Posts Tagged ‘justice

10
May
18

Forgive them Father, For They Have Spinned

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:12, NRSV

way-forward-commission-2017-cob-umcom-cropped-623x388Sometimes, my wife really knows how to push my buttons.

When she wants to effectively get under my skin, she calls me SpinMaster. And no, it is not due to my prowess on the stationary bicycle. It is a rather non-flattering reference to my pre-ministry professional life in the field of public relations.

I earn the SpinMaster nickname anytime she suspects I am giving an overly rosy – and misleading – slant on domestic events.

Which is exactly why “SpinMasters” was the first word that came to mind as I read the recommendation the Council of Bishops is taking to the Commission on the Way Forward for the resolution of our denomination’s ancient impasse on human sexuality.

They named their proposal the “One Church Plan.” And when I read the first two words of that title, my immediate reaction is, “What’s not to like about that? We all want to be one church, don’t we?”

Then as I read the details of their recommendation, I realized that title represented a clear case of episcopal spin… concealing the reality of a global denomination willing to engage in a cowardly desertion of a historic opportunity to stand for justice in favor of structural unity.

In another demonstration of the fine art of spin, the plan favored by the Council of Bishops defends its choice, saying that it allows the United Methodist Church to proceed, “… with as much contextual differentiation as possible and as much unity as possible.”

On that, I have to call bullshit.

In this instance, the phrase “contextual differentiation” is merely one more attempt to put rosy red lipstick on a dirty pig. It attempts to disguise the idea that individual churches or annual conferences (our geographical areas) will be able to vote to continue discounting the humanity of LGBTQ+ United Methodists.

The Bishops defend “One Church” by saying that it honors traditional orthodoxy while allowing for “new understandings” of human sexuality.

Here is the 411: “traditional orthodoxy” – i.e., the scriptural warrants against same-sex relationships, codified into the current United Methodist Book of Discipline with the phrase, “… the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching…” (paragraph 304.3, 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline)– is both bigoted and wrong. It is EXACTLY the same statement as if the Discipline read, “… the practice of being an African-American is incompatible with Christian teaching,” or, “… the practice of being a woman is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is a case of elevating a narrow, culture-bound interpretation of scripture to the status of canon law. Except that United Methodists don’t have such a thing as “canon law.” But you get the point…

If my church goes down the path of allowing individual congregations (or conferences) to hold an up-or-down vote on whether to be inclusive and welcoming or not, it might as well just say, “As a church, we’re really not sure whether it’s OK to discriminate against people over a God-given characteristic, so we’re going to let each church decide on its own.”

This would be exactly the same statement as the one made by President Trump after last year’s Charlottesville, VA protests when he said, “… there are good people on both sides.”

NEWS FLASH, Bishops: Bigotry is NEVER good or acceptable, no matter how you spin it.

But wait! There’s more! Besides the incredible moral cowardice demonstrated by this Plan, those of us who pastor local congregations must now look forward to that day when we ask our church to assemble and vote… “Are we going to be a ‘thumbs up to gays’ church, or a ‘thumbs down to gays’ church?”

And then what if it is a 51-49 vote? Or even a 60-40 or 70-30 vote? Will 30 percent of the people – whichever side that is – have to just pick up and leave that church?

And then what if they DON’T leave?

And what about the pastor? If I happen to stand on the opposite side of the question from the “winning” side of that vote, how can I possibly stay and authentically minister to the flock that remains?

Our Episcopalian, our Lutheran, and our Presbyterian cousins have each grappled with this question in their recent histories. Each of their “Council of Bishops” equivalent knew that there was no happy “middle path” that would allow them to remain intact. Each knew that global unity of the denomination was at risk no matter which decision they took.

And yet…  they each decided to stand firmly on the side of justice. They decided to include rather than exclude.

Yes, they each paid a heavy price for that decision in terms of lost members and lost revenue.

But no one ever said standing on the side of justice was easy or cost-free.

Just ask Jesus.

03
Apr
18

The Path He Chose

mlkmountaintop1Want to see the future?

In a way, I think we all do.

