Wednesday, February 21, 2018

We Have to Get Smarter

I heard a news story this morning on NPR about how Russian bots have been amplifying the extreme positions in America. I do not understand the technology fully, but apparently these programs scan social media for extreme positions and highlight them and spread them so that they seem more mainstream than they really are. The result is that we as a nation end up constantly fighting with each other, which is exactly the point of the whole process - to keep us at each others' throats.

As I listened, I couldn't help but think back to October of 2017, and the sermon that I preached immediately following the Las Vegas shooting. ...

At 15:00 minutes, I say, "If you listen to how the conversation is framed, you would think there are only two possible ways to think about it - either 'no guns for no people' or 'all guns for all people.' That’s the way our 'national conversation' has been discussed. But it is just not true! It isn’t reality!"

I also published a blog post with the full text of that sermon - Click this.

In that sermon last October I posed the following question: "Who is framing the conversation that way? Maybe that’s where we need to spend some time and energy. Who benefits from keeping us at each other’s throats over issues that aren’t really issues in the first place? That is where the power resides, after all. And they stay hidden, under the surface, in the shadows."

Now, I am not claiming any kind of prophetic insight, but there is a resonance that cannot be ignored.

And of course, the more important point to make here is this - We have to get smarter.

When it comes to discussion and debate about public policy, there will naturally be disagreement on what is the best way forward. But we cannot allow the hidden powerful elite to define the conversation for us. That has to stop.

We have to get smarter about how we speak with one another about contentious issues.

We have to get smarter about who is truly holding the power in our nation, and what is actually at stake here.

We have to get smarter about fixing the gun crisis in America.

We have to get smarter about what the vast majority of us believe are the core values of our nation.

I started this blog (oh so many) years ago with the premise that "The Conversation Matters," an idea I flat-out stole from the title of a book by Hal Knight and Don Saliers. I still believe that. The conversation matters. HOW we talk to each other is just as important as what we say.

And we are failing miserably at HOW we are talking to each other. That is, if we are talking to each other at all. We seemed to have recused ourselves from any responsibility for framing the conversation, and are just allowing that work to be done for us, by strangers we will never meet.

Honesty, integrity, humility, and compassion are in short supply these days - they have been stolen from us. It's time to take them back. We have to get smarter.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Kids are Going Off Script

The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice.” – Emma Gonzalez, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Student & Self-proclaimed Kid

 There isn't any tragedy that justifies taking away the rights of innocent people.” – Austin Peterson, Candidate for Missouri Senate & Definitely a Grown-Up

Mr. Peterson apparently believes that the right to own a piece of property, namely an assault rifle, is more important than the right of a person to be alive.

Ms. Gonzalez apparently sees things differently.

I’m with her.

One week after the latest mass shooting in America, the script is changing. At this point we are in the scene in which we all are supposed to be reacting to the reactions of the people around us, telling them how their reaction is ridiculous and won’t work and how they are so na├»ve to think it ever would and how our reaction is obviously the more correct and reasonable one. 

This is the scene in which we forget that our neighbor's reaction isn't actually the problem, that the problem is that 17 people went to school last Wednesday and were shot and killed while they were there. But, you know, projection.

This scene is supposed to transition into the next, in which the conversation devolves into mindless yelling and nothing changes. Which brings us inexorably back to scene one again, and I think we all know what happens in scene one.

But this time, some really brave people are going off script. They are ad-libbing this scene, and it is glorious and terrifying and wonderful to see.

The actors who are going off script are mostly students, high school students. Led by people like Emma Gonzalez, high schoolers around the country are lifting their voices in smart, articulate, and courageous opposition to the status quo. With laser beam focus they are staying on message, and are showing a relentless determination that ought to have NRA politicians sweating bullets.

People kill people, the grown-ups say, not guns. Yes. Right. You did a logic thing. Groovy.

See here’s another logic thing: People with guns kill a lot more people than people without guns.

Also, people with semi-automatic guns kill a lot more people than people without those kinds of weapons. If we’re going to use logic here, let’s really use it. Assault weapons are designed for one purpose – assault. Not hunting, not home security … assault.

No one needs an assault weapon. And no, your right to own one is not more important than someone else’s right to be alive. The right to be alive supersedes the right to own property. I feel like that truth should be self-evident, or maybe even that right should be … oh what’s the word I’m looking for … ? Oh yeah – Inalienable.

So maybe the script is being rewritten this time. These kids certainly aren’t behaving in the way they are expected to. And already it is making the grown-ups nervous. Already the reactions are getting ugly. The latest is the right-wing idea that the students are being “used” by bigger political organizations as tools to advance some scary left-wing agenda.

Right, because seventeen year olds couldn’t possibly have come up with this stuff themselves, huh? Surely someone MUST be pulling their strings from behind the scenes. (Read that with a sarcastic tone of voice, by the way.)

