Taking a breather

I have decided to ban myself from Facebook for a few days.  Despite what I am sure it may feel like to some of my friends, it was not a hasty decision or even prompted by any specific incident.  It was rather a culmination of things that just became too much in the wake of the Paris attack and our conversations about it.  Although admittedly I’m not sure conversations is even the right word for what was happening.  Demonizing might be a better word.

The Left was dehumanizing the opposite side by calling them racist, xenophobic, challenging their beliefs, ignoring their valid concerns and engaging in name-calling.  The Right was dehumanizing the opposite side by making crude comparisons, ignoring their valid concerns, refusing to see any side but their own and engaging in slander against a whole group of people, innocent and not.  I am not proud of the fact that I was one of these voices at times.

It just got to be too much.  Too much negativity, too much anger, too much hurt.  Everywhere I turned people that I know and love and respect (whether I agree with them or not) were posting things that vilified one group or the other, were arguing with people that I know they also love and respect in ways that frankly bothered me.  It was like someone has tossed a grenade of fear into social media and we were using the shockwave to reinforce our worst perceptions about each other.  Whether “pointy-headed, naïve commie liberal” or “racist, ignorant conservative”, the discussions were less about sharing ideas and finding ways to build common ground and more about pitting “my” version of reality against “yours” and proving my way is the only right way to see things.  And I engaged.  I did it to… and for that I am truly sorry.

As a minister in a faith community that claims the name of Christ, I feel like this last week was not one of my better weeks.

I was not a presence of his love, peace and justice among the world in which I live.  I did not lift people up, care for their wounds, or listen to their concerns in the ways that I probably should have.  I struggled to show love to my neighbors.  I questioned whether I even wanted to remain known as a “Christian.”  But I believe God is real.  I trust in the experiences that I have had and others have shared with me throughout my life.  I trust that Christ is love and calls us to live a better life than we see is possible now.  I hope for and have faith that the world can be a better place.  But I can’t build that world, which we call Zion, if I do not walk the walk as well as talk the talk.  And this week I hurt people.  Whether I meant to or not is irrelevant.  I showed people a caricature of a Christian who says one thing but does another.  I screwed up.

So I am taking a break.

I hope to spend the next few days with God.  As Christ showed us, sometimes we need that break.  To pray with Him, to be with Him… to recharge so that when we reenter the world we are not over-come by it.  I pray for all those affected by the Paris attacks, and yes, that includes the killers and more importantly, their families.  I pray for the thousands of refugees around the world who will suffer needlessly because of the actions of a few.  I pray for me, that I will be a better mirror of Christ’s love to the world I live in.  And I pray for us all, that as God promises, Love will overcome Fear and Division.

See you in a few…

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Foundations

For me these two documents – 1.) http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/uploads/Einstein%20on%20Why%20Socialism.pdf
and
2.) http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/Sharing-in-Community-of-Christ-3rd-edition.pdf

best lay out the foundations for why I believe what I do… about family, faith, community, politics and the world.

The first lays out an influential essay by Albert Einstein on why he supported (little-s) socialism versus the capitalism that currently drives our society.  It includes some additional thoughtful commentary and links afterwards that I think is well worth the read although the entire thing can be a little thick.

The second is a publication by my denomination, Community of Christ, and lays out the foundations of our faith.  We are a non-creedal church so belief in these ideas is not required for membership, but this is the official church policy and largely mirrors my own understanding and belief.

I share these out of a desire to help explain why I say and do the things I do, not necessarily out of a desire to change or convert you to my way of thinking.  I do this because, as Bernie Sanders said recently to a crown of students at Liberty University, “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Religious Liberty vs The Law

This probably isn’t news anymore, but here’s a little secret that many in ministry don’t like to discuss openly…we struggle too.  We struggle everyday with feelings of inadequacy, failure, anger, hurt.  We wrestle with the big questions, wonder if our faith is big enough, strong enough.  We worry about all the answers we don’t have, about the answers we do.  And these are on top of all the things that we face just because we’re human just like you and we have lives and jobs and families and responsibilities that weigh on us.

Some of these struggles are caused by internal things.  But others are caused by external stimuli; things that happen that we feel like we have to react to, or not react to as the case may be.  For me one of the most difficult struggles recently has been Ms. Davis’ stand against issuing marriage licenses in KY lately.  Well, I suppose in many ways that’s not entirely true.  It’s not so much her stand as it is all of the noise out of both sides of the issue that I think are obscuring the most important issues at play here.

