Violence is not Redemption

By Rev. Mindi

By the time you read this, Kelly Gissendaner will most likely be dead. Killed by the state of Georgia. Five others are due to be executed in our country this week, including Richard Glossip, scheduled to be killed Wednesday evening.

If you don’t know Kelly’s story, look at the hashtag #KellyOnMyMind. Kelly had her husband murdered. There is no question about that, no doubt about guilt. But there is also repentance and forgiveness. Kelly has repented of her actions, reconciled with her children who have forgiven her, attended seminary while in prison, helped counsel and care for many women while they were in prison. But all actions as of 8 p.m. Pacific time on Tuesday night have not resulted in clemency or a stay of execution.

What strikes me about Kelly’s story is not her own work, though anyone can see from her life that repentance and forgiveness is possible in this lifetime. What strikes me is that we still have not learned our lesson as a people.

Fourteen years ago this summer, I was in the middle of my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, 400 hours of intensive works as a chaplain intern at a hospital in Boston. As I entered a patient’s room, I paused, because I noticed he was crying. He wiped his eyes quickly, but I asked him how he was, what brought on the tears. He jerked his head up to the TV, and I looked to see the names of the victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Timothy McVeigh was being executed that day. The patient told me that he was from Oklahoma City and had lost a friend in the bombing. “This has brought it all back. His death hasn’t made this any better, but it has brought all this grief back.” His expression turned to anger, and he said to me, quietly, “Timothy McVeigh killed over a hundred people, but we killed Timothy McVeigh.”

Though I have always been, for the most part, against the death penalty, McVeigh’s case had caused me to almost change my mind. This ruthless act, without remorse, to kill as many people as possible—if anyone deserved death, it was McVeigh in my mind. To this day, I can never forget the TIME magazine article with the photo of the firefighter carrying the dead baby girl out of the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

However, to this day, I can also never forget the words of that man in the hospital, with the tears down his face, reliving his grief as if his friend had been killed that very day I was visiting him.

The death penalty does nothing to deter murder; it does nothing to relieve pain and suffering. While I have never experienced the grief and pain of having a loved one murdered, I have met more people since that day whose loved ones were killed, who find that the death penalty does nothing to bring them healing or wholeness. It does not bring their loved one back.

We have mistaken punishment for justice. We have believed in the myth of redemptive violence. Our own Jesus was killed through capital punishment. So why do we still hold on to it? Why do we still believe that capital punishment is just, that killing another is a satisfactory response to murder?

I’m glad that Kelly’s life was transformed by Christ, that she has reconciled with her children and experienced forgiveness. I’m glad that so many have spoken up and that this movement has swept across the country and the world. I’m very saddened that at the moment I am posting this, there seems to be no hope at this time to save Kelly’s life. I am grieved that so many call this justice served, when there is no hope of restoration in this. Murder does not cancel out murder.

We must work to abolish the death penalty entirely, for the innocents and for the guilty, for those that grieve and those who cry out in anger. For the death penalty will never bring justice, but only relived pain, grief, and emptiness.

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 Moral Unclean

By Brian Carr

We, as Christians, have a problem with morality.

By this I mean that we think we have issues of morality figured out. We think that we have become the ultimate definers of what it means to be a good and moral person. We think that we have explored the Bible enough that we can make these types of judgments, in completely objective and conscious fashions.

The problem with this is that we really don’t know what defines morality, especially on a universal level. We are also biased in ways that we are not fully aware of, in ways that define the morality of a person based on ideas we are subconsciously carrying with us.

Let’s start with two examples – cleanliness and the idea of negativity dominance.

Have you ever heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness”? It is a phrase said most often by our parents when they were trying to get us to clean our rooms or pickup our toys (for the record, this never worked for my mother). It is also a phrase that does not appear in the bible, and Christians educated on the myths of the bible are often quick to point this out.