I would like to know – for example – when the Kansas City Royals will next play relevant baseball in the month of October… or which stocks to buy today… or when this gray, yucky drizzle will go away.

On a little more serious note, I’d also like to know where our nation’s current political muddle will eventually lead us… or what will happen in our relationships with Russia and China and North Korea and the rest of the world?

As a card-carrying United Methodist, I would love to know how our denomination’s impasse over human sexuality will ultimately play out. Sadly, my question is more about HOW the pending schism will take shape rather than IF it will happen.

At the same time, there are a few things about the future I am perfectly content to remain in the dark about. If possible, I would prefer that the demises of all my friends and family members – as well as my own – catch me totally off guard.

But see, that’s the thing about visionary foresight. It’s either all or nothing. “You git what you git and you don’t pitch a fit!” as someone’s mother once said.

Today (April 3) marks the 50thanniversary of the last speech ever given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an address delivered on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was on hand to lend motivational and leadership support to the 1,300 striking sanitation workers of the City of Memphis.

It had been a tense time in the city of Memphis and in the nation as a whole. In the course of the speech, Dr. King reminded his listeners of the great milestones and the great challenges the movement had experienced to date. He reminded them of the fire hoses and police dogs of Sheriff Bull Connor to the unlawful arrests to the beatings and church bombings they had experienced by that time in 1968.

But he also called to mind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the integration of lunch counters throughout the South, as well as the bus system of Birmingham, Alabama.

It was also a speech in which Dr. King seemed to possess a chillingly accurate vision of his own death. In the best-known part of the speech, toward its conclusion, Dr. King looked into the future… both the future of the Civil Rights movement and his own… and described what he saw there. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Here, in the days immediately following the Christian celebration of Easter, I am reminded of the vision of the future Jesus communicated to his disciples… a vision of his own violent demise, but also of God’s eventual victory over the forces of sin and death. It’s right there in Mark 8:31 – “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Today I stand in awe of both of these men. Try as I might, I still cannot fathom what it means to set out on a path, knowing with absolute certainty it is a path that leads to your violent demise, and yet – despite the clarity of that vision – continuing walking that path in faith and confidence.

The lesson today might be this: ultimately, if the path I walk is a path of my own choosing – based purely on whim, curiosity, and circumstance – it is a path to be wary of… likely strewn with as many dangers as delights.

If, on the other hand, it is a path carved by the hand of God, we can follow it with confidence wherever it leads.

What is the lesson of April 3, 1968, for YOU?

27
Feb
18

The MLK quote I can’t stand…

MLK quoteI am a fan and admirer of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. His sermons and speeches arouse hope and a passion for justice in my heart. But honestly, there is one quotation of his that just bugs the heck out of me.

The quote is: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Yes… it is a powerful quote.

Yes, it hits the proverbial nail on the head.

Yes, it speaks Truth with a capital “T” and shines a righteous light squarely where it needs to shine.

So what’s my problem with it?

Actually, I love this quote. But I say that it bugs me because it convicts me and makes me squirm in my seat every time I hear it.

This quote throws cold water on my knee-jerk impulse to post negative, snarky Facebook comments about national and world events.

It makes me look into the mirror and ask, “What are YOU doing to spread actual, tangible love in the world?”

I hear the question… I ponder my answer… and I fall silent. Because I am not sure I have an answer.

But I know I have to keep seeking one. Actually, we ALL do.

Our future probably depends on it.

29
Nov
17

What kind of hope?

Hope imageSince the calendar tells me we are creeping right up on it, my thoughts this morning turn to Advent… also known to Christians throughout the world as the season of hope.

It is the time when we try to do the spiritual gymnastics of placing ourselves in the sandals of the pre-Jesus world of the ancient Near East, imagining the depth of their yearning for the arrival of God’s promised Messiah.

During this liturgical season, pastors everywhere attempt to re-create the sense of eager anticipation of “the people who walked in great darkness,” (Matthew 4:16) as they asked, “Is this the one? Is it finally happening?”

During this season we often talk about hope in broad universal terms… the hope of humanity for the ultimate triumph of good over evil… hope for the salvation of the soul of the world.

