politics

Remarks for an Interfaith Response to the President's Policies

The first question someone might raise upon hearing of an Interfaith response to the president’s policies might reasonably be, “Why are faith leaders involving themselves in partisan politics by holding a press conference?”

The answer to that question, most simply put, is that the kinds of policies and the legislative agenda coming out of Washington D.C. . . . all the way down to our state capital are a matter of profound concern to us gathered here. To put a finer point on it, the issues—ranging from the proposed budget, to the Executive Order, to the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act are not merely partisan political issues to us—they’re moral issues, issues that strike at the heart of our most precious moral and religious commitments.

From my own tradition, I can say with certainty that Jesus never said: “Go ye therefore into all the world . . . and make life as miserable as possible for poor people who need financial and healthcare assistance. And while you’re out there spreading misery, don’t forget to ensure that refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, African Americans, women, and LGBTQ people have as grim an existence as you can possibly make it.”

That doesn’t sound anything like Jesus . . . or the Prophet Muhammad, or Moses, or the Buddha—or any of the faith traditions we hold dear. But you might be forgiven for thinking that those are exactly the marching orders handed down from certain political leaders . . . both in Washington and Frankfort. If it were possible to craft a social and political agenda that would fail more stunningly to represent the best expressions of all of our faith traditions, I’m sure I don’t know what it would be.

How we treat those seeking refuge or work or a start on a new life, how we care for the environment, how we empower women to have control over their own bodies and careers, how we refuse to enable systems that continue to oppress and deny human dignity to African Americans and LGBTQ people, how we ensure affordable healthcare to all people, how we protect the rights and the safety of our Muslim and Jewish neighbors . . . these things and not our commitment to dogmatic purity, we believe, are the true test of our faith.

We are called, as the deepest expression of who we are as people of faith, to give voice to the voiceless.

We will not be silenced!

Reflections on Snyder’s “20 Lessons”

By Bentley Stewart

On November 15, Timothy Snyder, a Yale Historian, posted to his Facebook page “twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.”

I’m going to highlight just four of the pieces of advice and what they mean to me: numbers 3, 4, 6, and 8. I’d love to hear which pieces of advice have resonance for you and how you interpret their meaning for your own life and practice.  

3. Recall professional ethics

This one might be my favorite, because this roots us in our callings. Our professional codes hold us accountable to our roles in participating in advancing the human project. We are not obligated to do all of the work. We are not free from doing any work. 

While I’m no historian, I will make the bold assertion that it is the codes of ethics of the professional guilds that helped Europe transition from the feudalism of the Medieval Ages into the emergence of a (for lack of a better term) “middle-class” during the Renaissance. 

One of the most famous codes comes from antiquity. While the Hippocratic Oath does NOT include the maxim “do no harm,” it has many of the markers of modern codes. It does include instruction for caring for those who cannot pay for services. It has a moral division of labor; they were physicians not surgeons. It also forbids taking sexual advantage of the power imbalance inherent in serving vulnerable populations. 

I am a clergy person, which is a sacred trust between the communities I serve, and by whom I am held accountable, and our shared mission to serve the world. For me to remain in good standing within my ordaining body, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I must adhere to our code of ethics. Additionally, I'm endorsed as a hospital chaplain, meaning there's heightened awareness of and concern for serving vulnerable populations. In addition to the professional codes of ethics for chaplains, I took on additional commitments as an educator of spiritual care providers.

All of these commitments demand that I listen deeply to the suffering of others and amplify the voices of the oppressed and the vulnerable. My profession demands that I speak to powers that are being abused in ways that diminishes the dignity and sacred worth of any of us.

4. When listening to politician, distinguish certain words.

“…the first violence is committed against language itself....“ 

A friend recently visited the Holocaust Museum in DC. He posted this sign to Facebook. He asked for help with translation. Here’s the translation offered:

“The headings of the columns across the top, ‘Political prisoners, career criminals, emigrants, Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals, a-socials.’

“The title of the sign reads: ‘Identifying Markers for Those in Protective Custody.’ The Nazi word ‘Schutzhaft’ demonstrates that under fascism, the first violence is committed against language itself. The Nazis claimed they were placing inmates into the camps to ‘protect’ them from the German people who were angry for the very existence of Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. Compare the term ‘Alt-right.’"

