Stuck in the System

We are captive to systems. Systems prevent us from critiquing consumerism or looking at our own prejudices with any sort of honesty.

Those angered over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday shopping seem elitist and judgmental. It must be nice to sit back and have the pleasure of a day off to tell others they aren’t spending it correctly.

Likewise, those excited by the chase of a good deal reinforce an economic system that acknowledges, through “deals,” underhanded pricing and an addiction to excess. It must be nice to narrow our scope so much to ignore the real impact of our dollars.

So we cannot critique without seeming elitist (and being elitist), and we cannot enjoy the marketplace because it woos us into needing more at the expense of others.

We cannot talk about it well because the system has confused our language to the point that all we hear are attacks.

Seems like a nice alternative is to just point out that fact, pray for our addictions to elitism and consumerism, and have some coffee where I’ll both consume and critique…and stand where we all do: stuck in the system.

We Are Not Object Lessons

“I think this is part of how God shows us to be grateful, you know? For what we have. For our health. To teach us.”

This was the response that someone gave me after I was lamenting about the unfairness of disease and catastrophe.

The idea that people are sick in order to be object lessons for people who are not is one of the many problems that we have with narcissistic religion and a form of Christianity that is totally devoid of deep spirituality.

It becomes cruel.

People are not sick in order to teach you a lesson.

When Religion Holds Hands with Politics, it Ends Up on the Wrong Side of History

Today the church remembers and mourns Executive Order 9066.

By executive order of President Roosevelt, Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were United States Citizens, were forced into internment camps on this day, February 19th, in 1942.

It is estimated that, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, 112,000 of the 127,000 Japanese Americans lived on the West Coast. Of those American residents, around 80,000 of them were second and third generation, never having spent any time in Japan.

Forced from their homes, schools, and places of business, anyone with Japanese heritage (in California they exacted it to 1/16th of Japanese lineage) were placed in regional concentration camps. What was trumpeted as a “security measure” in case any of them were sympathetic to Japan, was actually legalized racism. Such measures were not taken for German or Italian residents in the United States, many more of whom were not legalized citizens (though a small number of people of German and Italian heritage were also forced into these camps on the West Coast).

By this order all people of Japanese heritage were forced to leave Alaska, as well as many areas of California, Oregon, Arizona, and Washington State.

In 1944 a legal challenge to 9066 came to a close, and though it’s constitutionality was upheld on technicalities (another instance where the small print delayed justice, and it didn’t even opine on the concentration camps themselves), it was affirmed by the court that “loyal citizens cannot be detained.”

The day before the results of this legal ruling would be made public, 9066 was rescinded, an implicit admission of purposeful wrongdoing in my book.

In 1980 Japanese Americans lobbied forcefully to have Executive Order 9066 investigated. President Carter initiated the investigation and in 1983 the commission reported that little evidence of disloyalty was found in the Japanese-American community of the day, and that the internment process was blatant racism. In 1988 President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and officially apologized on behalf of the United States government, authorizing monetary settlements for everyone still alive who had been held in a camp.

In other words: the US government gave reparations. It’s not unprecedented…

The larger question for me, though, is: where was the church?

Why wasn’t the church lobbying hard to have these fellow sisters and brothers released?

Additional studies have shown that religious prejudice also played a part in the justification for these internment camps. In a largely “Christian America,” these often Buddhist, Taoist, and Shinto practicing Japanese residents were seen with much more suspicion (which is probably why the German and Italian residents, also largely thought to be “Christian,” were not rounded up).

The church failed to protect a vulnerable population. The church held hands with the politics of the day in ignoring at best, and aiding at worst, the abuse of other humans.

Today we remember, mourn, and are honest about this failure.

This commemoration is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that when religion holds hands with politics we end up on the wrong side of history.

-historical bits gleaned from Clairborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals as well as common source news

-for more information on how religion played a part in this stretch of history, visit: https://religionandpolitics.org/2019/07/23/first-they-came-for-the-buddhists-faith-citizenship-and-the-internment-camps/

-art by Norman Takeuchi with his piece, “Interior Revisited,” stated that “Interior and ‘internment’ are synonymous for many of Japanese-American lineage,” because they moved people from the coast to “the interior” of the United States for these camps.