While this specific phrase is not in any of the biblical texts, the concept is central to how Jews understood both sin and the idea of connecting to God. And because this concept was central to the Hebrew Bible, it has naturally rubbed off on Christians, even if we continually attempt to distance ourselves from the “old” testament.

Cleaning rituals were of utmost importance in the Hebrew Bible. Many sins could be dealt with by taking part in cleansing rituals. Many sins could be dealt with by sacrificing a clean animal. Being physically clean was the name of the game for many Jews. This thought also invaded the New Testament (uh-oh!) with Jesus’ death having the power to “wash away sins” and washing believers as “white as snow.”

Spiritually cleanliness was intrinsically tied with physical cleanliness. “So what does this have to do with us now?” you might be asking. “We don’t follow cleansing rituals or sacrifice any animals, clean or unclean!” And you would be right. We may not follow those practices anymore, but we still follow the concept of physical cleanliness having something to do with spiritual cleanliness.

Whether we realize it or not, we still associate being physically dirty with somehow being immoral. I can’t tell you how often I have heard people complain about someone being “under-dressed” at church or “needing a haircut” to look less like a homeless person. We have an idea that in order to be present with God in church, we must be showered, well-manicured, and dressed nicely. I remember reading a study by a pastor who would go into churches dressed and smelling like a homeless man, and he was never greeted warmly or invited back to the church.

When we associate dirtiness with immorality, we want to immediately expel and exclude these dirty people. This is because we subconsciously believe in a concept called negativity dominance. Negativity dominance suggests that when a positive and negative force meet, the negative force will make the positive force negative, rather than the other way around. Part of the Jewish cleansing rituals was a period of isolating yourself from society. This was because of the belief that unclean people could make clean people unclean. So if you had done something to make yourself unclean, you had to get away from others because you were now able to make people unclean simply by your presence. The negative would always be able to ruin the positive. 

This is why the Pharisees would be appalled by Jesus interacting with the unclean people of the society, those who were excluded and on the fringes. The Pharisees assumed that the unclean people would make Jesus unclean. They could not fathom the concept of Jesus being able to clean them simply by HIS presence. Negativity dominance was the norm for the Pharisees. Jesus came to make positivity dominance the new norm.

So what does all of this have to do with Christians being the champions of morality? It shows us that we subconsciously define people’s morality based on something as arbitrary and unimportant as cleanliness. It shows us that we are defining morality based on things that have nothing to do with morality. What other things are we incorrectly attributing to someone’s morality? Before we start to decide whether someone is a good person or not, it is crucial that we first recognize the biases we carry in defining this morality. If not, we are in danger of becoming the Pharisees who exclude Jesus’ ministry and build up boundaries that don’t let God in.

"Almost Heaven... West Virginia"

By Rev. Mindi

I am a fifth generation ordained American Baptist pastor. My grandfather, his brothers, my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all Baptist ministers in West Virginia.  Though I’ve only been to the state a handful of times over the years, there are certain things that stick out in my mind. Getting carsick on the winding back roads in the mountains. The blue sky. The high bridges over the deep rivers cutting through this Appalachian state. The number of churches.  The green rolling fields. Now, all those generations before me are buried back in West Virginia. And the mountains—my God, the mountains. While I grew up in Alaska with Denali practically in my backyard, the mountains of West Virginia, much, much older—both geologically speaking and in my connection with them.

Coal is part of West Virginia.  Outside of my extended family, just about everyone I have known in West Virginia worked in a coal mine or for a coal company or had a family member who did so. Many of the members of my family’s churches were workers in the coal mines or worked for the coal companies in some way. They provide most of the jobs there. Coal provides, but coal takes away. Just do a quick Google search for Coal Mining in West Virginia and these are the photos that come up. Entire mountains have been taken down by the coal mines.  And of course, for years the coal companies paid their workers in script that could only be used at the company store.  I know of at least one story in my family that my grandfather got into trouble for trying to help miners organize within his church.