The first is that these are people involved in this standoff.  Real people, who have family, people who love them, both the couples trying to get married and Ms. Davis herself.  These people have hopes, desires, beliefs; they get hurt, they are struggling with the situation that they find themselves in and they are both being held up as something larger than themselves by activists on both the Right and the Left.  It magnifies and intensifies every aspect of what is already a painful and stressful situation.

The second can best be summed up by the meme below:

ReligiousLaw_meme

However, it’s not entirely that simple either.  (And please note, I am NOT comparing Ms. Davis’ stand to Osama’s murders, but to the rationale behind each one’s stance)

Saying that religious beliefs should be protected and promoted above the law of the land is great if it’s a belief that you agree with.  At that point, sure, what’s the harm in making MY thoughts and MY beliefs that supreme figure of our nation…except that not everyone shares those same thoughts and same beliefs.  What if the religious beliefs being supported are for a religion you disagree with, or are afraid of?  Will you still support those decisions?  And at what point can and should the government intervene?  Be very careful with how much intervention you ask for.  It opens the door to many many unintended consequences…just talk to Hobby Lobby and the Satanic Temple in Detroit.  Pretty sure those two groups never thought they’d have something in common until after Hobby Lobby won their lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

I am not saying that I agree with Ms. Davis, because I don’t.  But I don’t want to dismiss her thoughts and beliefs out of hand either.  As a believer, even one with different beliefs than Ms. Davis, how much do I want the government to force me to do something against my religion?  Because that’s what we’re talking about here.  Personally I think she should just resign.  Or barring that, reassign her to another position and give her duties to someone who can fully carry out the responsibilities of that office.

But to see my first point above, Ms. Davis is a person.  She may be biased against full LGBT rights, but does demonizing her or sending death threats to her house and family make the position of those who disagree with her any stronger?  One of the most powerful forces of the Civil Rights Movement was that it was the persecuted being arrested, not those doing the persecuting.  I fear that this request of gov’t involvement will reframe the discussion in a way that is harmful to the LGBT community for decades to come.

I am also a believer in the building of community, not tearing it down.  And that means living with and dealing with people who agree with me AND people who do not agree with me.  I look at my Facebook wall and the many posts from members and other ministers in my denomination (and other denominations) about this and other decisive topics and I see so much hurt, anger and feelings that run so strongly there seems to be no way for us to hear each other…let alone manage to have a civil conversation about it or attempt to understand why the other person feels the way they do.

It may be a vain hope, but I will keep trying to get people to listen to each other.  Not to change their points of view, but perhaps to more fully see each other as someone of worth.  To understand that in order for our community to grow and be healthy we need ALL of us.  Not just the ones we like.

My Sacred Space

sacred space,

n space—tangible or otherwise—that enables those who acknowledge and accept it to feelreverence and connection with the spiritual.

I had to wonder about this concept earlier this week.  A friend and co-worker of mine had sent several of us a picture of a fantastic house for sale in our city.  It was a 17 bedroom, 17 bathroom castle going at a bargain price of only $2 million.  Unfortunately we would need something like  51 people paying on the mortgage or so in order to even consider covering that sort of money.  But the address for this place was on a similarly named road to another house that actually is and was special to me.  First, a little backstory.

My father’s parents came from hard beginnings.  Grandma was abandoned by her parents and left with her grandparents when she was young.  Grandpa came from a homesteader family out west when his mother and the kids had to move back here when his father died of TB at a very early age.  Both suffered loss of parents and family and as a consequence family was always very important to them both.

They married and had three boys, the youngest of whom was my father.  When my dad was young they bought this house and my grandfather started work on it.  They bought it from the son of the original owner, who had been a doctor.  The house had a back party house, three garage/outbuildings plus the main house on about 6 acres of land most of which was forest.  The tennis court in the back eventually was taken over by the woods but the peacock pens provided feathers that I still have in my house to this day.

My grandfather worked, along with help from my uncles, father and cousins, over 50+ years on building, improving and adding onto the property.  And every year for as long as they were alive, at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays and birthdays, our families would gather together at that house.  It passed from my grandparents to one of my uncles to one of his children, staying in the family for almost 70 years.  Memories of four generations of our family center on that house and that property.  Prayer meetings, fireworks, picnics, swim parties (after the pool was added), and more color the images of my childhood.  As a child who moved a lot growing up, it was one of a very very few places that I felt like was home, a place to connect with the land of my family in a way only farmers of old understand.

