Monday, October 12, 2009

Feels Like the "First Stone" Was Cast...

I hate blog entries that begin with, “I haven’t written anything here for a while…” so I won’t begin this one that way, although I certainly would have good enough cause.


I was at a Walk to Emmaus this past weekend, and it was about 92% wonderful. Unfortunately, the 8% that wasn’t wonderful was comprised of prejudicial comments made by some leaders of the weekend about people of other races and sexual orientations than themselves. Not all the leaders of course, but it was more than one person, and it happened more than one time.

And now I’m not sure what to do with it. Setting aside for a moment the question of whether such comments are appropriate for a follower of Christ at all, such comments are clearly not appropriate for a Walk to Emmaus, where the theme is all grace, all the time. The comments were made in informal times, not in any of the official programmed moments, but still they dulled the colors of the weekend somewhat.

There’s a stone on my desk with the word “First” painted on it. I got it at my Cursillo weekend, and it reminds me of Jesus’ teaching that only the one without sin is able to cast the “first stone” at another person. Well, it feels to me like the “first stone” was cast this weekend. The word “homo” was used in a derisive and scornful tone, intended to evoke laughter from the group. There were several snide remarks about “that rainbow group” that were intended to compare the Emmaus logo to that of the gay rights movement in a negative and judgmental way. There were several negative comments directed toward Hispanic immigrants, and racially charged comments about “the hood” that were intended to stereotypically portray African Americans.

I confess that I was stunned into inaction, and I should have spoken up right then. But truthfully I was so caught off guard that I couldn’t think of what to say. It was just so unexpected to hear at a weekend like that, and I didn’t want to add to it by drawing extra attention to it, I guess. I decided to let it go and come at it from a positive angle instead by emphasizing as often as I could that God’s grace is there for all, even for us.

Other than those isolated comments, the weekend was wonderful. I loved being able to make some new friends, to offer spiritual guidance to some who are working through some spiritual issues in their lives, to be present and pray with a man who rededicated his life to Christ on Saturday night, and experience the Christian community in action. In no way shape or form do I believe that these comments are a reflection on the Emmaus community as a whole or the Show Me the Way Emmaus group specifically.

And so I would especially like to hear the opinions of people who have been involved with Emmaus weekends, or Cursillo or Camino. What should I do with this? I think it needs to be followed up, but how exactly?

And (because I think it needs to be said again) please be respectful and gracious with your comments, not attacking anyone personally while affirming what you believe. There is a spectrum of beliefs about this topic, and it is possible for good and faithful people to find ourselves in different places.


Tracy Crowe Jones said...

Wow...I'm not sure what to say. I need to ponder on this for a bit. I would have been taken aback, too. I'll get back with you after I absorb this and give it some thought.

BTW...your dad's sermon Sunday rocked! He even got some applause when he was finished.

John Schmalzbauer said...

I don't have any advice, but I am glad that you are speaking up in this way. I agree that people of good faith can disagree on these things. I also think that hurtful language has no place in our conversations.

Steve H said...

I echo Tracy’s “Wow”. Holy Toledo – what are people (not) thinking at times! Sad sad.

Owen Smith said...

Andy; You didn't do nothing. You spoke up at the appropriate time, during the evaluation. Your words were kind and positive and measured. I believe this will have a greater affect than a hasty retort earlier. I agree with your observations and comments completely and was also shocked, embarrassed, and surprised. This is not the norm. What was probably a poor attempt at juvenile humor was certainly inappropriate.

Andy B. said...

Thank you, Owen. I appreciate your affirmation.

Anonymous said...


I am beyond lamentful with this post. Having experiened my call to ministry at a Chrysalis weekend (youth version of Walk to Emmaus), I couldn't even begin to express how inappropriate that is for any Christian at any time (but especialy regarding your post).

My suggestion would be to talk with your Board members - and especially your Community Spiritual & Lay Directors - to reconcile the situation. I'm glad that you were there, though. Keep the rock on your desk. In fact, I'm going to go out in the yard and get one for my desk.



