Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Kavanaugh Effect—Where American Justice Fractures

My wife and I were laughing with one of our best friends, having just arrived home from a five day trip. Bantering and catching up on the events of the week, I stumbled my way into a heated and angry argument with my close friend over the immanent Kavanaugh hearing, coming this Thursday.  


It took about fifteen seconds for me to realize that I was flat out angry, disgusted that my friend would impose upon the facts as I was eloquently laying them out, a narrative that I agreed with and would normally be arguing for in any other than this politically charged and manipulated political setting.  "She," meaning Dr. Blasey Ford, "seems credible," my friend interjected—no interupted—as I was simply trying to explain that all of the witnesses she identified as present on that horrific evening have publicly denied such a moment. As fact upon fact poured out from my peace filled vacation consumed with this social-political-historic-deeply personal story, I suggested that one of the women was her life-long friend in whom she had never confided. "Terry, that simply makes the truth of it more compelling!" She went on with her own considerable experience as a family counselor, minister and woman, noting that the shame and sense of undeserved guilt that often surround women result in a story untold and a father's daughter left alone, painfully adrift, sometimes for years. "In fact," my friend recounted, "the very source of her recovered and painful memories from within therapy years later is entirely understandable and all too typical." She had the courtesy not to add..."and that, because the very judgmental spirit you are expressing in this discussion is all too typical of men!" 

I muttered agreement and added, "and that's the problem, isn't it, the recovery of fractured memories?"   'Listen,' my thoughts wanted to inject, 'don't tell me what I clearly already know!'  Now it was personal, for both of us; my own self-centered and masculine pride and her deeply felt identification of this woman's pain—all too real.  It only took us about one minute to realize we were emotionally unprepared for this politically and spiritually poignant conversation and so we each, awkwardly, backed away.  When we were done doing whatever it was, I apologized for my inability to hear her heart, blaming it on being tired—a half truth, at best—and mumbled our need to re-engage it when we both had some distance. And we will. Our respect and friendship of forty years will not succumb to the fractured divisions running deep within the American search for justice. In fact, we will come to a greater understanding because what we hold in common outweighs the lenses in which we hold this important divide. 

That momentary and personally charged conversation reverberates through the land. May I suggest our conversation is a microcasm of a deeper longing at the heart of the Democratic and Republican, historic and post-modern search for justice in this politically important moment in the American Judicial Experiment. 

The question we confront is simply: Is justice that 'is blind' really just?  Should that be the goal of our pursuit?

Our constitutional system is based upon a profound, even revolutionary idea.  Each person, every individual stands equal before the law.  The law is blind to the persons race, wealth, social status, gender and religion.  All that matters is that each person is treated with respect, their rights given by the Creator and protected from encroachment by other individuals, corporationsespecially the state.

It is that premise to which Judge Kavanaugh is fully committed and therein lies the problem for many who oppose him. The problem is not the 'ideal' of equal justice before the law, but the reality that such an ideal was not 'real' at the time of our founding and to this day, still eludes us as a people. In religious terms, we are not equal before the law because justice has never been and is not now administered blindly. Judges at  all levels, the government, corporations, civil associations are not only, not blind—allowing equal access—but consciously and unconsciously making decisions on the basis of race, religion, gender and orientation. In other words the problem with the ideal is us.

The progressive corrective is social justice; the recognition that 'power' determines outcome more than 'individual standing' before the law. The social stats are decidedly on their side. Social groups that are under-represented or historically un-represented before institutions of power like Lady Justice have different outcomes. 

In real terms does a poor person have the same access to and standing before the courts as do large and powerful corporations?  Is a person of
color treated with the same dignity as a white person when standing before an officer of the peace, whether it be the arresting officer, booking officer, prosecutor's office, jailer or judge?  Are women who come forward with sexual assault charges given the deference that sexual violence deserves when first reported or later considered by a male dominated prosecutor's office? Every social measurement declares, 'no'—marginalized communities are not treated with anything close to blind and equal standing; living within the human weakness of prejudicial experience over generations.

'Taking the blinders off' and recognizing un-equal power relations in determining judicial outcomes lies at the heart of social justice theory, for the left.  In Brown verses Board of Education, 1954, the court rightly decided that 'seperate but equal' education was inherently 'not equal' and so mandated 'with all deliberate speed' the tearing down of segregated schools. Conservatives argue that implementation of that court order should be handled without prejudice of the racial make up of neighborhood schools, allowing federal or state financed vouchers and public magnet schools to give parents of all incomes and races the financial means to opt into schools of choice throughout a city. Progressives argue for a racially conscious policy of moving students from largely segregated socio/economic communities, crossing  boundaries to guarantee, by busing, diverse experience in all schools. Now, sixty-four years from that decision the country witnesses a labyrinth of solutions that include social engineering together with increasing choice.  

In Citizens United verses the Federal Elections Commission social contract theory, blinders off, encountered a conserving tradition, blinders on. The question before the court was focused on the nature of corporations; are they persons?  The court found that corporations are individual persons acting in legal concert with other individuals, not unlike unions for example, and therefore are protected by free speech rights, including the use of money for political speech.  

For us who tend toward the actualizing of 'freedom' in the text and hence the rights inherent to each person—speech, religion, property, life, protection—Citizen's United was a constitutional win.  For those who see 'liberty' as equality in relation to communal standing or participation, Citizens United denied to individuals the practical means (money) to effect policy debates and outcomes. In the name of guaranteeing individuals the right of 'free association' the 'real financial power' of corporate America buying and framing the choices of public discussion only ensures that marginalized communities remain on the margins.  The recent decision of the Court in Janus prohibiting mandatory union fees upon individuals only exasterbates the concerns of those who approach 'liberty' in terms of social outcomes.

