Kingdom of God

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

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,’ ...............you 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, ...............so 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 ...............is 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 ...............to 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, .....in 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

Subverting the American Creation Myth

(From Isa 61 - 5.13.12)

People who imagine history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. 

 This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves.  Impaled.  They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.  This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues white Americans sometimes entertain with that black conscience, the black man in America.

The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea: Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway, it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present on the middle passage.[1]

In the so-called colorblind America of the 21st century in which we live, there is a conversation that we need to have.  And when I say “we,” I am imploring you to remove the race-less spectacles we’ve been told to wear, so that we can acknowledge the extraordinary colors of the human family, and see where a great many of us have been divided and conquered along those lines.  When I say “we,” I’m talking about American white folks.  Specifically, I’m talking about my people.  And as an upper-middle class, straight, American, white male between the ages of 18-35, I know how our collective posterior can tighten at the mention of a talk about race.  I understand the uncomfortable position to be put in where there seems to be no good answer to any question put to the white man about race in America today.  Can’t we just move past this?  Wasn’t the Civil Rights Movement victorious?  Can’t you see that we have a black man in the White House?  I understand the hot flush that runs up the back of our necks for something we can’t quite name, and the incredulous frustration over the guilt that is sure to be heaped upon us.  I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys being force-fed shame over original sins committed years before his birth.  And I certainly understand the response of good white people of every political stripe to advocate the move to colorblindness, so that the race-less virtues of merit and accomplishment, of strong families and solid faith, may overcome the social challenges of the regrettable behavior of distant ancestors.  So let me assure you that while this conversation is sure to be difficult, it is one that we must have in order to move forward along the great arc of human history bending towards God’s justice.  And while we must all accept our responsibility to do the heavy lifting of kin-dom building, I promise you that shame and guilt are not burdens we are designed to carry.

As people of faith, we have ways to engage the truth of God, of who we are and of what we are designed to do.  And while we may all agree that Biblical texts are an entry point to that engagement with the divine, careful study of how those texts have interacted and responded to the world since its original composition is crucial in order to sift the Word of God out from a desert of lies and misinformation.

As we examine the Genesis creation story handed down to us through the descendants of Abraham, let us consider the Babylonian creation myth, Enûma Eliš.  This narrative tells of gods who war with one another, who resort to violence, and who create the world out of the corpse of the defeated.  The gods who have been conquered become servants of the victorious, until it is decided that humans are to be created in order to assume the burden of labor for the gods.  This story served the dynastic kings, who were legitimized by the supreme deity, in order to preserve and maintain the Babylonian power structure.  You see, it was necessary to assure people who were forced to labor for the building of the empire that they had been created for slavery.  If the status quo must be protected, then it becomes critical to tell a narrative that asserts the righteousness of the status quo.

The Abrahamic faith narrative, however, reveals that God has a way of subverting unjust power structures the status quo.

The ancients who first heard and recorded the creation story we find in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, people who were aware the Babylonian myth, would have detected the bold and subversive claim that humans were not created for slave labor, but rather to rule over the created world and all the abundant life within it.  The Genesis story claims that human beings were not conceived at the end of a series of bickering, failures, annoyances and war among the god, but rather created intentionally good.  We see in Genesis the boundless delight of God, pleased with God’s creation of male and female, made in the very image of God.

So God created humankind in [God’s] image, in the image of God [God] created them; male and female [God] created them.  God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:27-28, NRSV).

And the climax of our creation story is not that the point of life is for toil under the oppression of the state, but for Sabbath rest.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the seventh day God finished the work that [God] had done, and [God] rested on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that [God] had done in creation (Gen 2:1-3, NSRV).

You see, we have a remarkable story of who we are and what we are designed to do in this grand mystery of incarnation, in this beautiful and abundant world.  But the power of this story is uniquely revealed when we consider the dominant narrative that it challenges.  The power structure says that humans were created as an afterthought for the leisure of the gods.  Genesis says that we are created in the image of the Divine.  The power structure says that humanity was created for endless toil.  Our God says that we created for empowerment and the benevolent rule of an abundant world.  The power structure says that life is a burden of work from the cradle to the grave.  God declares a holy day of Sabbath rest.  God compels us to have faith that creation is so abundant that six days of work will fill seven days of life.

So what does this have to do with the conversation that we must have about race today?

When I say that the world is abundant, that God wills us to have prosperity and leisure, upper-middle class white people like myself hardly skip a beat.  We look at our broad, green lawns and clean suburban streets and think to ourselves, “of course.  I have been blessed by God.  The abundance of God is evident in my life.”  When we excel in our private or parochial schools, graduate college, secure comfortable, air-conditioned jobs, and vacation in resorts overflowing with amusement and pleasure, we earnestly think to ourselves that the American dream has come true.  We logically associate our dedication and resourcefulness to material success and earnestly believe that anyone who perseveres with such industriousness can have the leisure and consumptive lifestyle that we enjoy.  We figure that it must be something about the determined American character of sacrifice and hard work, combined with the favor of God’s blessings on exceptional people that make the United States of America the greatest nation on earth.

But the fact of the matter is that we have been sold a lie.

We’ve been duped.

And like the Babylonian creation myth that was circulated among ancient people in order to protect an oppressive power structure as well as the elites who were privileged by it, we too have been told a story about our origin and identity that simultaneously privileges a few with power, and oppresses a great many without.  And just as the Genesis creation story subverts a narrative of social control, we too must confront the lies that have blinded us with a liberating faith that speaks truth to power and seeks to dismantle unjust social structures for the kin-dom of God.

The reality is that hard work and ingenuity are admirable values that are worth preserving.  But the truth of the matter is that the world we live in provides access and advantage to some people, so that hard work has the suitable environment to manifest itself in material prosperity, while preventing a great many people from having enough to even survive.  Extensive data reveal that inadequate schools, ethnic and racial disparities in health care, vastly disproportionate rates of employment and incarceration among our sisters and brothers of color are undeniable.  And the myth of individualism, that in order for someone to make it in our world is to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, is not only false, but dangerous.  This is the contemporary Babylonian myth sold to us by a selective telling of our American history.  It is the fiction of an egalitarian nation that earned its wealth with every drop of honest sweat.  But the creation myth of this nation leaves out the millions of Native Americans whose land was stolen and whose people were forcibly displaced.  The story fails to acknowledge that the great wealth of this nation was built on centuries of slave labor, justified by an emerging capitalist ethic and doctrine of white supremacy.  The selective history defames the bravery of impoverished folks who were conscripted to fight and die in wars abroad.  It overlooks the tremendous irony of black and brown men and women who fought overseas for rights they did not enjoy at home.

Now some may say, “sure, we are not a perfect nation.  There have been many sins committed in the past.  But we are beyond that now.  Slavery is over.  Jim Crow has been outlawed.  Haven’t we evolved?  Can’t we move forward?”  The answer is no.  So long as white folks like me benefit from an unresolved and impartial telling of history, and so long as folks of color continue to suffer disproportionately from that same past, then truly we are held captive still.  For it is not the sins of malicious people from which some of us have benefited and others have been abused.  It is the inherently unjust system by which this nation was born and operates still that enslaves us all.  And yes, we are all in bondage.  Some of us are bound by the system as the privileged, and many others are held captive under the weight of its machinery, oppressed generation after generation.  Those of us who are the privileged prisoners are duped into giving our consent to an abusive system that crushes our sisters and brothers under God.  We are taught that our possessions and good fortunes are blessings.  But the truth is that they are the bribes of the empire, paid for with the lives of the oppressed.

And here’s the thing.  This is not about guilt.  None of us built this unjust society by ourselves; it was not even built in our lifetime.  We should not feel guilty.  We should feel angry that we have been coerced into being accomplices to crimes we would never knowingly commit.  We should come to grips with the truth that our economy has been built on two lies:  that scarcity requires us to compete for limited goods, and that the aim of life is unconscious and unbounded consumption.

And here’s another thing.  We need not fall into despair.  Trust me, it’s tempting to leap into the abyss of hopelessness when we open our eyes to the extent of abuse against the most vulnerable and innocent, to the depths of injustice against all of God’s people.  We must look again to the revelation of God in the scriptures, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the movement of the Holy Spirit among us.  But we must have this conversation of the injustice of race in this nation in order to hear what the voice of God has to say in defiance and revolution against such sin and evil.  Because as long as we do not hear the suppressed voices of the marginalized, we cannot hear the voice of God.  So long as we hear only the seductive coddling of the empire, we are deaf to hear anything else.

