ethics

Pass the Ketchup Or How Emmaus Reminds us to Set an Open Table for All Ages and Abilities

By: J.C. Mitchell

Walking to Emmaus, are you?  I hope so. I think Luke purposely does not name Cleopas’s friend, so that everyone can put themselves in this Resurrection account.  Luke adds this Resurrection scene seven miles outside of Jerusalem; that is, just outside the center of power.  The witness is not one of the eleven, but one obviously in the know.  Now this story, which happens on the day of the Resurrection, is only written about by Luke, and I believe it is a perfect reminder of inclusion of all in communion: An Open Table, which is always important and a great way to remember it is Autism Acceptance & Awareness month this April.  

 It seems that the two walking along had different interpretations of the recent murder of Jesus and the news from the women.  The Greek suggests that they are in a debate throwing ideas back and forth.  I imagine it is emotional; maybe not quite as heated as Bernie supporters and Hillary supporters, but something like that.  Jesus arrives, and is not recognized by our inconsequential people, and explains everything from Moses to the events of that morning, and they/we still don’t get it.  I have had people ask me, “Why Luke did not record Jesus’ words about the Hebrew Scriptures?” and I reply,” That is exactly the point.”

Jesus is not interested in leaving us with more Scripture; Jesus leaves us with the Table.  This is exactly where I and Cleopas know Jesus, and that is truly amazing, for we may still have different interpretations, but we are united after this Resurrection moment revealed in the Breaking of the Bread, to go back to inform the eleven with authority. 

Currently my son who is non-conversational (talks only for basic needs) is offered Communion and only takes it when it is delicious bread.  Once I had to hide the Hawaiian Loaf that was brought in (by a congregant that refuses to use sourdough, because Jesus is Sweet not…).  The whole congregation said, “let him have some,” but I reminded them that I already said no (by the way, most of them are great-grandparents).  I will continue to bring him to Communion services in worship and at home, for this act of eating together is truly the act of community, thus I cannot limit it to simply the Table in the Church, or sanctified by such an institution, even when I am the clergy doing such a thing.  I find it seven miles outside with the sojourner or resident alien, not just my beloved liturgy. 

 For even if you were to hear the explanation of the Resurrection from Jesus Himself, you will still not get it; thus my son’s interpretation and experience at the Table is as valid as my own. For Jesus left a simple message, eat together and love one another, and both my son and I can do that well, and with anyone willing to pass the ketchup.  

The Creatively Maladjusted

Given the fact that it is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and injustice toward vulnerable people persists, I thought I might offer a few thoughts about what it means to remain silent in the face of that injustice—and about what it means not to, what it means to be creatively maladjusted.  Disclaimer: My analogy with the Civil Rights movement is only meant to be suggestive, not to establish easy equivalences

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those whowere selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:1319).

Following the first miracle at the wedding in Cana, Jesus and his new disciples take a few days off, then head into Jerusalem.

Where do they go?  Straight to the temple.

What happens?  Jesus makes a whip of cords and starts turning over the tables of the money changers.  He’s ranting and raving about how they’re turning God’s house into a marketplace.  The folks in charge don’t much care for his attitude and say, “Who are you?  What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Then, Jesus commits the ultimate Jewish faux pas by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

What Jesus has done, in effect, after making such a grand splash at the wedding at Cana, is to guarantee that the very people who might have helped promote his ministry are the ones whom he has alienated by his little foray into temple finances.  He’s made some pretty influential enemies in his first trip to Jerusalem.

So what?  What’s the significance?

Well, think about it.  When Jesus cleanses the temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it occurs at the very end of Jesus’ ministry—after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and just before being snatched up and crucified on Good Friday—which, if you think about it, makes more sense.  You can see why Jesus would be upset with the religious establishment in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They’ve hounded him for three years, and are plotting to kill him.  A little righteous indignation seems appropriate.

But in John, the cleansing of the temple comes right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s had nothing but smooth sailing up to this point.  Why upset the temple bigwigs right off the bat?  It makes much less sense, from a narrative standpoint, to have Jesus challenge the money changers in the temple just as his ministry is taking off.  Why does John set up the story this way?

John puts the story of the cleansing of the temple right next to the wedding at Cana on purpose.  He’s making some rhetorical hay about the shape and trajectory of Jesus ministry.

What do I mean?

Well, how must the disciples be feeling after seeing Jesus pull a Bobby Knight in the temple? They have to be terribly confused.  They thought they were getting a pretty engaging guru, fun to have around at parties, somebody to keep the open bar open—but what they got instead was a loose cannon, an unpredictable guy who knows his way around the business end of a whip.  Jesus' impatience with the way things are calls to mind what Martin Luther King wrote in Strength to Love:

 “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

Well, Jesus is nothing if not creatively maladjusted.

Jesus explodes our tame, self-aggrandizing expectations about how joining up with him will be the end of our problems.  John wants to show us that just because you follow Jesus doesn’t mean everything magically becomes sweetness and light.  In fact, joining up with Jesus may cause you a whole new set of problems you might otherwise have avoided if you’d just stayed home and watched Jeopardy.  Sometimes we have to follow Jesus into the temple, where only hostility awaits us.

And that bothers us, doesn’t it?  If not, we haven’t been paying attention to what happens to people willing to walk into the teeth of the storm.

In April of 1963, a group of well-meaning (I think) white clergy in Alabama got together and issued a statement calling for the end of demonstrations they considered “unwise and untimely,” by “some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders,” even though this group of white clergy recognized “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today, responded to these clergy in his, now famous, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Not surprisingly, Dr. King’s anger at the unjust social systems made bolder through their embodiment in law is present throughout his letter, raising again the Augustinian question about whether unjust laws—laws that degrade “human personality” and “distort the soul”—ought rightfully to be considered laws at all.

Dr. King reserves his biggest disappointment, however, for the church.  He rightly criticizes white moderates, whom he considered to be “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘justice’; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”   He speaks candidly in his letter about weeping because of the laxity the church, about how “blemished and scarred” is the body of Christ “through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformist.”

At one point, Dr. King recalls with a certain wistfulness “a time when the church was very powerful.”  It’s interesting to note, though, just how he sees the church’s relationship to that power.  The church was at its most transformative, he argues,

when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’  But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were a ‘colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than humans.  Small in number, they were big in commitment.  They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’  By their efforts and their example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.

It occurs to me that we who have committed ourselves and our communities of faith to seeking justice are the inheritors of that legacy—a legacy that hears the cries of inequity and injustice, and remains incapable of turning a deaf ear.

We are the spiritual offspring of the creatively maladjusted.  We cannot stand by and do nothing.  We join together across the diversity of theological and denominational lines to take our place in the procession—a procession that, just in this country alone, stretches back through the Civil Rights movement, through women’s suffrage, and through the abolition of slavery.

We are people who cannot abide and will not stomach the excuses offered up by unjust systems that somehow “now is not the time,” or that raising a ruckus only contributes to the problem.  We draw together because we’ve been called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God—not because there is anything necessarily heroic in us, but because we’ve been passed a torch by heroes and saints who’ve gone before us, and who have called us to bear witness that God is not satisfied with either an unjust society or a lazy church “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘peace.’”

There's a constituency within the church today urging caution, who think it "unwise and untimely" to press the issue of justice for young African American men who suffer disproportionately at the hands of the legal system, for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people within the church, for a beloved community that includes our Muslim sisters and brothers—even though this constituency recognizes “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  They believe that taking any kind of a stand will be heavy-handed and disruptive, while failing to realize that, if Jesus is our model, heavy-handed disruption of the existing unjust order is sometimes not the thing we wait for the right time to pursue, but the very thing with which we lead, the thing that sets the shape and trajectory of our ministry.

If we are indeed the offspring of the creatively maladjusted, we will never have a better time than the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to start living like it.

(UN)Resolved Baptism Rites

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By. J.C. Mitchell

This entry is part of the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #Unco14 focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The topic for January is (Un)Resolved.

Why did John baptize Jesus?  There are many answers, but the question is how did Mark, Q, Matthew, John, and Luke, handle John baptizing Jesus in the Jordon? They clearly marked it as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and thus the passing of the reigns from the one in the wilderness to the one that would take on our culture’s violence through death itself. 

Having grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I found baptism mysterious.  It was not the ritual or the idea that it may have washed sins away, but because we referred to this important rite that happened before we could establish memories.  This ritual of entrance into Christendom required no participation.  I had issue with this when I found myself exploring my faith in the protestant world, which led me to the Baptist mindset that we of the Christian Church (DOC) uphold. 

I do not believe any human being can do anything to deserve the grace, the forgiveness, and the love that is represented by the water, but I felt it must be much more meaningful if the ritual was engaged by the one being submerged.  I was once invited to Cokesbury to be part of the brainstorming team for their new Confirmation Curriculum.  I was already a DOC Minister, but I had been working as an Associate Minister in an UMC church so they simply assumed I was of their tradition. It became evident when I spoke of making Confirmation something special, like Baptism.  And this is really the only difference, or at least should be, when we baptize.  For we uphold one baptism as a reflection of God’s Grace, not human action what so ever.

So today I uphold our tradition in the denomination I am ordained, but I am not resolved that this is correct.  It is true that we are open to accepting baptism from other traditions and we believe it is God’s work, but what are we saying by doing it at an age of consent? I am aware from baptizing and confirming children that the understanding ranges, but I have felt it essential to commence with the ritual, even if I was not sure they understood.  However, I am not sure how to commence with a person that is not able to profess their faith, for we even call it “believer’s baptism.”  We Disciples understand the submergence is due to the individual’s profession of faith, even if we uphold it is God’s work, not ours.

This is a concern for me because of my son, and my work at the Church Open Gathering, for I know great people that will not able to profess their faith.  I know that many of you pastors and Christians will say there are obvious exceptions and my son and my friends should also be submerged in the Love of Christ.  But that is my point, that they should not be baptized as an accommodation, or worse with an exemption by the elders, for we understand that the work is done by the Divine, not by the pastor, the church, nor the individual under water. 

Unless we truly profess that Baptism is the work of God alone, we may not include everyone as equally baptized.  This may be why Jesus joined us without a profession of faith.  I find myself unresolved about the ritual, but I understand it should truly reflect the Grace for All.  

The Red Cup in My Own Eye

By J.C. Mitchell

I have done a great job avoiding the red cups, but I must admit I have enjoyed the numerous posts from all type of Christians and non-Christians alike who think this is absurd.  I assume the marketers at Starbucks where ready for some disappointed in such a sleek and classic design that they came up with.  It is a risk to pick a minimalist design, but it does harken on the years past and encourages imagination. As a guy that grew up with a mother who worked in print and retired from the Ad Council as a VP of production, and took an interest in my parent’s occupation (an article for another day), I am intrigued by the red cup.

Of course as a Christian, I would desire blue or purple cups during Advent leading up to white for Christmastide.  Red is for Pentecost.  But I don’t expect a corporation or even a local coffee roaster to do my religion for me.  The church does that work.  I always found the Church’s colors being different gave me comfort away from the bustle of the mall and the secular celebration of the Solstice, carefully hidden in a manager. 

But ignoring these cups has been hard, and then the message was clear.  We all agree. Most Christians and non-Christians all agree this is not something worthy to talk about.  We all agree this is not what makes a good Christian.  We even agree these is not what we imagine a good Christian would worry about.  But we keep talking about it. Even most Christians and non-Christians, like myself right now, are reporting on the absurdity of this. Or so it seems, many of the very funny jokes and memes I have seen, in defense of the red cups, imply those desiring St. Arbuck profess their faith for all the world to see, are idiots, wrong, and even not Christian.

Whoa….how easy is it for us to create a victim together so we feel more unified. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere I go. Yes, the War on Christmas is back—and those of us who think the War on Christmas is absurd are participating in it just as much by taking sides in the Battle of the Cup.

And I await the Christ Child (in my tradition) to break light into the dark world ,we decorate with Red, Green, and Gold to Celebrate longer days, and yes Purple, Blue, and White in our Christian story of no more violence. No more scapegoating. 

Happy Holidays!!!  But first, bring on the turkey!  

Where I will give many Thanks for René Girard who has helped me to see this light. 




"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

By J.C. Mitchell


Star Wars was all over social media yesterday.  I like Star Wars, I grew up with that story.   I am not a fanatic and while I know much about the first six, I have not pursued knowledge about this upcoming one.  I figure I will eventually see the movie, mostly because my lovely wife will make sure, and my friends on social media will make sure I know too much about VII, good and bad for the months to come.  


The one thing that did make me interested was a picture of an African-American boy dressed as a Jedi, and a tweet from @afroeccentrix reading “My little bro who is OBSESSED w/Star Wars now gets to see a more diverse cast on screen. #CelebrateStarWarsVII.” And this my friends, has made me more interested in the movie, for how powerful is it to see someone like one’s own self on the big screen as it will be for the boy in the picture.  This is just a movie, but it is also a powerful expression of our culture, our stories.


This is why my son will dress as Chewbacca this Halloween.  My son has limited verbal skills. Recently he has begun speaking two, sometimes three, word sentences without prompting, and also he communicates beyond words alone, just like his beloved Snoopy, Woodstock, and Curious George.  There are many other characters he likes, but these have become very special to him, and it is hard not to notice these famous characters do not use verbal communication, while at the same time they are included.  So we thought we should introduce our son to Chewbacca, and while he has not seen the movie, we got an inexpensive costume using a stocking cap which he will tolerate on his head instead of a mask. I am aware that Wookies like Chewbacca speak Shyriiwook, but how we experience it on screen, the communication reminds me of communication with one who knows basic language, as it is tone that seems to communicate more than Shyriiwook words.


So while the characters our son already loves are cartoon animals, Chewbacca comes from a whole society that speak in a very guttural sounds, and is honored by many.  


But all these role models have fur (or feathers).


I cannot wait to know the Jedi who does not speak. 

 

 


How Long Must We Sing This Song?

By Rev. Mindi

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?[1]

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?[2]

How long, O Lord? How long will we allow another mass shooting to ravage people’s lives and send loved ones into the grave?

How long, O Lord? How long will we say prayers for the victim’s families? How long will we pray for an end to violence? How long will we fold our hands and bow our heads, and do nothing more to change the world we live in?

How long, O Lord? How long will we sacrifice our children for gun ownership?

How long, O Lord, will we blame the mentally ill, among the most vulnerable, without offering health care, support, and the removal of stigma in our society?

How long, O Lord, will we go on allowing this to happen, pointing fingers, without actually making any changes at all?

How long, O Lord, will we allow this to become normal, regular, and acceptable in our society?

How long,

How long must we sing this song?

How long, how long…

‘Cause tonight, we can be as one, tonight…[3]

How long until we are ready to compromise to make change? Or to give up our need to have deadly power over others? What will it take? What more will it cost?

Seriously, how long will we sing this song, and how long will our prayers be empty?

We used to light candles in my church when there was a shooting, for the victims, so we would not forget. I still remember the twenty-eight candles I lit the Friday of the Newtown shooting. But now, there are just too many candles to light, and they have become meaningless.

We’ve all heard the saying, “pray while moving your feet.” I believe it is time to say, “pray while calling your elected official.” Because our prayer without action is meaningless, as faith without works is also dead.[4]

Pray, and register to vote.

Pray, and vote for change.

Pray, and call your elected officials.

Demand that children’s lives matter more than access to unlimited guns and ammunition and military style firearms.

How long? How many more children will die, before we finally say too many have died by gun violence?

 

[1] Psalm 13:1-2, NRSV

[2] Psalm 80:4, NRSV

[3] “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2, 1983

[4] James 2:26

 

I Wasn't Born This Way

By Colton Lott

 

I was riding in the car with my brother, Chase, a few weeks ago when I asked him, “Does it ever both you that I’m so liberal?”

Before I could even get the words out of my mouth, he replied quickly and decisively, “Yes!”

My heart broke a bit because I never intended to be a polarizing force nor did I ever try to be part of the “fringe.” I’ve become fairly lefty-loosey in my thinking, which is tolerable in the rest of the world but down right heretical in my home-base of rural Oklahoma.

As I thought of how Chase and I became separated by a political cavern, I wanted to retrace my steps. I previously scorned folks who embraced their socio-poli-religious tribe, and now I can be identified with a moniker. How did this happen? Why was it that I developed ways of thinking, speaking, voting, and living that gained me the title of “one of those liberals?” I wasn’t born to think a certain way, and for the most part I wasn’t raised to be this way. Somehow, I developed and evolved into a card-carrying lefty that annoyed my brother, worried my paternal grandmother, and delighted my father, because he now had a sparring partner. Why did I carry reusable shopping bags much to my brother’s annoyance? Why was I giving a theological and biblical explanation of embracing same-sex marriage to his friends over their “man-meal?” Why did I stop using masculine pronouns for God, even though saying “Godself” is clunky, strikingly out of place in the milieu in which I am living, and generally considered overkill here?

Some of this evolution is due to my education. I went to a small, liberal arts college, and even though “liberal arts” refers to the breadth of academic disciplines and not to a political position, there is a good chance one can discover the fine art of being a liberal in such an environment. Some of it was other members of my family, and as I’ve written before, my maternal grandmother had a profound effect on my thinking at a young age. But even though she was left of center, she was one of a few in my family.

When I dig as deeply as I can into myself, the biggest reasons that I grew into who I am is because of my faith and my experiences in churches with thoughtful clergy. I carry those silly bags into the local grocery store because God’s creation is beautiful, and it was God that crafted humanity for the care of that creation. I go to the Local Grocery Store, and avoid Big Box Stores whenever possible, because I believe God calls us to be generous, that we shouldn’t glean our pennies off the backs of producers and workers—that a worker is worthy of their hire and deserves to live a full life for a full day’s work.[i] I speak about communities that have been afflicted by prejudice by those with privilege because that is what I read Jesus doing in the gospels. My faith was taught to me through a church and by ministers that value education, deep reflection, and taking the Biblical narrative serious.

It would be a woeful oversight to say that “Jesus made me liberal,” because there are quite a few that claim “Jesus made me conservative.” But my experience, wrapped in my family, my civic community, my faith community, my educators, and the travels and journeys I have taken along the way color the way I read the Bible, and in turn the holy texts have colored the way that I see each of these influences in my life.

I’m sorry, Chase, that I have grown into that which is aggravating, silly, or in your opinion, wrong. Just please know that I am trying to follow Christ in the way I know best because of who I’ve become. I don’t think, act, vote, preach, or believe this way in spite of Jesus, but because of Jesus. Although we disagree, and we do so frequently, know that at the core of these conversations we both have a heart that so desperately wants to help others…to be and share good news, good news which saved both of us, albeit we understand this in vastly different ways. Even though it can be uncomfortable, we manifest God’s love in our own distinct way. In love much is the same and we don’t have to call it liberal or conservative; we can simply call it love, be thankful for it, and take comfort that it perpetually exists between us.

---

[i] Chase, who reviewed this post before I published it, told me that in our hometown the Big Box Store pays more per hour than the Local Grocery Store. While I would still question buying practices and misuse of power, there is something to be said about challenging presuppositions and being forced to live in a world of economic grayscale. 

The Dichotomy of Function Hides a Even More

 

By J.C. Mitchell

Years ago I remember sitting around a fondue pot with my friend Dick and many others.  Dick was at that time an octogenarian, and I was in my late twenties, and around the table were people of all ages in between.  One person observed how wise it was that Dick had friends of all ages and it was mostly through church he developed these relationships.  Dick had one rule: the word “old” and “young” were not allowed.  Older and younger were unnecessary, as age is relative.  This was a great lesson I have internalized.  Dick also mixed bourbon and sweet vermouth in a gallon container so Manhattans were easily at hand, but alas I do not have the energy to handle a Manhattan nightly, so I keep my vermouth and bourbon in their respective bottles in my cabinet.


So in the autism world you have heard the dichotomy of functionality.  Sometimes one is referred to as “High-functioning” and others as “low-functioning.”   It may seem descriptive but it is an arbitrary dichotomy that really does not say anything about the individual.  Using the illustration of age, one may call someone old based on their age, their fashion, their attitude, their appearance, or, based on the perception of the one saying the word, old.  This is the same with functionality, and it says nothing about a person with autism.


I must confess, having a son that barely communicates verbally, is far behind academically and socially  and is in diapers, I have desired to use the term “low-functioning” to make it clear what we are dealing with, but I remember my friend’s words about old and young, so I translated it to “lower-functioning” and “higher-functioning.”  But upon reflection this does not translate in the same way as age, for when you use these terms even as a descriptive it is only for those with the developmental delay and not for all people.  Thus even using “higher” or “lower” creates this artificial dichotomy just as much, and I was quite aware of it, but alas whenever talking to people about my son outside of the autism world (yes we have culture and it is just as nasty and nice as any other culture), I feel forced to use these overly simplified terms to help the person I was talking to understand as they felt comfortable.  


I knew it was a problem but until I saw a friend’s Facebook post that read, “Every time you say ‘High Functioning Autism,; I die a little inside,” I realized I had been badgered by the ableist mindset to use their terms, and even with my tweaking to say it more relatively I had been perpetuating the false dichotomy that is part of anti-autism mindset of our culture.  My friend makes it clear it is not a compliment nor a description that has any real meaning.  The only possible meaning is that one with autism who is given the descriptive high or low is not a normal person who simply proves how they function through other means.  The real dichotomy this functional classification is people who are autistic and those that are not, with an assumption those who are not are the most functional.

 
If we are going to say we welcome everyone in our churches (or anywhere) no matter their ability, let us not use language that assumes autism to be less a person.  And like me, let us learn from those that understand this dichotomy do have the voice to teach us, and not assume we understand from our biases. 

 

 tip of the iceberg

tip of the iceberg

Free Will in Matters of Life and Death

By Rev. Aaron Todd

Did you see the story that broke last week about a 17 year old girl from Connecticut who, in the midst of her four month old battle against Hodgkin's Lymphoma, had somewhat recently decided to discontinue her chemotherapy treatments and seek "alternative" ways to combat the cancer that has invaded her body?    This decision was supported and affirmed by her parents but not by the judicial system of the state of Connecticut. If you haven't read this story, read about it here:

 In November of 2014, the Department of Children and Families was able to successfully petition the state to compel the girl, who is being identified in the media as "Cassandra" to undergo chemotherapy against her wishes and the wishes of her family.  This action set off a peculiar chain of events including Cassandra running away from home, the state placing her in "protective" custody, and two rather intensive court battles.  All of these actions were done in an attempt to reconcile to one basic question: "who has the authority to determine in what manner the health care of a minor will be administered?"

First, the facts (and it is in these facts that we begin to find the grey areas): Cassandra is a minor, the legal age of adulthood in Connecticut is 18.  Under Connecticut law, her rights as a minor who still lives under care of her parents are fairly limited. She can not vote nor can she can  (legally) drink. By law she is compelled to stay in high school unless she graduated early or her parents are able to demonstrate why it was in her best interest to withdraw, and she cannot legally get married unless her parents provide written permission.  

More facts: according the the National Cancer Institute, Hodgkin's Lymphoma strikes approximately 9,000 Americans every single year.  Out of those 9,000, approximately 1,100 patients die from this disease.  This equates out to about a 12% mortality rate.  In Cassandra's case, it was determined by medical professionals that, with treatment, she would have an 85% survival rate, but without treatment she would succumb to the cancer within two years. 

There are obviously a lot of different things to consider in this case and I am thankful that I am not the one having to make this decision.  From a legal standpoint, at the core of this case is the question of what is known as the "Mature Minor Doctrine," a policy that states that minors (those under 18) who still live under the care of their parents may make their own decisions regarding their health care.  In this particular case, the courts have ruled that Cassandra and her parents were not competent enough to make these decisions.   From what I understand, the basis for this judgement comes from the fact that Cassandra did run away from home not long after this legal battle began.  

This case brings with it a multitude of questions that are thus far not being answered by media reports.  It is my hope that more information will be forthcoming as this case undoubtedly continues to rise in the public consciousness.  For me, the issues at hand come down to basic questions of autonomy.  This case highlights a variety of similar medicinal questions that have arisen over the past several months, all of which coming back to this question of who has the ultimate authority to make medical decisions for an individual?  

We can certainly understand both perspectives in this particular case.  Medical professionals, supported by the state, firmly believe that they can save this girl's life.  They believe that for her to deny treatment to herself is to deny herself of life.  This tension is at the core of the medical code of ethics; doctors are here to preserve life.  On the other side, we can certainly appreciate the perspective of this family. Cassandra does not want the toxic chemicals of chemotherapy in her body, she and her family want to pursue other forms of treatment, and it is believed by the mother that, "she isn't going to die." In a statement regarding her preferred choice to not undergo the chemotherapy treatments, Cassandra says that in regards to her life span, "it's about quality, not quantity." 

As I have been reading up on this story, my mind has been drifting to the numerous instances about parents who, for whatever reason, refuse to vaccinate their children (Quick side note, if this is you, please, please, please, rethink that position, and if you still refuse to immunize your children, do not bring them into contact with my boys).  We have recently heard reports about a measles (measles, people, a disease that we've pretty much taken care of) outbreak at Disneyland in California. So on the most basic levels, as it relates to the case in Connecticut, why is it legally appropriate to mandate that a 17-year old, whose cancer is of no threat to anyone but herself, continue chemotherapy treatments, but it is not just as appropriate to mandate vaccinations against altogether preventable diseases that pose a real public health issue?  Why is one parent deemed negligent enough to warrant her daughter being placed in protective custody, but not those who refuse to have their children (who cannot yet make choices for themselves) immunized?  

In addition, the question of autonomy remains. We certainly recall the story of the young woman in Oregon who became the standard-bearer for the "Death with Dignity" movement.  There, we have a case where a legal adult chose to forgo any potential treatments and to allow her life end on her own terms.  In this midst of that story, the same debate raged on; Who has the right to make these life/death decisions, and on what basis are those rights granted?  There were (an undoubtedly still are) many who wish that the courts would have mandated some sort of treatment for this woman.  Under what conditions, religious or otherwise, would it be acceptable to deny a woman with full cognitive function the right to have autonomy over her own life?

So as we come back to the story of Cassandra in Connecticut, the questions of autonomy remain.  Can she make her own decisions? According to the state, no, she cannot.  Can her parents make decisions for her?  It would appear that under most circumstances, under Connecticut law, that yes, they can, so why not in this case?  Finally, under what standard does (or should) the state(s) use to determine how health care should be administered? 

From a faith-based perspective, the tension in this case and so many like it is very real. On one hand, the belief that life is precious and that all people have infinite value in the eyes of God is a core tenant of all faiths, and on the other hand we understand that human beings have free-will and autonomy over their own lives and are free to make their own choices.  So how do we determine how these cases should be understood?

What say you?  Are our churches providing the open space to grapple with such issues?  Are our pastors providing the opportunity for honest conversation about how our congregants understand life and death and that murky grey area in between the two? How can we do a better job of helping to facilitate those conversations in an environment that is safe and free from judgement?

Ten Things You Should Know To Welcome People of All Abilities to Church

By J.C. Mitchell

1.    If you have had one or even a few people with special needs in your ministry, this does not mean you know how to welcome all.  Very often when I tell a pastor about my ministry at Open Gathering they start telling me their one success story (which I do enjoy learning from), but they do not seem to understand there is more to do to welcome all.  This is not unlike someone saying there is no more racism because Obama was elected president.

2.    Accommodation is important, but it is not in and of itself welcome.  Having a ramp at the back door may be a financial reality, but if the main entrance is accessible to all that is much more welcoming.  

3.    Having a cry room is great for babies, but children that are old enough to start learning to sit in the sanctuary may make noise. Suggesting that they should go to the cry room is inappropriate.  Yes, some parents would rather go to the cry room, even with a kindergartner or older child, but it should be their choice.  Many children with autism, for example, need to learn by doing the same thing, so going to the cry room the first time will become the way the child goes to church, creating an extra and unnecessary step in learning.

4.    Using person first language should be the assumed way of talking about a person with disabilities. (For more information check out Arc's Website)  Yes, there are some that use their different ability as a proud identifier, and if they desire to use a descriptive such as “aspie” of course use that when referring to them specifically, but one’s name is still preferred.  This is less about offending one with a different ability, but to help those to see the individual and not the diagnosis. 

5.    Do not diagnose.  You may be obsessive and compulsive, but that does not mean you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (if you suspect you do, you should get help as well as a diagnosis).  This goes with many diagnoses and when a person hears others being labeled incorrectly, you belittle those that actually live with that diagnosis.

6.    Avoid the word “struggles. “ Unless you say struggles as a descriptive of the way our culture accepts and includes people with different abilities.  

7.    Do know that life is harder, more expensive, lonely, and stressful for families with someone with special needs in the family.

8.    Never assume, as you know what that spells.  Thus keep this question in your pocket, “how can I help you?” rather than “do you want me to show you the cry room” or “Don’t you think your child may be happier to wait in the fellowship hall until Sunday School” (Most kids would be).

9.    Talk about this welcome openly and be open to places you fail.  It may be not possible to include every child in a program like VBS, but work with the parents to include all children.  Generally if you tell me, “Your son is welcome and we will figure it out” after I tell you he has a disability, I am much more suspicious than the church that asks specific questions with a desire to make it work, for the latter knows it is hard work.

10.    When a parent tells you their child has a disability or a diagnosis, refrain from saying, “That’s OK” or “I am Sorry.”  The latter to me is less offensive for it is honest, but the former is simply annoying, for who are you to tell me if it is OK or not?  I realize you mean well, but to say, “thank you for sharing” or bonus “thank you for sharing, and how best can I interact (or help) your child and/or you?” is ideal.  Often the reason we feel compelled to share with you that our child has a special need (or if one self-advocating) is that we think you should know, and we already know it is OK and at the same time awfully difficult.  So if you can go beyond the pleasantries, you will be much more welcoming.

11.    Bonus: Know that the work to welcome all will never be completed, and there is no program or book that will give you all the answers, but I do suggest these three books to develop a theology of inclusion:  

Vulnerable Communion by Thomas Reynolds

The Bible, Disabilty and the Church, by Amos Yong

The Disabled God, by Nancy Eiesland

 

Clergy Compensation, Debt, and Poverty

By Rev. Mindi

There have been a number of articles about clergy compensation in the past few days. First, there was this article in the Atlantic on the Vanishing of the Middle Class Clergy, followed by a response in the Christian Century “Pastors in Poverty” from Carol Howard Merritt, then a number of responses on several blogs and on Facebook.

I have only served in Disciples and American Baptist congregations. The region that my first two churches were in published a minimum suggested salary for starting pastors. My salary never met the minimum requirement in either church, and the first church I served was a well-known and well-off suburb church. The housing allowance offered did not even cover a studio apartment. Not only did I have to have roommates, but now out of seminary my student loans from college were due, and once meeting my rent, my share of the utilities (this was just electricity and heat and phone—we did not have cable), my student loans, my car payment and insurance—I had $175 left. That was to pay my food, my gas, and any other expenses. Thank God I did not have a medical emergency. Unfortunately, my used car did have a few repairs that had to be made. So what did I do? I opened a credit card.

With only $175 a month to live on after bills, I only paid the minimum on the credit card, meaning my debt accumulated drastically. I began babysitting on my days off to earn extra money. But by the time I met my husband, I had almost $4000 worth of credit card debt.

I did not have loans from seminary—I was fortunate enough to not only have great financial aid from my seminary, but the wonderful financial aid officer at my seminary would put a little note in my box about every single scholarship or grant opportunity she came across, and I applied for them all. I also worked two part-time jobs (three the year I did Field Education, as I received a stipend for Field Ed). My student loans were not from seminary, but from college.

Contrary to popular belief and even the line on the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form), there was no great contribution from my parents—my dad paid my application deposit, my mom paid my books every year and my plane tickets home—and that is because my parents were not able to contribute more than that.  I had two scholarships and a grant and I still had to take out loans to go to college. Poor begets poor. There is no leg up or hand out simply because we receive financial aid.

My salary and compensation package from my first church did not cover my expenses. After I graduated and later married my husband, also a seminarian with a lot of student debt from seminary, we had difficulty keeping up. We had to borrow from another credit card in order to pay taxes and make our bills. The good news was that we had a lower interest rate and therefore were able to borrow to pay off the higher interest rate cards I had borrowed on.

It wasn’t until my second calling that I finally received a salary that we could live on. And by living I mean we met our bills every month and we started to pay down the credit card debt. We even opened a savings account. Still, we did not meet the minimum salary requirement of my region.

Both churches had the ability to meet the minimum salary requirements, but chose not to for one main reason: they were afraid of running out of money. Budgets were tight and they were afraid that paying me too much would stretch them too thin. Never mind that in both locations, I made less than others with a college degree in our neighborhood (and I had a Master of Divinity). But both congregations were not in a do-or-die mode. Both had endowments, both had savings, both were running a balanced budget. But fear of not having enough made them hold back on their resources, unwilling to meet even the minimum recommendations.

Now I am serving part-time in a small American Baptist congregation in a different region. What I have seen happen over the last ten years is a dramatic decrease in salary and benefits across the country. More churches are unable to meet a minimum requirement because they cannot. Their endowments and savings have dried up.  I am serving a church that has simply run out of money. Members are no longer able to tithe what they used to.  The church needs a full-time pastor but cannot afford one. Instead, I give about the same amount of time I would to a full-time position, but receive only half-time pay. I am grateful my husband receives a full-time package, but it is by serving two churches to create a full-time position. And we have a son with a disability. It seems that we may never get out of the cycle of debt.

The truth is it is not only the pastors who are becoming poorer but the middle class is disappearing all around us. My church cannot afford to pay me a full-time salary and is being stretched thin on a half-time salary because most of the church cannot afford it any longer. Credit card debt is rising. The number of people in the community I serve that live on food stamps and other government resources is rising. While pastors are becoming poorer, so are all of the people around me.

This is not just a pastor problem, this is not just a church problem; this is a problem for us collectively as followers of Jesus: the poor are getting poorer. We can call upon churches to pay more but in many cases that is not possible. We can call upon our people to give more but in many cases that is not possible.

