbook/social-interaction-5/understanding-social-interaction-50/understanding-social-interaction-314-5912/

I believe the business man in the video represents someone living by our social rules, within acceptable systems and institutions. So when he falls, there is an immediate need among others to restore him. He better represents what we have invested ourselves in, an acceptable life by normative social standards. The homeless man? He is presumed to be living outside those systems and institutions, and therefore his fall has less impact on the passersby. They are not invested in him already, and so his immediate predicament is less impactful for them. In fact, he represents a threat for many people, either an immediate threat to their safety or a more cosmic threat to our presumed rules for living.

Am I trying to explain away the video and lessen it’s moral message and impact? No way! I want to take it’s message and come up with a deeper message than just, “Yo, help a brother off the curb!” As a human, I need to intentionally invest in my neighbors, even when they are living and doing life outside of my normative bounds, rules and institutions. Otherwise, I risk developing the kinds of blinders that allow me to walk past a fallen person without helping.

As a human who tries to operate out of a specific faith orientation, I am further challenged by following a religious leader who personally rejected and moved outside of many normative societal rules and regulations of his time. Yes, Jesus.

I’ve grown up hearing sermon after sermon about Jesus touching the untouchable, but has sermon after sermon changed any of us? Have we been equipped with eyes and understanding that allow us to risk stepping into the lives of those outside the social norm? The answer is a qualified and limited yes… I know and have known many amazing human beings, inside and outside of faith communities, who routinely step over those social lines and engage neighbors living outside the bounds of social norms. The answer is also a qualified and limited no… because many of us still operate almost exclusively inside the norms, some even religion’izing the social norms to become matters of faith. Don’t know what that means? Try to find the verse in the Bible that says, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” (Hint: It ain’t there.)

If I’m being a bit too esoteric for you here, think of it this way… when a clean-cut businessman falls, there is very little cost to helping him… his clothes are less likely to stink or to get me dirty, he probably won’t ask me for money, and after a nice verbal gesture of appreciation we’ll both go on about our day with very little time lost. However, operating on our usual assumptions about people who live outside our normative rules and systems, I wonder if helping a homeless man will get me dirty, if he’ll smell bad, if he’ll ask me for money, if he’ll have a mental illness and hurt me, if he’ll want to talk and take up a bunch of my time… the assumptions go on, and those assumptions increase my projected cost to any social engagement with that person. Seriously, it takes a while to say it, but I think we routinely make these mental and spiritual calculations in a nanosecond.

Let’s pay up. Let’s intentionally reframe some of our social rules so that we are prepared to pay the cost of stepping outside the easy social norms and engage people less like us. It makes us more human. It makes us more faithful.

Just the other day I tried to give a friendly greeting to a certain local homeless man I often see at my favorite Starbucks. It’s one of the things I do, with homeless or well-off-seeming locals… I say hi and introduce myself. We’re neighbors after all. This particular homeless man wanted nothing to do with me. He rudely rebuffed me, loudly proclaiming that he didn’t want to talk to me, see me or shake my extended hand. And, it was a little embarrassing for me.

Now, at that moment of rebuff, I have a choice: 1) I can narrow my social rules and interactions, letting that experience confirm assumptions and stereotypes about “certain people,” and I can be very less inclined to try again to greet someone who is doing life outside my norms, or 2) I can pay the cost of that interaction, a blush and a rebuff, and offering a prayer for the pain and hurt this man is obviously carrying, I can prepare myself for loving the next neighbor to come along in my little sphere of life.

You see, Jesus did not touch the untouchable. Please, hear that… Jesus did not touch the untouchable. For Jesus all people were touchable, worthy of touch, deserving of touch and imminently desirable to touch. He wanted to engage them and was willing to pay the price, which could sometimes be high. He was whispered about, condemned and made fun of for engaging some folks, and in one memorable event he helps ten people, with only a single person taking the time to thank him.

Now, if you don’t live in a place with a present homeless population, I bet there still people not like you… I bet there are people who seem to live outside your rules and norms. Can you pay the cost of loving them? Can you move outside the norms of what you are most comfortable with and find them touchable? Can I? Or as our more grammatical gifted friends would correct me, “Will I?”

AMDG, Todd

Reflections: Blessing Pets and a Collar

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Me in Clerical Collar 2So, yeah. That’s me in a clerical collar. I didn’t grow up in churches that used collars. In fact, we didn’t have robes for preachers or choirs either. We did have zippered robe-like things for baptisms, but I guess we didn’t find the clerical clothing awfully palatable. Last Sunday, as we set up a booth at the local farmers market to offer a blessing of the pets for all our neighbors, I wore a collar for the first time in my life.

Please don’t call me Father Todd or Padre. If you know me, then you know that I have a deep respect and sincere affection for priests of many orders whether Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal. I also have an abiding respect for other traditions of Christianity that use the collar in various forms and ways. You can call me Vicar Todd… I kinda dig on that one.

