Division and What To Do About It

Have just turned 56 years old, I had kind of planned to stop trying to write The Big Piece That Will Change Everything. I thought I would try to influence my church people and my clients, where possible. The world was just too nuts to make any difference, in so many ways that I didn’t even know where to start.

This week, it got too weird not to care. As 2/3 of the UK decided to secede from the European Union, it became apparent that the whole human family was dysfunctional. Shortly after that election, one of our Presidential contenders (I can’t believe I’m using that term at any time in my life time) said, “Good!”. Shortly after that, there was talk that Texas was considering voting to secede from the U.S. I don’t even like Texas, but I have friends and in-laws there, so I have reasons to care.

Of course, last week was terrorism in Orlando, and our inner cities still are gun wielding war zones, crooked police are still running afoul of justice, as they are found innocent by law. Bernie supporter men get tesy with Hillary supporter women and we bicker daily on Facebook about liberals and conservatives, whether Black Lives Matter, gun control, and bathroom usage by people of uncertain genitalia. Jan Brewer, a bigot if ever there was one, said today that she is so sick of being called a bigot. Really? Yes. But lots of white folks are sick of being called bigots, lots of men are sick of being called sexist and lots of straight folks are sick of being called homophobic while lots of people remain really dead.  What we are doing is not working. Something is deeply wrong within our society. 

I think liberals and radicals are agreeing to the wrong premises while many reactionaries are speaking false premises.  In this morning’s lectionary text, the apostle Paul says this: the desire of the flesh is “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” The Right focuses on the regular type in that list while we ignore the parts in bold. What if enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy are the products of what we are doing on both sides of the coin?

In the old days, the goal was to be united as a people with things like the UN, the Hague. The World Council of Churches and my own denimination, the Unied Church of Christ were born of the desire to unite under ecumenism. It has been years since anyone wanted to unite  as a goal.  We fight among ourselves everywhere because we want our own way. Pride rules our existence because “we don’t want anybody to tell us what to do!” (even if nobody cares).

So here’s my suggestion. Instead of talking about men, women, black, white, hispanic, asian, abled and disabled, straight, gay, bi, trans, British, American, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Egytian, and so on, why don’t we talk about humans or human beings or human life? Why don’t we stop giving credence to bigots who say, “I shot them because they’re different”.  Why don’t we stop giving credence to people who say “my country” is better than “their country” or “my religion” is better than “their religion”?

Let’s remember that all life is sacred. From God’s perspective, or from space, there are no countries, there’s just our planet. From the same perspective, there’s just humanity. There are people in every group I disagree with and people in every group I know that I like. It is not the group that makes me love them, it never has been. It is not the group that makes me hate them, and it never has been — or if it is, I have a problem, and I should be fighting that urge to divide us into “us” and “them”.

And let’s hold each other accountable to that ideal. As doctors take an oath that says, “first do no harm”.

Let’s see how this changes our worldview:  Last week 50 human beings were killed by another person. Tamir Rice, a 10-year old child, was killed by police, while playing with a toy gun. Michael Brown was shot by police after stealing cigars.  Human beings living today on a reservation in the southwest had their rights taken away from them years ago by force. Maybe when people who don’t want to pay taxes fear their freedom being taken away, maybe they have something to compare it to.  When a girl is sold into slavery or has her genitals mutilated, why don’t we say that a person was sold or a person had their genitals mutilated?  Remember all the squeamishness when John Wayne Bobbitt had his penis cut off? Maybe we men could understand the issue better if “they” were “us”. The list goes on. We didn’t kill Arabs for oil. We killed human beings for oil.

A human being is President of our country, and President of many countries on earth. Let us not limit the possibilities of any group of human beings, for any reason. When Britain votes to leave the EU, we should remind them that they can’t leave the human race. When Donald Trump says Mexicans can’t come here, let us remind him that he’s saying human beings can’t come here.

Let us talk about being one people, so that all the stupid acts are us, and all the noble acts are us. Let us talk about being one species, because we are.

Anyway, that’s my proposal.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

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“Craftspersonship” — for Michelle

This morning, my wife went off on a rant  about supporters of Bernie Sanders who say they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the party’s nomination/if Bernie doesn’t get it. She and I are different in our worldviews, and she knows an incredible amount about capitalism, world markets, Rousseau, fairness and globalization than I do. She teaches such things for a living. She understands the “practical”, but I’m an idealist. Needless to say, she’ll probably vote for Hillary(though I don’t actually know) and I’ll vote for Bernie in the CT Primary.  But we agree on one thing: Regardless of who wins the nomination, we will vote for the candidate that is closest to our values among the candidates. We’re not going to take our ball and go home, because we didn’t get what we want. (OK, if Trump wins, I’m taking my ball and moving to Canada, but that’s just me).

It is stupid beyond belief to not vote just because you didn’t get everything you want in the election.  If you don’t vote, you get whatever anybody else wants, and that’s far less likely to be what you want if you don’t say anything.

