Grief: A Week Later – My 4th and final blog on the matter!

18 11 2016

grief

The election was over a week ago, and I think I’m finally ready to begin to move on! Am I still sad? Of course! But have I lost faith in this country, or the Church of Jesus Christ here in America – the Church to which I have given my life? Not a chance! And so as my anger subsides, my purpose in writing shifts from being a vehicle wherein I give vent to my frustrations, to an instrument that perhaps all of us can use to respond to the presidential election of 2016 in a manner that might allow God to bring light out of this frightening darkness.

The questions that I’ve been asking for seven days now are important for all of us to consider, but particularly those of us who claim to follow Jesus. What are we going to do in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, in response to the blatant misogyny, xenophobia, and bigotry of President-elect Trump? And should his followers continue to spout hatred for Blacks, the LGBTQ community, and Muslim refugees, how are we going to stand with those being marginalized? What is the appropriate response to a president whose careless political rhetoric has led immigrants to feel unsafe in their homes, children to worry about the fate of their parents, and women to feel objectified and disrespected? How will we resist one who threatens to undue the rights of the gay and lesbian community, who speaks (and tweets) from a place of anger and insecurity, and who displays a showmanship reserved for celebrities, not statesmen?

Fortunately, there ARE all kinds of answers to these questions; and here are just a few to consider!

1) We no longer allow the voice of the “Evangelical Christian” to be the loudest voice in the Christian community. For too long they have believed they have the corner on the market of Christian orthodoxy. But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t give a rip about our version of doctrinal faithfulness! He made that very clear when he said that we will be known by our fruits. And the rejection of the alien refugee or immigrant, the judgment of the gay man and the prejudice against the lesbian woman, the denial of America’s bias against Black teenage boys, or the Indigenous-American grandmother: none of that is fruit! It’s certainly not the fruit of the Spirit! But such attitudes abound today, and all because of misguided views about God, and a blind allegiance to a nation believed to be ‘exceptional!’ So we need to stand beside those who preach such lies, and speak just as loudly and passionately, in order to make it clear to all the world that this is not the Gospel of the Jesus that we know, nor the Gospel to which the Bible gives testimony.

2) We continue to care for the lost and least, but with greater vigilance and passion than ever. We let the world know that Jesus’ love was and is for all people; and that what makes God’s grace so amazing is that no boundaries can be placed upon it. The ‘way’ of Jesus – the way of goodness, and kindness, and compassion, and mercy – is the way of life to which we are all called. And as long as you are living that ‘way’, then it doesn’t matter whether you are a lesbian or a Muslim, a communist or a hippie, a church-goer or a church-avoider! We will unite with minority communities, people of color and those with differing abilities, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or social standing, and together we will continue to build the ‘kin’dom of God in our world. Jesus makes it clear in Luke that those who are not against us, are with us. And so we will unite with anyone and everyone who seeks the ways of Christ, and together, arm in arm and hand in hand, we will change the world for the glory of God.

3) We boldly challenge patterns in American life that simply contradict the ways of God. We love this country as much as the flag-carrying evangelical and their calling us un-American for simply not being afraid to point out national sin must never silence us. We must always stand with any President who acts in ways that honor and glorify God; and we must always challenge any President whose leadership violates the law and the love of God. Every one of us needs to work harder in moving our world to that place where “God’s will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven!’ Our hearts need to be broken by the very same things that break the heart of God: poverty, mass incarceration, hunger, war, gun violence, and yes . . . climate change. God gave us a mind and it’s not a sin to use it, Jesus’ very life was all about the ongoing renewal of those minds.

4) And lastly, we must stop being afraid to talk politics in our churches. The Gospel is social, and so it will always be political; and “political correctness” is little more than avoiding language and actions that demean, marginalized, or disrespect others. This is precisely what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus; and so we must no longer be afraid to tackle the difficult political issues of our day. All Americans should, and all Christ-followers must: stand on the side of anyone whose life is being threatened, judged, demeaned, or debased! And we do this NOT because we are seeking to bolster one political party over another, but because this is the life and the ministry to which Jesus calls us. It’s what Christ and Christianity are to be about; and the Christ and the Christianity to which so many evangelicals hold America captive, is one that Jesus himself would never recognize.