In recent conversations and readings I have been introduced to the idea of the clerical collar as an invitation to speak with me about things spiritual. It has been regarded by some as a means by which others found them approachable and open for prayer or conversation. I’d like to think that a collar could do that for me, too.

Thinking about our Sunday morning of offering blessings for pets I must admit that I found people’s reactions as either very happy to see us or distinctly not interested in our blessing. There was very little ambivalence. We were all smiles and not at all intrusive. And we had many fun conversations with some of our Jewish neighbors at the market. I was asked twice if I was OK with blessing “Jewish dogs” and I was more than happy to bless them. Heck, I’m pretty sure I blessed at least one agnostic dog. It’s good stuff. More than one person got all smiley and affirmed the movie line/title, “All dogs go to heaven.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 9.37.01 AMI believe the blessing of the pets was a beautiful thing to do, and I’m glad we did it. I hope we do it again next year to celebrate St. Francis’ feast day and to serve our community. Not everyone wanted their pet blessed by us, and that’s OK. We were a blessing to many pets and their owners, and asked nothing in return. Good stuff.

And I didn’t feel like the fraud I feared I would see myself as when wearing the collar. That came as a bit of a surprise to me. I did my studies ahead of time and learned that many churches and traditions use the collar in many ways, so I wouldn’t be “stealing” from anyone’s rich (exclusive) claim on the collar. I’m also a very informal guy, and I wondered if the formality of a collar would seem ridiculous on me. It felt pretty OK.

I’m not sure what future the clerical collar has in my ministry and life. We’ll see how the Spirit leads. For now, I’m happy to have blessed some pets, and in the process, their humans. I’m so proud of and personally blessed by our faith community at Church in Bethesda who rallied and came together to help bless the doggies, keep the water bowl filled, over-indulge some furry friends with treats, and to offer smiles and hand shakes to our neighbors. It was a community event in every way.

AMDG, Todd

Recommitting to All People’s Dignity

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Just a quick note!

equals human first runAs I’m doing my whirlwind of usual Sunday morning stuff to get ready for our worship gathering and fellowship time, I’m struck by the intersection of two news stories coming across my desk… the first is of Pope Francis throwing in on peace in the Middle East, and the second is of a conference of atheists in “Bible Belt.”

Of course, the Middle East won’t have peace just because the Pope encourages them to have peace. And the article about atheists in the South probably has a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration.

But it’s undeniably powerful when a Pope speaks of everyone’s dignity, especially the value and dignity of Jewish and Muslim neighbors. And a little hyperbole doesn’t change the fact that many people in communities across America fear the reactions of their Christian neighbors and coworkers to their chosen lack of faith.

Today, let’s recommit ourselves

to upholding the dignity

of all our neighbors.

Let’s be people who sow peace instead of fear. Let’s be people who live grace instead of just singing about it. Let’s be people who transform the world by simple kindness and sincere friendship. This is again our day to shine. This is again our day to commit to salting the earth with joy and with love.

AMDG, Todd

Selling each other short…

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I am more than a little heart-sick at this story. And I’m keep the Clementi family in my prayers. Have you seen the story? The shameful treatment of a college student leads him to take his own life.

Ya know, I understand the drive to have the next big viral video. I see people everyday online trying to capture that magic, that big laugh. Some achieve a certain amount of online notoriety, and some simply tear their own dignity to shreds while hurting others in the attempt.

Think for a second about the news stories asking about the rightness of parents who post pics and vids of their toddlers with bong pipes and firearms… why? Because they want a laugh. Never caught those stories? Google it.

And amid all the grotesque stories of cyber-bullying, we have this one… a college roommate and his friend hide a camera to live stream a young man’s love life. That young man then commits suicide in shame. And it’s just all too easy. It’s too easy to plant that camera, to laugh at a friend, to Tweet and post and stream a friend for a few laughs, a few glorious moments of viral power. Tyler Clementi was sold short… his life, he himself. He was worth so very much more than the few laughs his antagonists sought.

I hope at least one person with a webcam and a stupid idea for catching an online laugh will stop and ask… “Am I trading my neighbor off for a selfish grab at a laugh or a few more views? What is my fellow human being worth?” And beyond hoping, I pray that when that person looks inside and gropes around for the answers to those questions, they’ll find love.

Oh, God! Help us love each other!
Break our hearts and teach us mercy!
Teach to pursue each other with grace!

And when we’re done praying? Well, then we have to speak and act for love! Speak and act the value and dignity of our neighbors! We have to be love, be the value and be the dignity of everyone around us! For such things our Christ has suffered the cross!

And here’s just a flashback for you 80’s fans… a song I have often sung along with and admired for it’s honest and good questioning of our need to hate…






"People Are People"
- Martin Gore, Depeche Mode

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully

So we're different colours
And we're different creeds
And different people have different needs
It's obvious you hate me
Though I've done nothing wrong
I've never ever met you so what could I have done

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

People are people...

Help me understand
Help me understand

Now you're punching
And you're kicking
And you're shouting at me
I'm relying on your common decency
So far it hasn't surfaced
But I'm sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel
From your head to your fists

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand