Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recommended Reading, Listening and Watching--4-6-16 edition

Recommended Reading and Listening
On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

CCCUCC in the News
United Church of Christ in the News
  • UCC Leaders Speak Out Against North Carolina Transgender Law
  • Great story of what happened when a UCC church in OK was picketed and harassed by an extreme anti-abortion group--area Muslims, Jews and atheists came out to protect their Christian neighbors.
  • For Earth Day this year, the UCC is urging congregations to speak out on keeping existing fossil fuels in the ground rather than exploiting them and furthering climate change.  The campaign is called "Keep It In the Ground."
SJR 39 the MO LGBTQ Discrimination Bill
MORE2 in the News
Faith and the Election Season
Race and Racism
God and American Culture
  • What Dave Ramsey Doesn't Get About Poverty by Rachel Held Evans--I'm the first to admit my family uses Ramsey's financial management tools, and they work for us, but my wife and I are white and middle class. I don't think Ramsey's financial management principles are unique to him, but rather he's just better at marketing them to Christians than others. When Ramsey gets into politics, he steps out of financial principles and into an ideology that ignores systematic racism and systematic poverty as barriers to economic advancement. As Rachel Held Evans says, his "blame the poor" philosophy ignores scriptural precedent, not to mention the teachings of Jesus. We will continue to use Ramsey's tools, because they are accessible and they are working to get us out of debt, but I never have nor will I ever respect the man Dave Ramsey.
  • Persecute Me Please: God's Not Dead 2 and the Evangelical Lust for Victimhood  This nails what's wrong with American evangelicalism. It's written by a skeptic, but I feel closer to him than I do to people who turn out for awful films like this one.
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

You are Not Your Depression

 "The real me is something bad, something that has to be controlled with drugs," said the teen.

My heart sank to hear these words from the teenager I was speaking with.  In previous conversations, he and his family had shared with me his years of struggle with depression which resulted in behavior ranging from extreme anxiety and to anger and rage.  For his parents, finding the right medication after a long roller coaster of emotional pain was a godsend.  Their family had at times nearly fallen apart as they wrestled with what to do about their son.  Yet, for the son, medication was a source of shame, a sign that he couldn't control himself and an abiding sense that deep down he was a monster.

As I wondered what to say to this anguished teen, one of those Holy Spirit moments occurred and the words just came out of my mouth.  "You are not your depression,” I said to him.  “That's just chemicals your brain has produced in the wrong amount.  The medication gets rid of that interference, so the real you can come out."

I went on to tell him about my own battles with depression.  I had experienced episodes where everything seemed so bad and nothing seemed worth living for, but despite how "real" that view of the universe felt, it was all the chemicals talking-either too little or too much of various combinations in the brain.  For me, medication was a gift from God which let the real me inside be revealed.

Sometimes theologians speak of the "true self," "inner light," or "divine spark" inside of us to describe that piece of us made in the image of God.  That "real" self, as opposed to the false selves we show the world or mistakenly believe are legitimate, is our identity given by God.  To be human is to have trouble discovering that "true self," but some of us have an additional complication in our search for who we really are, because we struggle with mental illness of one degree or another.  That warped view of reality which is filtered through depression or another type of mental illness sure seems real enough, but God works though medication, therapy and relationships to help us discern who we really are and how good the world can be.

As our conversation ended, my teenage friend seemed to perk up with hope, "You mean I'm really not a bad person?  The real me isn't something bad?"  I nodded and said, "Yeah, that's just the chemicals; that's not the real you."  He smiled tentatively, as if he was daring to believe, maybe for the first time, in his own worth.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Recommended Reading and Listening 3-24-16 edition

Recommended Reading and Listening
CCCUCC in the News
  • Earlier this year, CCCUCC hosted an event for families with transgender children and their allies.  At that event was the creator of a podcast from here in KC who interviewed me and others re: our advocacy for LGBTQ people.  The podcast is  Unblocked--take a listen and subscribe to it.
  • Good quote from CCCUCC member Jan Parks who chairs the Education Task Force of MORE2 about KCMO's inconsistent use of tax abatement to spur development.
MORE2 in the News
Faith and the Election Season

It's an ugly election season to say the least, and religion plays a huge part in the ugliness.  Here are some articles I found interesting as I try to make sense of this political time we are living in.
God and American Culture
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

Who Cares About the Religious Right Anymore?