So this latest tragedy—300,000 people now without access to water, having to purchase bottled water or have it sent in from the National Guard—has me fuming. It’s not only not drinkable, but residents have been advised not to bathe in it, brush their teeth in it—basically, they should not touch it.

West Virginia is Baptist Country. My great-great-grandfather was the Director of Religious Education for the West Virginia Baptist Convention for over thirty years in the early 1900's, my great-grandfather was president of the state convention in 1948. The river is the place you go in your white robes to be baptized as a believer by immersion.  I can’t sing “Shall We Gather At The River?” without thinking of the cool waters pouring down from the Appalachians.

Water is the symbol of our life as Christians. We celebrated the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday (if you follow the Revised Common Lectionary), where Jesus goes to John at the River Jordan to be baptized.  Right now, you cannot get baptized in much of West Virginia. You cannot gather at the river because we’ve allowed it to be poisoned.

The company that stored the chemicals was never inspected or tested because it only stored the chemicals, it didn’t create them, so therefore they were exempt from the Department of Environmental Protection regulations.  And because of so little oversight and the loopholes, scientists don’t even know what exactly was leaked, how bad it is for us and other creatures, or what the long-term damage might be. Scary.

So what is our call as Christians?

We need to work on strengthening environmental protections and regulations. Look into your own state’s environmental protections, call your legislators and ask what needs to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Take up the call for environmental justice in your church because environmental justice affects all of us. This is not something that can afford to be a liberal issue, this must be an issue of health and safety for all of us and for God’s Green Earth. 

Pray for the people of West Virginia. If you have connections regionally or locally with other churches, ask about sending funds or bottled water to help. And bring about resolutions or statements, however your denomination works, to address these kind of issues so that the church also is heard. Give the church a voice that speaks out for environmental justice nationally.

One industry should not have that much power in one place. One industry should not hold the jobs, the mountains and the water supply hostage, directly or indirectly.  As Christians, we need to be speaking up and taking a stand.

Thoughts on Forgiveness

By Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee

I spend a lot of time thinking about forgiveness.  Maybe it is because I have a lot for which I need to be forgiven.  Maybe it is because I know a lot of people who are seeking forgiveness.  Regardless, forgiveness—and all the issues that surround it—wrestle around in my soul.

I’m pretty simple when it comes to forgiveness.  For the most part, I believe that saying “I’m sorry” and really meaning it goes a long way toward clearing a path that has been inundated with stones and boulders.  I know that people say “I’m sorry” far too easily and do not expect that repairs are going to have to be ongoing.  Somehow we expect that the “I’m sorry” erases the wrong doing.  Deep inside we know we are not done with an “I’m sorry.”  The reparations still need to be made.  Yet, it is a beginning a first step.

Some call me a push over because I open myself to be hurt again.  I mean hasn’t “I’m sorry” been pretty much reduced to “My bad?”  What is the harm in believing someone is authentically sorry for an action when they tell me they are?  (Just so we are clear, I am not speaking about those who have suffered abuse, torture, or violence at the hand of another. I am speaking about the basic elements of forgiveness to which we have been called.)

Working with addicts has taught me a lot about forgiveness.  It takes time and work.  When requested it must come without expectation.  When truly offered it comes with no strings attached.  Forgiveness is not offered with an addendum that says “I will repeal this at any time I deem you unworthy.”  It comes with a blanket of grace that says “You are forgiven.  I don’t want to be hurt again.  But I will not allow my pain to separate me from the opportunity to love another person.” 

My inability to forgive someone is more harmful to me than it is to the other person.  Holding onto pain and resentment creates more roadblocks to life than does forgiveness.