To many reading this, my words have been harsh – I know that! But I cannot edit my feelings any more than I already have. My emotions are strong and real, and buried within are truths that I believe need to be shared. So to my Republican friends, please know that I greatly respect your opinions and perspectives on a variety of issues. As I’ve communicated in other posts, I believe that “iron sharpens iron” and that the strength of a Democracy can be determined by the presence and the intensity of good, healthy, and intelligent dialogue. So if I have offended you during this election season, please forgive me. My intent has never been to in anyway criticize ALL Republicans, but to simply challenge the words and the agenda of a branch of the GOP that I believe to be extremely dangerous, destructive, and deceitful; as well as the leader of that branch of the party for his hateful, dishonest, disrespectful, and arrogant behavior.

I am also well aware that evangelicals are not a monolith! I have many faithful Christian friends with whom I disagree on matters like abortion, war, capital punishment, the death with dignity movement, and other important, controversial, and morally complex matters facing us in this 21st century. But there are far too many evangelicals – many of whom are quick to tell me that I have left the faith – who themselves have abandoned the truth of the Gospel. And so all of us have a responsibility to hold one another accountable to Christ! Mission is so much more than just preparing a casserole for the shelter, or collecting food for the local food pantry. Such “mercy ministries” are indeed important, but they can never excuse us from the equally important task of seeking justice. And that means putting aside our ‘white savior’ complex, moving beyond mercy, and working to transform any and all systems that continue to create a need for shelters and food pantries.

Finally, someone asked me recently ‘who I thought I was,’ arrogantly ‘pontificating’ to people in my blogs, making it sound as though I had all the wisdom and knowledge needed to solve all the problems of the world. It was not asked in that exact way, but that was the gist of it. So just in case any of you who have been following my posts over the past week have found yourself asking that same question, let me close with this. I think my witness over the last 10-15 years has been a testimony to NOT thinking that I had all the answers. There are many paths in this life, and more than one of them takes us up the mountain. There are a variety of ways to think and believe, and many of them can and do lead to life, health, wholeness, peace, and justice, and yes, even into the very heart of what I believe to be God. But I am also passionate about the message of Jesus; and my faith in him is one that demands that I be willing to speak the truth as I know it to power, and that I seek to listen to voices that have been for too long silenced. It demands that I advocate for the poor and the marginalized, that I not be afraid to challenge the status quo when ‘what is’ falls short of all that it ‘might be’, and most importantly, that I do it all in love.

So if I’ve failed in that, forgive me. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, I am merely attempting to do what I believe we should all be doing, and that is: whatever we can, with whatever we have, wherever we are! And I would add: “always and only, to the honor and glory of God.”

Peace!

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Grief: Day 3

17 11 2016

grief

It doesn’t feel like Friday. Usually on Fridays I have a sense of relief; like I can stop and breathe again! But that’s not what I’m feeling today, three days after the election. Rather, it feels like someone is sitting on my chest; like I can’t get enough air into my lungs to sustain the life that is within me. And if I sit still too long, and allow myself to think about what has happened, I want to vomit. And I am still . . . oh, so, sad!

I’m also remain very angry; and because my primary identity is that of a follower of Jesus, as well as a pastor, I’m finding that a good bit of my anger is being directed toward my own brothers and sisters – those who say they claim the same faith as I do, but whose version of Christianity I simply do not recognize. You see this election has forced me to finally acknowledge and publically admit that the ‘oneness’ Jesus preached is not about a oneness in belief, but a oneness in behavior.

God has placed us all in the human family – one great race, the human race – and the Spirit of Christ exists in each and every one of us. And that ‘divine spark’ makes each and every human being a brother or a sister. This is where Jesus meant us to find our unity and our oneness; and I never want to deny that.

But as far as the unity of the Church goes, that oneness we’re told is uniquely found in the person of Jesus? . . . well, if it exists at all, it can no longer be attributed to all those who merely profess their faith in Him . . . at least not in the same way we have traditionally understood that profession of faith!