Good, solid hopes, to be sure.

But today I also find my thoughts turning to Scott.

Scott is a guy who lives somewhere in the middle of Missouri. For at least the last two years, Scott has been sending emails to a group of pastors from across the U.S. The emails are about the frustrations Scott is facing in his search for a better job… better than the current, very low-paying one he has now.

Scott is also frustrated about the health (or lack thereof) of his relationship with his wife.

Several times after first receiving his initial emails, I responded and offered suggestions and prayers. Alas, nothing seemed to work out and here Scott is, two years later with no prospects in sight and a very deflated spirit.

Scott’s email messages today have taken a very critical tone… expressing annoyance with the pastors on his list – including yours truly – that have not done enough to help him.

And so I can’t help but wonder: what does hope look like for Scott? Is it the same hope we talk about during the season of Advent? Or is it somehow a different kind of hope?

Jesus came into the world as God’s Messiah… the deliverer promised to the children of Israel during their days of futility and exile. He came to bring freedom and liberation to people long oppressed. He came to announce the beginning of the reign of God… right here, right now.

He came, quoting the prophet Isaiah, to… “bring good news to the poor…” and to, “… proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4:18).

But did he also come to bring Scott a better job? And if so, how?

As we enter this holy season, I would invite us to keep those two realms of hope in close dialogue with one another… the realm of eternal hope and the realm of hope in the here-and-now. I can’t tell you how at the moment, but something tells me these realms are very intimately related to each other.

Let us enter the season of Advent striving to be the people who confidently announce the Good News of God’s hope for the world… and for our very real neighbors struggling to make ends meet.

Abundant Advent blessings;

25
Sep
17

Help Me See

Anthem protest photoI need help.

I need help with a lot of things, actually.

I need help with exercise. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t do it with much regularity. So I exercise in a class with a group of other guys.

I need help with eating. No, not the “lifting the fork and spoon to my mouth part” of eating. More like the “eating stuff that is good for me and avoiding stuff that is bad” part.

I need help packing for trips. Or at least my wife seems to think I do. (Shhhh… I’m going to let her keep thinking that, too.)

I need help dressing. Seriously. I mean, who knew a red polo shirt doesn’t go with brown plaid cargo shorts?

Apparently everyone.

But with all those areas of life where I struggle and need “a little help from my friends,” there is one thing I definitely do not need help with; and that is my ability to live in denial of life’s difficult realities.

Throughout my life, I have had a LOT of practice with this denial skill and – as many who know me will attest. As a result, I believe I have achieved a dubious degree of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of some of life’s hard realities I have been able to deny:

  • Because of my education, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of illiteracy.
  • Because of my income and net worth, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of poverty.
  • Because of my healthy, loving family of origin, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of family dysfunction.
  • Because of my gender (male), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of sexism.
  • Because of my race (white), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of racism.

Mind you; as much as is humanly possible, I try NOT to live in denial of any of these realities of life. They exist. They put a stain on the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters. They systematically undermine the values on which our country was founded.

But then I tune into the debate around national anthem protests… and I notice that some of the voices in that debate seem to be intent on helping me continue to live in a state of denial.

  • Those voices equate taking a knee during the anthem with anti-Americanism and disloyalty to our country.
  • They suggest that professional athletes have no right to express opinions on matters outside the realm of their employment.
  • They further suggest that all of us – including members of the marginalized classes – should place loyalty to country over everything else… including our sense of justice.
  • But mostly those voices seem to be saying that we should all continue to live in denial of some fundamental inequalities in our system of legal justice, particularly as it is applied to African Americans.

Thanks, but no thanks guys. I already have too much denial in my life to atone for. I don’t need help adding more.

The help I really need now is help to open my eyes to life’s hard truths… and keeping them open; even if it stings a little.

01
Aug
17

Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!

 

Abundant blessings;

11
Apr
17

It’s Not Fair!

Screaming child“IT’S NOT FAIR!”

If you are a parent and have NOT heard this phrase at least 65,000 times from your kids, you’re not doing it right.

In my experience, no one has a keener sense of fairness than those miniature people we call children.