Let's Go Dutch

By JC Mitchell

So being a parent of a child with special needs is hard to explain to a parent with a child that is typical (that is physically, neurologically, mentally, typical).   I will be the first to admit at times I have no idea how you deal with the demands of a four year old typical child, for my four year old with autism never talks back and never asks for the newest toy.  Emily Perl Kingley wrote in 1987 this piece that is shared with parents with children with special needs as well as those trying to understand. It is called “Welcome to Holland,”

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

This is powerful, and I hope eye-opening, and the second to last line is just as important as the last.  That is the tension.  You can imagine if you did actually end up in the Netherlands and not on the Apennine Peninsula, you would be angry at your travel agent.  For me, the closest thing to a travel agent would be God, so I would express my angry to God at times.  Yes, I would not want to miss the tulips or the windmills, but I express my frustration about the situation to God.

It is however, not going to Holland that I am angry about any more.  I have mourned that and I enjoy the very lovely things of my landscape.  The difficulty is everyone that has been to Italy only wants to see the pictures of the windmills, and not hear about the frustration to the travel agent.  They want to compare Rembrandt with Michelangelo and not hear how many therapies, extra time, money, tears, prayers, and hard work it took to get a Rembrandt.  I have learned Italian (only metaphorically) but none have bothered to learn Dutch, or even Frisian.  That is actually where my anger lies even more, because that is why I am reminded of the pain and difficulty of raising a child with special needs, when those with typically developing children think nothing of our adventure in Holland.

A great example of this insensitivity is within the current school district we live in.  We had a listening session on Monday night, and one group that admitted to be parents of gifted children stood up and spoke Italian and claimed Holland.  That is one step too far. I am angry.  They said their children also have special needs and held up a bell curve.[i]  They inferred that children with special needs are taking resources from their children and thus claimed Holland: Special Needs.  Because I have been forced to speak their language as well as my new Dutch, I realize what they are saying, that their children have special necessities, but to say they have special needs is to steal our language without understanding what we go through.

To cut any more programs and help to children with special needs means a difference between independence and/or reaching full potential for people, while cutting programs for the gifted, means they need to do independent study or create new group situations.  Having been a member of the National Honors Society, (teacher made me join, go teachers!) I recall that I and other truly gifted students studied and did projects on our own, or through civic organizations.  They all made it to college; and yes, some made bad decisions, but that’s life.  My anger is that the superintendent of schools, or anyone else, did not politely tell these people that utilizing another’s label to take resources from them who desperately need it was insensitive and infringing on civil rights.  That’s correct--civil rights.  The population with various disabilities deserve education and yes it costs more, but trust me, the parents take on a lot of the bill themselves.  To me, it is not unlike white families that say the same thing about an immigrant population.

So in my best Italian, I encourage you to read the piece above again, but go forth trying to learn some Dutch.  

Jesus tells us the neighbor is the one who shows mercy, the Samaritan, a person considered lowly and not of the neighborhood.  The language of the Samaritan was that of mercy and compassion, without boundaries.  We need the gifted to be challenged, but more importantly, we need to have compassion for those with Special Needs and at least provide the basic assistance to bring every child up to their potential.  We are not quite there yet, even with great teachers, parents, allies, and SPECIAL children.

special needs kids of all races and needs.jpg

[i] The bell curve is irrelevant for those with disabilities range on both sides of the curve.  I myself was tested for gifted and special education. While gifted programs are simply for a small amount at the top, some of may even require special needs education be it for a physical, learning, mental, or developmental disability.  I footnoted this for this is absolutely ironic that the parents of gifted children did not understand this, or they are just very clever.  Either way, does not look good.


Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Into the night of his very own room (a tribute to Maurice Sendak)

Forgive this article today. It may seem superficial or just silly. I had an idea for an article today but it wasn’t coming together.

Then Maurice Sendak died, and I knew I needed to write about him, and Where the Wild Things Are.

Where the Wild Things Are is, as everyone knows, a beloved children’s classic.  I never bothered to see the movie because I knew it would create an unintentional background and write in a new story where one never was.  The same happened with the full-length motion picture The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  Sometimes, we really should leave the classics alone, for we lose the beauty and innocence of the original tale.

Every one of us has a wild streak, a time when we don’t play by the rules and we do things because we want to.  We make mischief of one kind and another until we find ourselves alone, because we’ve pushed others away by our actions.  We enter The Wild, becoming a Wild Thing.  We join the Wild Rumpus.  We are driven by desire to satisfy ourselves.

But at some point, we realize that living by our desires doesn’t fulfill us.  We realize that the people who love us the most are the ones we may have pushed away—and we attempt to fill that emptiness but we remain hollow.  Like Max, we may hear the call of The Wild even say that we are loved, but we know the real love is the love that calls us into responsibility, into caring for others, and that real love is always waiting for us.

No matter where we wander and roam into The Wild of the world, we know that we can always turn back.  Supper will still be waiting for us, and it will still be hot.

Rest in Peace, Maurice Sendak, for teaching me about faith before I could read, and more importantly, about love like a mother has for her Wild Child.  May you make your way home from the Wild, and may you find your supper still waiting for you, hot.

Reframing "Choice"

Hilary Rosen’s comments last week about Ann Romney never having “worked a day in her life” may have created controversy but there has been a larger debate going on in the public political sphere for the past year, namely the “War on Women.”  From Maryland, where a few lawmakers wanted to cut Head Start funding because “women should be married, at home with the kids”  to Wisconsin where equal pay legislation was recently repealed and where one legislator wants to make it illegal to be a single parent and blames single mothers because it is the “choice of the women” and it is a “mistake” to the recent debates about birth control with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh’s comments in the media, to the number of anti-abortion and restrictive legislation that has been proposed across the country, from transvaginal ultrasound bills in Virginia and Texas to personhood law proposals in Mississippi and my current state of Oklahoma, including this legislation that was first attempted in 2010 and is currently under debate –originally designed to protect doctors from being sued for failing to disclose abnormalities found in prenatal screenings, the later version was part of the recent personhood bill as well. One of the key words in this debate/war/attack/whateverthehellitis is choice.  Framed by the Right, choice is negative if it comes to anything having to do with a woman’s body, privacy, or reproduction.  Choice is only positive when it comes to choosing something over the woman’s personal life: choosing family over career, choosing to stay at home rather than work, choosing to care for an elderly parent or sick child over other activities.  Choice is only positive when the woman is in the caregiving role and gives up of herself from that framework.

The truth is that for many women and many families this concept of choice as framed by the Right does not exist.  Many families need two incomes simply to make ends meet, to pay a mortgage or rent, to pay student loans or medical bills—these are necessary expenses, not bills like cable or gym memberships.  For most families this is not a choice, but a necessity, to have both parents working.

Some of the “choices” are framed by our society still running on outdated conservative views: it is still more difficult for a father to stay home and raise children than a mother.  In the first year and a half of our son’s life, my husband was in part-time ministry and I was full-time, so he was home more than I was.  We shared in child-raising and housekeeping duties.  However, if one needed to go out and run errands, it is much easier to find a changing table in a women’s restroom than it is in a men’s.  Play and social groups are often mothers with children; I know from the experience of my husband and of other male friends that even today that men who take part in these activities with their children are often either eyed suspiciously or viewed disapprovingly.  For my male same-sex friends with children, they are often hit with the double-standard of being both male and gay when trying to interact with traditional mom’s groups on the playground.

From my own personal experience, I am outraged over the proposal in Maryland to cut Head Start funding.  My family moved to a very rural location where we had to make ends meet on one full-time income (my husband’s) and I work part-time.  I work part-time because in this economy I have found it difficult to find a full-time job, especially as a female minister in a predominantly male-led social location (that is another article for another time).  As we recognized that our son had unique needs and was later diagnosed with Autism, we found that the best program for him was our local native Head Start program.  They provided the structure and resources necessary for his development, something I could not provide at home.  Many of the children in Head Start programs across the country are not there because their parents dropped them off so they could work and have more things; they are there because they have special developmental needs that cannot be met by a parent staying at home, nor can a parent afford a full-time daycare for their child’s social needs.  Head Start provides valuable resources for children with developmental delays such as my own.

Very few of the women I know ever chose to become a single mom.  Most had marriages or relationships that fell apart.  Some are widows.  This is not their choice.  The idea of enacting legislation to punish single parents who have already been punished by society is sickening.

Women don’t choose to be raped.  They do not choose to be abused by uncles and fathers.  They do not choose to become pregnant and have their own health or life threatened.  They do not choose to become pregnant and have their health insurance or job stripped from them.  They do not choose many of the circumstances that lead to a woman having to make a difficult decision to end a pregnancy.  And in all my years working with pregnant women in crisis, none of them have ever used abortion as a form of birth control.  It has always been a heart-wrenching painful decision.  I would not call it a choice because if there was a better alternative for their health and life—medically, psychologically, and otherwise—they would take it.

For many women, birth control is a choice for the betterment of their own health, and often it is a choice made with their partner/spouse.  It is a choice made for the family, a decision about whether or when to have children.

None of these are “choices” to be made by lawmakers, let alone self-proclaimed moral leaders.  It is sickening to think that a woman chooses to take birth control just so she can be promiscuous (what Rush Limbaugh accused Sandra Fluke, a respected law student, of doing).  It is disgusting to think that a woman should choose to make less because “men enjoy making money more” (one of the arguments used to repeal the Equal Pay legislation in Wisconsin).  It is horrifying to think that a woman would have a choice in becoming pregnant by rape or incest and then be forced to have no choice in remaining pregnant.

We need to be aware of the way the word choice has been used in the public discourse, but especially the way the Right has framed the definition of choice, used positively only in supporting a woman’s decision to remain home (which very few women actually have the choice to do) and negatively in any other scenario in which she might actually have a choice.  Of course there is no need to portray staying at home in a negative light—if one parent could stay at home with children, regardless of whether it is a mom or a dad, single or coupled—it would be wonderful for most.  It is one of the most important jobs in the world, to parent a child—but one can be a great parent at work or at home.  I know for my son, having Autism, staying at home all the time is not what he needs developmentally.  He needs to learn from social groups and have other adults interacting with him, speech pathologists and therapists and special aides to help him learn and grow so he can participate in society.  Thank God for programs like Head Start.  Thank God that I do have choices, though not framed in the way the Right would frame them.

We need to call out the framing of the word choice, the way it is used and defined by society and by the Right, and remember that the best way to have true choice is to strip away society’s old barriers (start by installing more changing tables in men’s bathrooms and/or having more “family” public restrooms—you can do this in your church!) and call out the way the Right uses the word choice.  Let us give the power of choice back into the hands of women, so that they can make the best choice for them and their families.

Jesus and the Plutocrats: Why Christians Should Have a Problem with Citizens United

plutocracy: a state or society governed by the wealthy

Like many people, I’ve been following the political donnybrook that masquerades as our national discourse on the disparity of wealth. (It’s as bad as it’s ever been.) There’s a lot of talk about “job creators” and “fiscal responsibility” by those on the right, along with healthy doses of whining when such lofty sounding phrases are questioned.

The argument by those who contend that the wealthy must be protected from the suggestion that they don’t already give enough, an especially nimble plutocratic dance move, goes something like this:

“The wealthy earned their wealth through hard work. Moreover, the wealthy create jobs with their wealth. Therefore, everyone who’s not wealthy has a vested interest in the wealthy accruing as much unfettered wealth as possible. So, let’s don’t make them feel bad for being so successful.”

Leaving aside the myth of the “job creators,” it’s important to articulate the assumptions that underly this sentiment. At its base, the “don’t tax the wealthy” approach to governance assumes that society will be better off in the long run if wealthy people not only get to keep all of their wealth, but are appreciated for the mere fact of being wealthy. On this account, not only is wealth a communal good in the abstract, those who possess wealth, unless proven otherwise, also find themselves on the noble end of the moral spectrum in virtue of their wealth.

Of course, this conflation of wealth and honor isn’t new. The whole idea of describing character and behavior as noble comes from its historic attachment to the nobility (L. nobilis)–that class of citizens who were “well-known or prominent”–which class, generally speaking, also implied an association with wealth.

However, the equating of virtue and wealth doesn’t just have implications for how we view wealth and wealthy people and their responsibilities to society; it also affects how we view poverty and poor people. If being wealthy is understood to be a communal good, then being poor cannot help but be understood as a communal vice–a status to be avoided. Poor people have not only themselves to blame as individuals, perhaps just as importantly, the implication is that they’re not pulling their communal weight. The idea that poor people, as Stephen Schwarzman says, don’t have “skin in the game” is worthy of comment.

Asking those who have very little if any skin left to put in the game strikes me as not only outrageous, but as something that people who claim to follow Jesus have a stake in denouncing–loudly. This cultural pressure applied to the poor, grousing that the poor need to do more, reminds me of the story that opens Luke 21.

Pretty famous story, actually. The widow’s mite. In the story Jesus has just finished a rather heated exchange with the scribes, a group of well-heeled professional theological pundits, whom Jesus has warned everyone to keep an eye on. Immediately preceding the story of the widow’s mite is an especially pointed exhortation to watch the scribes, because “they devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

And with that cautionary admonition about the way the scribes treat widows, Jesus looks up to see some rich people putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He notices a widow adding her two small copper coins, and remarks, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on (21:3–4).”

Traditionally, this passage has been used as a way to spur giving in church. The message is something like, “You can give more–even if you think you can’t. Sacrificial giving is a privilege you don’t want to deny yourself.” Or, in a more popular–though, I would argue also more facile–rendering: “Give until it feels good.”

And while I consider “sacrificial giving” an honorable act, I think that is only a secondary point here. Given the way Luke sets up this story, I think he has his sites set a bit higher up the socio-economic ladder.

What do I mean?

I would like to suggest that this story in Luke’s hands is a way of challenging a system that pressures a poor widow (arguably the most vulnerable class of people in the ancient Near East) to forfeit her last two bits so that she too can have some “skin in the game.” That is to say, the wealthy (identified as “rich people”) and the powerful (identified as “the scribes, who ‘devour widows’ houses’”) contribute to a set of power arrangements whereby they sacrifice a small percentage, while getting to feel superior to the poor and the powerless, whose contributions in real wealth are tiny by comparison.

In other words, Jesus’ scorn is aimed not just at the fact that the wealthy contribute relatively little as a percentage of what they own compared to the poor (who contribute at an extraordinarily higher percentage relative to what they actually own), but that the wealthy and the powerful help to perpetuate a religio-political structure that leaves the poor and the powerless feeling like they must surrender every last cent in order to be full participants. Making those at the bottom feel less than human so they’ll cough up more to keep those at the top from having to “sacrifice” more is an abomination according to Jesus.

In fact, read this way, the next two verses about the destruction of the temple suggest not just some prophecy about the devastation of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., or a supercessionist end to traditional Judaism, or even an oblique reference to the resurrection, but a commentary on how the current system of power arrangements that revolves around a structure that pressures the poor to sacrifice even more to be considered participants will be overthrown in the coming reign of God.

Decisions like Citizens United, which gives an unfettered voice to corporations as notional human beings—those who already seem to hold all the political cards—is only emblematic of the way our own system in the United States is rigged to keep shoveling food down the gullets of those who are already politically and financially obese.

The assertion that we in America live in a plutocracy, where the wealthy and the powerful get to call all the shots, seems to me not even worth arguing. Anyone with even a little sense knows who’s in charge.

All I’m arguing is that people who follow Jesus–a man killed by plutocrats for challenging a similar system--don’t have any real stake in propping up a plutocracy.

What I learned from Jeremy Lin

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve likely heard something about professional basketball player Jeremy Lin. Coming completely out of nowhere to suddenly be the talk of not only the sports world but also dominating the national news as well; Jeremy has seemingly followed the same unimaginable and unbelievable career path as Ted Williams.  Remember him, the guy with the “golden voice”who meteorically shot to stardom after being put on YouTube.  Lin, despite being awarded as one of the best basketball players in California, received little college attention and ended up playing at Harvard—a prestigious place for academics but hardly noticeable for athletics. After being passed up in the draft, he was signed, then waived by a couple teams before landing with the New York Knicks and the rest is history. Besides the sports aspect, there has been another faced to his story—his ethnicity—he the first American-born player in the NBA of Chinese or Taiwanese descent; and this is where the story begins.

“Linsanity,” as it is so-called, has brought up some discussion regarding race and ethnicity in America and American sports.  How could Lin have been passed over by so many teams, both in college and the NBA? Did his ethnicity have anything to do with that? Then came the headline, one similar to the original title of this blog post which was "A Ch*nk in my Armor: What I learned from Jeremy Lin"—one that I am very reticent to even repeat. The thing is, when I first heard about this story, I didn’t even realize such a word could be used as a racial slur; I was quite naïve. I consoled myself that it’s better to be naïve about things like this—knowing all these nasty things won’t help me any; and then I came to my senses.
Some Americans—and I should clarify by saying white middle-class Americans (mostly males)—believe that if they are not aware of racism and prejudice in America, it must not exist. It’s sort of like the Ostrich with its head in the sand, we tend to busy ourselves with so many other things we (intentionally?) blind ourselves to what is going on around us.  It’s amazing how whenever the issue of race comes up in a political discussion, pundits seem to always deride those who are “playing the race card.”  Oddly enough, those saying race and prejudice isn’t an issue in America anymore happen to be white.
There are four methods of racism/exclusion, as suggested by writer Miroslav Volf.  There is the violence of expulsion, the violence of assimilation, the subjugating of the other, and the exclusion by the indifference of abandonment.  Americans have been guilty of all of these forms of racism and prejudice.  America practiced violent expulsion through slavery, “internment camps” during WWII, and so on. America practiced the violent assimilation by way of our cultural imperialism demanding adherence to the “American Way” and the abandoning of all former ways and cultures in order to jump into the “Melting Pot.”   We see the subjugating of others in America in the “separate but equal” laws of the south, lack of funding for schools and job training for minorities in the inner-cities, and the antagonism displayed toward immigrants from Mexico (otherwise known as “illegal”).  America has practiced abandonment through the current political climate in which recipients of government aid are deemed lazy and as entitlement moochers.  Rather than address the situations and structures from which they have descended into poverty, America chooses to simply look down our nose at them before turning the other way. We are all guilty. I am guilty.
I was foolish enough to think that since I didn’t realize the word “Chink” could be used as a racial slur, I was innocent—the opposite is true; my ignorance is my sin.  I am a racist and I am prejudiced, for even though I may not knowingly participate in racist acts, I still participate in and often promote a culture which is explicitly racist and prejudiced toward anything other than itself.  My ignorance is my shame, rather than reaching out to those around me who are different and listening to their stories and hearing their concerns, I have transgressed through my lack of understanding—for that I can only apologize.  As I write this I am aware that I am not addressing other forms of prejudice such as gender, religion, sexual orientation while also painfully conscious of the still other forms of racism and prejudice I am not aware of and unknowingly participate in daily—perhaps even in the words of this article—this is my indignity.
It is my prayer going forward that I will remove my own blinders that limit my ability to see prejudice around me, conquer my hesitancy to connect with those different than myself, strive to become aware of the pain and prejudice that many of my fellow human beings deal with on a daily basis and to have the courage to ask forgiveness. But if forgiveness is to happen, I must tell what I am sorry for—and for me to be sorry, I must recognize the wrongdoing that I have done.  I pray my eyes will be opened  and for my heart to be sensitive.  May God forgive America and may God forgive me. Amen.
Volf’s work comes from Injustice and the Care of Souls
 Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen B.Montagno, Editors