The Genesis creation story told an ancient people that the myth of the Babylonian Empire had sold them a lie for the sake of social control.  Today, the same truth that we are created fundamentally good in the image of God in order to rule justly in the world subverts the contemporary lie that maintains an oppressive status quo.  It is difficult to see such systemic sin in the world from the perspective of privilege, when we have been told our own selective historical myth, but that is precisely why we must not shy aware from having the difficult conversation of race in our society.  We need to see that truly we are all held captive, so that we realize that no one can be scapegoated for injustice, neither the oppressed nor the privileged.  This is a system that must be recognized and defeated, because as Christians, we believe in something greater for which we strive as the Body of Christ.  We are not guilty of the past we did not commit.  But we are responsible.  We are obligated to respond to what has happened, because we follow Jesus Christ who responded to the sins of the world with indomitable love.  First we are going to need a shift in perspective in order to dissolve our blindness, and we’re going to need the faith in a God big enough, powerful enough and compassionate enough to replace the empires of humanity with the kin-dom of God.  And to find that God, we are going to need to listen to the lived experiences of people of color who do not share our historical illusions, and to follow closely the narrative of love and liberation we find in our sacred texts.  It is the true story of where we came from.  It is the story of who we truly are and what we were created to be.  And through our faithful lives, it will be the story of how a God who is madly in love with us flows into the world to overturn dehumanizing powers to set us free.

It’s time to reclaim our identity.


[1] James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt” Ebony, August 1965

RECLAIMING EASTER

Easter is about resurrection and transformation - today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology .....of "penal substitution" or "substitutionary sacrifice." Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of "original sin." Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God .....whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate .....that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence. Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples - all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being - here and now - the Kingdom of God. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first - a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive - speaking to them and sharing meals with them - a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is: .....* unrestrained love and unconditional grace - .....* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and .....* that life does not require participation in the empire - .....* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, .....* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and .....* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent 1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual ............................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!

Everything Can/Must/Will Change [NOW]

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"...And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change.  People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built—is with extreme methods.  And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

- Malcolm X, 12/3/1964 - Oxford University

Everything must change.

Since I was a kid, my dad and I have played chess.  Because he has never believed in letting someone win, he used to beat me a lot.  As I was learning the game, my dad would get me into check and then help me figure out how to get out of check.  He might say, "you have three possible moves" or "you have two moves available" or "you have one move left."  Invariably, I would hear, "checkmate."

This went on for almost 25 years.  That's how old I was when I beat him for the first time.

The key to developing a strategic mind, one that can navigate the game of chess, is to see all the available moves ahead of time.  It is an exhilarating feeling to watch a field of virtually limitless possibilities narrow into increasingly smaller paths.  They become threads that can lead into dead-ends or escapes.  Those threads can strangle you, or pull out creative options you didn't know you had.  Either way, you are able to see things on the board that are obscure to someone who doesn't know the game.  You can see when the game is over several moves before it happens.

"Three possible moves... two moves available... one move left.  Checkmate."

I believe that we are living in a time when people are coming to see that so long as the unfolding of civilization is locked to the grid of such a chessboard, our possibilities of escape are rapidly diminishing.

If the unfolding of the narrative of civilization can be compared to a chess game, then I assure you we as a people have lost the game.  The shadowed forces of greed, the dehumanizing empires of insatiable thirst for power, the corporate bodies we have manufactured in the attempt to make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4) have cornered us.  Us, the very good creation of the living God, embossed with her divine image.  We have wagered something that was never ours to give away, our precious humanity, in order to give consent to a soulless idol that cannot provide the justice, mercy, love, hope and dignity that our humanity requires.

Sure, there may be a few moves left on the board.  An empty piece of legislation or two, an infusion of cash here or there.  But I assure you the game is over.  We are about to be crushed by the heavy machinery of the juggernaut we have created.  This is not the worst thing that could happen; there are billions of people who have been crushed for centuries.  For millenia.  At least those of us who have been pulling the levers in the machine will finally be able to identify with the poor and marginalized we claimed to be helping by our rabid consumerism.  When the empire has exhausted the rest of us, at least we will know what it's like to be dependent upon the pity and charity of guilt offerings.  At least we will know a pain worse than hunger: the dehumanizing shame that rots within those we bar from a seat at the table of dignity and human community.  We too will finally know what it's like to be invisible.

We don't need to find solutions that work within the racist, sexist, classist, unjust social structures we have built around ourselves.  We need to overthrow unjust social structures.  The problem is not a lack of charity, but a lack of justice (Isa 58:6-12).  The problem is not that we are losing the game, but that we have mistaken God's immeasurably good creation for a game, and a game that's rigged against us at that.

Everything must change.

Whether or not you like or accept this imperative is beside the point.  The game is over and we lost.  There's only one way this will play out and it's with the rest of us rotting in material and spiritual poverty.

But there is good news.

The living God has heard the cry of the poor.  And the living God is bringing the Kingdom in our midst.  What God has to say, God says specifically to the poor (Isa 61:1-3, Luke 4:16-21).  When we are finally crushed too, then we will hear, maybe for the first time, what God has to say.

Of course, we don't have to wait until then.  We could choose to hear it now:  Everything has to change.

The Kingdom of God is the point.  The Kingdom of God is God's answer to injustice, to suffering, to the cries of her people.  When Jesus of Nazareth preached on this earth, he announced that the Kingdom was in our midst.  He healed the broken and sick.  And the ethics of the Kingdom he described were foreign and backwards to anything we can imagine.  A worker who labors for one hour is paid the same as one who works for eight (Matt 20:1-16)?  The last shall be first and the first shall be last?  Are you kidding me?  The prostitutes and tax-collectors, the drug-dealers and predators are getting into heaven before the religious people?  Before the philanthropists?  When the empire finally nailed this peasant to a cross, God revealed that her love will resurrect even that which the empire lawfully executes.

We literally cannot imagine what the Kingdom looks like, and we literally cannot bring it.  The Kingdom is not the fruit of pious, conservative Bible thumpers, or of compassionate, white liberals.  The Kingdom comes from God and it belongs to the poor, the silenced, the powerless, the abused, the shit-on, the screw-ups, those for whom the privileged, conservative, liberal, whatever, claim to know what's best.

Our job is not to bring the Kingdom.  Our job is to believe that the Kingdom is both here, and still arriving.  Our job is to repent (Mark 1:15).  Our job is to tear down the empire -the anti-kingdom- which is occupying the space God created.  Our job is to plant nonviolent dynamite in every gear of the machine.  Our job is to bite the hand that feeds us.  Our job is to use the black glass, metal and plastic devices that we're been duped into buying in order to SPEAK, to SHOUT, to CRY OUT as loud as we can on behalf of the children who have literally paid the incalculable price for them with their lives, so that we can have them for $299.  It is to resist and subvert and destroy the empire that we have legitimized with our consent in order to incarcerate 1 in 9 young black men in the US, in order to bomb the limbs and skin off of innocent brown children in the mountains in Afghanistan with unmanned drones.  It is to expose the systemic injustice of a world that has relegated 51% of its population -women- to minority status.

We can sift through the media noise to discover the lost voices of our artists who can show us the way out of this cultural wilderness.  We can resolve not to patronize the poor, but listen to them.  We can refuse the empire impulse to assume we know what's best for those we oppress.  But we'd better get ready to hear things that we don't want to hear.

We cannot resist the forces that compel us to buy and sin, but we can acknowledge that we are not free.  It is in this admission of powerlessness that we paradoxically find the key to freedom, to find the one move we have left before checkmate: to say NO to the empire that profits from the theft of human dignity, and say YES to the God that will liberate the captives.

(Originally posted Isa 61 on 2/15/12)

RECLAIMING EDUCATION

an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared inEncounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual. ......................................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.

THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What Is Not Education? Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).

Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.

The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).

The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.

A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result - there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.

Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable - the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.

Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential - as chosen and desired by the child.

Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)

Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).

Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.

Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).

What is an Educator? There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.

Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.

Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.

Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).

SUMMARY Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.

References Bartholomew, B. (2007 April). Why we can’t always get what we want. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(8), 593-598.

Bergen, D. & Frombert, D. P. (2009 February). Play and social interaction in middle childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 426-430.

Berlinger, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, G. W. (2008 June). Research: Assessing NCLB. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(10),781-782.

