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A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Religious Equations and the Ooze of Wrongness

The way people talk sometimes it would seem the world must be divided between heartless religious people and immoral atheists.  Religious people are irrational, judgmental fanatics and atheists just don’t care about anything except for preventing people from practicing their religion.  But when I look around me this is not what I see.  I see good people who have been taught, often through family or culture or experience, one of two equations:

Good=Christian  
Christian = anti-gay, anti-abortion, condemning non-Christians
Therefore in order for Me=Good  I must also = Christian
and therefore Me=anti-gay, anti-abortion, condemning of non-Christians, etc.

OR

Christian =anti-gay, anti-abortion, misogynist
Therefore Christian =irrational, bad 
Therefore in order for Me=not irrational and bad
I = anti-religion

Many, many folks are just trying to get by, trying to survive, without time or energy for the privilege of engaging in deep philosophical research.   The effort of daily living is plenty to handle.  So, whichever equation brings order to their world is more out of exhaustion than ignorance or cruelty. 

Yet such equations lead us away from the unity we need.  We need to be uniting against something I am not sure how to name but perhaps could be thought of as “the ooze of wrongness.”  Some might like to call it evil but the word evil can almost seem majestic or to have some kind of backward honor.  The wrongness of which I speak is not a villain we can delight in hating and whose power leaves us awestruck.  Rather it is a slimy wrongness which creeps into our daily lives and festers.  It is something which churns our stomachs yet continuously evades our grasp.   It is wrongness which says if a corporation is to blame for wrongdoing than no one is to blame.  It is the wrongness which claims money as free speech ignoring any voices who would point out if one can purchase a million times more speech than another then there is nothing free about it.  It is the slime which labels greed as good business.  It is also the ooze of arrogance which allows my enlightenment to condemn others. Sometimes this looks like proudly promoting organic, and GMO free one moment and bemoaning food prices and world hunger the next as though food can be produced without a cost, without difficult decisions, without labor.  Just because it sometimes grows on trees doesn’t mean it is free.  On the other hand, it sometimes looks like an arrogance which says “Farmers are feeding the world so you better shut up and like it.”  The ooze of wrongness invades our sophistication allowing us to condemn the ignorance of our neighbors and their superstitions without acknowledging their pain or the wisdom they may have which goes beyond philosophy or religion or education and into the heart of life.  The ooze of wrongness is anything which encourages us to see our fellow life forms as anything other than brothers and sisters.

This ooze of wrongness manifests itself in many forms.  It is also today a delightful combination of arrogance as I choose my pet subjects as illustrations in the above paragraph, embarrassment over the place of privilege which I know informs my words despite my best efforts, and a sense of the impotence and inelegance of my words which tempts me to give up. 

None of us are immune to the ooze of wrongness.  The only defense I know of is continually attempting to love one another and treat one another as we would want to be treated.  This is the power of love which transcends religion, philosophy, nationality or any other category our limited human minds can create.

Let us join together to fight the ooze of wrongness.

It’s not much of a battle cry but hopefully you get what I mean. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Open-hearted Understanding...Or Not So Much

Within a recent sermon, I talked about a possible understanding of the Greek word "pisteo," which is often translated as belief,: trust within the context of a relationship.  Then I said this:

"I think about relationships each time I prepare a message for a funeral.  As the life of an individual unfolds and I hear a variety of stories from families and friends I am often moved to speak of a person as a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend and so on attempting to name some of the many relationships in which the person was involved.  Each one of these relationships was unique and comes with its own unique joys and sorrows and often needs to be addressed in different ways. 

So it is with our relationship with God.  In my own relationship with God I find I have difficulty relating to God on a personal level, this entity whom I cannot see or touch.  And so my relationship with God tends more toward the intellectual and the practical rather than the emotional.  My heroes of faith tend more toward Jacob who wrestled with God and the Syrophenician woman who debated with Jesus.  The way I find trust and hope in my faith would differ from someone who admires Mary’s humility and obedience.

