Public Service Announcement: Poverty Isn’t Seasonal

2 (7)‘Tis the season to carry spare change, right?

At my faith community we raised over $2000 this week for the hunger advocacy center we helped to start a few years ago.  We made over 200 meals for gay/bi/trans/queer teens and served them in Boystown on Thursday.  And we packed up over 40 complete Thanksgiving meals for the food insecure in our neighborhood.

Oh, and we fed ourselves that night, too.  Five turkeys, every side-dish you might imagine, wine, cider, and a partridge in a pear tree (extra delicious).

It was awesome.

But the sad thing is that with exception for the 200 meals (we do that monthly), we only do this once a year.

I mean, we do other things in other seasons, but we only do this particular type of feasting once a year.

And, despite what we might want to think, poverty isn’t seasonal.

Do we donate at this time of year so that people can have a “nice Christmas”?  What about making sure that people have a nice life?

Seriously.

Thank God we can reach into our pockets once a year to donate a little more…how generous of the haves…

(and I’m a have)

Dave Ramsey had this terrible list out about a year ago, and it caused a little stink.  In it he lists the 20 habits of the rich (that, the not-so-subtle inference is, keeps them rich) and pits them against what he calls “the poor.”

It’s at this moment that I encourage you to look up Luke 6:20.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  You know that word “poor” the Gospel writer uses there?  It’s an economic term, not a spiritual term (though Matthew makes it a spiritual term, perhaps to soften the blow).

And how nice of Ramsey to pit the rich against the poor.  No need to draw such lines, Ramsey. Life does it well enough without your help, but thanks for contributing.

It caused such a stink, though, that Ramsey followed it up with an explanation (keep scrolling in the article to see what I’m talking about).  He defends himself by saying that what he posted “is a simple list outlining the habits of the poor versus the habits of the rich.”

The problem is that the list isn’t simple at all (and that there are serious philosophical problems with the whole thing).

It’s not simple because Ramsey imagines that the discussion is just about behavior.  But poverty is not simply about behavior.  I know out of work men and women who work harder than those of us with jobs, and for much less reward.

It’s not about behavior; it’s about systems.

And if there’s one big mistake that I think Ramsey makes it’s that he mistakes privilege for what he presents as “common sense.”

How lovely that you are wealthy enough to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.  How nice that you have the ability to focus on “one goal” in your day.  It probably means that you have access to a supermarket and only one job.

And you read for pleasure?! Bully!

I’m relatively wealthy; no denying that.  I have a bank account, savings, and we have a college plan set up for our children.  I have investments and disposable income.  We have a car, and when it needs fixing we can usually fix it right away. I never wonder how I’m going to eat, and I am (for the most part) not worried about how I’m going to keep the roof over our heads. Our son goes to daycare twice a week, and we fully pay for it. I read for pleasure and for work and spend more a week on coffee than any reasonable human being should (I’m working on it…).

I say all of the above not to make anyone feel bad, but to give myself…and you, reader…a gently disturbing thought: one of the fears that I have is that our participation in the systems of poverty is given a nice little exclamation point by our sense of generosity at “this time of year.”

I’m looking forward to giving a little more this Christmas.  More to my neighbor and more to God.

And then I’m hopeful that in doing so I might one day learn to give more on December 26th, too.  And May 9th.  And July 12th.  And…

Because poverty isn’t seasonal, and I want to remember that a Merry Christmas isn’t the same as a merry life.

How To Observe Armistice Day

Jesus wept-John 11:35

For such a short verse, John 11:35 gets a lot of airtime.  And rightly so.ww12

I guess we all need permission to cry.  And if we can get that permission from God, a God who cries with us, then all the better, right?

I’m not sure why we need permission to cry, though.  I think it might have to do with the fact that most of us generally don’t like that emotion, that feeling, that uncontrollable sobbing that happens when we cry.

For me it’s kind of like throwing up.  I hate throwing up because I hate not being in control of my body.

When we cry we lose control.  And, as Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids noted, some of us are ugly criers.  So there’s that…

On Armistice Day, Veterans Day, my thoughts turn to my grandfathers Red and Sodie.

My Grandpa Red, with his Cardinal red hair, never cried.  At least I never saw it…though I don’t suppose I would have.

He served in World War II, the second time we had cut the world in two, invaded little islands to set up bases displacing people who had nothing to do with our own little fights.  And then we sent babies off to fight in suits and ties.