These are the real issues that drive the political debate; though not the human one. And so we come to Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh. It is the human mystery and pain surrounding Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh that makes real, in my opinion, the limits of the 'social engineering' of freedomespecially when it is hi-jacked for political ends by either party.

My good friends argument was the very real human experience of Dr. Blasey Ford negotiating to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her charge of sexual violence, she argued, is too easily dismissed or diminished. That is the historic, real and vulnerable position many women find themselves in when they stand up and say 'me too.' In this setting it is the 'honor-character' of women who are often assassinated in an attempt defend the 'honor-character' of the men who are accused. It really does, sometimes, come down to 'whom do I believe?'

The rush to 'believe' Dr. Blasey Ford, even dismissing a significant lack of corroborative testimony is, in part, an attempt to address the social imbalance—the lack of equality—between men and women generally and specifically in matters of sex. The public statements by several Democratic Senators about "believing her" with one admonishing "men to just shut up" expresses their belief that the Republican refusal of further investigation by the FBI is a rush to judgment, 'against her'. 

The problem for the left and right is that in very real terms both Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh's character assertions become fodder for political debate; history's patterns being repeated. For Democrats it is Anita Hill, marginalized and powerless, before a cadre of 'white men' glaring down in contempt. That is made self-evident in Dr. Blasey Ford's attorney requesting that only Senators (white ones in the case of Republicans) question her and that Judge Kavanaugh should go first, then her. Never mind the defendants presumption of innocence—a 'blinders on' kind of reasoning about individual rights, after all.

For Judge Kavanaugh, whose character is attested by years of jurisprudence and scores of women this all seems like 'social power' run amuck; the McCarthiate mobs pushing a narrative of guilt by association with a history of men who abuse women, being the association. It is "To Kill a Mockingbird" in reverse order, where a white woman charging a black man in 1930's America with rape nevertheless appeals to 'her honor needing to be defended' even in the face of evidence that she is lying. Tom Robertson, the black defendant, is found guilty—for her honor's sake.

So, what are we to make of Thursday's testimony? If it happens, in my view, it will be the result of Dr. Blasey Ford's courage, choosing to tell her story with no regard to the actual consequences. The Democratic Minority Chair, sitting on Dr. Blasey Ford's letter until it became a weaponized delay tatic, intended or not, leaves little room for honest discovery by counsel and informed questioning. Even so, making the committee available is of significant value to Americans who are listening and watching.  

I come to the table tending to believe that both persons in this drama are credible. I see Dr. Blasey Ford as credible, her assertion being plausible.  Something horrific clearly happened and its emergence over time is classic, her reticence to come out reinforcing its reality.  Her story needs to be heard. Even so, if the evidence is lacking and all of the named participants deny it ever taking place as described, I'm also persuaded that Judge Kavanaugh's profession of actual virginity up and into late college seems plausible, even likely. 

It is my total lack of trust in the manner in which this issue has been handled by Senator Feinstein and the Democratic minority of the committee that gives me pause about allowing any additional time for investigation, perceiving a politically driven and conscious attempt to bring Kavanaugh down.  The stakes are high. Nothing short of the nature of 'justice' is at stake.

When all the testimony is given and the votes recorded we Americans will still need to ask ourselves just how blind should Lady Justice be? Is justice that 'is blind' really just?  Should that be the goal of our pursuit?

We should, in every individual case, pursue 'blindness before the law' as essential to equal standing before the law. It is foundational. It is what keeps American justice unique and our human prejudices and passions from ruling like an unruly mob—even for justice; for once the blinders are off, mob rule ultimately wins as
'social justice' frames the issues in a particular case away from the 'actual facts in any one case' to a 'very often real grievance' of a class of persons. Yet, social inequities are profoundly real and hence must frame the context in which Lady Justice may need to peak from time to time beyond the facts of a particular case. 

The tension between originalists in constitutional law and the principles inherent in the Constitution as a living, breathing reality continue. Both are necessary to justice, the key being balance.


As a follower of Jesus, we bring one important gift to the discussion. We are called to remove the power centered approach of either the right or left. (Now, admitedly we do not do that well, as I did not in my argument with my friend.) In real terms it is the 'idea' of either character or justice trumping the other (over-used pun, intended) that is replaced with a more-radical ideal in Jesus: Reconcile!  

We, in the Church of Jesus should be the first to act civily, listen with empathy, insist upon individual justice in a given case and confess the inequities of social injustice, working toward their resolution. In all, we are called to bring character transformation (honor) and equality of standing into the public square; Republicans and Democrats alike.

Terry :)



For more on the political nature of the gospels see by recently published book @ Amazon.com. Holiness in the 21st Century: A Political Gospel Worth Engaging

  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Still before God

A Poem drawn from today’s text: Psalm 23

“The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing.”
Psalms 23:1 CEB

The peace of God alludes me still,
   Still, I seek what I’ve rarely known, 
   The still waters of David’s promise, 
      quiet like the glassy center of a pebble skipping across the waters, 
         dancing in the rhythms of peace whose gentle waves 
       reveal a silence at the heart of each successive release.

My heart is a cascade of chaotic desires, rooted in body, 
   a miss-firing of bio-chemical needs pushing, pressing, longing,
   each affixed in anxiety and layered guilt, 
      the awareness of memories failure knocking once more.

These inward battles of mind and body inform my heart of what’s at risk,       
      If I cave in to these pre-emotive and restless intuitions,
      a cascading tsunami of desires assert themselves,
         the negotiated balance of conflicting medications put at risk.