This is not to say there is no objective truth but rather to say none of us have a monopoly on that truth.  When we listen to the truth which speaks to the hearts of others, the truth within our own hearts becomes deeper and richer. "

I wrote and then spoke these words pondering how I should be more understanding of the beliefs of others, recognizing we all have different stories, different needs, different personalities.  Then, within minutes of these nice open hearted sentiments, something happened which accentuated the differences in belief between myself and some people I care about.  Even with my focus on open-mindedness, still it felt a little heart-breaking.  It made me feel lonely and misunderstood.

This renewed my understanding of why discussions about religion can become so heated and why many people can be extremely resistant to change or new ideas when it comes to faith.  We all want to be understood.  When our beliefs are similar, we understand each other and hear each other.  We feel validated. When speaking with people whose beliefs differ greatly from my own (which, frankly, is most of the time) I often feel like I am speaking a different language.  I sometimes feel dismissed or judged.  It is all such a lonely and futile feeling.

Sometimes we talk about needing a sense of belonging.  This may be true but it always strikes me as talking about people as though we are all children pouting because we didn't get picked to join a club. There is reason for wanting to gather with like minded folks which goes beyond a desire for popularity and strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves and how we connect with others.  Hence, even when we approach a conversation about faith, or the lack there of, with open minds and open hearts, still it is a difficult task we undertake.

Let's be patient with each other.

Patience is not one of my strengths.  But I will try. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Open to Fighting Racism and Not for Church Publicity

I have read and thought about the shooting of Michael Brown.  I have thought about white privilege, how to stand with those suffering from discrimination, how to speak on such issues when I know so little, how our country responds to protests, our judicial system, etc.  Lots of thoughts but few words.  Why is this?  I have read comments which suggest white folks hesitate to speak on these issues because they are afraid speaking out about racism might be unpopular.  This is not my concern.  If I worried about who amongst my Mid-west neighbors might dislike my words I couldn’t write half the things I do.  Rather I am concerned about the reactions of those suffering from discrimination.  I live in an area of the country which is very white.  It is difficult to understand racism when I am surrounded by people who look pretty much like I do.  I am speaking from a place of ignorance and yet not speaking feels wrong.  I am afraid of offending the very people who are already hurting.  So, I hesitate to speak.

I thought about going to Ferguson.  It is not so terribly far away.  I saw pictures of a white female pastor participating in the protests.  Could I, like her, be of help?  But, she was from the community.  I am an outsider.  What do I know?  Do I intrude upon this community in their struggle so I can feel good about standing against injustice? 

There was some talk of pastors putting themselves between the protestors and the police.  I understand using position of privilege to intervene for others.  Yet would using the position of pastor as a shield not in a sense condone the grading of human lives as more or less worthy of protection?  Does this not lend some credence to attitudes which say “he robbed a store, therefore it is okay he was killed?”   The life of a pastor should not be more valuable than any other human life. 

Part of me was relieved to see a church presence at those protests because too often the church is absent from justice issues.  Another part of me wanted to roll my eyes.  Remember that old and no longer politically correct joke about dyslexic people worshipping dog?  I think there was more truth in the joke than we realized but not just for people with learning disabilities.  Way too often the Christian church treats God like some cosmic dog who needs to constantly mark his territory.   If we stand up for justice do we have to do so while waving a cross in the air?  Do we have to claim our actions as Christian rather than simply human?  Can we not work for justice without it feeling like a publicity stunt? 

Everywhere I turn I have more questions than answers.  Yet the pain of racism in this country has been laid bare before us.  Regardless of the particularities of this particular case the anger it has revealed does not fall from the sky.  There are racist realities in our society which need to be acknowledged, confronted and transformed into justice.  I do not know how to help this happen.  A wise friend once told me if I hold myself open to helping in such situations opportunity will come.  It already has in some very small ways.  So, I hold myself open to helping fight the injustice of racism and other injustices, not as a pastor, not as a white person, not as a Christian but as a human being with no more or less value than any other human being. 


For now, it is the only thing I know to do.