So…This is Happening…

One of my favorite movies is An American President, not because of the cheesy romance, but because of the sharp, rapid-fire dialog that is a hallmark of any Aaron Sorkin project. Late in the film, as Michael Douglas’s President is giving the press conference that marks the climax of the film, he makes the following comment about his conservative opponents: “They’re only interested in two things: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.” Or something like that.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the same is true of the religious right. In general, the religious right is what one would refer to as a bounded set. There’s an “in” group and an “out” group. Furthermore, the pastoral leadership is personally invested in making sure the community hangs on their every word and buys what they’re selling from the pulpit because their livelihood depends on it. Of late, the conservatives have been losing the cultural battle against the gays. Turns out, they’re just like straight people, for the most part, and not scary at all. Would you believe they’re not even recruiting children? As greater percentages of professing Christians fail to see what the big deal is about gay people wanting to get married, the conservatives have had to find a new Boogey Man to blame for what’s wrong with the world.

Enter: progressive Christianity. In the picturesque hamlet of Fountain Hills, AZ, a group of conservative churches have united against the scourge of Progressive Christianity to preach six sermons with the same theme, all to answer the following question:Credit: @lindawfox10

It’s even made the local news. Yes, these banners have been seen around town as advertisement for this expression of church “unity” against an EVIL WE NEVER SAW COMING!!!! I bet that you figured out that the quotes around “progressive” give you the answer to that puzzling “fact or fiction” question. By the way – is it a question? There’s no question mark. So clearly, they’re not asking. The answer is fiction, obviously.

A Global Apology

The apology is (usually) a powerful thing. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears, but when it is sincere and contrite and is met with grace, it can change the world.

I have been in conversations both past and recent about what the church has done to people in the name of the gospel and it just makes me so angry. It’s abuse. Grand scale church leadership abuse has been in the news lately but the smaller, subtler, more nuanced cases are what’s on my mind today.

A few years ago I hosted a group of folks from the LGBTQ community and World Vision in my home to talk about a partnership with the WV AIDS Village experience. I’m not sure that much came of that, but what did come of that was much more beautiful and fruitful than I could’ve imagined. As we were having our conversations, some of the people in the room began to talk about the pain and rejection they’d experienced at the hands of the church and as they told their stories, I looked them in the eyes and apologized. I apologized for their pain, the feeling that they were less than the rest of us, and the message that God couldn’t love them. They were shocked. They didn’t know what to do. They wept. It’s not that I was doing anything remarkable, just doing something that should have been done a long time ago, and probably should still be happening on a regular basis.

Recently I’ve dealt with people, specifically women, who are dealing with more subtle, insidious types of abuse meted out by the church. The tough part about this is that these women are the victims of a cultural view of Christianity perpetrated by people who think they are honestly doing the right thing. As progressive as some of my friends are, they’re realizing some of the misogynistic crap that has seeped into their own psyches. Some friends are just now realizing the bill of goods they’ve been sold and are running in the opposite direction.

I’ve been processing what I’ve heard and experiencing genuine sorrow on behalf of my friends who are so hurt and damaged by what they’ve been told by the church about who they are and about about who God is, and I feel my best response can come in the form of an apology. If moderate Muslims are constantly called upon to denounce the behavior of the craziest members of their group, then I can do the same.

I’m sorry that through the use of masculine language for God we told you that you were not quite made in God’s image. Language is the key to culture, and our language says that God is all things male, so since you’re not, you must be missing something. You must be less than. You must be destined to be a second class citizen in church. You must cover your head, be silent, play piano, teach only children and clean up after pot luck meals. Using masculine language for God limits God. It puts God into our more manageable, patriarchal cultural box but it’s not who God is. God transcends gender and we all contain the stamp of God’s image in us. All of us.