The peace of God, it’s eternal quiet, rarely known,
   Still, in silent witness to God’s provisions,
   Is but a shadow of the tempestuous and gnawing emptiness that covers my soul 
      when peace with God lies in the shatters of a sin soaked night.
   If I must manage my life within the veil of a storm, 
   then God may it be the peace of God whose reach I miss 
      and never the peace with God, without which, I cannot live.

Terry :) 


Friday, August 10, 2018

God Holds Us when Life Frazzles Us

At a young age I had the privilege of visiting my grandma who was experiencing some difficult dementia.  Truth is, she was not my grandma, just my neighbor who babysat me as a toddler. I still remember her warm, tender and aged hands gently rubbing soft soap over mine in the wash basin of her spacious 1941 home.  I used to take my afternoon knap on a huge bed that was stuck between two glass walls; one leading into her living room filled with dark brown wood trim, a fire hearth and wood flooring and the other into a glass enclosed back porch.  Every memory of her was filled with safety and nurturing love.

We had moved some 45 miles away and it was now some years later and I was being prepped by my parents that she might not act as the humerous and engaging Christian I knew her to be. Worse,  they said “she might not even remember me”. But how can you prepare a child for the unknown and indescribable?   I remember praying, “Jesus, please help grandma  to remember me.”


When we entered her room she seemed restless until turning, her eyes cast in my direction and I noticed a sparkle as if the light was turned on. “Terry!” she excalimed witha wide smile and for the next minute or so we laughed and talked. I held her hand. It was as if a moment had not passed in the ensuing years. Then her eyes went blank, followed by darkness. She became agitated, threw my hand away, her arms flailing about her as curses poured out from this woman from whom I had only felt and heard sweetness itself. I was quickly rushed out of the room never to see her again..

I am forever grateful to God for allowing me both the few seconds of remembered joy
 and the horror of a human mind suddenly captured by extreme anger. "Both?", you ask?  Yes, for at a young age I experienced something of the grace of God who remembers what we’ve lost and who heard my prayer that she would remember me...and the frailty of our existence; even of the most righteous among us.
 
I have no idea how to live my life without the almost daily time with Jesus and a devotional app, book in hand and a pen and paper--usually sitting in the quiet of the city watching the people as they move about.  This is one of the threads that holds my life together, forming identity and narrative.  A story larger than myself emerges from connecting moments with people, nature, ministry, work and God.  In fact, it almost feels as if God and I and all of life are weaving the threads of a plot together; its layered events in some kind of tapestry that I can only guess at, though perhaps God knows. 

Laura Davis Werezak, in her brilliant devotional called “Attend“ reminds us that memory is powerful; it is literally the re-creation or ‘putting together’ of that which life by trial and boredom tends to fragment. In recent years my life has been going through a series of dis-membering feelings, events, relations wherein even the ability to remember becomes difficult. My body slowly forgets how to function as a loss of control over my weight and balance and sleep and mind increasingly interrupts the rhythms that once unconsciously performed their functions with ease. Now my body jerks as if in rebellion crying out like an old car engine sputtering to its last revolution, but never quite stopping. The loss of control and the depression that fills the gaps in between each escaping word that is my search for speech would seem enough, till my heart fails me. No, not the one beating in my chest that is still apparently under its own power. It’s the heart of my soul, empty and longing to remember what once felt so clear--who am I? Why am I? Now this organ of my spirit fails to fire by love as it once did. Even the drugs intended to level out the rhythms of my body introduce new battles with addictive longings that cast a shadow where the Son once shined.


In today’s devotional moment two things stood out.  In the awakening of memories by way of the Psalms God reminds me that "the LORD supports all who fall down, straightens up all who are bent low" ‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭145:14‬ ‭CEB‬‬).  I can literally feel my heart expand as the memory of God’s unfailing favor pours back in and I remember, once again. Moments later  Laura Werezak captured me: “When God remembers Israel in the Old Testament it preserves them and holds them together as a nation. By his relationship with them, he is able to pull together the scattered memories and shared experiences make up the people. And even when the nation is scattered into exile, God holds them in his memory, just waiting to put them back together and breathe new life into them like the army in the prophet Ezekiel’s Valley of dry bones“ (Ezekiel 24)

Wow!  My heart warms and resonates with these assurances very much like the feeling you get when talking with a friend you’ve not spoken with in a very long time. The sound and texture of his voice, the crazy jokes and idiosyncrasies that drew me to him as a friend in the first place suddenly become real–remembered–integrated into this days soulfulness.  It is a friendship, an identity, a narrative woven together by memories. So it is with God and worship, ministry, the rhythms of community life, the Eucharist. I/we are renewed in God’s friendship. 


So at the end of these elongated moments of time with Jesus I prayed: “My heart feels corrupted and heavy. Lord, save me please. The scripture and quote above are my only hope. So, God by way of Your memory, hold together all the disparate, driven and dismembering affections of my heart; bringing them back together as friend with friend.


Father, remember me I pray. Amen.

Terry  :)

Note: This writing, including the ideas around memory and frienship are taken from and in response to both Psalm 145 and Laura Werezak's devotional, "Attend", pg#92-95. You can get "Attend" at: Attend: 40 Soul Stretches Toward God

Friday, August 3, 2018

Attending 1st Things 1st-Jesus or Facebook

I'm not really good at putting first things first.  

My whole life, at least the first 40 years was a search for the magic that would rewire my heart to love God 1st, as no other. Failed.  Truth be told, the beginning of tasting the reality of loving God was born of failure, mine and God's really.  Now think about it. Is not the heart of Christendom, of service, discovered in giving up one's life for something or someone greater than ourselves? Jesus said so and on the very night of his greatest failurethe scattering of almost all of his closest disciples (new friends) and his own crucifixion on the empire's scaffolding. Anyway, he told them: "No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15: 13). 