The question we should be asking is much more difficult: how do we tackle poverty? How do we tackle the cycle of debt that many individuals and families in America face today? We are not college kids taking out credit cards to buy stuff we can’t afford, as the media might suggest: we are people who go into debt in order to survive. We are not addressing this question adequately at all.

We have not worked towards a solution to the growth in poverty and debt. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, which is the antithesis of Mary’s Magnificat: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53).

We must work to alleviate poverty and debt, for all people. This must become a collective responsibility. Pastoral compensation must become a collective responsibility of the church, and poverty and debt must become a collective responsibility of us all. 

Hearing is Believing; Listening to Autism

By: J.C. Mitchell

 

It is impossible to be in someone else’s head, yet many people try.  People ponder motive and intention as if they can truly know what one is thinking.  It is often a cause of conflict between people and groups, because the perceived intention or motive is a reality to one, and all parties contribute to the confusion and delay, as they would say on the Island of Sodor, where Thomas the Tank Engine resides; bet you didn’t expect me to go there, but that is my point: people assume more than listen. 

All of this gets complicated for those on the Autism Spectrum, and thus I was intrigued by Jessi Cash’s Blog Post, “When I Overheard a Conversation Between My Son With Autism and His Brother”.  She was privileged to overhearing one son ask her other son, “…what is it like being you?” and the resulting conversation was very interesting and helpful.  So much so I will wait till you read it to go on….

Now you know why I referred to Thomas.   I would love to ask this question to my son; however, he is still struggling with communication.  Currently my son’s communication is limited to grunts, hand pulling, and his communication device, with an occasional verbal word; most, however, are a result of parroting or echolalia (scripting).  So if I asked my son such a complex question I would not at this time engage in an answer that would provide such insights, like that gleaned from the conversation recorded above.  

Nonetheless, yesterday as I was driving the car and searching for a radio station, I stopped on a song, for lack of anything better, and stayed on this unknown song.  It was in French, and sure enough I had stumbled on a French Canadian Channel.  The song was simply the opening for a talk show, and I kept on the channel since I was only minutes from home.  Having studied French in high school, and was even president of the French Language Club, I know some of the language.  I can usually understand simple conversations, and I will proudly tell you that I often confused those who are francophones when I worked at Les Trois Petits Chochons, but I couldn’t keep up the charade beyond basic orders and issues, and had to admit I was not fluent. 

So I listened to the conversation on the radio, and at times I knew what they were talking about; the weather, and a movie, but overall it was all a foreign language to me.   I could simply note when they were excited or reflective, but not what the subject was.  That is when I realized that this must be similar to what my son experiences.  He understands what we are saying in specific contexts and specific words, most of the same words I know in French (yes, no, ball, animals, colors, etc). 

I share this simple observation, because for that 10 minutes of listening to the program, I realized how frustrating it must be to hear the conversation, but not understand it, I too found myself wanting to the change the channel, but that is not possible for him.  He certainly understands more than he communicates, and this epiphany of empathy is essential for us all to attempt, even knowing the answer to “what is it like being you?” 



Theology of Disability Brings Down the Roof

By J.C. Mitchell

I was on a dinner cruise with other Seattle area clergy.  Don’t ask me how it is funded or why, but it is a fun once a year event for the Baptist ministers in the area, and I am married to one of them.  Sure enough, I am often asked what I do, and I explain my passion of including everyone in the church no matter their ability.  That at Open Gathering we truly live out the hard welcome.

I will inevitably say that I am interested in the theology of disability, and I did so that night on the boat, and one pastor repeated it as if he never heard the term before.  I began to think of how do I answer the question of what is theology of disability.  I would suggest reading Nancy Eiesland, Amos Yong, and Thomas Reynolds to start with, along with many others, but the best place to start is with the Rabbi we call Jesus.

According to Mark 2, he was preaching and teaching in a home.  It was crowded and others brought a man on a mat who had been paralyzed.  Four of them carried him, and the scripture suggests there are more, but this group of faithful people with their friend who has a disability could not enter the home.  Please note that when Jesus told him to take up his mat later, there is no issue in vacating the house.  However, those that turned around and saw the man being carried by his friends just turned back to the lesson.  I even imagine the ones carrying their friend approached a window after the door, until one had the bright idea to climb on the roof and illegally break through the roof, to lower their friend.

Then, and even today, disabilities have been seen and interpreted as a result of sin.  It was clear that even the disciples struggled with this as they had to ask Jesus, according to John 9, about another man with a disability, “who sinned this man or his parents?” We know Jesus made it clear that his blindness was not a result of sin.  However, these questions still pop up in my reality: “What did I do to deserve cancer?”  “What did I do….?”  They may drop the word sin, but they are clinging to that theology.

So now the attention is on this man and his friends.  These friends did not believe the idea that just because their friend had ambulatory issues he should be ostracized and kept from accessing community.  They were so bold they even committed a civil disobedient act (to the point of property destruction) to create access and include everyone no matter what.

And Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5b).

How many have, historically and even today, read that as if it said, “Son I forgive your sins?”  This question assumes the idea that people with disabilities are being punished and are not whole people.  But Jesus states the observation he knows so well and saw in his friends.  He saw their faith, not in some sort of mystical magical way, but in their actions of being in community. 

There were no sins for Jesus to forgive, but he had a question for the Pharisees in the room, a question for all of us.  Which is easier, to make people not have disabilities, or to change our idea of sin?  This question is well asked by Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey, in his March 6, 2013 sermon "The WE in ME" (Mark 2:1-7)

Which is easier?  To cure the people with disability and woundedness in your midst, to just make them better?  Or to transform your inaccessible, prejudiced, limiting, stigmatizing theologies and practices.  Which is easier to do?  That’s the question.

And that is the answer to the question asked of me as well: the theology of disability is about changing our lens to include all children of God no matter their ability, or any other form of division, for God sees community and love to be our work on earth as it is in heaven. 



Theodicy: The Question that Should Not be Answered.

By J.C. Mitchell

We love going to the zoo with our son.  The best part is seeing animals that we do not usually see, as well as open space to run.  We bring his iPad with his communication program on it and we practice saying things like:  “I see elephant”  “I see bird”  “I see lizard” and even more complex sentences such as “I like elephant.”  Our son engages better sometimes than other times, and there is of course always an “I want peanut butter & jelly” thrown in, as that is his favorite sentence to create.  So when we are in front of an animal I encourage him to press the appropriate buttons and/or I do it to model conversation.  Inevitably, the children that are nearby watching the animal move their gaze from the animal to us. 

None of them say, “Hello” or engage in a conversation, and worse, their parents do not stop them from gawking.  I bet if their children were staring at a wheelchair or a prosthetic they would at least be embarrassed and try to discreetly change their child’s gaze, and the great parents would engage in a conversation with the one that has a different ability.  Yes, they may wait to do it privately, but I am the one there and I would put money on that not being true.  I also hope you notice that it is quite ironic we are looking to teach our son to converse and the response is to stare and say nothing. 