Chmelynski, C. (2006 November). Play teaches what testing can’t touch: Humanity. The Education Digest, 10-13

Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 5th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Crain, W. (2008). Personal email, July 3, 2008.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction, 3rd. Ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ediger, M. (2007 September). Teacher observation to assess student achievement. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(3), 137-139.

Eisner, E. W. (2001 January). What does it mean to say a school is doing well? Phi Delta Kappan, 82(5), 367-372.

Elkind, D. (2001). The hurried child: growing up too fast too soon, 3rd Ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Ginsburg, K. R. and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007 January). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from www.pediatrics.org

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (2008). http://www.greenleaf.org/index.html

Houston, P. D. (2007 June). The seven deadly sins of no child left behind. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(10), 744-748.

Jacobson, L. (2008, December 3). Children’s lack of playtime seen as troubling health, school issue. Education Week, 28(14) 1-15. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from Academic Search Premier database.

Johnson, A. P. (2006 Sept/Oct). No Child Left Behind: Factory models and business paradigms. Clearing House, 80(1), 34-36.

Merkle, L. D. (2008) personal email, July 21, 2008.

McReynolds, K. (2008 Spring). Children’s happiness. Encounter: education for meaning and social justice, 21(1), 43-48.

Rakow, S. R. (2008 Winter). Standards based v. standards-embedded curriculum: Not just semantics! Gifted Child Today, 31(1), 43-49.

Satcher, D. (2005 September). Healthy and ready to learn. Educational Leadership, 26-30

Smyth, T. S. (2005 Fall). Respect, reciprocity, and reflection in the classroom. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(1), 38-41.

Judgment Day (or Thanksgiving Day)

I was thinking about Mary and Martha the other day as I was preparing my Thanksgiving sermon.  I recognized the struggle to prepare for guests as I speedily cleaned my house in preparation for my mother-in-law’s visit this week.  But as I reflected on Martha and her reaction that so many of us are familiar with, I thought of something I hadn’t before: She actually tries to guilt-trip Jesus!  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”  Lord, do you not care? And I thought about the times I have tried to guilt-trip God.  The times I have felt that I was treated unjustly and wanted God to do something about it.  Rather, I wanted God to put that other person in their place.  I feel like this mainly while driving and another driver cuts me off or flips me the finger.  I want them to get what they deserve.

I am like Martha.  I am worried and distracted by many things and I want the other to be punished for what they have done.  I will waste time stewing over something that has no meaning in the rest of the world whatsoever but that this person has cut me off in traffic.  I will keep my anger rather than let it go, and will imagine a day when they learn what they did was wrong.  And I want God to make sure that happens.

I want karma, not justice.  And God doesn’t work that way.

In Ezekiel 34:16, God declares his judgment: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”  At first, it sounds like God is going to destroy those that have been in the wrong.  But God says he will feed them with justice.

God’s justice is not retributive, but restorative.  God does not desire punishment but restoration.  The lost and the stray are brought in, the injured are cared for, the weak given strength.  Those that have been oppressors, instead of punishment, are fed justice.  The sins of desire and greed are defeated and destroyed.

For all of us have our shortcomings and failures.  All of us at time become oppressors.  All of us, if we have been the skinny sheep that Ezekiel talks about, have also been the fat sheep, focused on our own self-righteousness, that we are right and others are wrong and deserve to be punished.

Thank God that God doesn’t work that way!

So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving?

I was thinking of Mary and Martha and how many Thanksgiving dinners have been served by “Martha’s” frustrated with the “Mary’s” in their lives.  But most of the time, the “Mary’s” are not really like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Rather, the others are sitting in front of the TV watching the parade or watching football.  Or the others are those not allowed in the kitchen by the “Martha’s” who have to have everything perfect.  The truth is few of us are really “Mary’s,” who sit in the presence of another simply to be present with them.   Most of us are “Martha’s.”  Either we’re too busy and distracted by all the things that have to be done or too busy and distracted by all the other things that occupy our time, instead of being present with each other.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be present with one another, to give thanks for all we have.  Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be in each other’s presence and simply be glad for the opportunity God has given us to be present with each other.

And Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remember that God’s justice is not karma, but God’s justice is restorative.  It’s about reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, and love.  God’s justice is about restoration.  Maybe there is a family member who rubs you the wrong way.  Maybe a brother-in-law still owes you money from something way-back-when.  Maybe your daughter-in-law’s criticisms that you overheard still sting.  It’s easy to want, even ask God for, judgment against them.  It’s easy to want them to feel the pain you have felt, to suffer as you have suffered.  But it’s not God’s way.

So this Thanksgiving, in the words of Ezekiel, feed on God’s justice.  In the midst of the struggles and strife going on in our country and in our world, as much as we may want one person or one group to get what’s coming to them, that’s not what God wants for them, or for us.  God does not desire punishment.  God desires reconciliation.  Thanks be to God.

Home Improvement

(The following appeared in an earlier version on Rev-o-lution.org) Confession: I am an HGTV junky.  It probably stems from my old rainy-day Saturday afternoon habit with my dad of watching “This Old House” with Bob Villa when the weather kept us inside.  I love watching home improvement and design shows, I enjoy reading Better Homes and Gardens and I can go up and down the aisles of any department store in their home decorating section and spend hours thinking about the ways I can change the décor of my living room to match the season (the latest manifestation of this obsession is finding the site Pinterest—if you value your free time and have an addictive personality, do NOT go there!)

However, there are times when I watch a home improvement show or read an article about a house remodel and my stomach will turn in knots, or I will feel the blood rush to my face and my brow furrow in anger: when the owner or buyer complains about their “dream home becoming a nightmare” because their choice of flooring isn’t in, or the wrong sink was installed from what they ordered.  It’s when the couple gets angry and yells at the contractor or storm out of a conversation because the design they had chosen won’t work and they act like it’s the end of the world.

Why should it bother me when it’s their home and their money?  When I hear those complaints, I start thinking of the homeless families we have known.  Back in Massachusetts, I met a family of five whose apartment flooded and they had no place to go and were sleeping in the basement of a church.  Both parents were working, all three kids were in school and doing well, and they were homeless.  I think of the family of three that moved for a new job only to be let go within the first week because the contract spoken over the phone was not the contract given when they arrived, and they could not afford the rent.  I think of the families here that moved in with friends and in Red Cross shelters after the tornadoes this spring.

But I think not only of the homeless, but all those families who have aspired to own their own home over the years but could not do so.  They could not afford the down payment, even though the monthly mortgage is less than the rent they are paying.  I read an article a few years ago about a woman in the Washington, DC area, who had lived in the same apartment for sixty years, and a family member had gone through her finances when she became ill and realized she could have paid the mortgage twice over—if only she had the money for the down payment.  In our part of Southern Oklahoma, we have more families living below the poverty level in rental homes, and few truly “homeless” people, yet these that live in run-down rental homes, in my mind, are still homeless, in that where they live is not a home, especially when the landlord does not care and the tenants have no idea if they can afford to live there one month to the next.

As I’ve shared on my blog at times, I get a little disgusted the greed of some people in trying to create a “dream home.” For many people, the dream is simply to own their own home, and due to the cost of living that is not possible.

But the other concern I have comes from the Home Improvement industry that has increased dramatically over the last twenty years.  I remember as a child going with my dad to the yearly Home Show.  All of the vendors from around the state would be there with their logos on yardsticks and measuring tapes and paint stirrers—fun trinkets to collect as a child!  Now, though, many of those vendors are out of business.  The last time I was home in Alaska, I was talking to my dad about how the small lumberyards and hardware stores have all gone out of business with the advent of Lowes and Home Depot coming to town—even to our small town in Alaska.

My dad started out as a finish carpenter–doing cabinets and countertops, but now he leaves the houses he builds unfinished. He figures every buyer is so picky these days that he won’t choose something and have a potential buyer not like the choice in cabinet or countertop, so he sells the house, without carpet or hardwood or laminate, without countertops or cabinets, without paint or ceiling tile–just unfinished. Thanks to the Home Improvement Industry, the rest can be taken care of by the buyer, because my dad doesn’t want to deal with people like I watch on the TV, changing their minds and complaining that their dream home is a nightmare.

I love home design and improvement—I love that the skills and knowledge I’ve learned from my dad have carried over into confidence of improving our own home that we bought this summer in Oklahoma.  But I’m a little sad that people no longer call up my dad to do new cabinets or renovate rooms in their house, or that he doesn’t have the confidence to even finish a house to a customer’s liking, because they can get a contractor at the mega home improvement store to do most of that for them now.