Jesus had the audacity, on that very night, to suggest that his and God's deepest longing was to simply 'be friends'. In my daysometime after cars and before computersthat was the kind of thing you'd say only if you were about to break up with a girl. Now everyone, thanks to Facebook, is a 'friend'.  But Jesus idea of friendship has a catch, we have to follow in his self-giving, love centered lifestyle.  The cross has to become real in us as we identify with, enter into and support humans who feel marginalized by culture or family or church or wounds or themselves.  At least that's what I think he meant when he said, "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love" (John 15: 10).

What's worse is thatagain according to the Son of the Living Godwe're suppose to like it. "I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete" (John 15: 11). So, let's run that by one more time. You and I are called to be his friend. In order for that to be real all we have to do is love like he dideveryone. That inevitably leads to some sacrifice, a letting go of ourselves in order to be totally available to loveand we're gonna like it, a lot. 

K, Facebook is a lot easier. Push a button. 

Which brings us back to the heart and soul of Jesus teachings and living: 
    
Facebook is all about 'like interests' or 'shared pushback'.  If your in my public face I can get in your public face. We can emoje laugh, cry, yell or just be sad. Silence is a rarity. An addictive, compulsive need for attention is a must and all that is among 'friends'. The main thing is we 'get our political, religious, sporty, cool thing out there for the whole world to admire. 
    
Jesus love is really about listening and recognizing in your sister and brotherespecially the weakest and most vulnerableourselves. You heard it. It's not about helping someone on the scale lower than us so we can feel better about 'who we are,' having sacrificed for them.  Love is really about receiving from the weakest and most vulnerable, their gifts, space, ideas, food, laughter and tears.

If we can ever get past ourselves enough to see ourselves in everyone around us, we might finally begin to see Jesus in everyone around us. You see whoever the 'other' people are, be they "____________" (you fill in the blank) or your neighbor or enemy, Jesus has a bad habit of showing up and laughing with them. And with us, if we'll let him. When we can do that, our friendship with Jesus begins for real. It's kind of the opposite of the Facebook alga rhythm. 

I've been off Facebook for a month now.  I'm no closer to loving God first, but I may be closer to silenceto listening for his voice. A little, anyway.

So, I'm going to post this and nobody on Facebook will know.  That's what disconnecting from the constant need to push the logo is all about. 

Till next time.

Terry :)

If you want to enjoy a random conversation about life and love and Jesus and politics and... listen to the podcast interview I recently enjoyed on: Boiceterous 4 - An Interview with Terry Mattson  

Friday, July 20, 2018

Even my Anxieties have Anxieties


A Reflection: on Jesus Desert Temptation (Matthew 4: 1, 6-7) 
...to Jump off the ledge of the Holy Temple... Go figure:


Time may seem transient, a moment blowing in the wind, or never ending, caught in the forever of love or anxiety.

A toddlers life appears a series of forever now—of play and discovery—interrupted only by the approaching bedtime whose coming feels more like death than rest; their life experience being so limited.

To a 26 year old a month can feel like a day given time moves so fast—so vast seems the future ahead. Conversely an hour filled with love or loss or anxiety suddenly takes over as eternal —a state of heart that like a toddler’s is captured by forever.

The very definition of anxiety, at root, is a suspension of the risk and adventure of time in favor of the dis-ease of worry about time. That’s why Jesus asked the question: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6: 27)

Jesus is speaking from within the experience of his own pre-mission wrestling with purpose in the desert spaces of elongated time and temptation. Scripture indicates he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4: 1) and that, immediately following the significance of his baptism and assurance by God that Jesus “is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3: 17b).

Several times in the seasons of our life we ask ourselves if our journey in time has meaning; if time itself is passing us by leaving us in a desert place of lonely despair? Does anything we do make a difference? Do we matter?

Like Jesus, we must ask ourselves what is real; our human worldview or God’s universal view in and beyond time? It is this question that wells up from within his own sense of being indestructible—a feeling shared by the young—that  more than anything else will determine the place of time; its loves, losses and anxiety in his life. In the narrative of the churches memory Satan frames the question: “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’ (Matthew 4: 5,6). There it is hidden within the challenge. “Prove your worth. Prove yourself!”

As long as we carry around in us by arrogant assurance that we either cannot or must not fail in our current task or mission we guarantee that each days tasks or meetings or risks or interruptions feel eternal, anxious—as if the weight of the whole world (our future) lived inside the task or meeting or risk or interruption. We are ever third person in all our relations, attempting to prove our worth through others perceptions of us or their utility to our mission. We are miserable and will ultimately make everyone around us miserable.

The reason is simple. We are attempting to be god-like when our calling is to be human. Just human. The heart of being human is in the sheer joy and frustration of discovery, of child like openness to every experience and person. It is in the relaxed ‘gratefulness’ of living first person instead of third person; of relating instead of watching ourselves relate.

I sometimes wonder if we do a dis-service to our toddlers in excessively clapping at every achievement of theirs, teaching her or him to seek the applause—to live third person, aware of skill sets as an end—instead of the joy or pain inside whatever she is doing—the actual view of the world from the top of the piano, the danger and pain of the fall.


It is as if we are standing with the first astronauts on the moon and beholding the earth for the first time... and what do we feel? “Oh God, this universe is incredible and I am so small and yet, here I am”? No. We instead cry out: “How cool is this? We are here standing on the moon looking at our small world. How incredible are we?”

I am prone to anxiety. Never is it less helpful than when I am about to face what I know will be a vulnerable stretch where I might give into my own weakness, my own mental tapes whirring on automatic, and even after doing the appropriate steps of planning, accountability or diversion I enter the day or days feeling like a race car, it's engines revved at maximum, while in neutral.  It is the fear of failure driving me, not the temptation.  Then I realize that even my anxieties have anxieties. How dumb.
   