I’m sorry that you were told that your body exists to serve your husband. I’m sorry you were told (either explicitly or implicitly) that you really weren’t a full member of the community unless you had a husband. I’m sorry that you were told that faith was something to be endured rather than relished. I’m sorry you weren’t told that God has such crazy, irrational love for you that God can’t contain it and it spills over in the form of beauty, and friends, and great food, and art. I’m sorry that you heard that you had to work more than you could celebrate. I’m sorry you were told that the kingdom of God is something to be achieved after you die and has nothing to do with the world now. I’m sorry you weren’t told of the gospel as a loving, courageous person who restores the outcast to full spiritual participation. I’m sorry that God’s desire to change the world through the church was sold to you as a burden, an obligation, and only for the select few who were in the right crowd.

I’m sorry. I want better for you, for the church and for the world. I will support you. I will listen to you, pray for you, sit with you and walk with you as you become who you truly are. You are beautiful, you are loved and you are valued. You matter. And I love you.

We Are Unicorns

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been having some conversations with friends about where we fit into culture. We’ve started to call ourselves Unicorns, because we are beautiful, powerful and very rare 😉

We are single, employed, in our 30s/40s/50s and beyond, independent, well-traveled, intelligent, and, to the consternation of many, quite happy.

You see, this is the first time in history we have existed. We don’t need to get married for economic security or social standing. This isn’t to say we’re opposed to marriage at all. Rather, we think of it as something that would be great with the right person, but we’re not desperate to find that person. And God forbid we say we don’t want children. I recently read an article about a woman who had decided not to have children and it took 6 years to find a doctor to perform a sterilization operation because they were all sure she’d change her mind. No one ever says that to someone who wants children. We’re SUPPOSED to want to have children and if we don’t now, we will eventually. At this point, I’m too old and even if I weren’t it would require some significant medical gymnastics that I’m not interested in pursuing. I’m not opposed to parenting, but I have no interest in having children and pretty much no one believes me when I say that.

Our culture doesn’t quite know what to with us. Right now, our culture is content to make us pay more for our taxes, travel and dry cleaning. And please don’t get me started on paying for other people’s life events. We pay significant amounts of money for other peoples engagements/weddings/showers/babies, and we don’t get jack. Birthdays don’t count because everyone has a birthday. I swear the next time I get a promotion I’m throwing myself a shower and you people are buying me some damned gifts, because my life choices haven’t cost you a dime. My other thought is to start a kickstarter campaign to pay for my vacations. I would only do it if I could see the look on the faces of the people who get the invitation. That would be awesome.

Our churches DEFINITELY don’t know what to do with us. Churches like to put people in boxes so they can tailor their programs. There’s Singles, but really they mean pre-married or divorced. There’s children, youth, married adults, senior adults. That’s pretty much it. Except for doing age-appropriate things with children, I’m opposed to this kind of segmenting of our communities, anyway. People are people. My brother’s church is doing a whole sermon series on parenting. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m sure there’s some applicable things to most people, but that’s not appealing to someone who isn’t and may never be a parent.

We are a trail-blazing minority. And trail-blazing is a lonely business. We don’t have a built in social system of the other moms at school, wives of our other couple friends. Our closest friends are friends from long ago, and making new friends is not as easy as it once was.

I’m not asking for a whole revamping of how we do things, but I am asking for sensitivity and inclusion. When I’ve spoken to married friends about this they’re shocked at some of my struggles. None of my friends are mean or heartless, just a bit clueless because they live in a different reality. Pay attention to the unicorns in your life. We are rare and beautiful, but don’t forget powerful…

Minimum Wage, Income Inequality and Modern Contempt for the Poor

Yesterday the Fortune 500 list for 2014 was released. Not surprisingly, Walmart topped the list as the company with the most revenue. Also not a shock, when the list is rearranged to reflect the best places to work, Walmart doesn’t even crack the top 100. They refuse to pay their employees a living wage or benefits. Local stores have held food drives for their own employees.