The truth is, these student leaders are making sense. They are saying rational, reasonable things that the majority of Americans agree with, and it is making the grown-ups in places of power very nervous. And it’s fabulous!

Kids these days! Thank God for kids these days.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Call for a Bigger Unity

I am so tired of the “my way is the only way” Christians belittling the rest of us who see things differently than they do. Stop, please. Just … stop!

The latest is an absolutely absurd blog post shared by the “Wesleyan Covenant Association” (W.C.A.), a group of United Methodists who doesn’t think gay people should be allowed to be married or ordained. The author's premise is that calls for unity are actually asking for disunity, although the blog's author does not clearly define what is meant by "unity." Here’s a link to the blog in question.

Here is the most telling statement - “It is not fair to ask a global church to sanction the progressive mores of a minority group largely centered in the U.S.”

When I was in elementary school, there was a kid in our class whose go-to response to life was “That’s not fair to me!” He said it any time anything at all didn’t go his way. It was annoying from an elementary kid; it is infuriating from an ordained United Methodist Elder.

But I don’t know if spiritual immaturity is actually what’s going on here. It may be, but it’s quite possible there is something else happening. And I have an idea about what it might be.

There is an illness that has infected the church, one I have dubbed “Obsessive Christianity Disorder.” The symptoms of this version of “O.C.D.” include an inability to validate anyone else’s perspective but your own and a quickness to condemn other ways of relating to God that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable for you.

Happily there is a treatment! It’s very simple, found throughout the Bible, and something that Jesus himself modeled for us. It is humility.

Dear United Methodist Church, if we can foster the ability to “walk humbly with God,” we may very well be able to remain united as a denomination. If we cannot, we will splinter.

Dear Wesleyan Covenant Association, I humbly submit to you that no one will force you to marry a same-sex couple if you cannot find a reason to do so. No one will force you to vote “yes” for a gay person when they come up for ordination, if you cannot find a reason to do so. No one will ask anyone to “sanction the progressive mores” of anyone.

You do you. Carry on.

All the rest of us simply ask that you let us do us. All we ask is that you let us do ministry in a way that makes sense to us, in our contexts, with and among the people around us. And if that means marrying a same-sex couple so that God will indeed be at the center of that lifelong covenant commitment, then we want to be free to do so. And if that means we think a person is gifted for ministry and would be an amazing deacon or elder in our church, then we want to be free to vote for them without taking into consideration the gender of the people they are romantically attracted to.

Again, no one will force you to include persons you find morally objectionable in your worldview. You can say “No” to all the gay couples you want. You can vote “No” on all the gay ordination candidates you want. That will not change. I absolutely trust you in your ministry, when you say that is the best way for you to focus on the mission of the church. I do not agree with you, but I trust you that it is right for you.

I am just asking you to trust me in the same way by removing the denominational restrictions that make my ministry so difficult.

Finally, let me add this. The blog I read today, speculating about the possibility of a UMC compromise, includes this observation: “One pastor would be teaching that the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage are unbiblical and therefore incompatible with Christian teaching, while another UM pastor, just miles away, would be teaching the practice of homosexuality is a good gift from God and same-sex marriages should be celebrated.”

Right. And …? I am unclear as to why this is a bad thing. In fact, is it not a strength of our connection, and a reason to work for unity? I am aware of several pastors close by me who have a “traditional marriage only” viewpoint. (By the way, icymi I have a “marriage equality for all people” viewpoint.)

Does it not make a whole lot of sense that, if someone in my congregation cannot abide marriage equality, I would be able to recommend to them a great pastor and colleague down the street that I know shares their view? And vice versa? Isn’t that what Christian unity really ought to be?

Further, I believe that denying a couple their marriage vows because they are the same gender is oppressive and unjust. My colleague down the road does not. Only if we remain connected, unified as the church, would my colleague down the road be able to send a same-sex couple to me to be married. Does that make us uncomfortable? Perhaps. But who promised anyone that following Jesus would be comfortable?

The truth is that ministry context is already taken into consideration when appointments are made in the UMC. District Superintendents and Bishops already know where individual pastors and individual congregations are on the theological spectrum. So appointment making really would not change all that much; we would just be more honest about it.

For me the bottom line is this – The Christians who claim their way of following Jesus is the only possible way to do so are just plain wrong. “Their way” is just one way among many ways to follow Jesus all around the world. I certainly do not believe that my relationship with Jesus is the only possible way for anyone to be in relationship with Jesus. So why does anyone feel that way?

I hope our definition of “unity” is not as small as this. I hope our definition of “unity” finds its source in Christ, not in us. I hereby call for a bigger unity, and I hope we who follow Jesus truly believe the Bible when it says that “all are one in Christ,” and nothing we do can change that.