Patrick Moore said...

I'll add this to my list on why I keep avoiding "the experience."

Caryl B said...

I have never participated in such a spiritual growth weekend so will comment as an outsider. And that is what I really have always felt like - an outsider. My impressions come from knowing folks who have been involved with Camino. It seems to me like they tend to think of themselves as spiritually superior to those of us who choose to not take part. It's almost like "born-again" Christians who claim that theirs is the only way to know Christ. I don't want to be a part of either of these groups.

bridger said...

There is nothing like being around a group of Christians to help "spotlight" the actions and words of the world that creep into our lives. Yesterday was a fantastic day spent with 30 other music ministers in a day of singing and worshipping culminating in a musical worship time that was amazing. During the day, we found ourselves "teasing", "good-natured ribbing", "funny cut-downs", with each other. I think everyone knew it was an attempt to show familiarity with each other as men often do. After a while, the group leader, who enjoys a good shot of humor like the rest of us, stopped and pointed out that we are not building each other up or showing grace when we do that. I realized that it is an element of the world that has creeped into our lives and behavior. It was definately not something to do when some of the people didn't know everyone else very well. I am watching myself now to see how often I fall into that trap. I'd hate to be a stumbling block to someone who is wondering "what does a Christian act like?" They may not know that it is done in an attempt at belonging. It just sounds mean.

People are watching, what do they witness in our lives?

Laura Payne said...

As a young adult myself, I hear too many people saying innapropriate things and I must admit sometimes bad language just slips out.

Laura payne

Larry B said...

I'm a little late to the conversation, but here's my two cents.

I have both been on an Emmaus Walk as a participant and as a leader. In regards to your posted question, I don't think the leaders comments are something to celebrate, but they can be considered candid expressions of how someone feels about a particular issue. The positive in this for me is that this is a much better starting place for dialog on a difficult issue than the usual tepid response someone gives when they want to be guarded about their feelings.

Rather than be disappointed because someone doesn't meet our own expectations, I would rather see more direct engagement with each other despite the potential conflict that might result. I don't favor trying to write in rules about what can and cannot be discussed in situations like Emmaus, becuase arguably Emmaus is at it's best, the optimum setting for the church to be in community. And if we can't be in honest discussion in that setting, we are doomed outside of it.

I would cite your own reference to the casting the first stone story as an example of how Jesus directly engaged the issue at hand. My own understanding is that the angry mob had brought the woman before Jesus in an attempt to trap Jesus into disobeying the law in hopes that he would try to stop them from carrying out the stoning sentence. Jesus realized the mobs hypocrisy because the man with whom she had been caught in adultery was not also with her for stoning as well. By calling out the mobs hypocrisy he was directly adressing the fact that all present had sinned.

To me it seems no different than the situation of your leaders who made disparaging remarks. A reminder to the individuals that such remarks demonstrate the hypocrisy of the mob and not the grace of Jesus would seem to be appropriate. But elevating it to a more systemic response would seem to be less a reflection of grace on the part of the community and more like a typical pharisee or scribe type response.

My thoughts - and apologies if they seem combative or judgemental as they are not meant to be. It's hard to express empathy in a written post.

Anonymous said...

What if someone's actions in the church pulpit are upsetting enough to cause you to consider leaving. That's what knuckle bumping does for me and if I feel that way, then perhaps others do to.
That being said, I don't want to think I'm so narrow minded or hearted as to disallow another's freedom of expression. Like it or not, we hold our leaders to a higher standard that they will inevitably fail to meet. Holding your tongue and not making an emotional decision to react is the best action taken when not knowing how to respond. Taking time to review and pray seems like a good way to follow through before actually being confrontational.
I still don't feel knuckle bumping belongs in the pulpit, maybe you should try the Star Trek Vulcan sign - Live long and prosper - Amen