Democracy requires craftsmanship, by design. Or, if we get a woman president, “craftspersonship”. My friend Craig Hames is a craftsman — he builds cabinets by hand, sands them slowly and takes his time — and they last forever. Craig has apparently had quite a business, because he’s a craftsman, not just a builder. There are few builders around to start with, in our world of high tech plastics and 3-D printing, modular cabinetry and Ikea. Beyond that, though, their are very few craftsmen out there — people who are detail oriented and able to see the larger vision, people who can’t settle for less than the best and are willing to put the time into what they are building so that it lasts forever.

Any leader in America who wants to be good at their job, has to be a craftsperson — especially if they are President. The task of building a democracy that will last requires the craft of compromise, the ability to see others’ point of view, and the strength to maintain their own integrity, while representing the people that sent them there..  We both think our candidates have that. By this view, we have a “no lose” policy. If my candidate gets in, she’ll vote for them. If her candidate gets in, I’ll vote for her.  Something to our liking will be built.If one of us — or both of us — were to not vote, nothing we wanted in a craftsperson would be built.

Having your own opinion, and wanting your own way is great — until you decide to live with someone else and be part of something more than just you. The minute you are with another person, or millions of other people, there will be disagreement and conflict. Two people in a room can invariably come up with three opinions. Millions of people have millions of needs, all vying for attention. Representatives, Senators, and the President all have to compromise if anything is going to get built at all for American Democracy. Citizens need to hold their feet to the fire. Not participating is not an option if you want anything to happen. You can’t blame Congress for not meeting with the President’s Supreme Court Nominee if you’re not going to meet with people who want to build an America like the one you want.

Don’t vote for someone who isn’t even a builder, let alone a craftsperson. But if there’s one out there, even with a slightly different idea, hire them.If you want it “my way or the highway” — on the Left or the Right, there’s the highway. Help yourself, but don’t say we kicked you out of democracy. Remember, you chose to leave.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

Kesha and “The Girl In The Book”

My daughters often listen to music that I can’t imagine listening to, sometimes with lyrics I can’t imagine or don’t approve of, but — after sharing my distaste (and I always do),  their rolling their eyes — they continue to listen to it. I have parented, they have been kids, and it’s their music. I trust them to make their own decisions.

For example,

Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die

Young hunks, taking shots
Stripping down to dirty socks
Music up, gettin’ hot
Kiss me, give me all you’ve got
It’s pretty obvious that you’ve got a crush (you know)
That magic in your pants, it’s making me blush (for sure)

Looking for some trouble tonight (yeah)
Take my hand I’ll show you the wild side
Like it’s the last night of our lives (uh huh)
We’ll keep dancing till we die (till we die)

The music seems like “rape culture” to me. This week I learned why. It is.
Ke$ha as she’s known, has had a contract with her record label, a part of Sony records. She wanted “out” of the contract, not because she wanted more money or didn’t sell enough records with Sony. She wanted out because her producer, according to her, had been sexually abusing her and she no longer wanted to have that happen at work. This is not the portrait of a rich brat wanting more. This is a portrait of a victim fighting back. The court said no, she couldn’t get out of her contract. (They didn’t rule that her reason was true, so that may be part of it), but it came down to “it’s a business decision” according to the court, and she had to abide by it.
As one who works with sexually abused women and men frequently (often the underlying trauma for addicts), my head wants to explode.  It sets an incredibly horrible precedent. It says to women that they have to put up with abuse or they lose their job and their fame.  It says to employees that they have to put up with abuse or lose their job. It says to abuse survivors, “we don’t care”. It says to the rest of the human community that business is more important than human beings. Everything I know and believe tells me this is wrong. Remember, slavery was the law, but many people never asked if it was a good law. Abuse was allowed, and if the slave said “no more”, they were on the wrong side of the law. This is the same thing.
To have a client of mine work with her abuser every day is like sending her to hell. Triggered people can’t live with themselves, with the memories, and everything. Therapists teach them to stand up for themselves and take back their lives, including going to court. But what if going to court only makes it worse for the client? The sense of helplessness here is palpable and people slowly kill themselves acting out in one way or another. This includes denial that they dislike by pretending that they LOVE sex MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. It includes promiscuity. On the other side, it includes isolation, depression, and loneliness because relationships invariably lead to sex and sex is just too darn freaky to be engaged in.  The only way to avoid sex is to avoid relationships. The only way to avoid relationships is to not see or talk to people or be mean to them to proelltect yourself.  Can you imagine being forced to face this kind of anxiety every day?  It would be hell. What kind of a world do we live in when the law’s “justice” looks “hell” and that’s fair? The judge’s ruling needs to be overturned for all of our sanities, not just this one. But, then one person’s sanity should be worth fighting for.
Abuse survivors tell lies so as not to hurt their perpetrators, Abuse survivors tell lies to themselves so they can cope. Sadly, abuse survivors also tell lies to society. This court and the press re-telling of the verdict are why. So we get rape culture.
A prime example of the lies and bad coping skills — and the damage it does to everyone — is found in a movie you’ve probably never seen or heard of — “The Girl In The Book”, which can be found on Netflix this month. I came across it because I was bored one night, was planning to wind down, and didn’t want to see anything too loud like buildings blowing up or car chases. An “art film” seemed like just the thing, so I started it and decided to watch the whole movie, to see how the story resolved the issues that it’s character has.
There are two actresses that play the lead character, Alice: 1) Emily Van Camp who places the adult Alice and 2) Ana Mulvoy-Ten who plays the younger Alice while she is being victimized by an author. Both do an excellent job of explaining how complex trauma victims  are, and how poorly this can be dealt with by parents, businesses, and the victim themselves. I suspect that this is what Kesha’s life is like.
If you watch it, you’ll understand why I call it “hell” to be living inside their heads and in the presence of others. Alice’s boyfriend, Emmet, (played by David Call) has to set limits with her, as do all of her friends. It is only that type of loving reality-giving that forces Alice to confront her issue.
This is a movie for everyone old enough to handle the subject matter.  Abuse victims are nearly everywhere around us, and people who have to deal with it — knowingly or unknowingly — seem to include our entire population. It will make sense of rape culture. It will make sense of life as survivors/victims and of survivor victims. It will certainly make sense of Ke$ha’s case.
Though it doesn’t show actual recovery (e.g. with a therapist or a group) which is sometimes a long process, it does show the beginnings of recovery and I highly recommend it. It’s a good movie to watch, but it’s not an easy movie to watch.
Back to real life: assuming that Ke$ha’s reason for wanting out of her contract is true — and yes, I believe it is — The verdict in that case needs to be overturned, and when it is, that needs to be publicized for the lessons it teaches.
Peace,
John