What I have discovered is that I often have far more in common with some of my Muslim and ‘NONE’ friends than I do with members of my own Christian denomination! For I know too many people who tritely claim to have ‘invited Jesus into their hearts’, and who with benign roteness repeated the words of the ‘sinners prayer’, but who have absolutely no real understanding of what it means to be ‘born again.’ Consequently, they remain unaware of how their attitudes and actions deny the very faith that their lips profess. They believe what they’re told to believe; and they belittle and belie knowledge and education, particularly in matters of faith, as if using the minds that God has given them is akin to some kind of religious idolatry or heresy.

You see, I know these people. In fact I used to be one of these people. And so when I hear them having their quaint Bible studies at Starbucks, while impressed by their passion and enthusiasm, I cringe at the nonsense they feed the lost and lonely souls they’ve targeted, offering trite and simplistic answers to every complex question that comes their way. How many of us have to listen to these people wrap the Gospel in the American flag, and distort it so that it might better fit a version of America that is akin to the very myths of power and empire that Jesus railed against every day of his life? We sit with these people every day, and everywhere – at lunch, in class, at work – and we make pathetic small talk, avoiding issues that really matter, because to talk about anything of substance would only make them look more spiritually bankrupt and relationally bigoted than we all already know them to be!

We sit, and we listen, and we hear . . . all the time; and for the sake of peace, we keep our mouths shut, and allow the naiveté of their faith to go unchecked and their spiritual ignorance to go unchallenged. And in so doing, we forget that there will never be any peace, where there is no justice.

So today, and from now on, the words and actions of these people need to be called out for what they are – disrespectful, abusive, mean-spirited, and yes, even deplorable. And lest there be any misunderstanding about what that last word actually means, let me define it. Deplorable means “deserving of condemnation.” And that is the only way to describe the faith that so many evangelicals are shoving into the face of the America I love.

After Tuesday’s election I am more convinced than ever that the Church of Jesus Christ must stand up and boldly say that deplorable words and actions have no place in the community of faith. And telling us to ‘unite’ behind those whose actions and behavior are in direct opposition to the ways of Jesus is simply not helpful. For if that had indeed been the practice of the church for the past 2000 years, Apartheid would never have fallen in South Africa, Nazism would have spread throughout Europe, and slavery would not have been abolished here in America. we can and will accept the reminders that even those who voted differently that we did are part of the human family. And we will work hard to try and work and live together in peace. But we WILL never . . . we CAN never . . . embrace that which is not of God.

The Church has always been willing and able to work with elected officials that we have not supported in the past; but this year, it is different. We are unwilling to do what you have done; namely, excuse and overlook that which is not of God, in order to win an election. We know full well that not all of you are . . . sexist xenophobes; but you have embraced and normalized someone who is! And that is the source of our grief and sadness. It’s not that our candidate lost, or even that yours won. The source of our grief and sadness is that you embraced clear and obvious racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and so much more of what we all know to be nothing short of unGodliness, all for the sake of your political agenda. And the sadness of that reality is far more devastating for the Church, than Donald Trump will ever be for America.





 Grief: Day 2

16 11 2016

grief

On day two of this national tragedy, my anger has become very real! I have felt it bubbling up inside of me over night! And as it does, I remember that a pastor’s job goes way beyond caring for and provide comfort to those who hurt and fear.

It was in seminary where I first heard the saying “The Gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable!” Which is perhaps why, today, yesterday’s thoughts and feelings – many of which were too deep for words – are now exploding in lines and phrases that are not very comforting. Rather, they are sharp and prickly, painful to write. They are words that afflict, and so they will no doubt be painful for some to read!

A friend recently shared a Tony Morrison quote with me, about times like these being the times when artists get to work. Morrison says, “There is no time for despair. No place for self-pity. No need for silence. No room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

I smiled when I read it, because that’s all I’ve wanted to do for the past two days – write . . . to let the anger out, and allow the Light in! So that’s what I’ve been doing; and on day two, affliction has taken a seat beside comfort.