We may have lost out on the small hardware stores and local lumberyards in most areas, but we have not lost the ability to help others achieve the dream of owning their own home.  I’ve volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in the past, giving families a chance to not only own their own home but also to take responsibility of their own mortgage payments.

I still love watching design and home improvement shows. But I could do without the people complaining, who will still get a beautiful home once it is all said and done even if it is not exactly the way they wanted or imagined it. They still have a home that is theirs. They still get their American Dream. But there are ways we can turn away from the industry of home improvement to really improving the lives of those who desire to live in a home of their own.  There are housing organizations in local communities that work to help families with down payments and closing costs. You don’t have to go on Extreme Makeover to get a hand.  Families still have to make payments and upkeep and take responsibility for their home, but they get that little help needed to move from renting forever to ownership.

Back in May, my husband and I became homeowners for the first time.  For me, as a Christian home ownership goes hand in hand with hospitality: we may have come to a place in our lives where we feel we have “earned” it or “deserve” to own a home; however, we also have earned the right and responsibility to take care of the home we live in and to share the space when we are called by Christ to do so (read my reflections on Hospitality here).

Reflecting on home ownership has drawn me into these three realizations: one, that we are called to the right and responsibility of home ownership, to be part of the community we live in, to offer hospitality when we feel called by Christ to those in need; two, that we are called to speak on the justice issue of homelessness, especially family homelessness, but also to speak to the housing issues of the poor who have the dream of owning their own home but prior credit or the cost of funding a down payment have kept them out of home ownership; and three, I cannot help but think of Jesus, the son of a carpenter.

We don’t know much about Joseph in the Bible—he is there for a few fleeing scenes of Jesus’ birth and the one scene in Luke 2 of Jesus’ childhood.  We know that Jesus is called the “carpenter’s son” in Matthew and Mark.  In the Old Testament, the carpenters are referred to as the skilled workers whose craftsmanship was important to the construction of the temple and of David’s palace.  In Jesus, I see the carpenter becoming the one who builds the reign of God.

How are we working to build the reign of God in light of homelessness and housing for the poor?  The cries of those who didn’t get the right countertops in their dream home can capture the commercials for home improvement shows on TV, but the cries of those children who move from church basement to church basement, or apartment to apartment, who long for a roof over their heads that is more permanent—these are the cries that call us to action.  There are ways for you and your congregation to be involved, through Habitat for Humanity and other organizations working to cover the gap between can’t affording the down payment and home ownership.  Get involved, and follow the Carpenter who is building the reign of God on earth.

"The Broken Mirror"

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="JESUS MAFA. The Pharisee and the Publican, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48268 retrieved September 29, 2011."][/caption] (sermon delivered 10/2/11; originally posted to Isa 61)

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust.  “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven.  Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’  I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee.  All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up" (Luke 18:9-14, CEB).

We’ve all heard the parables before of tax collectors and Pharisees.  Again and again, Jesus is saying things that the Pharisees don’t like.  The Pharisees are enraged and storm off in their funny hats and long robes.  We can close our eyes and see them, these stuffy old men with long white beards and beady eyes, frothing at the mouth.  They argue and condemn.  They bicker and judge.  For those of us who saw Mel Gibson’s movie years ago about the gory last day of Jesus, the Pharisees don’t exactly warm your heart.  They are portrayed as ruthless and evil.  After all, they plot against the very Son of God.

Not very flattering, is it?  Who in their right mind would want to be a Pharisee?

And then we got the tax collector.  Oh, poor tax collector, shunned by society.  Little Zaccheus up in a tree, called down by Jesus.  Nobody likes the tax collectors.  But Jesus does.  Jesus eats with them and preaches to them and tells them that God has a place in the Kingdom for them too.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  And since we hear again and again how cruel society places the poor ole tax collector last, then we know that if we could only be like the tax collector, if only we could get rid of our shame and take the hand of Christ we could walk hand in hand in the lovely Kingdom of God, forever and ever.

I mean, you get the impression that the tax collector can’t be that bad.  A rough character maybe, but after all, the disciple Matthew, was a tax collector, right?  So it can’t be that bad.

I have a question:  Who has ever seen a real live Pharisee or tax collector?  I don’t mean someone who we call a Pharisee or a tax collector, I mean a real live one?  I know I haven’t.  The answer is no one, because they haven’t existed for hundreds of years.  In fact, there hasn’t been a Pharisee for almost 2000 years.

You see, when Jesus was telling the parable in Luke 18, everyone in ancient Judea knew what he was talking about when he said “Pharisee” and “tax collector.”  Today, nobody knows who he’s talking about, not really.  We only have these stereotyped impressions of who these characters were.  And what we take away is the bottom line, “okay, I get it, Pharisees are bad, they killed Jesus, tax collectors are misunderstood diamonds in the rough, who Jesus hangs around with.  Got it.  Tax collectors are not so bad, Pharisees are really bad.”

Let me tell you a little bit about the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were very good people.  They were very faithful people.  The Pharisees kept the Law, which means they didn’t murder, or steal or defraud.  They gave 10% of all their earnings to the Temple.  They observed the Sabbath and helped people maintain order.  They dedicated their entire lives to the worship of God.  Who else has that kind of dedication?  Now, none of them were perfect, of course, but for 1st Century Palestine, the Pharisees were the good guys.  They may have understood the Law different than Jesus understands the Law, but to vilify them doesn’t score us any points.  They were good, ethical, faithful, religious people.  Society would have been far more peaceful if there were more people living like Pharisees than like tax collectors.  I assure you that.  I don’t care what Mel Gibson says.

And on the flip side, the tax collector was the worst of the worst.  They were the most ruthless kind of cheat and criminal.  In the ancient Roman Empire, each province and territory owed a certain debt of taxes to Rome.  Now instead of Roman soldiers coming to collect the money from each house, they contracted out the work.  So an individual from a town would agree to pay the amount that that town owed, and then it was up to him, the tax collector, to go get the money from the people.  And the Roman Empire didn’t care what means he used to get the money, and the Roman Empire didn’t care how much the tax collector actually collected, so long as they got their due.  Everything extra that he got, he kept for himself.  So instead of growing food or raising livestock or producing a good that contributed to a community in order to make a living, the tax collector supported himself by taking, by extorting, from society.  They took advantage of the weak, who could not defend themselves.  It was literally like the mob.  The tax collectors were the bad guys.

Are you all with me?

I tell you, I think we need to hear this parable fresh.  We need new characters, so that we get a better idea of what the heck Jesus is talking about.

If we were to tell this same parable today, I think a better person suited for the role of the tax collector would maybe be the drug dealer.  Not just any old drug dealer, but the arrogant, aggressive drug dealer that hangs outside our kids’ high school.  The one who doesn’t just sell drugs to our children, but cuts it with poisons to increase it’s volume and make more money, all at the expense of someone else’s health or life.  Not so glamorous.

And today’s Pharisee is the young woman who goes to youth group and church camp, stays abstinent until marriage, never uses drugs, takes a great job teaching our children inside the building that the drug dealer is standing outside of, a job that doesn’t pay her what she’s worth, but she does it anyway.  She takes her family to church on the weekends, gives the first 10% of her earnings, not of what’s left over, but 10% right off the top to the church.  She feeds the homeless at Christmas and forgoes extravagant vacations to Disney so she can pay for her kids’ education, instilling them with good, Christian values.  If Jesus were telling us this parable today, he would be telling the story of a person that we would all call a saint.

Why?  Why would he do that?

Well, it’s because Jesus preached the Kingdom of God.  Jesus preached the boundless love of God and the extravagant grace that is available to those in the Kingdom.

And here’s the deal.   The Kingdom flips everything upside down.

What Jesus is not saying is that it is better to be a tax collector than a Pharisee.  It is not better to be a drug dealer than a schoolteacher and mother.  If people walked away from Jesus thinking that they all needed to quit their jobs and become ruthless thugs who extort money from the weak, he would slap his forehead in frustration.

What Jesus is saying is that God’s grace and love is so incredible, that even a drug dealer who looks to God and says, “save me, God.  Save me because I am broken and hopeless and I can’t take even another step on my own.  Save me,” even that broken, sinful person will be justified.  And at the same time, the power of narcissistic pride is so great -so be warned- that it can keep even a saintly schoolteacher from recognizing and accepting that grace.  The Pharisee is not a bad guy.  But it is so tempting and so easy to look in the mirror and see how great our deeds are and say to God, “you have to save me.  Anything less is unfair.  You can’t bless this scoundrel who abuses your people and not bless me with all that I have done.  God, you owe me.” You see, those are the competitive, survival-of-the-fittest rules of the empire, the salvation to the pious rules of the Temple.  Those are not the values of the Kingdom.  The only way that grace works is to accept it completely as grace.  It appears before us like the invisible Kingdom of God already all around us.  Anything less, and it vanishes.