Today I see more military pictures of women and men in fatigues, but the pictures from my grandfather’s era usually had them in dress uniform.  Suits and ties fighting for the men in big offices with suits and ties who had caused the problems in the first place.

No wonder my generation is experiencing a delayed adolescence.  Nothing makes you grow up at the young age of 18 like being told that today could be the “the day.”  The day it all ends.  The day you end it for someone else.  The day you’re drafted.  The day…

It reminds me of the beginning of the Gospel of Luke where the writer says, “In those days there came a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be taxed…”

Those days.  That day.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus came for.

The only time my grandfather mentioned the great war was when he wanted to tell me vividly that war is hell.  He talked about coming home from battle finally after being a gunner on B-25’s over occupied China (and being shot down), going to the house of his best friend in the war who had died in action, and being rejected by his friend’s mother as she opened the door.

No, not rejected, slapped in the face.  “It should have been you,” she said.

My childhood fascination with the war faded there.  The military channel, fighter planes, hero stories…they all paled in comparison to this story, a story about a grief obscured.

My other grandfather, Sodie, fought in the European theater.  He was shot in the stomach.  He received the purple heart.

He died when I was three, before I knew him.

One day when I was 13 I was nosing around some boxes in the basement, and I found a cassette tape.  I popped it in and found a recording of him, my grandfather, on his death bed saying goodbye.  I don’t know that I’ve told anyone this before…

He was saying goodbye and talked about some regrets.  Regrets of failed relationships and things he had wished had gone better.

And there was a little line in there about the war, about fighting.  And not regretting being in the war or going to war for his country, but something about regretting that we fight at all like that.

The sound was garbled…another grief obscured.

Growing up we used to sing Onward Christian Soldiers as a hymn.  We were “going off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

The irony there, of course, is that the cross was meant to end all war, all record keeping in that way.  It was meant to be the end of such violence and hatred and fear.  It was to show that killing can’t stop God, can’t stop life, so why bother?

But now the cross is a grief obscured.

Obscured by our desires for control and domination.  Obscured by our wanting to seem powerful in a world where we feel quite powerless.

I can’t sing that hymn anymore, though it’s nostalgic for me in some ways.  I think nostalgia can sometimes obscure our grief, too.  The church seems to be particularly good at doing this: obscuring the grief of the world through glossing over hard realities.  “Good Friday” can’t be too sad or else people won’t come to services.  Ash Wednesday can be done on the fly, at the bus stop or corner, because people are too busy to observe their mortality for any length of time other than a quick swipe.  Funerals can’t be too mournful because the person is in heaven now and we should be happy they’re in a better place…

Let’s pretend Jesus is a captain and we are Jesus’ soldiers and we’re fighting the world…when the real story, the actual story, is that Jesus was a servant who died for a world all too in love with violence and fighting.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by singing a hymn about might.  I don’t want to obscure the grief anymore than it already is.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by pretending that I think war is ok.  I don’t.  I just don’t.  I respect our soldiers, I pray for them, but I weep that those making the decisions to go to war are not those signing on the dotted line to fight them.

Integrity seems a bit lost there.

As a Christian, I observe Armistice Day by giving thanks for those who have given their life so that I can write like this.  I give thanks for my grandfathers who, though their grief was obscured, lived full lives after the hells of war.

Today I observe Armistice Day by praying that we’ll learn war no more.  Today I observe Armistice Day praying that we’ll have no more grief obscured, that we’ll take care of those scarred by war and help them sort out their grief.

I don’t begrudge people for waving a flag or putting one out.  I understand sacred symbols; I see why they do that. There is a part of me that loves Americana.  But I don’t do that on Armistice Day.

Today I give up a little control as a Christian.  Perhaps I even weep a bit like Jesus.  Weep with my grandfathers who couldn’t, or didn’t, or didn’t feel like they could, for whatever reason.  Today I let myself observe my grief over the whole idea of war; I don’t obscure it.

In doing so, I hope that I not only honor our veterans, but stand with them a bit.

 

 

 

Death on Vacation

I’m on vacation.  The beach.

I woke up on vacation to the sound of the surf and seagulls and the smell of salt water.  vacation-planning

I woke up on vacation to the sound of laughter being silenced as a brilliant comedic force lost a battle to depression.

These two things don’t mix easily.

I woke up on vacation to the sight of children running and playing in the surf.  Children of all ethnicities chasing crabs and picking up shells.