For a contemporary example, I turn to the euphemistic “new-speak” of the eviction order of Standing Rock by the Army Corps.:

“In his letter to Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, Colonel John Henderson of the Army Corps stated, “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area.” Let’s be clear about what this means. Our people have been attacked again and again by people I can attest from experience do not look at Natives as human beings. While our people have converged in peace, police from around the Midwest have also converged, to play their role in this moment of colonial and anti-colonial struggle. Morton County police and the police who have travelled from afar to join them have done everything short of killing our Water Protectors, and the only solution to this aggression that officials can produce is to further repress us.

The Army Corps letter also states that officials are worried about “death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.” Such pretense would be laughable if this situation weren’t so tragic and enraging. The government has proven at every turn — including its approval of this pipeline route — that it has no concern for our well-being or survival. Any claim to the contrary is a spineless PR maneuver, though some will surely latch onto it, so as not to see this shameful moment in US history as President Obama’s swan song.” 

https://transformativespaces.org/2016/11/26/the-day-weve-been-dreading-plans-to-evict-nodapl-water-protectors-made-public/

6. Be kind to our language.

Micah 6:8 describes the duties of being human as “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” 

We are called to be kind. We are not called to be nice. My colleague, Ruth Schulenberg, recently informed me that the etymology of nice is the French for “naïve.” 

Now more than ever, we need the principles of non-violent communication. Assume good intentions until there is good reason to know that is no longer true. Use “I” statements. Avoid starting with “you” statements that often feel accusative and can trigger defensiveness. Rather, distinguish between intent and impact. For example, make observations first before stating your feelings. “I heard you say ‘x.’ Is that a correct summary?” Once you have clarified the speech, “When I hear you say ‘x,’ I feel ‘y.’” 

…. now, PAUSE and breathe. Wait for them to engage. Perhaps they will take ownership of this impact. Perhaps, when confronted with this impact on me, they will revise their initial statement. Important note, when someone confronts me with the impact of my language on them, I need to remember that impact is always more important than intent. If they are not interested in my intent, I have no right to force my explanation of my intent on them. I need to apologize for the impact and commit to doing better next time.  This process is laboriously slow and the advantage of that is it gives us time to breathe, which helps us activate our prefrontal cortex rather than our amygdala’s fight or flight response. 

Another helpful tool is the first mantra of Improv: “yes, and.” Whenever possible, “build” on the offering of your conversation partner, rather than “block” the emerging dialogue.

“Yes, I agree with you about this aspect of ‘x,’ and I’m wondering what you think about this aspect of ‘y.’ Do you think that adds any nuance to the discussion about ‘x?’” 

Another version of this comes from Systems Centered Therapy. “I join you about ‘x’ and I have a difference with you in regards to ‘y.’”

For me, the problem with being “nice” is that I might sacrifice my voice in order to accommodate someone else’s understandings which violate principles I hold dear. 

Theologically, I draw from Martin Buber’s concept “I-Thou.” We long for communication where we are both seen and heard and in return we see and hear the other person. We long for the meeting of two subjects, each honoring the dignity and sacred worth of the other. 

Violent communication is characterized by an “I-it” dynamic. Our conversation partner is dehumanized and becomes a label: a racist, a communist, and on and on. 

“Nice” communication is the sacrifice of my own human dignity and is characterized by an “it-Thou” dynamic. Making you feel comfortable and liking me is more important than risking real relationship by voicing my truth.

The “I-Thou” encounter is messy and fluid; and at its best, can be life-giving and transformative. 

8. Believe in truth.

The author speaks of “facts.” I’m going to differ from Professor Snyder (see point above) and refocus on “truth.” Following Quaker educator and activist, Parker Palmer, I distinguish facts from truth. Again, etymology is useful here. Facts comes from the French “to make.” We make facts based on observations of reality. We are a multi-cultural, pluralistic society. One culture, rooted in the Enlightenment Project, places a premium on objectivity over subjectivity. Many wonderful things have emerged from the Enlightenment project, such as modern medicine which strives for evidenced-based strategies for health and wellness.

In this age of “fake news,” we are learning that the strategy of propagandists is to fabricate facts. Remember, we make facts. Therefore, they are suspect to the biases of the person claiming objectivity. At their best, facts always fall short of objectivity. At their worst and most manipulative, they are fabrications. And yet, always remember to assume good intentions. And, check out assumptions and suspicions.  

“Hey that sounds strange to me. Can you cite the sources from where you learned that?”

Truth is related to the Anglo-Saxon word “troth,” from which we get the word “betrothal.” Truth is about commitments. Truth is about shared reality. Truth is discovered through the inter-subjectivity of “I-Thou” encounters (see above). 