The best antidote to anxiety is another kind of assurance that Jesus evidently discovered in the desert when Jesus answered Satan , “It is also written:‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (Matthew 4: 7).

Our genius is within the very dust of time as creatures who discover all the secrets of life on Tera Forma; joy, anger, love, pain, rejection and acceptance, making a difference and just kicking it—allowing God to shape our narrative and ceasing to demand our own way.

Today's text begins by noting that "the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him" (Matthew 4: 1).  All of the gospels seem to indicate that Jesus freely gave himself into the narrative of his life.  It was this very freedom from anxious achievement living that allowed Jesus to be his human self, a vulnerable person who changed the world because he always lived into his failed mission, first person, fully present.

Terry :)


Reflections on "Even my Anxieties have Anxieties

The very definition of anxiety, at root, is a suspension of the risk and adventure of time in favor of the dis-ease of worry about time… my own mental tapes whirring on automatic, and even after doing the appropriate steps of planning, accountability or diversion I enter the day or days feeling like a race car, it's engines revved at maximum, while in neutral.
Terry (above)

Q: What do you think of Terry’s definition of anxiety?
Q: How often do you wrestle with anxiety? …How would you describe it?
Q: What do you think of the idea of Jesus, at this turning point in his own life, wrestling with it’s meaning?  …Wrestling with anxiety?

Consider where you are anxious about the risk and reward of life and are tempted to ‘short cut’ a way through by seeking certainty instead of mystery, magic instead of adventure. Turn to prayer your own needs or that of your family or work or church or community…


Note: Initial idea and material of perception determining our sense of time is from a new and excellent devotional book I am reading called "Attend: Forty Soul Stretches Toward God", pages 39-43, by Laura Davis Werezak.  You can purchase at: Attend: Forty Soul Stretches Toward God 


Note: This Devotional is included in chapter two of my 'coming new book' ...It will be book 6 of 7 around the Liturgical Calendar of the Churchthis one during the Season of Epiphany.  Most daily writings will be narrative and seen through Jesus eyes, from his telling of the narrative.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Engage Patriotic Feelings Biblically

The last thing I want to do is replace a personal and legalistic gospel with a communal and legalistic gospel. I do want to help facilitate a transformation from a personalized and transactional salvation to a communal salvation about becoming fully human in a just and restored creation.

I’ve been listening to my evangelical pastoral peers argue over the current American divide as we approach the 4th of July and the concern over whether it is better to avoid all things patriotic or embrace it with an emphasis upon prayer instead of celebration.  Three legitimate questions seem to have emerged around patriotism:
  1. Is patriotism always an idolatry, an affection or loyalty or love belonging to God alone and to the Kingdom of Christ? 
  2. Why is the evangelical white church deaf to its young and to marginalized communities who want and need an authentic way to both affirm and challenge the American narrative of freedom?
  3. If faith belongs in the public sphere, including the national dialogue, politically, socially and culturally, what is faith’s appropriate role?

On Patriotism: 
When I am at a baseball game or a football game and the anthem is being sung I place my hand over my heart…and allow a complex and mostly beautiful set of emotions arise within me, that include the memories of Robert Kennedy, of Dr. Martin Luther King, of the ideals of a nation state that emerged within a unique and I believe God inspired vision of the relation of power between the individual and state. I’m a history buff and the story of America is my story… It’s not my whole story, but it is mine.

When I am repelled by the blatant use of patriotism by Trump to ends that contradicts the best of the national story and focuses on nationalism or ‘America First’ I am concerned first, as a Christian and secondarily as an American patriot and third as a Republican. All three affections inform my anger over patriotism transformed into power.

My initial reaction to the NFL players taking the knee was intense and filled with a visceral and profound anger… even though I understood fully the context, given my exposure in an urban setting to my own congregants who affirmed the knee.  Within a week I had worked through my patriotic anger both by the higher need of the Kingdom of God and the lower affection of my belief in the absolute right to protest, even though I felt and feel the venue is misplaced.

Finally, in dialogue with younger adults and particularly African Americans and native Americans, I am keenly aware that there are millions of patriots who feel disenfranchised and isolated from the American narrative of freedom and opportunity, especially when their forefathers came not by their choice, but enslaved as property or their land and dignity was taken from them only to be trapped on reservations of isolation. These communities desire only that our narrative reflect theirs as well—to be understood. 

My first awareness of my own prejudice toward African-Americans was when as a child I witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King‘s march on Washington and his 'I have a Dream' speech. I saw it, alone at home and on black-and-white TV. I was initially frightened by the number of white people scattered throughout, seeing or feeling a childhood betrayal. Still, I was drawn into the cadence of his speech and ultimately to the incredible appeal he made to patriotism and the ideals of the country. My heart kept saying, “I believe that”.  God spoke to me in that moment and at the end of the speech I consciously and with some fear remember thinking as a young child, maybe I would grow up being one of the white specs in a sea of black.

Patriotism is a human affection about community. It is a sense of belonging and thus neither good or bad of itself. Patriotism can drive us beyond our own tribe toward a higher ideal than we have yet realized, as in the constitution that formed these United States.

Patriotism, often rooted in pride, can quickly turn into a spirit of division, a hammer to be used by one political group over another internally and by one nation over another internationally.  The nation state is not a perfect reality and has been the source of many wars but also the source of overcoming tribalism... in search of an identity that unites cultural divisions. 