I woke up on vacation to the news of an unarmed black man being shot in cold blood. To rioting, angry voices justified in their anger, but not in the violence that followed. Death begets death.

…and yet in some ways I understand it…

These two things don’t mix easily.

What’s funny, of course, is that most of us are on “vacation” from this sort of death.  From pretending depression isn’t an illness but just a phase.  From pretending that racial inequality isn’t real because, well, if it is real then we might have to change the way we behave…

And, let’s be honest: we don’t really want to do that. (We have a black president, for Christ’s sake!  Doesn’t that mean racial inequality is a thing of the past?!)

Most of this country is on vacation most of the time.

And that vacation mindset can find a shock of reality in the church community, if we’ll allow it.

Most, though…I think most go to church to have their views reinforced, not challenged.

The pastor has become the conscience massager instead of the conscientious objector to the vacation tendencies that power and privilege provide.

People leave churches because their pastor mentions these things.  All congregations.  My congregation, too.  And in a time of church-attendance limbo we may feel like we can’t say anything because, well, what if people take a vacation from the congregation because of what is said?

So we massage it.

But there is another reality that can’t be massaged into something different, that can’t be escaped: a black man lay dead in the street.  A comedian became the victim of joylessness.

And we have to admit that God has something to say about that, something to say about a culture that considers you “OK” as long as you’re laughing; a culture that considers you “OK” as long as your skin color doesn’t automatically make you suspect.

Blood has only one color, though.

And for as much as we lift the blood of Christ up at the Communion table and say “for you,” you’d think we’d see the connection there.

So what to do?  Raise our voice in indignation?  Console one another? Tell the truth about depression?  Speak to racial inequality and violence and unchecked power?

Yes.  Of course, yes.

But also: let’s stop being on vacation.

Stop pretending these things aren’t reality.

The church can be a place where we help people live with the tensions of life, not trying to alleviate them, but helping us all live well with them.

Jesus helps us live here and now, in reality.  Jesus doesn’t let us take a vacation from reality.  “If you see me, you see God,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John.  If you see Jesus you see ultimate reality.

Do you see Jesus in the person battling depression?  In the black man dead in the street?

Or are we just all on vacation?

Wit and the Battle of Demons

He was beautiful and tragic.Drinking-the-beer-and-smoking-a-cigarette

At least that’s how I took him to be at the time.  And I’m not romanticizing here…at least I don’t think I am.  And I’m not talking about “beautiful” as in “attractive.”  I’m talking about beautiful in that deeper way you talk about beauty, if you get what I mean.

Maybe I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it’s the only way I can describe it.

We were in Denver at The Great Divide, a nice little brewery that spits out tasty pints.  We were waiting to take a tour, but it turned out that there weren’t enough people for a tour that day.  We had to just settle for the wares of the place, and I stood at the edge of the crowded bar for a long time before the tender, also enjoying a tasty pint, noticed me.

Drink in hand, the five of us sat down.  If you looked around the table you’d see the width and breadth of what a college education spits out: a teacher, an artist, a doctor, a financial advisor, and a pastor.  The lawyer couldn’t make it this year, though he often rounds out the crew.

College friends.  College roommates.  Most of us fraternity brothers (the doctor and the lawyer opted out of the fraternity experience in deference for books…a questionable choice).  We all raised a pint and celebrated our yearly vacation together, something we ceremoniously call “Mancation.”

We’d been in Denver for a few hours, had already visited a brewery, and were on our second hop.

I noticed him standing just behind the guard rail of the sidewalk patio.  Black shirt. Deep blue jeans. Black rimmed glasses. Beer in hand, cigarette emerging from his pocket.  He was listening in as we chatted.  I knew he was going to chime in.

“Nice glasses,” he said to me.  I was wearing my Aviators.  They are nice glasses.  Prescription sunglasses, which means I wear them inside, after dark, because I always forget to bring my other ones.  The Financial Advisor in our group (I usually refer to him as a “banker,” which he hates) never fails to shame me when I wear them inside.

But they are nice glasses.  The guy obviously has taste, so I affirmed the truth of his statement, which gave him a conversation “in.”

Turns out he was a visitor to Denver, too.  Staying in town for just a few more days.  We chatted about the area, the dream that is Denver living, local brews. We found out his name was Wit, short for Dewitt.  He’s from North Carolina.  As a fellow Carolinian, I naturally respected him implicitly.

