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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Racism and New Ideas

Recent conversations have made apparent some major misunderstandings about racism. 

Being racist isn’t always about calling black people the “N” word.  Sometimes it is about making assumptions.  Imagine if a 12 year old blonde white girl was shot while holding a toy gun.  Would the comments to follow be about lack of parenting?  Would it be assumed there was nothing else which could have been done?  Would the phrases about “police just doing their jobs” be thrown around so liberally?  It is not all about the facts of a particular case, it is about the assumptions which are made and the effort we exert to find a way to blame the victim or the victim’s family, or the victim’s culture. 

I do understand it is difficult for police officers and police officers’ families.  As a farmer I am familiar with feelings which arise when people accuse one’s career.  I don’t appreciate it when farmers are blamed for destruction of the environment in a way which implies we are motivated by greed and implies we are poisoning people rather than feeding them food to sustain life.  It is not fair either to imply police officers are trigger happy bullies rather than people laboring at a difficult job trying to serve and protect. 

But racism these days is not often about people who would shoot someone just because of the color of their skin.  It is about systemic realities and attitudes which increase the likelihood of a young person being shot if that young person happens to have dark skin.  These things do not happen in a bubble.  In Ferguson, for example, the context is a community divided by race.  It is only logical this shooting would raise suspicions in such a context and anger would result when those suspicions were not given the honor of a complete trial. 

I am a privileged white person living in a rural area so I am no expert on racism.  However, I have heard comments such as “We would be better off if we didn’t have that black man as president.”  If one person can have such an abhorrent attitude is it really such a stretch to imagine a police officer being a little more frightened, feeling a little more threatened when the one the officer is confronting is black?  Is it such a stretch to imagine there might be some individuals who value a black person’s life less,(though I would not assume this of the police officers)? 

If overt racism like this still exists how much more must more subtle racism exist?  Most often these days it is not about name calling or ignorant denigrations based on skin color.  Now it is about larger systems, our assumptions, and the fear these systems and assumptions beget. 

I am glad for the conversations I have seen taking place regarding racism.  Many are frustrating and some even hurtful but at least we are talking about race issues.  Now what is the next step?  Protesting brings attention to the issue but the powers that be have become too proficient at making protestors look like violent hooligans or fringe nut jobs.  I am praying now for compassion, understanding, and listening and also creative leaders who will find new ways of educating and inspiring for change.  Any ideas?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Don't Be A Bridesmaid

I recently gave a sermon on the parable about ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13).  I thought it would be fun to share it here (I'll let you decide if reading this counts as church :)).  So, here it is:

The parable of the ten bridesmaids is a confusing one for modern folks.  It refers to traditions quite different from our own. Bridesmaids waiting with lamps is no longer part of our custom.   Yet even if we take into account the unfamiliar traditions we are still left with many questions.  Why seemingly reward the “wise” bridesmaids for refusing to share their oil?  Why is such a harsh punishment leveled at the “foolish” bridesmaids who simply did not anticipate the bridegroom would be delayed so long?  None of them stayed awake and none of them gave up and went home.  Why such a disparity in treatment for such a small discrepancy? 

But, notice the concluding statement which Jesus makes: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour..”  Jesus’ concluding statement is not “be prepared” or “be patient” or “be wise” but rather “keep awake”  which is something NONE OF THE BRIDESMAIDS DID.  This indicates to me, despite wise vs. foolish labels, we are not being called to emulate any of the bridesmaids but rather to do differently than all of them. 

Why this call to keep awake?  Well, what might have happened if the bridesmaids had remained awake?  Would they have sat there and watched their oil running out?  Would the “wise” bridesmaids have simply gloated in their oil supply?  Would the foolish bridesmaids have done nothing more than beg?   Or might they all have noticed they were getting low on oil, taken steps to conserve oil, shared what they had while they still could, sent a few for more oil with plenty of time to return with it?  Perhaps the point of this parable is not to be like any of the bridesmaids, either being shut out or watching your friends be shut out.  Perhaps we are being called rather to work to together so all may enter the kingdom.  

It may also be helpful to remember “the kingdom” is not only about what happens someday but about what happens now.  Several times in the Gospels it is written the kingdom of God is among us or has come near.  The life and death of Jesus brought the kingdom near and following Jesus means continuing to work toward the kingdom of God.  When we refuse to share, when we leave the “foolish” to their own devices we attempt to reserve the kingdom for a few, we try to shrink the kingdom.  Jesus calls us to expand the kingdom to keep awake to the needs of others, to make preparations for ourselves without neglecting the preparations of our neighbors no matter how clever we feel or how foolish they seem. 

I have often wondered at the fact it seems acceptable in our society to view foolishness or lack of intelligence as a capital offense.  If you make unwise decisions  about finances, family planning, chemical use, or sexual partners it is sometimes seen as acceptable to then let you reap consequences even if those consequences are as lethal as hunger, malnutrition or lack of health care.  It speaks volumes about the church that we have so often interpreted this parable as calling us to be like the wise bridesmaids, and have interpreted that as meaning believe the right things, go to church, think a lot about the coming of Jesus and then you will be lucky enough not to have the door shut in your face like those other people. 

But Amos 5 tells us something about what God thinks about such attitudes saying, “… I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…  Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Let us look towards the kingdom of heaven by, keeping awake to the needs of our neighbors, making sure the door is not shut upon anyone in this world and to trust in God to be merciful and full of grace for the next. 

Following Jesus is not about being wise and too bad for the foolish.  Following Jesus is a calling to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Staying awake is not about some artificial hyper-vigilance we are somehow supposed to have sustained for thousands of years but rather simply about staying awake to God at work in the world, seeing our neighbors as children of God, reaching out to those in need, and working to keep the door open for all people.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post Election: Be Gentle With Your Neighbors' Feelings

Be especially gentle with your neighbors' feelings for the next few days.  It is always a good idea to be gentle with our neighbors' feelings but recent political events have left some of us a bit raw, worried, maybe even depressed.  Perhaps you are feeling quite the opposite.  Perhaps you are certain the USA is finally on the right track.  But many of your neighbors feel differently.  Just as some may have felt the impending doom of looming large government a few years ago, some now fear for the poor, the minorities, the immigrants, the vulnerable, the environment and what our new face of government might mean for such as these.  It is always the poor and powerless who pay the price no matter if the threat is big government or income disparity, raised taxes or cut programs, rising energy prices or environmental degradation.  They pay the price as the rest of us have enough privilege to buffer us from whatever may come.  At least our odds are better…at least for a while.

So, be gentle with your neighbors and keep a sharp eye out for effects on neighbors whose privilege is low.  Whatever your politics, it is unacceptable for these to pay the price while the rest of us bicker. 

Be gentle with your neighbors and remember this was not a sporting event.  Those who are upset are not sad because their team lost.  They are worried about the future.  Reassure us all there are basics on which we all can agree such as the importance of education.  (see more thoughts on this here: Our Children's Future Should Not Be Up For Auction.)  It is in everyone’s best interest for all people to receive education.  There are soooo many benefits from lower crime rates to improved economy.  We all agree about that, right?  Please reassure everyone this is true and that we will join together against any policies which undermine quality education for all, no matter which party sponsors them. 

Remember, many margins of victory in this recent election were very small.  Wherever you are there are likely at least a few nearby who hold opinions different from your own.  Please, be gentle with your neighbors' feelings.