I wrote this blog post for the United Church of Christ blog New Sacred.  

If the son of a famous preacher makes an inflammatory political declaration, does he really make a sound?

I asked myself this question when I read The New York Times' profile of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  Graham, the son of the much-heralded Billy Graham, is launching a tour to rally conservative Christians in an election year, all the while spewing anti-Muslim screeds whenever a microphone is nearby.  Meanwhile Jerry Falwell, Jr., the son of the founder of the Moral Majority and Liberty University, has endorsed Donald Trump for President and urged Liberty students to arm themselves with guns to defend themselves from Muslim terrorists.  These two can still make headlines, but they fail to wield the influence of their fathers.

I came of age in the 1980's and remember vividly Reagan's embrace of the senior Falwell's Moral Majority.  I can also remember how at the close of the decade Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition had so-called "voter's guides" in churches across the country.  I grew up Southern Baptist and watched fundamentalists purge conservative people from the denomination because they weren't conservative enough.  Compared to those days, this next generation of leaders of the Religious Right seems laughable.

Don't get me wrong, far-right Christians still wield considerable influence.  Recently one of my state's legislators declared the Supreme Court had "created a third sex" by legalizing same sex marriage (whatever that means).  I also encounter daily people with real spiritual wounds from the sexism, homophobia and transphobia of right-wing churches.  I'm well aware right-wing Christianity is still out there. 

I can't help but feel, however, that the current right-wing religious outrage is more desperate than substantive.  It used to be that the Religious Right fought hardest against abortion and homosexual rights as well as for the return of prayer in schools.  Now their leaders have embraced gun rights, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in order to stay relevant.  One way of understanding the not-very-religious Donald Trump's popularity among conservative Christians (Two Corinthians???) is that the Religious Right just doesn't matter like it used to matter.

Once my own religious and political beliefs moved from conservative to progressive, I bemoaned the lack of a "Religious Left" to counter the Religious Right.  I've written plenty of columns for church newsletters, blog posts and print publications responding to what I consider to be the misguided efforts of the Religious Right.  Yet, I've harbored the suspicion for a while that such efforts might have been a waste of time.

In a culture where "none of the above" is the fasted growing response to the question of religious affiliation, the outrage of any church-right, left or center-is becoming less and less relevant.  Not only do people care less about the Religious Right but they care less about anything at all resembling traditional religious identification.  I realize now that the time is past-if it ever existed-for me as a Progressive Christian to waste my energy on the Religious Right.

The world is hurting now just as much as it ever was, and I turn my attention away from hurting people when I choose to live in reaction to the Religious Right.  It's past time for me and people like me to turn our attention back to where it should have been all along-prophetically demonstrating God's radical love for all people.

We don't need a "Religious Left" to face off against the Religious Right.  Instead we need Christians who believe living out the Gospel means working for peace and justice.  We need Christians who ask "What Would Jesus Do?" and then answer by offering inclusive hospitality to all God's children no matter who they are.  We need Christians who will admit to not having all the answers and then enter into relationships with people of other religions or of no religion.  We need Christians who believe their job is to love rather than control other people.
I have spent too much time saying, "I'm not that kind of Christian." in reference to the Religious Right.  It's time for me to start saying, "I am this kind of Christian" in relation to the call of Jesus Christ who came to "to bring good news to the poor. . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

KC Religious Leaders Opposed to SJR 39 and LGBTQ Discrimination

Press Conference of KC Religious Leaders Opposed to SJR 39

On March 14, I stood with 23 other KC religious leaders (and many more who were with us in spirit) at a press conference held in our church sanctuary.  We expressed our opposition to SJR 39, a bill passed by the MO Senate and headed to the MO House, which would put a constitutional amendment on the state ballot.  That amendment would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  I'm grateful to CCCUCC's own Bethany Meier, Wendie Brockhaus and Stephen King for being present as well.  