“What brings you here?” I ask. He takes a long drag off of his cigarette. “Treatment,” he says.

And I realized at that point that, every once in a while Wit would scratch himself just below his belt line. Every time he did that you’d catch a glimpse of his stomach, and these nice little cut marks all along his pelvis. And when he said “treatment,” I looked over at his left arm. Nice little cut marks all the way up it.

He looked at me and said, “Tell me Tim, do you think I’m too skinny?”

I sat for a moment. What to say? It all became clear: the bony elbows, the ribs showing through his baggy shirt if he shifted just right, his collarbone showing clearly through pale skin.

“Do you think you are?” I asked. He smiled, his pierced lip breaking a little at the edge.

The Doctor gave me a knowing look.  He’s seen this about as much as I have.  His diagnosis is technically the same as mine, but I use a different word for it.

Wit’s plagued by a demon.

Maybe a demon of his past; maybe it’s more recent.  Whatever it is, it torments him.  It tells him lies.  It tells him things like, “Every bone should show…I can’t see that collar bone enough.”

It tells him things like, “If you cut just a little bit, the pain will go away.  You’ll see the red, you’ll feel the release.  It’s something you can do.”

He never answered my question.  He’s sitting down now, scratching the cuts on his pelvis every once in a while.  Bright red.  Not old cuts.

No one really knows what to say.  It’s kind of like when someone who has attempted suicide shows you their wrists.  You lose your words, and rightfully so.  There’s no words for those types of demons.  They eat all our words.  They digest them and spit them back out to us as shallow platitudes, no matter how much sincerity is behind them.

But I know that Wit already feels different.  He wants to be in the conversation, not out of it, even though he’s exposed himself.  It’s the reason why it took him five beers to get up the courage to join us.

“Treatment, huh?” I say, “Decided it wasn’t for you?”

“Let’s just say we had disagreements regarding method,” he said in-between a drag.  Cool. Smooth.  He’s used that line before.

“Well, if you’re wondering about skinny, that beer’s empty calories are giving you some answers.”  He laughed.  I figured he could laugh at that.  It wasn’t sensitive to him in that kind of way.  “I’ll allow these calories,” he said.

“Yeah, I know those other calories they try to give you.  Ensure and Carnation and all those chalky drinks.”

“Can’t stand the stuff.  Doesn’t taste good, anyway,” he smiled again.  Another crack. His lips were chapped in the middle of summer, the beer and the lack of calories sucking out the water from his skin.

We chatted a little while longer and after a bit my friends and I decided to head to a different brewery. We all bid Wit farewell, and I got up last to leave. And I looked at him before going, and somehow the pastor in me, the Christian in me, the human in me couldn’t just leave. And I put my hand on his shoulder and I said, “I don’t want you to give up on treatment, OK?”

He took out a cigarette, put it in his mouth, lit it and said, “Tim, do you think I’m too skinny?”

I said, “Wit, I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t want you to worry about that question anymore. Don’t give up on treatment.”

And this guy, who was probably in his early twenties, who I’d never met before, grabbed my hand and pulled me down into one of the tightest hugs I’ve ever had in my life. His cigarette fell to ground, and he just squeezed me. And he started crying.

Jesus says in Matthew, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.”

Wit was yoked badly. It was sucking his life away. He thinks he needs a lighter body, but he needs a lighter yoke. He needs a yoke that doesn’t cut into him, like those red lines on his arms reveal the one he carries does.

He’s trying to force a balance on his life, a balance of weight loss to counter-balance his pain, but he’s breaking himself in the process. He’s being devoured by this demon.

I’m not sure religion is the answer for Wit, but I’m pretty sure love is.  Love of self.  Love for self.  The love of Divine love that loves you even when you’re ill and possessed by the demons of this world…and somehow that helps you become well.

Usually I tell people that possession doesn’t really fit into my worldview.  And yet, I’m not sure how else to describe what Wit is going through.  He’s possessed not by some other-worldy entity, some literal demon, but by this worldly entity that continues to spit out lies to him.  A different tap spits out a different lie each time he draws from it.  His cup runs over in a bad way.

I was on vacation, and all I could think is, “Holy shit.  This guy needs a pastor and a doctor.”

And there we were…but we were helpless in that moment.  Or at least it felt that way.

I still keep Wit in my prayers, though we last met about a month ago.  I wonder if he’s back in treatment; I pray he is.

I wonder if he’s sitting somewhere today asking someone, “Tell me, do you think I’m too skinny?”