I do have to admit that in some circumstances people are awesome, like when we went to ”Build-a-Bear” after the zoo (we had a gift certificate) and when we pulled out his iPad to respond what he saw at the zoo earlier, the sales person was wonderful.  She asked what he saw at the zoo, and he navigated off the zoo page and said, “I want peanut butter and jelly.”  She laughed appropriately, as I did as well.  Eventually he choose a black cat.  He loved watching the stuffing being mixed and he picked out a hat for his cat.  We named the cat and added a tutu.  However, most people are not as patient and kind as the sales person, and I noticed parents and other children staring at him as he enjoyed and squealed making his stuffed cat.

Honestly, the stares and the ignoring don’t bother me personally.  Well I lie, but I am so used to it and I know it is more about them seeing something new, than having anything to do with my son or myself.  The staring children are just curious and interested, which I totally understand, and I wait for the bold one that asks about why we use the iPad. I will probably tear up when I show that bold child, and perhaps my son will make a friend even just for that moment in front of the elephants.  The ignoring parents are probably pushing something down they do not want to deal with.  It reminds me of the fear some have seeing a body of a deceased loved one.  They do not want to deal with the image of mortality, or reality.

By ignoring my son, the parents are ignoring questions about their abilities, their children’s, and also why they are “blessed” and others are not.  It is the question of theodicy.  It is honestly the most important part of one’s theology: if you believe that God is good and is Love and is omnipotent, why do bad things happen to good people, and vice versa?  

So how do you answer this essential question?  Do you ignore it despite your children’s curiosity (or congregants)?  Do you make up excuses and exceptions?  The excuses include things like but not limited to: God gave us free-will or God never gives us more than we can handle.  Exceptions include but are not limited to: everything happens for a reason, we learn from our suffering, suffering creates character. 

None of these answer the question, which should not be ignored--but it should never be answered.  It must be lived and engaged.  If you start to answer the question, you will find that theology falls short and you end up with yourself or God as judge. 

When we gather with other families that have a child with special needs (or others with different abilities) the question why is never ignored, but answers are never provided.  The answer is lived by bucking normal.  This is exactly what we need to do as church: stop hiding from the hard question and stop trying to answer it; rather, let us live the answer: Love. 

  just too cute not to share.  We named the cat Huckle.  

just too cute not to share.  We named the cat Huckle.  



Social Media and Social Justice

By Rev. Mindi

I’ve heard so many people comment about what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri, with the words “It’s like the 1960’s all over again,” or “The South never changes.” Never mind that Ferguson, outside of St. Louis, is technically a Midwest town, what is happening in Ferguson, happens all over the United States. And what happened in the 1960’s never stopped in much of the country—what stopped was white people’s awareness of it. This is the reality for black people in the United States: they are more likely to be accused and harassed by citizens and police, more likely to die from violence at the hands of the state.

What has changed since the 1960’s, however, is social media. While the news has covered Ferguson, though it was very slow to do so on national networks, individuals have been reporting via Twitter and Facebook, and livestreaming audio and video. We get not just one eyewitness account of what is happening, but multiple accounts from multiple viewpoints, giving us an overall narrative of what is happening in real time.

A similar thing happened when news of Robin William’s passing broke last week. The hashtag #FaithintheFog came through as a way for people of faith who have mental illness to talk about the stigma, the backlash in the church, and the ways the church has not always been helpful, but harmful.

Social media has offered people an opportunity to share within a global community network about what is going on, to engage in conversation and to build a greater narrative together. The church needs to follow suit. The church universal has the opportunity to engage in a greater narrative, to tell its stories and engage what is important.

Last week, I wrote about #NMOS14, the National Moment of Silence 2014 that took place across the country on Thursday. As was noted on Twitter by @FeministaJones, most of the vigils were organized by diverse people under the age of twenty-five (for more information about how this movement got started, click here).

When I came to my current church two years ago, it didn’t even have internet. We have had to build from scratch: website, Facebook and Twitter, and a weekly e-newsletter. But we don’t leave out those who do not use social media: we print the e-newsletter for those without email. We try to highlight something that happened on Facebook or Twitter in the newsletter so others can read it.

But we are not stuck behind. We are moving forward and working to join in the greater narrative. And the church universal needs to be sure to move with it. The old dismissals of “That’s not real connection or relationships” need to die. #NMOS14 happened because of social media. In Seattle, the momentum is still going and requests for further gatherings to talk about justice issues and follow up with action has all happened because of social media, and there is also accountability because once something is on the internet, it’s on the internet.

Sure, what we have now—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.—will fade away and something new will come. I hear that argument all the time. But if we just wait for the next thing, we will miss out now. Growing up in Alaska, we didn’t have a phone for years—we had a CB radio. My friends in the villages also had CB radios. But if they just kept waiting for land lines to come in, they would still be waiting. Entire villages in Alaska, Canada, South America and Africa—have gone from no phones to smart phones with 4G service. 

The world has changed fast and will continue to do so. But the cause of justice has not changed. Racism has not changed. The stigma around mental illness has not changed. And these things will not change, unless we join in the greater narrative and work for peace and justice with our brothers and sisters in this country and around the world.

National Moment of Silence 2014 #NMOS14

by Rev. Mindi

Michael Brown became the latest victim of unarmed black teens murdered in this country on Saturday afternoon. He was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. As a response to this, to the killing of Eric Garner and many others by state violence, a National Moment of Silence has been organized via social media, and there are vigils taking place across the country. To find one near you, search on Facebook or twitter #NMOS14 +your city’s name. If there isn’t one for your area, consider holding one—there is still time. Also, check the national site on Facebook for further instructions. The goal is to have a peaceful vigil as a response to the violence happening especially to young black men in our country.

Now, here’s the thing: most of you probably won’t bother to look. I know that the readership of this blog is primarily white. I’m writing this not to insult you, but to make you look at yourself, your congregation, and what we value. All too often, White Christianity ignores the experience of Christians of Color around us. I know I have. I have taken up the cause of my LGBTQ siblings, I have spoken up for rights for people of all abilities, but rarely do I write or speak about racism. It’s not because I don’t know that racism exists; it’s that while I can temporarily look at the world and see oppression through the lens as an LGBTQ ally, or look through the lens as a mom of a child with a disability, I do not look through the lens as a person of color. I see the world through my whiteness.

Only rarely, occasionally, have I had a glimpse of what my friends who are black have experienced. I have been in the car with a black friend when he was pulled over by the police, asked to step out of the car with his hands behind his head and searched, then released with no ticket, no explanation but that he was swerving in his car (he wasn’t). I have been pulled over for speeding and received a warning, even when I spoke up to the officer that I wasn’t speeding. Let’s face it—I talked back. If I was black, I do not think I would have gotten off so lightly. I have black children in my church whose parents and grandparents have told me about the times they have been harassed by store clerks because their kids were “attempting to shoplift” when all they were doing was picking up toys and looking at them. My child is loud and runs up and down the aisle, and I can explain that he has a disability, but he is still seen as white first. 

