The Red Cup in My Own Eye

By J.C. Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

By Rev. Mindi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long,

How long must we sing this song?

How long, how long…

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

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

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

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

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

Pray, and register to vote.

Pray, and vote for change.

Pray, and call your elected officials.

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

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


[1] Psalm 13:1-2, NRSV

[2] Psalm 80:4, NRSV

[3] “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2, 1983

[4] James 2:26


Turning off Sarah McLachlan

By Lisa McDowell

I can hear the song from the kitchen and I begin shading my eyes to search for the remote. My full intention is to change the channel without seeing the television screen. As soon as the words start, I’m at a place of guilt and sorrow. “In the arms of the angel…” It used to be one of my favorite songs, long before it became the ASPCA’s theme.  It used to be a reminder from my teenage years of a movie starring a young Nicholas Cage and a very popular Meg Ryan. But now, it is caged dogs and sad-faced puppies, and I don’t like it. The first thing I do when I hear the song is turn the channel because I cannot bear to watch.  

As I sat in church last week, listening to my husband deliver a really good and necessary sermon on Jesus’ teachings and how we can’t just ignore the ones we don’t like, it hit me: I do this all the time! It’s the Sarah McLachlan Effect in my spiritual life. When I don’t like something, just turn the channel, just shut it off, ignore it. Sure there are millions of abandoned pups out there, but I don’t want that image to ruin my nice, ordinary life. Then the even more poignant thought, “Sure Jesus told the young rich man to sell all of his riches and then he could enter the kingdom of Heaven, but I really like my stuff” <she quickly turns the Bible page>.  

This isn’t a new way to view our faith. All of us latch on to our favorite scripture and ignore the things that don’t align with our own thoughts and desires. But the difference between the hard scripture passages and the ASPCA commercials is that the commercials affect me. I encourage and support adoption of sheltered pets. If I knew I could give a needy animal or two proper attention (because let’s be honest, two small children, a full-time job and an active church life doesn’t leave time for much) I would be the crazy dog lady in a heartbeat. Yet, I don’t allow the scriptures to have the effect that the commercials have. 

Maybe it’s because the Christian culture avoids these scriptures and the teachings that are hard to explain. Go read Luke 18:18. Okay, I’ll make it easier on you: 

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

It’s really hard to explain away Jesus’ words, although I’d prefer to do just that. How about Matthew 5:38-42?

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

So basically Jesus is saying to not ignore that man or woman on the corner holding a sign even though I wonder what they are going to do with the money or food I give them. Jesus is asking for a lot. He wants disciples to leave their families, “let the dead bury the dead”, and deny even ourselves. I’ve been turning pages in the Bible over and over and it gets hard to ignore all of these commands from Jesus. I want to turn away from this Bible overload, so I usually shut the Bible and tune into social media or trash TV. There’s a relief in that act because it usually affirms that I’m not as bad as I was starting to feel!  

But when I realize that my fulfillment doesn’t come from my ability to numb my brain with useless information and far-from-reality TV, the sway to watch the sad commercial in its totality arises, the desire to read into the words of Jesus pervades. Because the real reality is, the ASPCA is showing us the worst-case scenarios, they are playing on our heartstrings because really great things can come for both participants in the adoption process. The same is true for us Bible-readers and Christ-followers. Jesus was commanding us to get rid of the fringe, the things we hold so dear that we cannot open our hands or arms to anything else. He doesn’t want the sad commercial to be the end of the story, because the reality is that when the dearest and most-treasured thing is no longer firmly in our grasp, we are open to more grace, bigger blessings, and others entering into our embrace. That’s hard to fathom, just like the commercial is hard to watch.  

This realization that I am ignoring some pretty clear commands of Jesus is not easy to swallow, but I am always up for a good challenge, and I have seen my faith grow when I truly incorporate Jesus and his teachings into my life. That being said, I will not promise that I will make eye contact with my television the next time Sarah’s beautiful voice graces my ears, but I will make a pact to stop skipping over the hard parts of the Bible that I don’t like, or understand, or want to live out. I know my faith journey has to have an upward climb at some point and the aches and pains of growth come in passages like those shared above. I know that my greatest challenge day in and day out is to not tune out the words of my Savior and my God. I like to think that changing the channel prevents a change in me, and that’s just not okay anymore.  

Free Will in Matters of Life and Death

By Rev. Aaron Todd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send the Crowds Away

By Morf Morford

We all know this line as one of the opening scenes of one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles – the feeding of the five thousand.

Most commentators use this verse to highlight the contrast between Jesus and his disciples; the disciples show their lack of faith in God as the provider, while Jesus steps up, fully relying on, and ultimately proving God’s ability, even eagerness to provide – and not just adequately, but with gleeful abundance (Matthew 14:20).

It is one of the central stories of the New Testament – and it’s not a parable.

The scriptures stake Jesus’ identity, and our own identity as ambassadors of the Kingdom, on stories like this.

I, like many Christians I know, sometimes wish I lived in these times to witness miracles like these.

But I forget that, along with the miracles, will be a first, almost reflexive burst of faithlessness.

And I also forget that if the issues, concerns and values of the Bible were ever true, they still are.

And I look in horror and shame at the living, breathing expression of faithlessness on our southern border as my people, using images and quotes from my faith, curse, threaten and spit on desperate, fearful and abandoned children.

Jesus told his disciples to “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16). But somehow, so many, in the name of Jesus, would gladly shut our doors in the frightened faces of refugee children.

How did faith turn into an expression of fear, cowardice and hatred?

I find it fascinating that so many seem so eager to publicly betray their own individual and national beliefs and values. I see them wave their flags as they send our vigilante groups along our border. Could there be anything more contrary to our nation’s most iconic symbol, Statue of Liberty which carries the lines (carved in stone lest we forget): “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of our teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And how many of these would call themselves ‘pro-life’ and admit, in a calmer moment perhaps, that every one of us is created in the image of God, and every life is sacred.

But somehow we see personal faith, national identity and even basic human decency trampled and ignored in the spirit of a nameless, fearful frenzy.

I am sure that these people at home, are ‘good people’ who care for their own children, but somehow, like the two ‘good people’ in the parable of the Good Samaritan, they find it easy to turn their backs on their own humanity.

Like the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37) our acceptance in God’s eyes has little, or even nothing, to do with our mastery of theological minutia, but everything to do with our direct, specific and peculiarly human response to the always unpredictable and ever-demanding needs of the broken world around us.

But couldn’t we imagine an alternate reality where Christians were the ‘first responders’ not in menace or hostility, but in compassion, welcome and practical assistance?

The heart of the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ is not so much about being a ‘good neighbor’ or even redefining who one’s ‘neighbor’ is. The core of the story is that being a ‘good neighbor’ is never an abstraction; ‘loving one’s neighbor’ is immediate, practical, difficult and infinitely (literally) rewarding.

It seems to me to come down to a simple equation; are we bearers of the ‘good news’ or willing representatives of even more ‘bad news’?

As Jesus warned us, one way is easy, while the other way will continually challenge us – and those around us.

And perhaps above all, we dare not forget God’s clear priorities; 

The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow
. Psalm 146:9 (NIV)

Anyone who has been in Sunday School in past 30 years knows this song;

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red& yellow, black & white
they're precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They're all precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world

It’s good to know that Jesus loves all the children of the world, especially when, sometimes, we forget to . . .

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

Funding Weapons & Expecting Peace

By J.C. Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Moral Unclean

By Brian Carr

We, as Christians, have a problem with morality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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