I wonder what they say.

I wonder if anything that can be said is enough to battle these demons.  I’ve seen both sides win in this.

For some reason I wanted to write this out today.  Maybe it’s because I’m going on a longer vacation tomorrow.  Maybe it’s because it’s a summer day in August and it’d be a good day for a beer.  Perhaps I’m still processing the encounter with this demon.

Perhaps someone needs to hear this today.

Perhaps.

 

“Excavating Fear” or “If You Want Children to be Safer, Don’t Buy Bulletproof Blankets”

I wasn’t going to post about the recenscreen shot 2014-06-10 at 7.30.47 amt school shootings that we’ve endured as a nation these past few weeks, but here I am.

I wasn’t going to post about them because I just don’t think I can anymore.

When I look down at my son, when I drop him off at school, I don’t think of him as in danger, or as a target.

But I guess we’re starting to these days, right?  I mean we’re talking about more armed guards in schools, we’re talking about lock-down procedures and evacuation routes not just for fire, but also for “live-fire” scenarios.

And I guess now we’re talking about bulletproof blankets to cover my baby should someone come shooting up his school.

In Isaiah 11:6-9 we find a vision for a new Earth, and it doesn’t look like like my son huddled under a bulletproof blanket.

And it doesn’t look like my son cowering behind an armed guard with a gun, a teacher with a gun, or even he himself holding a gun.

In that day, “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child shall lead them.”  In verse 8 it gets even better, “the infant will play near the cobra’s den, and a young child will put it’s hand in the viper’s nest.”

The problem with that day is that we don’t think it’s today.  The problem with that day is that we think the prophet is talking about animals.  And, I guess, in a way he is because he’s talking about the created order, the whole created order, being turned on it’s head.

But primarily, though, the prophet is talking about people.  Humans.  You and me.

And the prophet is talking about creation not living in fear, even in natural fear.  It would be natural for the goat to fear the leopard, the child the viper.  But in the world that has “knowledge of God,” even that kind of fear isn’t needed.

Because God is doing a new thing.

See, here’s the problem I have with armed guards, with armed teachers, with armed citizens, and with something as ridiculous as bulletproof blankets: it buys into the fear.

If the day of the Lord is to eradicate fear, then why do we belabor under the wrong assumption that we must continue to purchase it?  This youth at Reynolds High School was obviously hurting and sick.  I do not believe he was a monster.  You don’t have to be a monster to do monstrous things.

But his parents were law-abiding citizens with a closet full of guns.  Why?  Recreation?  Collection? Sport?

It doesn’t really matter now, because in the end they were saved for a mass shooting.

And the remedy to that, I think and believe, is not to buy more guns, is not to buy more kevlar, is not to arm more people.

The remedy for that is, I think and believe, to take the prophet seriously and believe that today is the day when the world is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.  And I don’t take that to mean that everyone is Christian.  I don’t take that to mean that everyone thinks the same things.

The “knowledge of the Lord” is not the ability to recognize God, it is the ability to trust as God trusts.

And how does God trust?  In the Jesus story, God trusts the power of life and resurrection enough not to repay hurt with hurt, but to bathe in love and forgiveness.  I mean, what would it look like if we raised our children not with a closet full of semi-automatic guns and hand guns, even if we teach them to respect guns, but rather with a closet full of the belief that semi-automatic guns aren’t necessary in this world.

They aren’t necessary to have a good time, they aren’t necessary to obliterate targets, they aren’t necessary for common citizens.

They just aren’t necessary.

We need to excavate fear, dig it up like Indiana Jones, and reveal it for what it is: an idol we’re being forced to worship these days.

It’s obvious these people need mental help.  But they also don’t need easy access to weapons.  And I don’t think that’s an either/or situation.  It’s a both/and.

But I really expect the carillon cry on this issue to come from the church, to come from Christians.  I really expect it to come from people who look at Jesus and see someone who didn’t repay evil with evil. I really expect it to come from people who hear stories every damn week about the Jesus who healed the sick, even the mentally sick.  We need to provide that care.  And I really expect it from people who every year hear the story of how Jesus told Peter to put his sword away. “The one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword…”

I really expect it to come from those who would wonder what it means to hold a weapon with no other purpose in the world than for the killing of another human being, a being created out of love by the God who creates all things for joy and good. Licensed police officers, military officers, they all consider that question…at least, I hope they do if they take their work seriously.  We, as a society, have called them to that office, and it’s not one to be taken lightly.