Most of the companies who refuse to pay a living wage claim that the reason they aren’t able to do so is that it would kill jobs and that it’s already too expensive to do business in the US because of all the taxes. However, most of these companies don’t pay any income tax and have billions (BILLIONS) of dollars in off-shore accounts because of tax loopholes. But they’re the job creators. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to call them. They get to hold our economy at ransom while their year-on-year profits increase exponentially. Many of their employees are on some sort of assistance because of their low wages, so these companies might actually see fewer taxes if they paid higher wages because their employees could afford basic needs.

The truth is that corporations don’t create jobs. Consumers create jobs. These companies are keeping their employees poor and preventing them from being consumers and therefore not jobs are created.

In addition to refusing to pay a living wage to their workers, these corporations add insult to injury by assisting in creating a negative image of the people who are working in these low-wage jobs. In addition, the right has created a handy little rhyme to describe the people who ask, “Do you want fries with that” and those who literally live under the Golden Arches: Takers and Makers. Cute, right? The people in low-wage jobs who are also in need of government assistance are the Takers, suckling the teat of big government, living the good life on our dime. We’re working hard at making a living while these parasites sit back, relax and chow down on government cheese. Meanwhile the poor Makers just want to create jobs. That’s all they want to do. But those darned Takers. They won’t stop taking!

This is just recycled Reaganomics. Trickle down does now work. You know why? Makers are greedy. They make 266 times their average worker. Sounds less like trickling and more like hoarding. Money is too strong a pull. Greed is at the heart of this economic inequality. In addition to overall inequality, we have the issue of women making less than men by about 20-30%, depending on where you are. This is a problem of inherent sexism in our systems and structures because the system assumes the presence of a male breadwinner, and for whatever reason, that’s only the case in a little less than half of households. Not only is this an economic issue in the present, it’s an economic issue in the future, as Social Security income is based on your pay during your working years. We’re dooming generations of women to poverty in their later years.

Conservative and Progressive politicians alike perpetuate this issue because wherever the money comes from, they’re all paid well to make sure that someone with a lot of money gets their way. Right now, John Roberts and the Supremes are in somebody’s pocket because they recently overturned the cap on campaign donations that only affected 68 donors. SIXTY-EIGHT. Money is speech and those 68 folks are drowning out the average citizens, making our elections essentially bough and paid for by the richest among us. And NONE of the politicians would ever DREAM of ending corporate welfare subsidies. That’s the biggest injustice here. See the picture below. It will piss you off.

My biggest concern is how this perspective has permeated the church. I see fellow Christians posting about the laziness of poor people on social media sites. They might donate to an international cause, or sponsor a child in Africa, but they blame the poor in our country for their station. Wealthy people want to help the poor in theory, but they don’t actually want to get any poor people on them. They’ll write a check, but they don’t actually want to know any of them. Disdain for the poor was one of the primary reasons God sent God’s own people into captivity. Look it up. We’re stepping into dangerous territory when we choose to look at the poor, for whom God had great compassion, with contempt.

Photo from Democratic Underground.

In March, Georgia voters passed a law that required people applying for food stamps to be tested for drugs. This week the USDA told them, ummm…that’s illegal, you can’t do that. Florida tried to do something similar in 2011 but their law required drug testing for people applying for welfare, not food stamps. The idea was that they’d weed out all those “takers” who might be on drugs away from the welfare system. Wanna know what happened? Apparently, the cost for this new drug testing requirement cost taxpayers more than it saved and did nothing to curb the number of people who applied for welfare. Only 108 of the 4,066 people who were tested came up positive. The state ended up with a net loss of $45,780.

PS – my favorite thing about Florida situation was that shortly after the law passed one of the state representatives who was its biggest champions was arrested for cocaine possession. Perhaps Florida should start drug testing their lawmakers?

Georgia’s law is trying to take food out of people’s mouths in case they’re on drugs. Who is on food stamps that this might affect? It seems that 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits. So Georgia is fine with taking food out of the mouths of children, the elderly and the disabled if the person applying for the benefit is on drugs. Which, most likely they are not because THEY CAN’T AFFORD THEM.

Both of these situations show a contempt for the poor that I find unbelievable. The pathological need for conservatives to criminalize poverty is horrifying. As Christians we should be appalled at this and be doing something about it.