Everybody Can Serve

Though today is Martin Luther King, Jr’s observance day, the church reserves his commemoration for April 4th, conforming with the practice they do with all martyrs by remembering him on the day of his death.

Nevertheless, it is certainly appropriate to honor him today.

To do that, I’ll share my favorite quote from King, one that doesn’t get a lot of circulation, though you may have heard it before. It’s from “The Drum Major’s Instinct.”

“If you want to be important–wonderful. If you want to be recognized–wonderful. If you want to be great–wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s your new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it…by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great.

Because everybody can serve.

You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve, you don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace.

As soul generated by love.

And you can be that servant.”

-painting by Mathieu Laca

Trauma Church and the Pandemic Plot Proposals

I heard it again this week.

And not from a toothy televangelist or a wacky mega-church flag-hugging anti-vax preacher.

It was a mainline pastor who posited that, “perhaps, just perhaps this pandemic is God’s divine wake-up call for the church.”

Now, I don’t personally know this pastor, so I don’t know if this is a theory they’ve been running with for a while, or one that just popped into their head as they extemporaneously preached, but regardless, I gotta say that I basically shut down at that moment…and I’m betting I wasn’t the only one.

We have to, HAVE TO, get out of the trauma-causing business, folx. We just have to.

And look, I get his statement had some qualification. “Perhaps” is a qualifier that has a ton of wiggle-room. The problem, though, is that in a world of “with God all things are possible,” a lot of people lump terrible events into the “all things” portion of that commonly repeated refrain, and we’re worse off for it.

God did not cause this pandemic. And God is not using it to chasten humanity or have them “wake up.”

Now, if people do a bit of soul searching during it and have some clarifying moments, good for them. Humans are meaning-making machines. We make meaning out of good and bad situations, often with little evidence backing up our claims, because it helps us wake up the next morning.

We do this. It’s in our DNA.

But, I’ve had friends both further embrace and fully leave the faith in the past twenty two months…so if God is using this, it’s not working in many corners, which seems like a less than positive success rate for a Divine plan.

How about this: instead of positing that God is using this pandemic as a wake up call for people, why don’t we instead posit that people use this pandemic as a wake up call? Why don’t we instead state that the Divine’s promises are not negated by nature’s machinations or human stubbornness (and truly, the pandemic is in year two because a good portion of humanity, many of who claim to follow God, are choosing to be gods as they refuse to do what is best for everyone else).

Let’s encourage humanity to do the soul searching and take God out of the business of chastisement.

In this way, we take the church out of the trauma and encourage a kind of soul-searching that helps instead of harms.

The pandemic plot line cannot lead back to God, and if it does, we have to admit that God is no more than a vindictive parent or an ineffective manager who uses negative reinforcement to get attention.

And that’s not a God worth serving, Beloved.

If we believe God to be benevolent and self-sacrificing, then there are some things that aren’t possible, by God.

And one of those things is the idea that God would use death and trauma to correct humanity.

Instead, in the face of death and trauma, humanity has the opportunity to do a bit of soul searching.

That is, I trust, the truth.

Everyone Has a Holy Book

Everyone has a holy book.

I’ve seen people clutch their Bibles, but worship their checkbooks, counting and covering zero after zero. Retirement plans speak louder than God most days, right?

I’ve seen people clutch their scriptures, but bow to their partisan tract, carefully edited Twitter feed, their internet-assembled philosophic convictions shared in group emails people try to opt out of but can’t because “that’s just Uncle Bob,” and sure he’s xenophobic and racist, but he’s “from a different time” as if the past is an excuse for a prejudiced present.

I’ve watched people go straight from closing their New Testaments to complaining at the diner because the waiter has too many piercings, or balking at the short-staffed reality while in their back pocket their MAGA hat pads the seat of their unvaccinated butt, confused why more people aren’t at brunch in a pandemic.

Everyone has a holy writing that they live out. Some are emblazoned on hats.

I’ve seen people pray the prayers of the church but hold Marx as their true Messiah.