Certainly not one to be taken “recreationally.”  We have licensed law enforcement, and give them licenses, for a reason.  Part of that reason is, I think, because they take it seriously enough to honor the responsibility.  I don’t think the average citizen does, and we’ve shown that by having these “open carry” situations throughout the country now…that, in and of itself, is a sign of mental health issues, I think.

And look, with all this talk, I’m not even talking primarily about gun control.  Gun control has not worked well in Chicago.  I’m all for it, but do I think it will save my baby?  No.  This is a complex issue.  But the church doesn’t just need to condemn the shooting, they need to condemn the situations that led up to the shooting: mental health, easy access to semi-automatic weapons…

And we need to condemn the fact that too many of the “faithful” in this world don’t trust that the Earth can be full of the knowledge of the Lord if they would just live into it.

I’m talking about changing the hearts and minds of this world to realize that the day of the Lord is today.

And tomorrow.

And it was yesterday…we just didn’t trust it enough to live into it.

The Church of the Perpetual Misogyny

This shooting in California has my heart breaking.index

Still.

The fall out has sparked some intense conversation, and it’s just heartbreaking to see some of the comments coming from the dusty corners of society where misogyny still lives and breathes.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think misogyny lives everywhere in our society.  But it has a hard time breathing in some places…and I thank God for that.

Unfortunately, one place it doesn’t have a hard time breathing is in the church.

People are pointing to misogynist video games, misogynist movies, and all other cultural points as contributing to this young man’s delusion that just because he has a sexual desire for women they should appease it willingly (or, even, unwillingly).

But, for my part, I’m going to let Hollywood alone.  I’m going to let video games alone, too.  They have their blame.  But, see: I’ve come to expect that from them.  Hollywood and the video game industry and marketing and the like have all used sex for gain, to force submission, to put sex on a pedestal.

But me?  I’m going to point to the church.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to ordain women, despite the fact that, while Paul (inconsistently) makes misogynist comments, Jesus (consistently) treated women as part of his inner circle and, indeed, entrusted them first with the news of the resurrection, the “gospel,” the “good news.”

Explain that rationale for me, please?  The men were all too chicken in their hiding places, and when the women told them about the resurrection, they didn’t trust their testimony (after all, in a court of law, women couldn’t be trusted, so why would God entrust this good news to them?).  And we look at this and wink and laugh as if it’s some sort of Laurel and Hardy episode, where the one who was supposed to “get it” doesn’t.

But I don’t think that’s it at all.  I think the women were supposed to get it.  Intentionally. Purposefully.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to let women vote, as if somehow their opinions are less important than the opinions of human beings with a Y chromosome.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to acknowledge the presence of feminine examples for God in the scripture, yet who claim to take the Bible literally.  If God is male, then God is also a hen (at least, according to Isaiah). And, for that matter, a rock.

What?  Those are metaphors?  Personifications? Which one(s)? All?  Or only the ones without male anatomy?

I’m going to point to churches who allow women preachers, but who won’t allow women preachers to lead churches by themselves.  Or who allow women preachers, but won’t allow them to preach primarily to men.  Or who allow them to preach, but as long as they tell their fellow sisters to “submit” to their male partners.

By the way, don’t ask me to preach at your wedding on any “submission” text.  Not going to happen…

But just before you mainline Protestants think you’re off the hook; no way.  I’m pointing at you, too (and, therefore, to myself).  We think that just because we ordain women that we’re free of blame?  Because I know more female pastors across all the mainline Protestant denominations without churches then I do male pastors without churches.  I know of situations where churches have rejected every female candidate received in the hopes that they would receive a male candidate eventually.  I know of churches who still feel as if their pastor is inferior or that they “weren’t good enough” for a male pastor, just because their pastor is a female.

The church should be the place where misogyny comes to die, not where it comes to life.

And, this is the thing: while I don’t hold Hollywood or the video game industry or politics or any of that fluff to a very high standard when it comes to gender stereotypes and discrimination, I do hold the church to a high standard.

I wish all the former could be held to a higher standard.  I expect the latter to be.   It’s sad, but not surprising.

And while this individual who shot up these innocent people may not have been religious (I haven’t heard either way), it doesn’t really matter.  If religion isn’t able to critique culture, to model for the wider culture a way of living that embraces the life of Jesus rather than the hate of any “ism,” we’re useless.  We can say that it’s sad that this man was violent, but on Sunday mornings many churches preach a violent, male god.  We can say that this man shouldn’t have thought of women that way, but until we acknowledge that we at least had a hand in that education, we’re speaking out of both sides of our mouths.