Why Yoga is Better than Church

Recently I’ve gotten back to yoga after almost a year away and given my current ministry sabbatical, I couldn’t help but compare the yoga studio community to the state of the church. Not surprisingly, I found the church lacking. In this particular context, I’m talking about “church” as in my experience with more evangelical church and some mainline churches as well. I feel like this may be true of the majority of churches, but there are definitely some out there for whom this does not apply. Still looking for one of those.

1. The focus is on what you’re doing, not what everyone else is or is not doing. I was very fortunate to have Dr. Paul Hiebert as my uncle and got to spend time with him as a great guy who would play on the floor with me before I ever knew that he was kind of famous. In his book Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues, he proposed the idea of the “bounded” set vs. the “centered” set. In their book, The Shaping of Things to Come, Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost use this analogy:

If you are a farmer with a 3-acre ranch so to speak, you can build a fence to keep your cattle in and other animals out. This would be a Bounded Set. But if you are a rancher say with a huge amount of land and acreage you wouldn’t be able to build fences around your whole property. Instead of building fences, you dig wells. It is assumed that animals won’t go too far away from the well because their life literally depends on them not wandering too far away from their water source. Visually, it looks like this:
Bounded vs CenteredSet
Most churches are a Bounded Set. They are very clear, both explicitly and implicitly, on who is in and who is out. Many churches are all about looking externally at other peoples’ behavior. And if they don’t fit the list, they’re out. I guess since they can’t see the Holy Spirit (and, let’s face it, probably haven’t heard from Her in a while) they’ve decided She needs some help. Not so in the yoga studio. Everyone focuses on their own progress and development. The instructor will go around and help and make adjustments

2. It’s an environment of unconditional acceptance. Students are appreciated for where they are and the phrase “if it’s available to you” is used often. Everyone engages in each pose where they can. Pushing yourself too hard results in injury.

3. It’s a safe place to try stuff and to screw up. Doing things outside your comfort zone is encouraged. Perfection is never expected because it’s actually not even a goal. Each pose has another level, and then another level, and so on. All you do is move through each level and it’s just expected that you won’t get things right the first time.

4. It gives energy rather than taking energy.  The point of yoga is to give energy to those practicing it so that they can go out into the world to contribute positively. I know that churches say they want to do that, and many do. But many of them don’t actually do it because they’ve made it so culturally necessary to pretend to be more together than you are in order to fit in, and that’s exhausting.

5. Instructors participate alongside the students. Other than moving through the space to make adjustments to students who are risking injury, the instructor is practicing with everyone else. The instructor is ahead of the students, of course, but doesn’t make that a focus in the classroom. We’re all students, we’re all practicing.

6. Instructors encourage rather than condemn. All progress is applauded because all progress is positive. No one is asked to leave because they get something wrong. No one is publicly shamed. As a result, we all want to work harder. Study after study on positive reinforcement shows that when you offer positive reinforcement to someone you are guaranteed to get back positive behavior 100% of the time. When you offer negative reinforcement, you can get anything from the same negative behavior all the way over to positive behavior. You have no way of predicting the outcome. Churches should really read these studies.

7. The focus is on the benefits of yoga in all areas of life, rather than the benefits to the physical studio by you being there. Yoga instructors clearly tell us that what we’re doing in the studio is all about positively impacting our lives outside the studio. Churches rarely give us the tools to make a difference in our lives outside because they are so busy using all their energy and resources to perpetuate their weekly event and keep their buildings running. Churches need to make a real connection between saying you follow Christ and what it means to live like a follower of Jesus.

8. The encouragement is to make your life bigger. I’ve mentioned before that my spiritual journey has led my view of God to continually expand. So many churches don’t want their people’s views of God to expand because if it did, they might realize that what their church is teaching is crap. The need to make God small and manageable and dignified is rampant in all denominations, from conservative to progressive, Pentecostal to Presbyterian. In my opinion, you should run from anyone who claims to know how God behaves in any situation. God is good, but God is not safe. It comes back to the bounded vs. centered set. We don’t get to say, “God only acts this way, therefore you can only believe this about God.” Let God get bigger and things will get bumpy, but they will also be awesome.