I’ve seen people walk from the Mosque, but all the while they have been calculating how much they’ll pocket next year with that big tax break.

I’ve seen people humbly exit the temple and enter the sacred Holy of Holies: the Jaguar dealer, where they haggle on saving more on a sleek purchase than most cars cost outright.

They say they trust in God’s grace, but throw an extra twenty in “just in case” because checkbooks are more tangible than forgiveness.

Everyone has a Holy Book, Holy Writings, words they hold at the center of their life and being.

And it’s often not the one they claim they follow.

Guns Don’t Kill People and Other Lies I’ve Been Told…

So, we have another shooting at a High School in Michigan.

And it’s clear we think there is “nothing we can do about it!”

Lies.

When I was pastoring a church I spoke out the Sunday following the the Pulse nightclub atrocity.

I spoke out by having us sing a hymn against murder.

I spoke out having us sing about imagining a world where guns used for killing people…and some guns are meant for hunting (which I’m cool with) and some meant for murder (which I’m not cool with) …was not a thing.

And I got emails.

All the emails.

About how “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” totally dismissing that people with guns kill people.

It was a total appeal to what philosophers refer to as “plausible deniability.” As if guns designed to kill people are benign.

They are not.

I am all for people having rights. I am all for people who have rights exercising them.

Powder muskets for all who want them!

But guns designed to kill people should not be available to everyone who wants to buy them, Beloved.

I want my babies to go to school without fear of being shot up. They’re already afraid of this viral contagion that too many people refuse to get inoculated against, do we need another factor?!

Apparently so.

What the hell kind of people are we?

Pastors Are Healthcare Workers

Pastors, in so far as they are pastors, are not medical doctors.

Pastors, in so far as they are pastors, are not nurses.

Pastors, in so far as…you get the picture, are not lab technicians, breathing specialists, or any other kind of medical aid.

But they are, I think, healthcare workers. And before you write this off (and few other claims I’ve made on social media have attracted ire like this particular one) let me explain…

Well, first, let me share a memory.

By his green scrubs I knew that he was a breathing specialist. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago, the green scrubs were reserved for the breathing specialists, the blue for the M.D.’s, the grey for the surgeons, and the purple for the Chaplains.

There was a code blue. At a code blue the right people all get a page: the attending doctor, the floor nurses, the specialists (should there be one), and the Chaplain.

They all gathered around the body, doing what they could to revive the patient and the breathing specialist turned to the Chaplain and said, “Get in here! We need you. You’re part of the team.”

Now, being part of “the team” doesn’t make you a medical professional, but it does, I think, make you a healthcare worker.

Now, let me explain a little bit more…

President Biden asked “local docs, ministers, and priests” to encourage people to wear masks in this pandemic. He did so because he knows that, in America at least, clergy still hold a particular kind of sway with their congregants.

Yes, it’s waning, but it’s there.

And, especially in a health crisis, that kind of sway brings with it an inherent responsibility to do a few things, in my view.

First: they cannot shy away from speaking openly and honestly about public health and the public good. Many faith communities have come to believe that speaking about masks and vaccines is speaking partisan politics, and that is just a flat out pile of horse shit (insert ivermectin joke here).

Pastors are called upon, by nature of their office, to speak about things that concern the public, their parishioners, and the common good, which is precisely why they were asked to encourage their people to wear masks. The common good is not partisan, Beloved. Hence why it’s called “common.”

Secondly: pastors must follow the best science available. They must. They must hold hands with science, especially in a health crisis like this one.

It is their responsibility to encourage people to do what the best scientists and medical experts are encouraging humanity to do. In a pandemic there is no time or space for fringe medical ideas. In a pandemic there is no excuse for, “Well, 1 out of 10 doctors think differently…” There’s always one crap doctor out there, one quack scientist, and yes one crappy pastor (maybe more, now that I think about it). There’ll always be that one.

But that one little guy? I don’t think you need to worry about that one little guy. Focus on the other nine.

Finally: it is precisely because pastors don’t think that they have this kind of responsibility that they remain so silent on these kinds of public health issues that have a real impact on the common good. But, think with me now, how many healing stories are there in the scriptures? How many stories involve communal health and wellness?