My cousin eventually got divorced and they lost the house to foreclosure.  It’s up for sale again and while I thought I had resolved myself of the idea that I would never own the place, the thought of it going up for sale to someone outside my kin brought a surprisingly strong sense of loss to me and has in general hung over me the last day or so.

It’s not that I want the place, I know it’s a bit of a financial deathtrap for anybody who’s not really well off, which is certainly not this lower-middle class family.  But the assurance that if I wanted, I could go over to visit, to walk the paths of my childhood and share the memories of climbing through the woods, the secret places in the garage attics, my first apartment…all of that is going away and it surprises me how much that still hurts.  But maybe it shouldn’t surprise me.  For me, family is spiritual, family is sacred.

Family is the filter through which I have always looked at life.  It is the foundation to my understanding of God, creation and my place in it.  It is how I describe my best friends, my church companions, they are also a part of my family.  And for me, at least on my father’s side, my best memories of family are from that house, that property and with my grandparents now long gone it is like losing that last touchstone with them even if the more grown-up part of me realizes that’s not the case.  But it was home for a time… in a very special and spiritual way, it WAS sacred space to me.  A place where I stayed while doing church mission work, a place where I would share in morning devotionals with my grandparents, where I really felt close to God looking out and walking through the woods.

My understanding and sense of the divine has grown since those days, but this was a special place to me, kept in the deep recesses of my soul.  It is time to say good-bye to the place and perhaps, write down the stories from our time there as family.  After all, my children are growing and they do not have the connection to the place that I do.  They are developing their own sense of sacred spaces.  For D it will be radically different than Boo given the 15 year difference in their ages.  But I want to help nurture and create that same sense of affection and importance for them as they look to ground their journey with the Divine (in whatever form it takes) as they grow older.  And to help them learn, through my modeling, what it means to truly let something go if you love it.

So good-bye and God-speed to whomever becomes the new owner.  Know that you have big shoes to fill, and numerous opportunities to be blessed.

Who do you trust?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lynn-billman/can-you-trust-anything-wr_b_7587602.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

It was the article’s title that caught my attention.  Given the controversy between conservative Christians and scientists over Global Warming, LGBT, evolution and the like, I was curious to see what the author’s point would be.  Would it be another Christian bashing post like I’d see elsewhere?  Or would it be a science denying post instead?

I was happily surprised by the fact that it was neither.

I also have discovered a new magazine publication to read.

I have never felt that science was ever in any way a threat to my understanding of God, the scriptures and my Christianity.  My grandfather once summed it up to me this way, “Science and Religion are not enemies.  They seek answers to different questions.  The problems come in when you try to use one to answer the other.”  This has been my touchstone ever since and the older I get the more true it seems.

Evolution is as good a way to me to describe in scientific terms as anything else I’ve seen.  It also matches up with what we can see/measure and demonstrate.  The fact that I am a part of this creation that I believe God made is a matter of more wonder and joy, not less.  The fact that the Earth is billions of years old rather than 6000 or so is also not a problem for me.  Saying God created the earth in 7 days, I personally doubt it was 7, 24 hour days as we measure it.  Especially considering that that sort of understanding of time was not in place when Genesis was written.  I’m not really sure I could wrap my head around billions anyway.  Saying 7 days is a wonderfully metaphoric way of describing a process that took years and years.

Global warming also fits with my denominations view of our interaction with the Earth.  We believe that we are the Stewards of the Earth, not Dominators.  See below:

Steward – def. (noun) a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs

Dominate – def. (verb) to rule over or exercise control of

There is major difference if you are taking care of someone else’s stuff than if you are doing what you want with your own.  As part of creation we have a responsibility to take care of it, nurture it and help to keep it healthy.  Waste and overuse are products of the mindset that we were given “dominion” over the Earth and all things in it.

By the same token, science cannot tell me what my purpose is here on Earth, nor can it completely describe the experiences I have had with the Divine.  It doesn’t need to.  Nor do I look to science to teach me morals or ethics, this again, for me, is the place of religion.

I find myself in a strange place amongst most of my friends.  I have many who, taking the conservative bent, are inherently suspicious of anything scientific that challenges their beliefs.  By the same token, I have a number of more liberal friends who find comfort in science with no place for religion in their lives.  Not many seem to try to keep the balance and tension between the two like myself.  It makes for a lonely place on the knife’s edge.