Here are my guiding principles around truth (not an exhaustive list):

  • I am called to honor and respect the dignity and sacred worth of every human.
  • I am called to awaken in your humanity a respect for the humanity of others.
  • No one is beyond redemption.
  • Reconciliation requires both truth-telling and repentance. 
  • Evil is real and pernicious.
  • In every moment, we are given opportunities to collude with, accommodate, or resist evil. 
  • Our fundamental calling is the goodness of collaborating as care-takers of the living interdependent web of creation.

Rev. J. Bentley Stewart is the Director of Student Life for Disciples Seminary Foundation in Northern California. He is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has standing in the Northern California/Nevada Region, for whom he serves as one of the anti-racism trainers. He is endorsed as a hospital chaplain by Disciples Home Mission. In his decade of hospital ministry, he specialized in pediatrics, palliative care, clinical ethics, interprofessional communication, and cultural bridging. He holds a B.A. degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, and a M.Div. degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Currently, he is organizing the core team to begin a new Disciples worshiping community in Marin County, gathering-desire, where he resides with his wife, their two sons, and their beloved 95 lb. lapdog, Norman.

Why the Church and Its Allies Must Come Together to Fight Oppression Now

By Derek Penwell

In the aftermath of the recent presidential election it is no understatement to say that many people are anxious about what lies ahead. Women and minority groups have understandably begun to organize, so as not to be taken by surprise should they find themselves the targets of harassment, legal intimidation, or violence.

I believe the church has a role to play, along with other religious communities and non-profit justice organizations. As such, I recently reached out to over 200 hundred area clergy, and over 25 different non-profits in the city where I live to gather together, to see how we might offer support to one another as we brace for the worst. Below is the statement I gave about why we need to stand in solidarity with one another now.

In the wake of the presidential election those who are celebrating victory are calling for the country to unify behind the new administration. Such a call for unity, however, rings hollow for many who feel threatened by the aggressively hostile rhetoric of the winning campaign—not to mention the violent acts of some of the President-elect’s supporters. Those threatened by the repeated denigration of women and minority groups rightly wonder how they can be reconciled to the very people who have expressed such antipathy toward their fellow citizens.
But perhaps even more hurtful is the awareness that such large numbers of otherwise good people were willing to overlook the fear and hatred being sown by the candidate and his allies. The feelings of betrayal extend beyond the disappointment at having lost an election to the dawning realization that a significant portion of the country has made peace with the potential victimization of so many of its citizens. Consequently, calls for the country to “come together” sound like a way for those newly empowered to tamp down dissent—a dissent, which is not so much political in nature, as it is moral.
As leaders within the religious and non-profit communities, we’re also aware of the need for unity. However, our belief is that the kind of unity necessary is one predicated on truth and a commitment to the flourishing of all our friends and neighbors, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender expression, or ability. Moreover, the kind of unity we envision draws its strength not from a desire to consolidate power, but from our deeply rooted values and beliefs about the worth and dignity of all people.
As faith leaders, we can speak pastorally about the fear and dislocation people are experiencing as they anticipate the implications of disquieting policy proposals. We can speak in ways that no one else is capable of speaking about the spiritual nature of our call to protect those who are most vulnerable among us. We are motivated not by any benefit to us, but simply because—across religious traditions—our commitment to caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—which is to say, those who often find themselves alone and without voice—is at the very heart of all of our religious expressions.
As leaders within the non-profit world, we have intimate knowledge of how some of the policies that have been proposed will negatively impact those whom we love and serve. We know the weak points in the system, and where those who will be disadvantaged are most likely to encounter difficulty. And we know that without the concerted effort of all of us who find ourselves at the intersections of justice work, too many people will be left behind, too many will suffer under the boot of oppression.
Whether it is fear of deportation of refugees or the undocumented; or a justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color—leaving them in constant fear of the very authorities charged with protecting them; or the institutionalization of bigotry toward LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations; or the coarsening of attitudes toward women that will inevitably continue to underwrite rape culture and an environment hostile to women’s flourishing; or a society that defaults to treating Muslims with suspicion and hatred; or a world in which those with disabilities are systematically disadvantaged—we know what the disastrous possibilities of such a future promise.
But if we come together, if we embrace the unity that finds its strength in our shared commitment to justice for all our neighbors, we can begin to reassure them that they need not live in the fear that they will be abandoned by the very people tasked with advocating on their behalf. And our unity will send a message to those in power that the values and beliefs that bring us meaning and purpose will not allow us to look the other way while our friends and families are torn apart by bigotry and fear.
We’re better than that.