If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves; the truth is not in us.

It may be interesting to think about how Mario always saving the Princess has contributed to this misogyny that resulted in such violence.  But that narrative is just part of a much larger narrative of men saving the day, tracing it’s way back through the centuries.

The church has the ability, the call, to break off from that narrative and live a different one.

If only it had a good example to follow…

Why You Get Mad When Your Pastor Mentions Politics, and Why She Has To…

Let’s start with some political statements:church_state

“Jesus is Lord.”

Yes; that is a political statement.  You might think it’s pretty innocuous.  Perhaps you even think it’s a bit annoying (sometimes I find how this seems to be a catch-all answer for some annoying).  But, actually, for the ancient people in Palestine, this statement was scandalous.  Because they only had one Lord: Caesar.  And if you went around saying Jesus stands in the place of Caesar for you and your family…well…keep your politics to yourself.

“Prince of Peace.”

Yes; a political statement.  Want to hanker a guess as to who was the Prince of Peace in ancient Palestine?  If you chose Bill Murray, you were off by a few thousand years.  No, it was Caesar.  He was hailed as the one who kept the empire out of war.  He was the harbinger of peaceful times.

That is, unless, you were some of the occupied people under him.  The Roman Empire kept peace through military might and subjugation; through intimidation and economic sanctions.  Is that really “peace”?  The absence of war does not mean the presence of peace…

In fact, the opening chapters of the first three Gospels are chock full of political language.  But no need to just stick to the New Testament.  The prophets were certainly not quiet about politics, both domestic and foreign.  The whole book of Exodus was leaving one political reality for another, tackling immigration head-on.  The whole book of Leviticus was about how the people would organize themselves in the new land.

See, we have people who get pretty angry when they hear “politics” preached from the pulpit.  In fact, a colleague of mine recently noted that pastors should preach the Gospel and then shut up.

But, well, nothing happens in a vacuum.

(…I love that pun)

We aren’t people who are floating free in our own little religious world.  We must talk about politics from the pulpit.  The ancient texts compel it; the modern times call to us from the news programs and paper rags.  We are being pulled into it by the past and the present, and the preacher must put these two things together to comment on how God might be leading us into the future…

We should talk about how farm bills do or do not help feed the world.  We should talk about how, in Chicago, we are bankrupt and giving huge corporations billions in tax breaks while, just this last year, my housing tax went up, but my house value went down.  And if that’s the case for me, who lives in a pretty good neighborhood, what does that mean for my sisters and brothers who don’t?

Explain that to me, please.

We should talk about what it means to be able to carry on your person a weapon that is made only to kill other people.  What might God have to say about that?  What might the Christian world have to say about that?  Especially in Chicago where we don’t ranch cattle, but live in a concrete jungle.

See…your pastor has to talk about politics because you are enmeshed in political systems that have a spiritual dimension.  But we’ve been trained by the world to have a negative reaction to such talk because we see politics as divisive rather than unifying.

But, if there’s one thing that does unify the world, it’s that we are all under a political system of some sort.  And we should talk about it.  Your pastor should talk about it.

What she shouldn’t do, and here’s the rub, what she shouldn’t do is be partisan.

Sure, she has her own opinions.  And you might know them, too.  But her opinions aren’t the Gospel.  And you preachers…that’s important to remember.  God is not a Republican, nor is God a Democrat.  God is not in the Labour Party nor is God a Tory.

That being said, to pretend like the texts don’t say something about political issues is naive.  You follow the Prince of Peace, and yet you don’t think that God might have an opinion on war?  You say “Jesus is Lord” and yet your church is making most of it’s decisions based off of economics, putting money in the place of power?

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Democratic Party.  That’s a church that would have a hard time saying “Jesus is Lord” and meaning it.  That’s a puppet platform.

Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Republican Party, either.  Or any part, for that matter.

So many do, though.

And I’ve been accused in my time of preaching politics…it’s a careful line the preacher has to walk, and hopefully it’s done with fear and trepidation.  Politics so easily turn partisan.

But let us not pretend that God might not have a word or two for the systems that surround us, for the systems we’re embedded in, for the systems we inhabit.

We can be careful how we speak, but we cannot not say anything.