As a ‘liberal’, listening to others and attempting to understand different perspectives is what I do. So to those in this country and in my church who are fearful and resisting change, know this: I, and many like me, will listen to your story, we will try to see your perspective; and we will comfort you when we can. But we are also going to allow the Gospel to afflict you a little bit. Because God is God, and this God’s world. And the changes that you are fighting, and resisting, are changes coming about as a direct movement of God’s Spirit. And friends . . . dear friends . . . we are not going back! So the sooner you accept that, the healthier you, and our nation, will be!

Whether we like it or not, white men no longer get to make all the rules! Women can and will do more than clean our toilets and cook our dinners! Brown and Black people DO have lives that matter, and LGBTQ people have marriages that are just as valid as any other marriage! Muslim Americans have the same religious rights as Christian Americans, and pro-choice people can be just as moral as anti-abortion people.

But of all the changing realizations taking place in our world today, the most important one for me, by far, is this: American Evangelicalism no longer speaks for American Christianity! We have finally come to the point where it should be apparent to all, that white, conservative Christians no longer speak for the majority of Christ-followers in this country; and therefore they will no longer be permitted to inflict their malevolent and malicious brand of Christianity upon the American people unchallenged!

So without being trite, or simplistic, or offensive, I say to you who are so terribly fearful, of everything – from transgender people using your restrooms, to vaccines, to Black people wearing hoodies, to someone trying to take away your guns – do yourself a favor. Please! Get some help! Talk to someone! Find a good therapist, address all the irrational fears that are terrifying your soul, and stop forcing the rest of us to deal with all of your ‘issues’!

And to all of you supposed ‘Christians’ out there – you 82+% of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump because you believe that was “God’s desire” – you who somehow managed to twist the Gospel in a manner that enabled you to rationalize electing Donald Trump to highest office in our land – you who clearly appear to have put your own political agendas before God’s agendas – to you I say find a new church, reread the Gospels, and stop forcing the rest of us to have to endure your misguided understanding of God, faith, mission, and spirituality.

Finally, if you do not fall into either of the above categories, then hear again these powerful words from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Let the words of Ellen (who was actually quoting Eleanor Roosevelt!), seep into your soul: “You can either curse the darkness, or light a candle!”

Friends, we cannot remain silent, and we should never stop lighting candles. So go ahead and be angry, but only for a while. There’s too much work yet to be done!





Grief: Day 1

15 11 2016

grief

What is there to say?

On this morning after Trump’s surprising ascent to the Presidency of the United States of America, my grief has left me with far more tears than words. I hurt; for all the children who have watched the behavior of our new president-elect, and then said to their mothers and fathers, “Why is he so mean?” I hurt for all the women who are left thinking that this election means locker-room talk is acceptable as long as it isn’t actually lived out; and that when it is, we just need to look the other way because, well, misogynistic boys will be misogynistic boys. I hurt for the Muslim man I met at the polls yesterday who was so very excited and grateful for the privilege of having been able to vote for the very first time – no doubt wondering today if he was wrong about America, and if everyone in ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’ is xenophobic. I hurt for my Brown and Black sisters and brothers who are once again being forced to deal with racism ignored, bias disregarded, and bigotry denied. And I hurt for all my LGBTQ friends who still have to deal with leaders who question their right to do nothing more than love whoever they want to love!

But surprisingly, I also hurt for all the people who look like me: white people, evangelical Christians, heterosexual, and more privileged than they realize. And I hurt for these people because it is apparent that they are living their lives with a fear that has clearly become tragically irrational, irresponsible, and all-consuming. It is a fear that has to be an incredible burden to wake up to, every day; and then carry around, week, after week, after week.

You see I think I’m finally beginning to get it! I think I’m beginning to understand what is going on! Volunteering at the polls yesterday, in my ethnically diverse neighborhood, I was struck by the fact that more than more 95% of the people voting didn’t look very much like me. They didn’t dress like me, or talk like me. And the thought that they were making decisions FOR me, for MY country and MY future, could have easily become extremely frightening. It didn’t, for me; but in that moment I realized that it has for countless others. They’re frightened. They see their nation changing before their very eyes, and they don’t understand it. They can’t relate to people who wear head scarves and pray to Allah; to families who speak English with a Spanish accent and who have different traditions than we do; to men who hold the hands of other men and women who have hopes and dreams that are not like the hopes and dreams of women 50 years ago!