A Short Rant on the Conceit of Always Being a Moderate or Why You May Be All Wrong Because You Think Nobody Can Be All Right

It's been another hellish week. More people dead. The temperature of the country is elevated. People on both sides, #BlackLivesMatter vs. #BlueLivesMatter, have brandished their rhetorical swords. The intensity of the debate seems always threatening to burst into something more violent, even apocalyptic given the right frame.

It's difficult to witness so much raw emotion competing for the moral high ground. The discourse itself strikes many as frightening.

But you know, I’m growing a little weary of a particular brand of centrist who feel themselves to be so above the partisanship that afflicts the rest of us. Not all centrists, of course. I'm talking about the folks who are always sniffing around the edges of debate, arguing that the problem is as much to be found in the format and tone of the debate as in the issue in dispute.

From their standpoint — so conspicuously removed from the theological and political sty in which the rest of us wallow — the “left” and the “right” are merely dupes of liberal and conservative overlords. Whereas these kinds of moderates and centrists see through all the parochial agendas the rest of us are just too simple to perceive.

This heroic cast of self-justifiers glide through life unburdened by a need to take a stand on anything — except on what they believe is the meritoriously self-evident issue of not taking stands. Their orthodoxy can be summed up simply: There is no issue so nuanced that it can’t be cleaved down the middle, leaving two halves that correspondingly (and by definition) miss the truth, which can always be found at some point equidistant from both poles.

Consequently, the only cause over which it is worth getting exercised is getting exercised over causes. Any conviction, on this account, must take a back seat to the primary conviction, which is that no one should hold any conviction more strongly than the conviction that no conviction is worth holding strongly. The tone police brook no opposition on this.

And it is somewhat understandable. Staying so decidedly in the center is the most convenient place because it often requires no real action; it often requires doing not much more than staying in the middle, passing casual judgment on those convinced that some action or another is necessary—that the most important virtue is saying nothing that might be perceived as offensive. And it has the added virtue of looking wise, since by its own definition, it possesses the only real wisdom, which is that the truth of any issue cannot wholly exist on either the left or the right.

But even a casual reading of the Gospels suggests that Jesus worried more about doing the right thing than about being perceived to be doing the right thing. He cared more about speaking the truth as it regards loving one's neighbor than about maintaining a studied neutrality in the face of religious or political partisanship.

Let's be honest, sometimes the truth can be found hovering in the middle. Centrism isn't wrong by definition any more than setting up shop on the left or the right.

But here’s the thing: While those on the left or the right are obviously beholden to narrative structures that offer views of the world from particular perspectives, those in the center are too.The difference, however, is that those committed to life in the center as an end in itself are often the least likely to recognize the debt they owe and the masters they serve.

And when it comes to masters, Jesus repeatedly expressed a few strongly held opinions about that too.

 

Power Can Be A Big Problem

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The problem, in my mind, is the abuse of power.  Now let me tell you what I am talking about. Over the past several years, I have spent a large amount of time reading about what has been called “The New Atheism” and its critique on religious faith.  Having grown in popularity after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this movement points to the 9-11 attacks as an example of the evil that can be done in the name of religious faith.  That is often followed with a longer list of historical events in which evil has been done by religious believers - the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, etc.  The number of books that have been written criticizing the philosophical underpinnings of the New Atheism, along with their near complete blindness concerning the benefits of religious faith on culture (criticism that has even come from fellow atheists) is no small number.  These books often point out, accurately, that some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century were perpetrated by governments committed to an atheistic philosophy - Stalin and the USSR, Pol Pot and Khamer Rouge,  Mao and the PRC, Kim Sung II and the DPRK, etc. 

Now, my reason for citing these examples of the evil committed by certain atheistic regimes is not for the purpose of “tit-for-tat.”  It is not a “right back at you” moment; not a “Yeah, but look at what you did” kind of thing.   Honestly, I think those of us who claim religious faith need to listen with a discerning ear to those who have claims against us.  And though I have many philosophical disagreements with the current atheist movement, I will grant them this truth, there have been times when evil, even great evil, has been done by those of religious faith. There has been evil that has been done in the name of God.  That is a painful reality, but it is the truth, and we who have faith should own it.  It is by no means the whole story of religious faith, but it is as a part of the story.  But those of no religious faith have the same problem.  Great evil has been done by those with a purely materialistic worldview.  Apparently, evil makes for strange bedfellows.