The Evangelical Deafness:
It is the anti-immigrant narrative of the Trump administration sometimes inflamed by racist language and the inability of the evangelical church to challenge President Trump’s unbiblical anti-immigrant tirades that become a modern and felt wound. Though not the first and probably not the last, President Trump’s greatest weakness is in his miss-use of patriotic feelings to both of these ends, dividing us by political tribe within and by national tribe internationally.

It is here we see the real problem Biblically; Empire or a philosophy/theology of nationalism. Empire is at its source only about power. Biblically, it is always felt in aggressive consumerist slavery; as in Egyptian use of slaves in the fertile valley of the Middle East. The very gift of Law—the Ten Commandments—emerged when God was attempting to re-create Israel’s imagination away from Egyptian Empire. The constant Biblical message was to remember that you were once immigrants and slaves at the bottom of the social order.  Moses declared: "Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23: 9).

Whereas patriotism can serve both good and bad ends—bringing people together as well as dividing—empire is rooted in a supra nationalism that is antithetical to the biblical setting of deliverance and ethical affection toward the disenfranchised.

‘America First’ is at it’s heart antithetical to the ‘Kingdom of God’ and to that which is best in the moral and practical development of a nation of ideals and immigrants. As a Christian, a patriot and Republican internationalist I am opposed to America first.

The idolatry of the church of Christ honoring the American experiment within American congregations happens when we fail to see the distance between the ideal and the real, between a vision of the rule of law and systemic places where the rule of law is tainted by the very real remains of prejudice. 

Michelle Obama was castigated by the right when she, affirming the nomination of her husband as the first African-American nominee of a major party, had expressed that this was the first time she truly felt pride in America.  An obvious political blunder, her point was simply that she could unambiguously celebrate a significant closing of the gap between the ideal and real and that it emotionally went to the very core of her being.

My own reaction to her statement at the time was negative because I was listening with privileged ears that had experienced far more of the ideal as real, of the American promise kept, than many persons of color had. Fortunately,  my awareness of the very real prejudicial gaps between the promise and the reality of the American dream allowed me to hear Ms. Obama‘s words as intended, as an affirmation of the American way of renewal and improvement.

It is here that we as Evangelicals need faith and the Kingdom of God to transform our patriotic hearts, away from exclusion and toward inclusion. Sitting next to us in the pew are persons of color whose experience of life is more communal than personal. (By the way that is the more Biblical worldview as well.)  As a white guy, when I see injustice, I see it as an anomaly.  If I were a person of color from a different social experience I would see injustice as inflicted on 'all of us'. A recent case in point being the Starbucks employee response to two black men awaiting a third person for a business meeting. 

When the Attorney General miss-uses scripture to defend a zero tolerance policy resulting in the separation of children from their parents, we all need to hear their pastor properly push back with good exegesis of Holy Scripture. We don’t need to hear political diatribe on Facebook or from the pew that evidence a narrow party loyalty over Jesus loyalty.

Faith’s Role:
I am a Republican and a defender of limited government and the exercise of responsible capitalism as the surest way to economic inclusion. There are some things in the Trump administration I delight in and have enumerated them often. 

Is it is faith in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and in God’s just Shalom that is present and coming that is transformational of the affections of my heart, including patriotism. This same faith clearly informs me that the real problem is empire and that as a citizen of the current American empire I have a unique responsibility to act as both priest and prophet within my country. I/We are the Sacramental Presence of Jesus Christ in our communities and as such I/we have to allow the love of Jesus to govern every thought and word and action of my/our heart and to live into Jesus in the public square.

I fully appreciate but do not agree with those who want the worshiping community to be void of the communal commemoration and the prayers of appreciation for the American ideal rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and of repentance for the very real gaps that remain among us. That it should be done with sensitivity to the diverse needs of our congregants is simply the priestly office of the pastor.

I do not ask my Samoan or Filipino or Native American congregants to remove their affection for their communities of origin, be it the Sioux nation or Makah nation or Samoan. These are more than cultural loves. They are communal and perceived by each population group as national. They are also American citizens who love their country deeply.  I would not ask them or myself to suppress their love for America. 

All of those loves can and do lead to a more holistic understanding of ourselves, as unique in Creation. The solution is not the exclusion of the affection but the transformation of the affection by Creational theology, by the story of God—Old and New Testament—and the coming renewal of all things.

We are the empire and therefore have a very difficult time reading scripture from within its marginalized places. That is the task of the church, to help us see the larger Kingdom of God and not despise the fact that we happen to be Roman... i.e. The modern empire.

Our purpose should be to make us responsible Romans; that is Christians who happen to be Americans and not Americans who happen to be Christian.

I hope you have a happy and reflective 4th.  Blessings!

Terry :)




I’ve written fairly extensively on this in my book available @ Amazon:Holiness in the 21st Century: A Political Gospel Worth Engaging










Note: Our own multi-cultural, cross-economic and cross-generational church engages and fights these issues fairly often. It's awkward at time but always better than silence and allows us to laugh as well.  We are beginning one or two closed small book clubs around the following book, available at Amazon.  I've not read it but have been told its excellent and look forward to our discussions: The Cross & the Lynching Tree by James Cone

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Children Are the Church's Business

I am dumbfounded at the inability of some among my evangelical sisters and brothers who cannot see past their political intuitions when the Church is acting within its God mandated and historic role as both prophet and priest. This last week the Church of the Nazarene (CoTN) rightly and publicly denounced current US border enforcement that is resulting in the separation of children from their parents by adopting a zero tolerance position.