Hundreds, from Genesis to Revelation.

Jesus provided free health care! We’re used to talking about health from the pulpit when it comes from the scriptures, so why are we so silent when it comes from the newspaper?

The key to all of the above, though, is for pastors to stay honest about their role as a healthcare worker, and this is very important (and, I think, the confusion over this piece caused so much backlash when I presented this idea on social media):

Pastors are not trained to diagnose physical ailments and, in most cases, mental illness, either.

Pastors are not experts in medicine, and should not offer some sort of personal opinion from the pulpit and claim it has medical authority backing it up.

Pastors cannot look at a major health crisis and give their own advice on the topic, prescribing a course of action for their parishioners that differs from the best science available (this has been a disaster in this pandemic, and caused serious harm to both parishioners and the church at large).

We have an issue in this pandemic, I think, with pastors parading themselves as things they are not.

They cannot, in their pastoral role, encourage their parishioners to burn their masks as if they have the medical knowledge to make such a prescription, choose “faith over fear” and tell people to skip the vaccine, or take some sort of cocktail of horse dewormer and prayer as some sort of prophylaxis. They are not medical professionals.

And, at the same time, they cannot claim to be agnostic on the subject, saying nothing at all when it comes to the health of their parishioners and the common good. They are not without responsibility and authority.

Pastors are, for better or for worse, healthcare workers in this society. And as such, they have a responsibility to speak openly about the best scientific advice available on the topic, not overstepping their role, but not sloughing it off, either.

Pastors are healthcare workers.

We need to make sure we’re taking on that role with humility, honesty, and the gravity it deserves.

Scars and Wounds and Now

How can you tell if something is a scar or an open wound?

I mean, on the body it can be easier to make that assessment. Right now my left side is stitched up from some minor surgery last week. We took the bandage off last night for the first time. Looks normal, stitching in tact, all that jazz.

It will be a scar in a few weeks, a scar that will remind me to wear sunscreen with greater diligence. No need to flirt with skin cancer any longer; I’ve been to that dance and, it appears, have been able to exit without needing my ticket punched.

But this morning I’ve been reflecting on scars and wounds, bodily and otherwise. I’m reflecting on it because I’m in the final stages of getting my certification as a professional coach with an emphasis on walking with people through grief, through the aftermath of a death of some sort (relative, job, dream, etc), and active dying. And this lingering pandemic, festering, as it is, has made this certification all quite timely.

When it comes to emotional and spiritual trauma, I think one way you can tell if it’s a scar or a wound is by having pressure applied to it and waiting for the “ouch.”

I’ve seen, and experienced personally, wounds of loneliness call forth an “ouch” in these days.

I’ve seen, and experienced personally, wounds of partisanship call forth an “ouch” in these days.

Wounds around fatigue. Balance. Job insecurity. Fear of the unknown, both rational and irrational. Worry around safety of family members and loved ones. Relationship strains and troubles.

Lots of ouches.

The first step to turning a wound into a scar is tending to it. See, that’s the hard part, right? We’re never quite sure where a wound is sometimes, because we really haven’t looked at it closely in a while. We just assume it’s healed, or healing, or…

Have you looked in a bit? Where is the ouch for you?

Poet Nayyirah Waheed is all about tending to the wounds of life. “Rub honey on it,” she often writes in her short, but shocking, lines.

Rub honey on it.

Tending to our wounds is more than just looking at them. This past weekend I looked at an errant Nerf dart laying in our hallway a number of times, thinking at each pass, “Someone should pick that up…” until yesterday that someone became me (and it should have always been me, right?).

We look at things all the time without doing anything about them.

We look at wounds all the time without rubbing any honey on it.

It stings to do that work, by the way. Healing often hurts a bit.

But it has to happen for a scar to form.

Scars say “I’ve been there,” which, for a world of wounded people, is a wonderful gift and sign of grace. Open festering wounds, of which there are many, don’t usually allow someone to help another person with the same wound, heal.

But a scar?

Well, in this pandemic, in these days, I’m trying to look at the wounds I have, and rub some honey on them.

So, be honest, don’t let this crisis go to waste: where is the ouch?