So when it comes to the human capacity for cruelty, the issue of religion or non-religion does not seem to be the necessary factor.  As I look at this matter, it is the presence of power, and its abuse, that is the common characteristic.  Every human community has some kind of structure of power.  In regard to political structures, power is the possession of control or command over others.  I heard a famous American politician once say, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”  Power becomes the precursor to evil when it is used to impose one’s worldview or one’s will on others.  In explanation of the evil done by the atheistic regimes, Bo Jinn offers this critique, “The governing ideology behind every one of these [acts], . . . involved the proposition that there was no power greater than their own.”    I would add that for the times when evil has been done in the name of religion, it has occurred because those in power felt empowered by God to maintain orthodoxy or to purge away what they considered evil.  

For those of us who are Christian, it was our Lord who reminded us that power is something that we should be suspicious of.  Two of his disciples once asked him to sit on his right and on his left when he came into his kingdom. Which means they wanted to sit in seats of power. To this request Jesus replied:

You know that the rulers of Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your  servant. . . .  Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. 

Our understanding of power is to be different.  It is not about the imposition of our way of life on others through the strength of force.  It is about the sharing of our way of life through acts of service and commitment to the common good.  It is not the love of power that motivates us; it is the power of love that moves us to act.  Dr. King said it this way:

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands for justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

For both people of faith and people of no faith, the issue of power and how it is used is of utmost importance.  We must always ask ourselves, what principles, ideas and beliefs are behind the use of whatever power we have been given.  As can be seen, we are all more than capable of using power to achieve the wrong end.  Which means we also have the capability of using power for the right end—a more just and compassionate world.  It is within our power to make the right choice.    

 

Bo Jinn, "Illogical Atheism: A Comprehensive Response to the Contemporary Freethinker From A Lapsed Agnostic"

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

 

Violence is not Redemption

By Rev. Mindi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mysterious Magic Pill

By Colton Lott

 

This is going to seem like an article about politics, but it’s not. Promise. Just keep with me. How folks feel about one issue/item/thing often reflects how they view another issue/item/thing—like how our views of the church influence our views of politics and vice versa. For example, this week Derek Penwell (one of the senior writers for [D]mergent) wrote a fantastic article about Donald Trump and evangelicals, which you can read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-penwell/evangelicals-love-donald_b_8058518.html. For all of you who won’t read the article, he says that evangelicals crave a cultural relevance that Donald Trump seemingly has.

But Rev. Penwell isn’t the only one talking about the GOP nomination and the takeover by non-political candidates, such as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Virtually every news source has article after article asking “Why are voters gravitating towards these unconventional candidates?” The peculiar rise of these candidates is not only a topic of the talking heads on the national level, but one that is happening in my own intimate world, as I have  family members who favor some of these dark horse candidates. On the whole, I am intrigued with their support of folks who, in the eyes of every savvy political strategist, should properly be considered “losers.” So I, too, keep gnawing on that why.

When I conduct my informal research, the responses are something like, “we need someone who knows what they’re doing,” or, “we need an outsider to fix Washington,” or “I want someone who has a business background to fix the financial mess.”

I don’t mean to de-legitimize the benefit of fresh ideas to any corporate body or diminish the way that different forms of knowledge come together to make a more powerful whole. But where did we come to believe that any one person possesses a secret knowledge that will somehow “save” this entire country?

Because at the root of many of these conversations, the subtext of what I keep hearing is: “we desperately need a magic pill that will shock our system into working like it did ‘in the good ole days.’”

In truth, I don’t have much interest in using my weekly article for political analysis. But this style of thinking/wishing/hoping is not isolated to the political sphere; indeed, these unsaid-but-ever-near desires show up far too often in the church. In the parking lots comes the whispers of:

“If we just had a young pastor, we could get young families.”

 Or in those fraught moments we may let say something like:

“Our pastor doesn’t have a clear vision or leadership. If we just had someone who would tell us what to do, we would be successful.”

The list goes on and on about the good fruit that follows the “if we just had…”

Are leaders and leadership important to institutional vitality and success? You bet. Can poor leadership disrupt and seriously injure religious communities? Absolutely. Can a pastor make everything good and smell like roses? Definitely not.

When churches decide to pin all their hopes on a minister they are trying to swallow the elephantine magic pill that will solve the problems that come with being church in this time and in this place.