I wonder what this Kingdom message of Jesus tells us today about who our neighbor is?

Let’s think about that.

Suppose we have the story of a man like our tax collector.  Say we have a drug dealer who comes to the altar and falls to his knees and says, “save me, God.  I am unworthy and hopeless and broken.  I have done many rotten things that I can never take back and I can’t walk another step on my own.  Save me.”  What will happen to this man?  Well, I think he will be transformed.  I think that by looking past the mirror, by looking past the distorted reflection of himself, towards the great holiness of God, he will for once see how great and merciful God really is and in so doing, he will see who he really is.  I mean who he really is.  Not that made up character of thoughts, feelings and deeds, good or bad.  You see, we are not the things we’ve thought, felt, believed or done.  Who we are -in our essence- are the very children of God, created good in none other than God’s likeness.  We must look past the distorted reflection of ourselves to see the image of God within us.

And this man, our old tax collector, will clean up his act and straighten out his life and make amends for the wrongs that he’s done and start to contribute.  He’ll start to help people and become a role model and mentor for other misguided folks.  He may do a lot of good.  One day, he may look in the mirror and see no resemblance whatsoever of the old scoundrel he used to be.

And…  And one day, after some time, he may look in the mirror, and like what he sees.  He might think to himself, “not bad.”  And he might even start taking credit for that good life that God has given to him.  He will slowly stop seeing what God has transformed him from, and only see what God has transformed him to.  You all know what I’m getting at?  And not realizing it, he starts taking credit for that too.  And without even knowing it, he’ll start ending his prayers with “…because you owe me.”  And so long as he keeps looking in the mirror at himself, he’ll be blind to see that he has become like the Pharisee.  Some of us are like that.  We recognized that we were tax collectors and cleaned up our act and we hear parables like this and we say, “not me.  Doesn’t apply to me.  Thank God I’m not like these other people.”

The problem of thinking of the Pharisee as a villain is that we are never going to think that we could be like the Pharisee, and we’re not going to see it when it actually happens.

You see, none of us can see ourselves or each other, unless we look to God.  Our mirrors are broken.  God is the lens through which we look to see things as they are.

So again, what does this parable tell us about who our neighbors are?

Well, I think it tells you that we’ll never know, so long as we stare into the broken mirror.  We must allow God to open our eyes when we give ourselves to God in Christ.  And when we see the world through God’s eyes, we will see the image of God in everyone else.

It’s easy for us to draw lines around ourselves and say who’s in and who’s out.  I can easily draw lines in a congregation with one question about politics.  I can do it with college basketball, I could just say red or blue?  (No one outside of Louisville, Kentucky knows what I'm talking about.)  And immediately, we draw a line around those who follow the right team and those fools who follow the other.  It’s easy for us to do.  We look at ourselves and draw the lines around that and anyone who looks like me, believes what I believe, and does what I do is in and everyone else is out.

But that’s not where Jesus draws the lines.  His lines are so encompassing that it includes the tax collectors and the Pharisees.  He’s including the drug dealer and the schoolteacher.  That’s nuts!  But if we could just see the Kingdom like Jesus describes, we’d see that’s it’s not nuts, it’s called Amazing Grace.  And we can only see this Kingdom of God when we stop looking in our distorted, funhouse mirrors, where’s it me against you and us against them, and start looking to God in Heaven.  God will open our eyes.  And when that happens, we’ll look into the eyes of the lost and broken, we’ll look into the eyes of thieves and thugs and we’ll say, “that’s me!  That’s not just a person like me, or a person like what I used to be like, that’s me, today, now!  Me looking back at me!” And we see that we are all the children of God.  We’ll have a chance to draw new lines, lines that include our lost brothers and sisters.

So instead of me telling you who your neighbor is, let me invite you to look past the mirror towards God, to see who you really are.  Because when your eyes are opened to that, when you catch a glimpse of the goodness and love that God put into you, I assure you, you’ll see it everywhere you look.

Kegger at Jesus'!

When I was in high school, I lived for someone's parents to leave and for the house party to go off. I was part of that group that played the music or threw the parties. I was not musically inclined outside of the random hardcore and punk groups I got to front. I was a really big fella. So, I got to bounce all the parties. When someone's parents were planning that weekend getaway, we were playing that weekend's kegger.

I get butterflies just writing about it now. So and so would inform someone that their parents were going out of town and that they would be left 'home alone!" That someone would call another person and soon the bands were organized, the kegs procured and the buzz spread. This was how our emerging suburban Los Angeles scene flowed.

That Friday after school we would show up to the "abandoned" house with sound equipment. We would set up and do a sort of silent sound check. Folks would arrive with the kegs (The funny part is that we used to buy Near Beer cause it was cheaper and we made more money from it. Nobody knew the difference.) The kegs would be iced and we would set a perimeter for security.

Then as evening approached the car loads of teenage boys and girls would park and walk up to the party. I would collect money from them and mark their hands with a marker. We could make a couple thousand of dollars from the five-buck admission we charged for Near Beer and "decent" angry youth music. Every once and a while I would let a cute girl in, hoping that would better my chance of her thinking I was cool and I could ask her out.

The backyard would fill up. Every nook and cranny would be filled and they all awaited the stage to light up and the band to play. We were kings of our little fiefdom fueled by punk and hardcore, all of us looking for something to be angry about or someone to listen to our anger.

The band would take the stage and unleash a massive wave of shock and awe upon the Near Beer soaked crowd of kissy-faced teens and macho shirtless, mohawked man-boys. We would storm our anger in to the pit and smash each others faces as we fought the changing world around us. Gone was the safety of Big Wheels and comic books. This was the post-Reagan era in an area roughed up by cuts to the Military Industrial Complex. We knew a few of us had a future; we just were not sure of who those few were. Our dream was to graduate high school and maybe get a job at SEARS fixing washer and dryers. We might be considering college as a way to escape the uncertainty but tonight we had the "pit."

Then, just as we really started getting in to it and that cute girl I let in for free was going to give me her number the COPS showed up. A neighbor had called the police and demanded they break up the party. There was a mass exodus from the backyard. Sweaty mohawked teens jumped fences carrying their teenaged angst with them. The "drunken" teen girls sat dazed and confused, only to be pulled up by their friends and make a mad dash to the other door. The police, almost lovingly, flashed their flashlights on the exiting crowds making sure they dumped out the beers and walked home.

The band tried to pack up really quickly so their gear would not get confiscated. The someone whose house it was cried inside as they saw their social life waver. I was gone when we saw the police pull up and shouted out to the others, "POLICE!" We were already a block over before the mohawked kids jumped the fence.

The parents are called and the someone is reprimanded. That someone has the potential to be legend. The parental fears are stoked and they never go on another vacation again.

I fear that the church looks at the younger generations with this kind of dread. "If we leave, they will mess it all up." True, we are excited and do not look at the world with the same kind of eyes. We are uniquely ourselves. We have different values. We have different priorities. We have different dreams and hopes for our lives. We have different pressures and woes. We are different.

Almost 20 years later, if left with an empty house I am more likely to got to bed early than throw a kegger. My youth is fleeting. I am nearer to 40 than I am to 30. In my youthful sunset I hear "We need young families/young adults/youth in the church" a lot. It seems to be all over the church profiles out there.

Every church is looking for a 30-something pastor. He is white, tall with a nice build. He has a beautiful wife that studied music in college and they have three lovely, well behaved children that angelically glide around church without a sound.

He is great with youth, can preach like Craddock, tell stories like Hemingway, is the best counselor, can fundraise blood from a turnip and will get butts in the seats to continue the ministry of the church just as it always has been.

The problem is that that guy no longer exists. No one can do everything.

There are countless folks out there searching for a place to serve. Every year we graduate another class of hopeful ministers in to a system with no room for them to serve. As the church wrestles with what to do many creative, young ministers leave ministry for "a job." They leave the church.

These are folks that our institutions have invested time, money and hope over a three to four year period. We have encouraged them to follow a discernment process towards a vocation that may or may not be able to embrace them. Our system is broken.