I am a Christian who happens to have the privilege of being a citizen of the United States of America that honors political dialogue. As a Republican, who believes in minimal government intrusion and maximum freedom for individuals who act alone or voluntarily in cooperation with others, I intuitively distrust government and affirm free enterprise. In my 50 years of adult life I have seen bureaucratic agencies ultimately do as much harm as they do good, while restructuring and suppressing the economy so that upward mobility opportunities for the individual is actually lessened overtime. I have seen both business and unions get in bed with these same federal agencies, picking winners and losers and sucking the life out of creativity. It is creativity that offers the best hope for minority communities, historically at a dis-advantage.

The two things about the current administration that I applaud is it’s attack on the federal structure of administrative agencies no longer under the control of anyone who is elected. I also deeply appreciate the appointment of judges who keep us tied to a constitutional sense of government that understands the need for the rule of law, the protection of individual rights of free speech, association, and faith together with very real limits on federal power.

Still, our Presidents chaotic and continuous and divisive demagoging of the issues of race, immigrants and refugees disturbs me deeply as a Republican and as a US citizen. As a Christian, his words and actions take me to my knees in profound sadness and anguish of spirit. The cost is just too high.

I watched a disturbing video of a white man spewing racial slurs and hatred, antagonizing my neighbors in Seattle.Following a beautiful Father’s Day service in which my pastor properly and briefly challenged the Attorney General’s misuse of scripture in support of the administration’s zero tolerance policy, I became aware of just how easy it is for some to express bigoted and verbal judgments against persons of color. While I, as a white person, am hopeful—perhaps wrongly, that such miss perceptions rarely turn into hostile and prejudicial actions... it seems self-evident that the boldness of some who express hate speech has increased with the divide and conquer attitude that infects modern American political arguments—right and left. What is uniquely sad is that my Republican President keeps lighting the fuse of this division on almost a daily basis.



A Nazarene missionary recently directed our attention to an article in the “Texas Monthly" that clearly describes the crisis on the border for families. One of the responses was from a person who simply said “I wish the church would mind it’s own business.”

I am profoundly saddened that we in the church have done such a pathetic job of educating our people about the Biblical narrative, Old and New, which almost entirely emerges from within immigrant and suffering population groups… Suffering at the hands of the power of the empire of the day. Given that we are the “empire of the day” it is difficult for us to hear the scandalous and political nature of the very Word of God in its original contexts.

The truth is, the Church of the Nazarene—in its statement—is minding its own business, acting on the Word of God and applying it properly. The crisis is not the result of law, but of an administrative decision to enforce it without discretion, called ‘zero tolerance’. The law itself makes crossing the border illegally a misdemeanor on the first offense and hence was handled administratively by past administrations. By engaging every person who crosses the border illegally as a potential criminal (2nd or third offense) and detaining persons during investigation, the current crisis with children is formed.2  It is the civil authority, through it’s spokespersons, who have mis-quoted or mis-applied Scripture with the intent of seeking evangelical political support.


To the extent that there is a Biblical mandate, it lies with those seeking refuge in both the Old and New Testaments. In the earliest memory of the church, the Gospel writers each present Jesus as one who is keenly aware of political context and by word and deed and by suffering love acted in opposition, especially when the Jewish Temple authorities were in bed with the empire of its day.

There is no defence for retaining persons, who for the most part are guilty of a misdemeanor, till they have access to a legal system that takes 4-8 weeks and isolating and removing their children. We are both tone deaf and on the other side of the only law that matters in this context. “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children." (Luke 18:16).


What the world desperately needs in these days is a church willing to raise up a people who recognize that they are Christians who happen to be US citizens and happen to be Democrats or Republicans instead of Republicans and Democrats—US citizens all, who just happen to be Christian. It is that distinction, Kingdom of Christ first or kingdoms of this world first that elicit our responses.

Action item: over the next  months I’m going to try to once a week get over to the neighborhood from which the white racist staged his verbal attack and simply pray.

Blessings! Terry :)


1 Note: Please know this video uses vulgar language and is offensive. Article: Racist Rant in Beacon Hill, Seattle

 2 Note: In the Texas Monthly, an expert describes: What's Really Happening When Asylum-Seeking Families are Separated? 

Note: To see the CoTN response with opportunities to sign the letter and join other evangelicals in communicating with the US administration or to give toward compassionate help follow this link: Nazarene Compassionate Ministries & CoTN Response to US/Mexico Boarder issues

Note: My book can be purchased at Amazon: Holiness in the 21st Century-A Political Gospel Worth Engaging


Monday, June 18, 2018

Our Father's Heart

A Poem

Never in the lines drawn by the pride of men was such brokenness born,
   Till the day God’s precious Word was mis-used to tear apart daughters and sons from their own in search of zero tolerance.
   
A tear melted on the Fathers face forming great drops of blood from his own sons side,
   his own intolerance of racial bigotry that sees lines in the sand never imagined from heaven’s vantage, 
      even as our Heavenly Father sent his very own to Egypt, a refugee in full flight from Herod’s grasp. 

How do we, Father, get it so wrong that boundaries divide us instead of showing us only our own places of origin,
   sacred places that center us like islands in a vast ocean of Your love?

May we share with you the all embracing love that gives birth to The Story that matters still from Calvary’s Hill. 
    Tolerance is not enough; 
         Only love will keep the children safe in the shifting sands of human sin. 

Happy Fathers Day!
2018

Terry :)

Note: In the Texas Monthly, an expert describes:              What’s Really Happening When Asylum-Seeking Families Are Separated?

A Prayer: 
May God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sacramental Presence: Lord, Increase our Faith

I was intrigued by a heart felt and good question from a Naz pastor recently.  "Should I baptize a child of parents who do not attend church?"  If the question had surrounded a 'baby dedication' I would have understood its complexity as it is a covenantal moment initiated by the couple or individual together with the Church and in response to human offerings, from even before the Judeo-Christian faith. But baptisma sacrament? This is a Living Sign of God's Presence, intimately gifted in Jesus, through the Church and by the Holy Spirit. The initiative is God's, though calling for human response.  That's what makes it a 'sacrament' and not a testimony or confession alone.