A new president nor a new pastor will fix all the problems that plague life as we know it. Just as running a successful government takes a sincere congress and prudent courts, a healthy church takes praying elders, service-oriented deacons, and loving members. Perhaps we would be well to remember that revolutions are lengthy affairs; that turning around lives and culture are like steering a large ship with an undersized rudder; that churches are successful in how they are faithful to God, how they work alongside what the holy is doing within their community. We can’t wish a better time into being. We can’t hire solutions. We can’t elect a savior. But we can stop reaching for the opiates, stop begging for the magic pills of wonderfulness. By breaking free from our addiction to dreams unobtainable we can start to be authentic and earnest no matter what conditions we find ourselves to be in.

-----

Clip art used can be found at: http://www.clker.com/cliparts/b/e/I/U/t/B/pill-md.png

I Wasn't Born This Way

By Colton Lott

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

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

An Open Letter to Jesus, Apologizing for This RFRA Mess

By Derek Penwell

Dear Jesus,

I feel like I should apologize. I mean, for all the bad press you’ve been getting lately because of us. It must drive you nuts.

We’re a fallible lot, your followers. We make mistakes. We misunderstand. We hurt one another. That’s true across the board. All of us.

But apart from the garden variety meanness in which all your followers engage, now you have to deal with a bunch of us enacting legislation that will allow us not just to behave like our ordinary screwed up selves when we hurt other people, but to commit that spitefulness in your name.

No. I’m not kidding. Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) are springing up all over the place. These religious refusal ordinances allow people to ignore laws that they say are in conflict with their personal religious beliefs. The sponsors of these acts wink as they argue that this groundswell of religious legislation isn’t specifically targeting LGBTQ people. That same gender marriage is experiencing its own groundswell of support (both culturally and legislatively) is apparently only a coincidence. But everybody knows it’s about the gays. (It seems that the thought of baking LGBTQ people cakes and renting them tuxedos is more than any pious person ought to have to endure.)

“I shouldn’t have to serve anyone I don’t approve of,” is pretty much what it boils down to—which is bad enough. But then they baptize this bigotry, anoint it with oil, and send it out into the world as a herald announcing to everyone that this is what you’re all about, Jesus. So, it’s not just “I don’t approve of you,” but more importantly, “Jesus doesn’t approve of you. And if you don’t like it, too bad. You can just go buy your cake of abomination and lies from some other reprobate who doesn’t love Jesus as much as I do.”

So, I’m apologizing that some of my brothers and sisters have seen fit to act like toddlers who pout when they don’t get their way, sharing their marbles only with pre-approved playmates. Again, that kind of reaction is irritating enough. But what’s even more exasperating is the fairly common assumption that all your followers are simply waiting around trying to figure out against whom it is now permissible to discriminate.

Remember that church where the young teenage girl got pregnant? Then when she decided to keep the baby, some of us suggested that the church should throw her a baby shower, let her know that we loved her and were excited to welcome her child into our community? But there were a couple of people who grumbled, “If this church throws a party for her, it will be like I’m personally endorsing her pregnancy?” Remember that?

And then another young woman stood up and said, “Look, this isn’t about you and your endorsement. This is about a young woman who’s getting ready to face the most difficult time in her life. And we just want her to know that she doesn’t have to face it alone. She’s a follower of Jesus too. In fact, if I recall, Jesus always seemed to go out of his way to support those questionable folks all the religious people were busy not approving of.” You remember that, right?

We’re bad at this stuff sometimes, Jesus. Too often we privilege purity over faithfulness—which seems odd, since we claim to follow the guy who told the story about the Good Samaritan. Unfortunately, it seems that too many of us make a habit of passing by on the other side of the road in the name of not dirtying our consciences.

Unfortunately, we claim to invite everyone to your table, but we hang a big sign with asterisks on the front of that table, listing the kinds of people we reserve the right not to serve.

Unfortunately, too many of us are more concerned with being right than in getting it right.

And, Jesus, we’re hurting people in the process. Humiliating people. Telling folks that they’re somehow defective, somehow unloveable.

So, I apologize for those who call themselves by your name, but who commit acts of cruelty while brandishing that name like a weapon. Forgive us (myself included) when we act less lovingly than you expect. Grant us the courage to stand with those who, too often, find themselves standing alone.

Challenge us to be better than we are, to love more than we can imagine, and to seek a justice more expansive and inclusive than our wounded hearts can dream.

Love,

Derek

(A special shout out to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who have vowed not to hold its General Assembly in Indiana in 2017, because it's a state that just passed a version of RFRA!)