The brokenness of our church institutions and the slow moving process towards change has disabled our efforts to be the pioneering voice we once were. We exist primarily for ourselves. If your operating budget exceeds your mission budget you are inward focused. Jesus calls us to go out in to the world and make Disciples.

Have we abandoned this work? I hear "I love your ideas but we don't have any money." as much as I hear "We need to do something." What are we going to do? The angry, punker inside me demands more for this community I have aligned myself with.

You promised to walk with me in community and support when I took my vows of ordination. When I was baptized you as the church promised to raise me in the ways of Christ. I am weary of the inward focus. Who will stand up and be evangelized by the Millennials? Who will answer the call to receive the missionaries from Gen X?

There is a better way to be "church" in this world. The brick and mortar spaces we lovingly tend to may be hedging us in. How do we liberate ourselves from yesterday that we may die and be born again for tomorrow?

Who will join the party? Our parents are out of town and there is a raging party set to go off! Who is going to be there? All are invited. All are welcome. You just have to show up, be willing to rage and clean up afterwards.

Kingdom at the margins

(originally posted in Isa 61)

I write letters to complete strangers in prison.

I have never been incarcerated, by the way.

There's a couple ways of describing why I do this. Depending on one's comfort with a certain vocabulary, I could say that God told me to write these letters. If that offends, I could instead say that the idea occurred to me and that I had an overwhelming compulsion to follow it. It doesn't matter. How I describe it is not what's important.

In the letters, I don't preach. I don't patronize. I simply try to offer hope, because I know what it's like to be hopeless.

When I received the call to ministry a little over a year ago, I was sure the One on the other end of the line had the wrong number. At my worst, I have broken the laws of the land and the hearts of those I love. At my best, I have been vaguely spiritual while religiously ambivalent. I had been attending church regularly for the first time in my life after a mostly non-religious upbringing, but only because I had children, and a wife that longed to return to her own faith, from which she had become estranged in her college years.

If pressed, I don't know if I could say that I was really even a Christian. If it weren't for Martin Luther King or Thomas Merton, I assure you the answer would be no. Buddhist? Maybe. Christian? No thanks.

The most disturbing part was that I couldn't begin to imagine myself pastoring a congregation. Not only had I zero desire, but I was certain my experience and qualifications left me far short of ministry. I did not know the language and I had not even read the Bible all the way through. I still have a hard time seeing myself as a pastor. And what makes this vision difficult to materialize in my imagination is not theology or the vocation itself. It isn't fear of economic insecurity or ridicule.

It's the church.

Actually, it's what I had thought was the church, informed in part by my own misconceptions and in part by the truth of a broken institution threatening collapse under its own weight.

I'm not here to bash. But I'm not here to apologize either.

The point is that in my call, the biggest point of resistance centers around church as I have both misunderstood and correctly understood it. And if little ole me can look at what congregations have become, fairly or unfairly, then I can imagine that I'm not the only one who has been turned off by the church, to put it mildly. Of course, I don't speak for all denominations or all people and not for all time in all places. But from where I stand in a relatively affluent, white corner of the United States of America, to say the church can be irrelevant or co-opted by the empire shouldn't be shocking.

So I write to prisoners.

I write to prisoners because the message of hope, forgiveness, wholeness and love that wants to flow through this space I occupy so forcefully that I feel irresistibly drawn to the places it is needed most. I have come to believe that we are not individual creatures, that the lines we draw around ourselves to mark where you end and I begin are arbitrary at best. Truthfully, we are connected in ways that you couldn't imagine. Inextricably. We are like threads of a great tapestry woven tightly together. And when you want to know the condition of our social fabric, you must go to the edges, to the margins, because that is where our tapestry becomes unraveled first.

I believe there is something trying to be born in this age. You can sense it in the growing swell of tension and unrest, of disillusionment and disgust. There are communities trying to come together, fighting to be heard over the deafening noise of commercials, news pundits and the voice in your head that keeps telling you to check the Internet on your phone again, and again, and again. I implore those of us who are seeking new community, drawn out of or repelled by church buildings, to meet at the margins. Until the criminal, the addicted, the poor, the mentally-ill, the homeless are set free of the lies that they are obsolete human garbage, then none of us are free.

Years ago, I found God roaming the barren grounds of a homeless shelter in downtown Louisville, KY, lighting cigarettes for broken men. I found myself in the dried, yearning eyes of those men. I don't necessarily believe that it is because the addicted, the criminal, the poor deserve hope more than anyone else, although it may be true, but one cannot grasp hope so long as his fingers are clinched tightly around his hollow idols. You see, one must know he is broken in order to surrender the shattered pieces to God. And it is undeniable that your chances of finding someone who knows that he is broken -fairly or unfairly- tends to be greater in the places where society has thrown away its people. Once I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom at the margins, I've been unable to stay away. It is where I go to find myself and lose myself all at once. And in embracing my brother, I find that I am held in the very hands of God.

REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to... .........be free and independent; .........think; .........be curious; .........be intelligent and wise; .........value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge; .........be creative; .........grow and mature; .........live long healthy satisfying lives; .........live non-violently without vengeance; .........be generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

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REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

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BIOGRAPHY Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English

RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

In the course of time.....Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and .....Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, .....but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

The Lord said to Cain, ..........Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? ..........If you do well, will you not be accepted? ..........And if you do not do well, ...............sin is lurking at the door; ...............its desire is for you, but you must master it.

Cain said to his brother Abel, ..........Let us go out to the field. And when they were in the field, .....Cain rose up against his brother Abel, ..........and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, ..........Where is your brother Abel?

He said, ..........I do not know; ...............am I my brother’s keeper?

And the Lord said, ..........What have you done? ..........Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! ..........And now you are cursed from the ground, ...............which has opened its mouth ...............to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. ..........When you till the ground, ...............it will no longer yield to you its strength; ...............you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.

Cain said to the Lord, ..........My punishment is greater than I can bear! ..........Today you have driven me away from the soil, ...............and I shall be hidden from your face; ..........I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, ...............and anyone who meets me may kill me.

Then the Lord said to him, ..........Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, .....so that no one who came upon him would kill him. ............................................................................................( Genesis 4:3-15 )

By late 1996, my older son, Chad, was living with Shirley Newsom in her trailer on the west side of Indianapolis. Chad had convinced Shirley to steal drugs from her place of employment, a pharmaceutical warehouse. $1500 worth of drugs were placed on consignment with Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger. While returning with the drugs to Jasonville, Indiana, Frank Dennis was stopped by the Indiana State Police. Unknown to any of them involved in this illegal business, the DEA was already investigating their activities. The drugs were confiscated and Frank was neither arrested nor detained. Frank and Curtis were convinced that Chad had arranged for the loss of the drugs and therefore Chad owed them money. Chad was just as convinced that they owed him money.

On the night of January 21, at about 11:30 PM, the nieces and nephews of Shirley Newsom left the trailer to go home. A little after midnight, Frank Dennis, Curtis Holsinger and Curtis’ girl friend, Jessica Lopez, knocked on the door of the trailer and were admitted. Earlier in the day, Frank had been drinking beer and vodka and smoking marijuana. When Frank realized that Chad was not going to give them any money, he pulled a gun. Chad’s hands were bound and he was taken to a back bedroom. Shirley’s hands were bound and she was left in the living room. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger went to the back bedroom. According to court testimony, Chad suffered 29 knife wounds over the entire length of his body. This included 7 stab wounds to the heart, 4 from the front, 3 from the back . Chad did not die quickly, quietly, or easily. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger returned to the living room, Frank in blood-soaked clothes. Jessica Lopez, who had been sitting with Shirley Newsom, left the trailer with Curtis. As they left, they heard Shirley Newsom say, “Just do it.” Frank Dennis pressed the gun barrel against the pillow he held to Shirley's face and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered through her right eye and lodged in her brain. Having moved to stand behind her, Frank fired a second shot into the upper-back of her head. The bullet exited through her mouth and was found on the living room floor.

All this is from God, .....who reconciled us to himself through Christ, .....and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ .....God was reconciling the world to himself, .....not counting their trespasses against them, .....and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. ............................................................................................( 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 )

I oppose capital punishment. As far back as I can remember, opposing the death penalty has been as basic to my understanding of Christian ethics as following the Golden Rule or living in answer to the wristband question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Would I be writing this article were it not for the murder of Chad? His death opens doors and I must walk through them. His murder validates my right to oppose the death penalty. Without his death, all I would ever hear is “If it happened to you, you would feel different.” It has happened to me and I do not feel different - the death penalty is wrong.