We American evangelicals, most of us, emerged from within a revivalist tradition, be it Calvinist (Presbyterian, Congregational) in the1st wave of revivals in the US or in the 2nd great wave; the Armenian-Wesleyan revivals in and around the great divide of the civil war.  In both, at an experiential level, the 'faith' was conceived within human awakening.  The emphasis was upon our repentance, confession, presentation and God's promise to respond in the Holy Spirit. It is immediate, felt, witnessed to by the Holy Spirit and gives birth to a community of Jesus. 

It's 'working out of salvation' is reversed from the human experience of The Word; given that the Jewish community and the Church never seem to successfully 'get it.'  We keep jumping off the proverbial altar we have constructed. God, out of sheer necessity turns our rebellion, faithlessness and misperception into a cross of Divine initiative, forgiveness and renewal.  God saves and we respond. Reverse order.

Ezekiel 16, an allegorical narrative of the whole of the Old Testament (sexism aside) is a beautiful descriptive of this inter-active wrestling of God who finds us, cleanses us and follows us down every rabbit hole of sin, never giving up; turning the ancient story of Sodom on its head, describing Israel's sin as worse by comparison. In Ezekiel's telling God asks if Israel even remembered correctly the sin of  the Sodomites and proceeds to clarify. "This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; but she didn't help the poor and the needy.  They became haughty and did destible things in front of me, and I turned away from them as soon as I saw it" (Ezekiel 16: 49-50). Declaring Israels sin as far worse and beyond cure God takes the initiative of making atonement for both Israel and her sisters, Sodom and Samaria (sarcasm upon sarcasm, insult upon insult) and will save them all making Sodom, Samaria daughters of Israel. "Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. And you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when in spite of your covenant I take your big sisters and little sisters from you and give them back to you as daughters. I myself will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. Then you will remember and be ashamed, and you won’t even open your mouth because of your shame, after I’ve forgiven you for all that you’ve done. This is what the Lord God says"  (Ezekiel 16: 60-63).

We evangelicals are too often guilty of the same arrogance as Israel.  Knowing that our narrative is 'revealed' we see the world of faith from within our experience and look out upon the world as on the other side of a great chasm, the place where God has not yet come. We are anxious, therefore, to let the 'whole world' in on this incredible 'gift' of God who is for us (Old Testament), with us (In Jesus) and in us (in the Holy Spirit). Because we are looking out from within our experience we assume that everyone else needs to 'experience it' (hear the depersonalizing in the 'it') just as we did. 

Sadly, that is not really the 'good news' we were entrusted to bless the world with; that is, our 'experience'.  The good news is that in Jesus of Nazareth God saved everyone, everywherehuman and angelicand in all time.  In Jesus every molecule of life and every bio-chemical event, every sentient being is being re-born.  The earth, indeed the universe gets in on the renewal of all things. With Paul and in the very humanity of the Church we get to say: "God’s purpose is now to show the rulers and powers in the heavens the many different varieties of his wisdom through the church. This was consistent with the plan he had from the beginning of time that he accomplished through Christ Jesus our Lord. In Christ we have bold and confident access to God through faith in him" (Ephesians 3: 10-12). The only question is how, when and where everyone else is enabled to respond by either living into Jesus or away from him (ref: John 3: 16-21).


As Wesleyans, we are certain that no event, no culture, no nation, no human lives on the other side of Christ.  That is, in Jesus, the Trinity of God set up a tent in each of our neighborhoods (John 1: 14). In God's Holy Spirit, Jesus is present to every human ever born awakening within their own heart and culture and narrative the ever-enlarging narrative of the God Who IsFather, Son Spirit.

We, who have been given the incredible privilege of being Ambassadors of the Jesus Narrative no longer think of other persons (Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, LBGTQ, Homeless, Rich, Black, White, Asians, Europeans, Africans) through the lenses of our human world view, but as 'part of the new creation that is here and coming.' Paul said it this way: "So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, 'Be reconciled to God!'  God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God"  (II Corinthians 5: 20,21).

Now here's where we get it all confused, where we get the Jesus event wrong. This text does not mean that we negate the narrative, traditions, culture and religious truths of other persons or cultures or religions.  Quite the opposite.  We take seriously these differences as important, just as Sodom and Samaria were important to God and should have been to Israel. Why else would Jesus pick up Ezekiel's re-shaping narrative when asking the citizens of "Capernaum, will you be honored by being raised up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the place of the dead. After all, if the miracles that were done among you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today" (Matthew 11:23).


With the possible exception of Trump, when was the last time you and I saw an Ambassador win an adversary with language that devalues?  (I know, I know, Kim Jong-Un wouldn't have been at the table without a little bullying). But that is a story of coercion, not grace. Ours is a story that follows truth, wherever it is found and sees Jesus. Ours is a narrative that sees love as real as God and listens and honors it.  Ours is a story that honors every other story to the extent we can, because it is what makes us human, sentient and ultimately capable of relation.

So, my response to my fellow Naz pastor is that I will baptize any child who is already covered by the reconciling grace of Jesus.  I will happily engage any couple (married or not, Christian or not, hetero-sexual or not) and receive their child into the arms of the Church of Jesus and begin a new narrative in the life of that family.  It is a Sacrament, after all.  The initiator is God, not us.  We are the trustees of the 'Sacramental Presence,' the ambassador, if you will. The couple or individual coming is a sign of God's initiative at work in their life.

Blessings, Terry :)