Now these fearful people say that this election was all about change. And I agree. But the election of Donald Trump was not about a mere change in leadership, it was about the change in the nature and character of this nation we all love. Trumpers SAY they want changes in the three branches of government: in the White House, in Congress, and on the Supreme Court. But if these people were honest with themselves they would admit to us all that the real change they want involves our country going backwards, rather than forward; it is a change that takes us back to the “good ‘ol days”, which in fact were not really all that good, at least not for everyone. The changes they seek are ones that would take our nation back to the 1950s, when men were men, women knew their place, and anyone not like “us” hid in a closet.

But that is simply not going to happen! You see the change these people seek, is a change intended to stop another change, a greater change, a more blessed and beautiful change. And that change . . . that acknowledges the interdependence that results from our global economy, and that celebrates the larger and greater human family . . . that change is here to stay. And people can resist it, and perhaps even slow it down, but that change is not going anywhere.

The young Pilipino man I at the polls; who with a big smile and contagious excitement asked me if he could have a ‘sample ballot’ because while he couldn’t vote this year, he was watching and learning what he needed to do next year when he would finally be given that privilege – he is my brother. The middle-aged Latino man I met as I was preparing to leave my precinct at the end of the night; who asked if he could stand where I was standing and wait for his wife to join him so they could vote together . . . with whom I spoke awkwardly for a few minutes . . . and who said to me in his broken English “I’m glad I can vote, but I know God is in control!” – he is my friend! Neither of these men is to be feared, and the changes that have paved the way for them to call America home are good changes, that cannot and should not be stopped, or reversed.

So I hurt with those who hurt. And I also get the FEAR of change that is behind Trumpers’ PLEA for change. For this is what we pastors do.

But on this day of national tragedy, as I begin to work through the stages of my grief, and deal with the denial and depression in my soul, I know myself well enough to know that such pastoral concerns will eventually give way to something more painful, something deeper and more unsettling, an anger, that even now, I feel brewing within.





I believe in America

6 11 2016

I believe in America!

I believe in the Spirit of America, a Spirit that has made us as great as we are, and as great as we will continue to be . . . a Spirit of grace, generosity, civility, and love.

I believe that we have proven again and again we have the capacity to move beyond fleeting movements of hatred, rooted in little more than a fear of what the future might hold, and to replace those movements with unified fronts for goodness and hope.

I believe that disingenuous and dangerous attitudes don’t prevail for long, but that eventually light exposes their darkness, and that joy – accompanied by peace and justice – will always come in the morning.

I believe that we are a nation that has learned from our past, and that we continue to learn to ways to recognize, name, and eradicate color, gender, and religious bias from our life together.

I believe that the sins of yesterday will never be given the chance to resurrect themselves, and drag us back to days where differences were hidden rather than celebrated, and where unity meant some kind of artificial and disingenuous uniformity.

I believe that in the end, people do the right thing; that we know the sacred and holy difference between a life of sacrificial-service and a life of self-service; and that we are able to discern when liberty and justice for all is being sacrificed under the guise of ‘law and order.’

I believe that love never fails to trump hate, and that resurrection cannot be entombed by evil; that new life is not about forgetting what was, but rather anticipating what might be; and that learning from  yesterday can enhance and enrich all that tomorrow may hold.

I believe in America . . . through all the seasons of our common life . . . during times of great national triumph, as well as times of embarrassing national tragedy; when inspiring national leaders call upon us to have the audacity to hope, as well as when egos insert themselves into the spot light in order to do little more than acquire power and prestige.

I believe that in America, kindness and compassion infuse the very soul of our democracy; and that the common good, and common decency, are the common goals, of the common people.

I believe in an America . . . that I can believe in!

And I believe that on Tuesday, this is the America that all the world will see.