They instinctively know when they have gotten the short end of the deal.

Whether the topic is serving sizes, bedtimes, Christmas presents, privileges, allowances, parental attention, or… I don’t know… exposure to sunlight; kids know what kind of distribution plan is fair and what kind is not.

And they will not hesitate to tell you when you have violated their finely honed sense of justice.

This whole subject of fairness crossed my mind the other day while watching a movie. This movie was set in Elizabethan era England. In one scene, a woman was in bed, dying of an ailment that had badly compromised her ability to breathe. The doctors gathered around sadly shaking their heads. It was clear that they were out of ideas and treatments and would soon be telling the woman’s husband about her tragic and premature death.

As it turned out, the woman was dying of influenza.

The flu.

The same flu that I drive down to my neighborhood CVS Pharmacy and get vaccinated against every October. The same flu that might – if I were to contract it somehow – put me down for three or four days.

And so I wondered: how is that fair? Just because this woman – and thousands like her – happened to be born 400 years before me, why did her life have to be cut short by something I treat with a simple shot in the arm today?

Or how is it fair, for example, that children of the early 1800s were forced to work in factories and mines and sweat shops, subjected to all kinds of horrible working conditions before we figured out it was wrong and made those practices illegal?

My own mother died in 1970 of a type of lymphoma that is readily treatable today with aggressive chemotherapy. So how is that fair?

And while it may stretch the boundaries of your imagination when I say this, it is also true that there were millions of people on this planet who lived entire lifetimes without once experiencing the miracle of the Internet.

Talk about UNFAIR!

So why all this injustice in the world?

The only answer I can come up with is the answer I used to give my own kids when they would hit me with the “It’s not fair!” complaint: “Sorry, kid… life’s just not fair.”

And it’s true. Life is not fair. In any sense of the word.

All of which brings me around to the focus of this week: the holiest week of the Christian calendar. This is the week in which Christ-followers around the world will remember and even re-create many of the events of the last week of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth… the one we call CHRIST or Anointed.

My faith confession is that Jesus is Lord of my life… meaning he is IT. It all starts and ends with him. There is no higher authority than Jesus for my life.

I further confess faith in his life, his death, and his bodily resurrection from the grave… even though that last bit defies rational, scientific understandings of the way things work. Because faith means being OK with the idea that some things can be true even if they don’t add up scientifically.

Finally, I confess to you here today that the truth of the resurrection of Jesus totally TRANSFORMS the lives of those who “buy it” – that is, who believe in his resurrection and have faith in God’s ability to overcome all obstacles… even an obstacle as formidable as death.

The reason I believe in the transforming power of the resurrection so strongly is because I have SEEN it… with my own eyes! I have seen it in my own life! I have seen it in the lives of friends… family members… total strangers.

This all started as faith, but then became SIGHT.

Which causes me to circle back to the question of fairness. And so I ask: if the life, death, message, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has this kind of healing and transforming power (and it does!), what about the folks who never had a chance to hear it and say “YES” to it?

What about the people who lived and died before the time of Jesus? Faithful people like Moses and Abraham and Isaiah and David and Isaac and Daniel? Or even just random farmers and shopkeepers named Fred, Tom, Elizabeth, and Stuart?

What happened to them? Are their souls lost forever? And if so, how is that fair?

Or what about people living today who – for whatever reason – have never had the opportunity to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Are they eternally condemned? Where is the fairness in that?

Somehow I cannot accept that the God depicted in the pages of the Bible would look at each of these folks, shrug his divine shoulders, and say, “Sorry, kid. Life’s just not fair.”

It cannot be that the God described as “… merciful and gracious,” in various places, and who, we hear, “… forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit,” and “… crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” could be satisfied to just write off countless generations because they were born at the wrong time or place.

I am sure he isn’t. And I’ll be darned if I know how it would work that THEY would get to connect with Jesus, too.

That whole topic is WAAAAYYY above my pay grade.

All I know for sure is this: Jesus Christ is alive. Forevermore. And the reality of his life holds the promise of eternal and abundant life for every single one of us.

Hallelujah!

And Happy Easter.




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.