Take a moment to sign our on-line petition opposing SJR 39.

Here's the media coverage we received.

Recommended Reading and Listening 2-19-16 edition

Catching up on blog posts that I should have posted long ago, but just in case somebody out there on the interwebs cares, here you go!

Recommended Reading and Listening
Race and Racism
God and American Culture
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

Friday, February 19, 2016

An On-Line Bible Study for Lent Week Two: Luke 13:31-35

An On-Line Bible Study for Lent
Week Two

Scripture: Luke 13:31-35 Contemporary English Bible

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,[a] ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[b] you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Questions for Reflection:
1.       In this passage, Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem, the place where he will be killed.  He knows what awaits him but goes anyway.  Have there been moments in your life when you knew something was going to be unpleasant or painful, but because it was the right thing to do you chose to face it?  What gave you the strength and courage to make that choice?
2.      Jesus laments over Jerusalem and says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. . . “  Feminist writers have noted Jesus’ use of a maternal image to describe his feelings.  What do you make of it?
3.      Jesus indicts Jerusalem for refusing to heed the prophets and choosing to persecute or even kill them instead.  Part of the reason we turn to this story during Lent is to see in this indictment our own culture, world, city and selves.  In what ways does our culture or do we refuse to hear the messengers of God today?  How do you tell the difference between a prophet speaking for God and just another crackpot with an agenda?
4.      What ways is God calling you to be prophetic?  What ways is God calling our church to be prophetic?  What stops us from answering that call?

Further Reflection:
How do we tell the false prophet from the true prophet? The true prophet seldom predicts the future. The true prophet warns us of our present hardness of heart, our prideful presuming to know God's mind. And the final test of the true prophet is love. God came to us as Jesus because of love....
We must be careful in our right and proper protests...that we are protesting truly, that we are not being false prophets fearing only for our own selves, our own families, our own country. Our concern must be for everybody, for our entire fragile planet, and everybody on it.... Indeed, we must protest with loving concern for the entire universe. A mark of the true prophet in any age is humility, self-emptying so there is room for God's Word.
Madeleine L'Engle
A Stone for a Pillow

Many people mistakenly believe that a prophet's job is to predict the future. This is wrong.

Prophets of God don't tell us what is going to happen; they tell us what should happen, and, more importantly, they tell us the way things really are, and what needs to change. Often prophets tell us things about ourselves and our society that make us uncomfortable, or even angry. They do this by speaking truth to power.

I'll say that again, prophets speak truth to power. That's their job. Prophets are usually outsiders who have the courage to stand up and tell the people in power what the real issue is....

Prophets aren't popular with those in power because they stand as a threat. They're often mistreated, imprisoned, exiled, mocked, ridiculed or killed.

How do we tell the difference between a real prophet and a nutcake with a megaphone? That, my friend, is the perpetual problem.
"Truth to Power"
—Rev. Peter B. Panagore
The word "prophet" is a translation of the Hebrew, Navi; a word the meaning of which we are still not sure.

Navi may mean "one who is called," "one who proclaims," or "one who shouts."

The English connotation of "prophet," derived from the Greek, suggests that the prophet is a teller of fortunes or a foreteller of the future.

This is part of the prophetic personality, but more than being a fore-teller or seer, the authentic prophet is a forth-teller, that is, a commentator on what is happening.

The prophets themselves had criteria for true and false prophecy, and the fortune-telling aspect was of relatively minor concern in determining who was "true" and who was "false."

What was crucial in this determination was not whether the prophet foretold the future correctly or not, but rather whether he abdicated his moral obligation or not.
You are a Christian only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in ... so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come.
- Henri Nouwen