I oppose capital punishment. The practice of capital punishment puts us in conflict with the work of God in the world. The work of God in the world is reconciliation. Our work in the world, given to us by God, is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the single lesson that binds together the entire Bible. The Bible is the record of a consistent and persistent God. The Bible is the record of the work, the teaching, the successes and failures, the continuous struggle of God to reconcile each and every child of God to God. The Old Testament is the record of God teaching the children of God their need for grace. The New Testament is the record of God proving that the grace of God is freely and constantly and abundantly available and is available to all without exception and without qualification. The work of reconciliation begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become.

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman .....so that there is a miscarriage, .....and yet no further harm follows, .....the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, .....paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, .....then you shall give ..........life for life, ..........eye for eye, ..........tooth for tooth, ..........hand for hand, ..........foot for foot, ..........burn for burn, ..........wound for wound, ..........stripe for stripe. ............................................................................................( Exodus 21:22-25 )

Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: .....fracture for fracture, .....eye for eye, .....tooth for tooth; .....the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. ............................................................................................( Leviticus 24:17-21 )

In the Old Testament are the Commandments and the Law. The law of “eye for eye” was a radical legal reform - punishment would be limited to being proportional to the severity of the crime and limited to the person who committed the crime. Prior justice had been that for a murder or violent assault, the entire family of the murderer or assailant could be slain ( Genesis 34 ). Within this radical reform of the law, we find the roots of individual responsibility and individual rights. Even among these most demanding of laws, forgiveness is offered. Forgiveness is available for sins committed through ignorance ( Leviticus 4; 5:14-19 ); for sins of failure to testify or of uncleanliness ( Leviticus 5:1-13 ); for sins of deception, fraud, robbery, conversion or false testimony ( Leviticus 6:1-7 ); and for sins of impurity ( Leviticus 19:19-22 ). These sins and others like them are sins of trespass. Often, as part of the offense, the offender incurs a debt to the person against whom they committed the offense. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say: .....forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors or we say: .....forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us or we say: .....forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us ............................................................................................( Matthew 6:9-13 )

Regardless of which words are used, the phrase has a much deeper, wider and richer meaning than any we attach to it today. Though the law of the Old Testament is one of the earliest recorded legal reforms, the reform of the law does not stop there. God continued and continues to call us forward to the heart of the law. The law is still here and will always be here while no longer serving as a code of judgment. THE LAW is now only the law. Because of the grace of God, the law is not the metric by which we define and measure and judge our relationship with God. Arising from the heart and essence of the law and transcending the law is the superior and controlling commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbor as lived and preached by Jesus. The law only defines, measures, judges and spotlights our imperfections, our separation from God, our mortality. The Love of God and Love of Neighbor Commandments, through the life and the Good News message of Jesus, calls us forward from the confines and shackles of the law and onward towards the perfect sinlessness and immortality of God. We are called to be the Kingdom of God - starting here and starting now - and unrestricted by empire or culture or time or place. From a finite journey of inescapable sin and judgment and death, we are called to an infinite journey of love and forgiveness and reconciliation and community - to be the Kingdom of God.

Then Peter came and said to him, .....Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, ..........how often should I forgive? .....As many as seven times?

Jesus said to him, .....Not seven times, ..........but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king .....who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, .....one who owed him ten thousand talents .....was brought to him; and, .....as he could not pay, .....his lord ordered him to be sold, ..........together with his wife ..........and children ..........and all his possessions, ..........and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, .....Have patience with me, ..........and I will pay you everything. And out of pity for him, .....the lord of that slave .....released him and .....forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, .....as he went out, .....came upon one of his fellow slaves .....who owed him a hundred denarii; .....and seizing him by the throat, .....he said, ..........Pay what you owe.

Then his fellow slave fell down .....and pleaded with him, ..........Have patience with me, ...............and I will pay you. But he refused; .....then he went .....and threw him into prison .....until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, .....they were greatly distressed, .....and they went and reported to their lord .....all that had taken place.

Then his lord summoned him .....and said to him, ..........You wicked slave! ..........I forgave you all that debt ...............because you pleaded with me. ..........Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, ...............as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger .....his lord handed him over to be tortured .....until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, .....if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. ............................................................................................( Matthew 18:21-35 )

Peter’s question might have been prompted by this passage from Leviticus:

You shall not render an unjust judgment; .....you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: .....with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, .....and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; .....you shall reprove your neighbor, .....or you will incur guilt yourself.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, .....but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ............................................................................................( Leviticus 19:15-18 )

Here, in the Law of the Old Testament – preceded by laws about how to worship and how to treat people with honesty and followed by laws about purity and atonement for sin - is a holy admonition for justice, righteous judgement, truth and reason. A holy admonition against vengeance and against even holding a grudge. A holy admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Never is this tested more harshly than when a loved one is murdered and the prosecutor is demonizing the murderer and demanding the death penalty. The survivors and family are told repeatedly that only the death penalty can provide closure. The death penalty is not closure because closure is not an event. Closure is a process – a process of transformation. Closure is a long, difficult, even tortuous process and journey. As such, closure can neither be granted nor initiated with a single event. Closure is a process that is never finished and so, no single event can complete closure. Embracing death and violence is never part of the closure process. Closure grows with an increasing personal dissociation and increasing distance away from death and violence. Closure comes from moving away from hate and vengeance, moving away from rage and retribution. And, at some point, closure can continue only with forgiveness and, if possible, reconciliation. With that comes the realization that we – who have been grievously hurt – also pay a price when the murderer is put to death. The closure journey, with enough time, always reaches the steep slope of forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become. The top of the steep slope of forgiveness is best reached with the face-to-face declaration, “I forgive you.” Capital punishment prevents us from being able to reach that goal. Bud Welch lost his daughter at Oklahoma City and he opposes the death penalty. Because of the execution of Timothy McVeigh, Bud Welch will never be able to have his healing and growth reach fruition. Bud Welch will never be able to face Timothy McVeigh and say, “I forgive you.” That moment would not have been for Timothy McVeigh, it would have been for Bud Welch. Abolishing the death penalty is not for the guilty, it is for the innocent who want to heal and need to reclaim their life and future.

There is no justice in listening to those in so much pain that in an effort to escape their pain they are willing to yank the trapdoor lever, pull the gun trigger, throw the electric switch, or push the syringe. Justice does not come from pain and anger. Justice is not about condemnation. Justice is about restoration. Justice comes from placing more value on life than on death, placing more value on rehabilitation than on retribution. Justice comes from placing more value on the lives of our loved ones than on their deaths. Justice comes from defiantly turning the other cheek in a demand to be treated as an equal. Justice comes from investing in the restoration of the lives of those who have hurt us. There is justice in a successful rehabilitation. Strangely enough, a successful rehabilitation means that the criminal personality has died and in its place is resurrected a new person - healed, restored, made whole and transformed. There is justice in a failed rehabilitation. A failed rehabilitation means that we have better protected the rights of the innocent by protecting the rights of the guilty. A failed rehabilitation means that we have found a better way than the evil and destruction of the crime, that instead of retribution and death, we have chosen rehabilitation and life. A failed rehabilitation means that we have been faithful to the call and grace of God and lived the Good News as the Kingdom of God.

You have heard that it was said, .....An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, .....turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, .....give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, .....go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, .....and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, .....You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and .....pray for those who persecute you, .....so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; .....for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, .....and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, .....what reward do you have? .....Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, .....what more are you doing than others? .....Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ............................................................................................( Matthew 5:38-48 )

To some, that scripture from Matthew is a call for a passivity that will lead only to the suffering and death of a martyr.

We forget that martyr does not mean “sufferer.” It really means “witness.” Jesus did not suffer because he wanted to or because he could not help it. He suffered because he deliberately provoked the religious authorities to show their true selves. He succeeded. He forced them to reveal the truth about themselves, about their self-serving and limited conception of their holy task. In the process, he died. But in dying, he witnessed to the love and forgiveness of God even for those who killed him. For our sakes, he would not compromise that ultimate truth.

When suffering is the only possible means of witnessing effectively, we accept it as Christians. By the grace of God, it has proved very powerful over the ages. But for most of us most of the time, the best way to witness to the truth is not by suffering. The best way to witness is by standing up, holding up your head, telling what really happened, making a fuss, leaving an abusive situation, calling for justice.