So I am glad to find an entire community of people dedicated to the same principles and ideas, of allowing religion and science to co-exist peacefully in our lives.  And I am happy to remind folks that many of the most prominent early scientists where monks, willing to challenge their beliefs and the beliefs of those around them as they sought to understand our world more fully as part of the wonderful creation God made.  So can you trust anything written about Science and Faith by a Christian?  I think, for myself, the answer is yes.

Storytelling in the world

We are the sum of our stories.

I am a storyteller.  One of my hobbies is tabletop role-playing games.  Most of you have probably heard of D&D and know that there is a large network of nerds and geeks who get together in their parents basements, eat pizza, drink soda and do mysterious things with dice.  While this was more true when I was a teenager, the appeal of role-playing games as I get older is to spend time telling stories with my friends.  I don’t do it as often as I used to, what with work, kids, ministry and other responsibilities but the desire and memories are still there.  Role-playing includes fighting monsters and finding treasure for sure, that’s part of the payoff.  But good role-playing also uses puzzle-solving, forces characters to face complex moral or ethical choices, encourages collaboration and cooperation, mirrors real-life events in a setting far enough removed to explore with freedom and more.  There is a pay-off, emotional and mental, when telling such stories, both as a Story-teller and as a player.  For me, an additional benefit is creating a set of stories that my friends and I can share for years.  Funny quotes, embarrassing roles, challenges overcome and the like, it becomes our story, not just mine or yours.  How many other things in today’s world do this?

One of them I would argue, is religion.  And this is also the venue that I have used my storytelling to fullest effect.  Jesus was a storyteller.  We have a number of examples throughout the gospels.  They are called parables.  I find that the best sermons I deliver remember this, that Jesus told people stories in order to teach them.  He didn’t throw around his theological weight or try to convince them of the rightness of his position.  He didn’t argue or spend time telling people how wrong they were, he told stories.  If he is my guide on how I should be living my life, then I need to tell more stories, not less.  Stories can be what unite us, show us our common humanity, celebrate our shared heritage, lift us up and give us hope.  When we have a shared story it can help provide a vision of the future.  Without a unified story, we become just a collection of individuals wandering around.  I sometimes wonder if part of the reason the Jews had to wander the desert for 40 years was for God to give them time to find their unifying story as His people.

We all of us tell stories each and every day, from the clothes we wear, to the make-up we do or don’t put on, to the way we interact with the people around us.  Stories are more than words, they are the actions and decisions that express our worldview and influence our surroundings.  Role-playing has taught me that.  Religion has taught me that the stories we choose to tell can shape that world and those surroundings for either good or ill.  If our story is all about us or those like me, if my story is about us vs. the “other”, or if our story chooses to gloss over and ignore the consequences of our actions, then I will show you a story that is divisive, destructive and generally unhelpful to creating the peaceable kingdom of Zion.  If our story is about building relationships, reaching out to those around us, if my story is about love and helps to explain the consequence of my choices in a patient and respectful way, then I will show you a story that people will find compelling and want to be a part of.

As a father, as a Christian, as an American, I have numerous stories that live in the background of my life.  Sorting through them, retelling them and passing them on to my children as they determine their own part in this play, these are the decisions that impact not only my life, but the lives of everyone that we all come in contact with and the lives of everyone who comes after.  Just as our lives are affected by the stories of all of those who have come before.  When I read stories of the American gov’t taking land sacred to Native American tribes, the story of our country is that this happened a long time ago and is no longer an issue.  But the story of so many tribal members still tells a different story today: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/29/opinion/selling-off-apache-holy-land.html?_r=1&referrer

When I talk to friends who are afraid of terrorists and Islam and think that all Muslims are terrorists, I hear in their story the hurts of past encounters, their desire for certainty and comfort.  But for myself, the stories that I cling to are ones like this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2015/06/04/they-made-me-feel-welcome/#st_refDomain=www.facebook.com&st_refQuery=/  The stories that you read, that you tell your friends, that surround your life, are the stories that determine the world you live in.  I used to tell my Sunday School high school class that every day, they are writing the scriptures of the next 2000 years, that sometime in the distant future, there may be people reading the Gospel of Mike, or the Gospel of Zach or the Gospel of Bethany.  It is now that our story is being told, shaped and shared.

May your storytelling be blessed to be a blessing on all those you come in contact with.