But the truth is I don’t think about it much at all. I don’t think about the systemic racism in our country that filters young black men into the prison system—or worse, they end up dead. I don’t think about the numbers of times that black men are pulled over verses white men. I don’t think about the Stand Your Ground laws and assumptions about black people that protect white folks and cause black youth such as Trayvon Martin and Reshina McBride to end up dead.

I have to change my way of thinking. I have to stop talking and to listen. Go to these vigils. Listen to the stories in our cities, in our communities of the loss and harm that black families have experienced. Work for systemic change. Go to your police departments and ask what sort of training they have to end racial profiling. Find out what the demographics are of your community and how many police officers of color serve. Work to educate your own church and community on racial profiling and violence against persons of color. And White Christians, may we start listening to the experience of Christians of Color in our congregations, in our denominations, in our communities.

Proverbs 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Funding Weapons & Expecting Peace

By J.C. Mitchell

I was mistaken for a Mexican. It was 1994, and I was living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There was a group of college-age men I knew that were obsessed with American Westerns.  These young men had jokingly referred to those from the Free State (Ireland) as Mexicans.  It was not a derogatory term, for some I knew had close ties with the RA (The Irish Republican Army or IRA), but those brothers and sisters from “south of the borders,” were referred to in this group occasionally as “Mexicans,” because of their obsession of classic Western Films.  Because I picked up a mild brogue when I lived in Belfast, they just assumed I was from the Free State.  They were utterly confused I did not know much about Westerns, or cared. 

I was living there working on my Division III for my undergraduate degree from Hampshire College, which can be best explained as my senior thesis. I studied at Queen’s University and in the Public Houses, as most students would.  Students came from both the Loyalist and Republican enclaves, with a smattering of people from the mainland (UK) and the continent, and one American.  However, America was certainly present beyond just me—not only in the references to Westerns, but in the Chicago Style Pizzeria, (a shame they didn't get authentic Connecticut Pizza), and especially the funding of the RA by the Republican diaspora in New York and Boston throughout the decades before. 

Now the Troubles, the term used for the conflict, is very complicated.  It is both a very old conflict that goes back centuries, and during the 20th century it should be described as a civil rights conflict that happened because of colonization.  It is not unlike the conflict in the Middle East--everyone claims it is a religious conflict, but it is actually a conflict based on ethnicity, where those of privilege are supported by the state.  Actually the privileged were supported by an armed and ruthless police state, and in response, the oppressed have done the same, to fight back, making the analogy quite interesting.  Now for various reasons the peace process has progressed on the island my grandparents are from, but there seems to be no progress in Palestine/Israel.

I am not sure what the solution is, but I know one thing we can do in the USA: Stop funding weapons.  When the Irish diaspora stopped funding the IRA and began instead funding their Independent Retirement Accounts, and the United States also allowed Gerry Adams a visa and thus allowing criticism of the violence from the UK, the US finally got out of the way, and greater dialogue was encouraged. USA influence may have continued with television, movies and pizza, but it ended with the funding of weapons and lifting the censorship of the oppressed.  This helped lead to the Good Friday Accord, and the continued work of peace.  

So when I hear we are funding weapons in the Middle East, and we censor the voices of the oppressed, what are we expecting?  I am not suggesting simply being xenophobic and letting them figure it out, but if we call for peace and fund one side and essentially censor one side, what do we expect? 

We are not talking about just some money collected in bars in NYC and Boston; we are talking multi-million dollar funding of weapons.  May we not be known only as cowboys who only answer with the gun or hired gun, for we should know that violence never creates a peace that lasts.  

 


Actions Speak Louder Than Doctrine

By J.C. Mitchell  

I hear Christians of all types say how you treat one another is more important than doctrine.   I can think of two men that remind me of this reality.  The first is John Meis, a student who subdued the shooter at Seattle Pacific University. In Meis’ statement  he writes, “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man.”  He held him for the authorities, and yet still saw the murderer as a person.  This is a powerful statement and it truly comes from a deep faith, which I imagine has been shaken.  I must admit it gives me hope for the world and Christianity that this college student would compose such wonderful response to a horrific experience and share what he saw: another man, not a monster.  I do not need to know John Meis’ doctrine to know that even in restraining another, and specifically a murderer, he still saw and thus treated Aaron Ybarra as a person, and certainly at one of the most trying times of seeing the Creator’s hand in every person.  Meis remarks it was the Divine that empowered him.

The other man that reminds me that how we treat one another is more important than our doctrine is Frank Schaeffer who wrote Why I am an Atheist, Who Still Believes in God: How to give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace.  Schaeffer recounts his life thus far, with wonderful and powerful prose.  Now I would not peg Schaeffer as an atheist, for he prays daily and is an active member of a Christian congregation, but he embraces his doubt.  I find this refreshing, and this should not be confused with being agnostic: “I don’t view my embrace of opposites as a kind of agnosticism. I view it as the way things actually are. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God. I’m not that person. I believe and don’t believe at the same time.” (14)  While this may not seem possible to some Christians or atheists, it is Schaeffer’s experience of the Divine, of the world, and thus we should explore this with him, for it has led him to a place where it is easier to give love, create beauty and find peace.

I would love for everyone to share their faith journey, but what makes Schaeffer’s particular interesting is that his parents were famous evangelicals, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and he was involved in promoting the religious right. He rejected religion altogether, but now is able to fully embrace the mystery of the wonderfully mysterious love many of us call “God.”  Schaeffer shares his epiphanies and doubts in an engaging way weaving his life experiences, Biblical knowledge, scholarship, and art, that I imagine atheists and Christians (or for that matter all people of faith) would agree with his conclusion, which I started with: how you treat people is more important than what you believe.

Schaeffer shares moving stories about his very conservative parents who would have told you that homosexuality is a sin, yet they saw each person as a child of God and saved any judgment for the divine, even renting a home to a lesbian couple.  This proved to be the same non-judgmental love he felt when as a teen he and his now wife found themselves as unmarried and pregnant.  His parents embraced him and Genie, for doctrine about marriage is not as important as love.

One of the most interesting points Schaeffer makes is comparing Denmark and the USA.  In Denmark,  the culture lives the mission of Jesus, by taking care of everyone and providing education to everyone, but very few go to church.  While in the USA we consider ourselves to be a religious nation, and we know children go to bed hungry, have inadequate health care available, and education is influenced by your property taxes.  This juxtaposition of cultures has to rattle all Christians to consider what is more important: your dogma or how you treat the social other?

“How we treat others is the only proof of truth we have. That proof is not found in any book. It is only found in the expression of unconditional trust we may sometimes see in the eyes of the people who know us best.” (91) It is in our families and those we are close to where we, like Schaeffer, find the unconditional trust and love many of us call the Divine (God), and when we can look at those that have hurt us and others and see them as a human, we are on the way of truth. 

How we treat one another is according to Frank Schaeffer the key, and I believe Jon Meis lived that out in that instance he saw a “a very sad and troubled young man” even if do not agree with Meis’ belief that “God gave [him] the eyes…”  Meis did.