Christian faith does have a commitment to martyrdom – martyrdom in its true meaning as “witnessing” to the love and truth of God. Martyrdom does not mean living like a doormat. There is nothing in the behavior or teaching of Jesus that encourages a life of complete passivity, a life that invites people to step on us. The life of forgiveness would be a strange and harmful kindness if it meant encouraging people in actions that are not good for themselves or for the people they harm.

Forgiveness is not about the past, it is about the future. Forgiveness is about the people doing the forgiving – who we are and who we are becoming. Forgiveness is about turning loose of the past so that we can live fully in the present while we build a new and surprising future with God and with one another. Forgiveness is about closing the door on the past and keeping open a door for future reconciliation and rebuilding. Forgiveness is more about being direct than being diplomatic. Forgiveness calls things by their true names. Forgiveness is not timid, it is fearless. Forgiveness is neither mealy-mouthed nor abusive, it is straightforward. Forgiveness does not seek to harm others by telling the truth. Neither does it refrain from telling the truth just because someone might be inconvenienced or their wrongs brought to light. Forgiveness is not a retreat from reality. To the contrary, it always looks outward. Forgiveness assumes a bold and engaged way of living. ..( excerpted from Forgiven and Forgiving, L. William Countryman, pp.70-71, 76-77 )

*** S P O I L E R *** *** A L E R T ***

This section reveals critical plot details and events of The Shack

If you have not read The Shack, then you might want to skip this section.

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GOD: (speaking to Mack about forgiving the man who kidnapped and murdered Mack's 6-year-old daughter and youngest child, Missy) This is not about shaming you. I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness. ... Today we are on a healing trail to bring closure to this part of your journey - not just for you, but for others as well. Today, we are throwing a big rock into the lake, and the resulting ripples will reach places you would not expect. ... Son, you need to speak it, to name it. MACK: Papa, how can I ever forgive that son of a bitch who killed my Missy? If he were here today, I don't know what I would do. I know it isn't right, but I want him to hurt like he hurt me... If I can't get justice, I still want revenge. GOD: Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him. MACK: Redeem him? I don't want you to redeem him! I want you to hurt him, to punish him, to put him in hell... GOD: (Papa waited patiently for the emotions to ease.) MACK: I'm stuck, Papa. I can't just forget what he did, can I? GOD: Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat. MACK: But I thought you forgot our sins. GOD: Mack, I am God. I forgot nothing. I know everything. ... There is no law demanding that I bring your sins to mind. They are gone when it comes to you and me, and they run no interference in our relationship. MACK: But this man... GOD: But he too is my son. I want to redeem him. MACK: So what then? I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies? GOD: Forgiveness does not establish relationship. I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. Forgiveness is an incredible power – a power you share with [me], a power [I give] to all [I indwell] so that reconciliation can grow. MACK: I don't think I can do this. GOD: Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don't you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you'll release him from a burden that he carries whether he knows it or not - acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well. MACK: I do not love him. GOD: Not today, you don’t. But I do, not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on the nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate. ... Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their minds and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release him from judgement, but without true change, no real relationship can be established. MACK: So forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he did never happened? GOD: How can you? But you can love him in the face of it. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should he finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Believe me, the last thing this man is, is free. And you have no duty to justice in this. I will handle that. MACK: Help me, Papa. Help me! What do I do? How do I forgive him? GOD: Tell him. Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare. MACK: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. GOD: Mackenzie, you are such a joy. MACK: So is it all right if I’m still angry? GOD: Absolutely! What he did was terrible. He caused incredible pain to many. It was wrong, and anger is the right response to something that is so wrong. But don’t let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving him and removing your hands from around his neck. ...................................( excerpted from: The Shack, William Paul Young, pp. 225-229 )

Jesus does more than answer with words from the strict law of the Old Testament. Jesus lifts those words of love and forgiveness from the midst of the law and very plainly reveals to all of us that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – these words are the very heart and essence of the law, these words are what the purpose of the law has always been.

God has a purpose for each one of us. The purpose of God for each one of us is reconciliation – reconciliation between each other and reconciliation between ourselves and God. God is engaged in a relentless search for the wayward children of God. God is the loving parent who never stops watching for the prodigal child ( Luke 15:11-32 ). God is the cleaning woman who never, never gives up searching for the one lost coin ( Luke 15:8-10 ). God is the good shepherd who never, never, never gives up searching for the one lost sheep ( Luke 15:3-7, Matthew 18:10-14 ). If God does not give up on us, then who are we to give up on each other?

In the play “All My Sons” by Tennessee Williams, a father, Joe Keller, is finally made to realize that he sold defective engines to the United States Air Force during World War II. The defective engines were responsible for several fatal plane crashes including the one that killed his own son. Late in the play, Joe Keller faces the hard reality of the conviction and condemnation of his own conscience and then tragically accepts through suicide that all the men who died in the place crashes for which he was directly responsible were indeed “all my sons.”

In the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” the victim is described only as “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” ( Luke 10:25-37 ). Because of the location of his trip, we assume that he is Judean. Nothing is said about his race or marital status or family, his political or occupational or educational achievements, his economic status, his sexual preference, whether he has a criminal record, whether he is HIV or STD positive, whether he is a substance abuser - we know nothing about his goodness or badness or blandness. We know nothing of his character or history. His rescuer is a Samaritan and we are as ignorant of the Samaritan as we are of the Judean who was robbed and beaten. It is important to remember that at the time of the telling of this parable, Judah and Samaria were as cordial as present day Israel and Palestine. All we know is what happened to the Judean and how the Samaritan responded and that the response of the Samaritan was right and good and holy. The response of the Samaritan illustrates the Good News in action. In this parable, the response of the Samaritan portrays how we are to be the Kingdom of God - here and now - regardless of personal safety or blind assumptions, regardless of cultural expectations or dissuasions, regardless of empire requirements or restrictions.

Contrast these two views of the family of humanity. Tennessee Williams presents a narrow Old Testament view. We are bonded together through guilt and sin under the spiritual parentage of a wrathful God. The parable of the Good Samaritan presents a view that says each one of us is a child of God, resurrected by the grace of God, transformed by the love of God, and as children of God, we are reconciled and united by and for hospitality, generosity, justice and service.

Our mortal journey moves from life to death. Our faith journey moves from death to life. Our witness moves from retribution to rehabilitation, from vengeance to forgiveness. We will be free of the evil of the crime, the paralysis of the grief, the blindness of vengeance when we decide it is more important to celebrate with our lives the light of the lives of our lost loved ones instead of memorializing their loss by dwelling in the darkness of their death. We will be healed when we can say to the face of the wrong-doers, “Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven.” We will be reconciled and will have traveled well the forgiveness road when we can say that Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez are children of God, the same as us, and we - the children of God - do not need abandonment or destruction or death. We, the children of God, need justice as a source of restoration. We, the children of God, need rehabilitation and forgiveness and reconciliation. We, the children of God, need grace and resurrection and transformation.

Justice is a righteous act. Justice is an act of righteousness, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconciliation. Justice can never be served or achieved with a wrongful act or with an act that makes justice impossible.

God does not call us to a life of war, violence, justice as condemnation and retribution, or hate - or to a nebulous life yet to be lived at some undefinable place at some unknowable time in an unpredictable future that is perpetually and uselessly beyond our grasp and existence.

God does call us to live - here and now - a  life of peace, a life of non-violence without vengeance, a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, a life of justice as rehabilitation and restoration, a life of hospitality, generosity, service and love. God does call us to live - here and now - the Good News. God does call us to be - here and now - the Kingdom of God.

Amen

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master's degree and licensure in Special Education.

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in sequence, the previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH........still the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and ...........................the lead article in a series calling for a radical Second Reformation ..................in Christian theology and in the structure of the institutional church and ..............in the family of faith - all to be considered as a way of living here and now. GOD IS......................................the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. ....................More of an on-going participatory meditation than a finished definition. RECLAIMING GOD................a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT................now the #3 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and RECLAIMING NOT...................the controversial list of what is not the Good News. RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ...what is the Good News.

...with great love and appreciation, this article is dedicated to: Jason Sloan, my younger son, who continues to love me and has never given up on his imperfect earthly father, and Carol Sloan, my wife, whose steadfast love and loyalty is a blessing and a treasure beyond measure, worth, and words.

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It will be a few months before another article can be posted. It is time for me to return to the classroom as a member of the Ivy Tech CIS Adjunct Faculty. Speaking engagements can be arranged at: dcsloan128@msn.com.