Just So We’re Clear….

Maybe it’s just because I don’t watch Fox News but it seems to me that the same thing that they whine about happening to Christmas has already happened to Easter and I’ve not heard a word about it. Most of the employees in my building asked for today off, citing “religious accommodation” but I’m not entirely sure that’s why they wanted today off.

Over the last few years I’ve seen an increase in store early or complete closures on Easter. It’s a holiday that people travel for. It’s huge in the home decorating market. And candy – duh. Where is all the religious outrage about a religious holiday becoming commercialized? Yes, Spring & Easter holidays have their roots in pagan traditions but SO DOES CHRISTMAS.

My understanding is that for Christians, Easter is as big as or bigger than Christmas. It’s our Super Bowl. Is it that we have such high attendance at our gatherings that we don’t care what happens the rest of the day? SAME WITH CHRISTMAS. Do you see where I’m going with this? I’m unclear as to why such ire is directed at the wishing of “Happy Holidays” and keeping the Christ in Christmas, but nothing is said about the keeping of Christ in Easter. Is it because there’s no alliteration?

When I was a kid, I asked my mom if Easter is about Jesus, then why aren’t there chocolate crosses? If it’s not about the bunnies, then why did they get all the good candy? Her answer was that it would be sacrilegious. Well, here you go, Mom.

 

Mmmm. Most delicious instrument of torture and human suffering EVER!

Just so we’re clear…

We’ve taken the cross of Christ and made it into dessert and everyone is ok with that?

But We’re Disciples of Moses

As we know, I’m currently between churches and I’m trying to figure out where exactly I fit in the ministry scheme of things. Yesterday I was reading the lectionary passages and the Gospel passage was from John 9, a story of Jesus healing a blind man. This is the one, if you’re familiar with Bible stories, when the disciples ask who sinned that this man was born blind.  Jesus made the paste of mud & spit and smeared it on the man’s eyes and he could see. BTW – this is my biblical justification for spa treatments.

Here’s the part of the story I find particularly interesting at the time in my journey:

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

I’m interested here in the view of the man’s healing by the religious establishment. First, they don’t believe it’s possible. Then when they are proven wrong, they denied Jesus’ authority. How many times has Jesus intervened and brought healing into someone’s life and we are either surprised or incredulous and definitely skeptical. Then our next thing is to force them into established religion to make sure we can exploit their experience to get more butts in seats or we decide it wasn’t from God because it didn’t fit our view of how God acts in the world?

Right now there are two biblical films in theaters and a lot of the Christian community is trying to drum up support for those films so Hollywood will make more films that support their world view. What bugs me about this is that what they’re saying is, “We only see a story as valid if it matches how we see the world. If your story is not palatable to us, we don’t want to see it.” This view says that God can only be seen and appreciated in a certain, sanitized context. The truth is, God is in all life. There is no sacred/secular divide. It’s all sacred. It’s all God’s territory. The challenge is to see God in everyone’s story.

The same Christians who read this story and pity the Jews are the same Christians who behave exactly like the Jews. They have a narrow view of how God can be seen and act in the world and if someone dares to contradict that they are not welcome. This is my issue with church. And it’s on all sides – progressive and evangelical. For example:

Churches that are theologically conservative have more contemporary worship and are more open, in some contexts to getting out in the world. However, there is no full inclusion of women, LGBTQ people, and they’re pretty white.

Churches that are progressive theologically often have more traditional worship services and are structurally in their own way so that it’s very difficult to get them to move out of their comfort zone to get into the community. But you get some pretty full inclusion.

Both sets frustrate me in completely different ways and both suffer from Pharisee syndrome, in that there are some things that must always be done in a certain way or you’re not welcome. Do you see my issue here? Sometimes I just want to start my own thing, but then I’m pretty sure it’d be just me.