Man’s Inhumanity To Man…

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

Matthew 15:7-9 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

About the language: When I was a kid, “man’s inhumanity to man” had a certain dignity as words. Modern inclusive language makes it “humanity’s inhumanity to humanity” which doesn’t even seem possible, so I chose the older style of complaining. Perhaps that’s the problem — all the crazy-making of our lives has finally gotten to me.

“Crazy-making” is a technical term where people see one thing, and are told they seem the exact opposite of it and, furthermore, they had better say it loudly. I see people all day who are, “officially”, some form of crazy because they have been living in families like this and I have to convince them, for the sake of truth and healing, that they are not crazy, they are not making this stuff up, evil things really did, and/ or continue to happen in their lives. Then I come home and watch the news or read the paper or see people’s experience on Facebook, and I see just how crazy-making our whole society is. I made the mistake of reading a recent copy of The Nation magazine and the truth within its pages was just too much to bear — truth about Flint, Michigan and voting rights. Later I saw another edition of the magazine that talked about the Paris terrorist attacks and asked for “justice, not revenge”, so I knew their heart was in the right place. Experience has taught me that they are truthful, which made reading the pieces even more difficult.

I am writing from a place of rage today, and it’s not all politics, nor personal, nor therapeutic, but some combination of them that has brought me to this place. I thought I might write until the rage changes to just plain anger, then drains down to peace or understanding or light or something.

I can’t believe what we do to ourselves on a daily basis as human beings. This is not America as I know it. This is not the world as I know it. It can’t be. Evil makes no sense, at all, but we’re getting good at it. I never want to hear another person say “America is a Christian nation”. It’s not. By that, I don’t mean that Christianity should or should not be our national religion. I mean that we don’t act like Christians. In fact, we are so far from it, that we have become demonic. The more we scream that WE ARE CHRISTIANS the more I swear we are not. If we were, we wouldn’t have to say it. The world would “know we are Christians by our love”. They don’t. Can we name one thing in the last year that America has done for others? Can we name one thing daily that we have done against the world?

Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That is the standard for claiming Christianity, as it is the core of Christian teaching. I don’t expect people to actually live up to that standard 24/7, but I do expect them to try to live up to that standard. That seems reasonable to me.

What part of the crisis in Flint, Michigan says we did that?

Was it leaving them high and dry years ago, when GM moved out? Was it then taking over their political system because, supposedly, they couldn’t do it? Was it refusing to spend money on an infrastructure when we know that people need clean water? Was it choosing to use contaminated water because we refuse to spend money on it? Was it trying to cover up the problem with chlorine because we didn’t want to acknowledge the problem existed? Did we love our neighbor when they complained for months and government did nothing? Did we love our neighbor when lead levels began killing brain cells? Have we loved our neighbor yet? Let me know when we do.

What part of our attitude toward the poor says this? When we believe that “if you’re poor, it’s your own fault”, does that sound like loving our neighbor? When we make people scramble for a few extra dollars in their welfare checks or social security — when we make them work harder for less, does that seem like “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”? When we get angry at people for being victims, does that seem like loving our neighbors? When we shoot them in the back, because they are running in fear, what part of “you shall not kill” do we not get?

When we create a fear of “voter fraud” which hasn’t happened or been reported, does that sound like “don’t bear false witness”? When people then vote for voter ID laws that accept gun licenses as ID, but won’t accept student IDs as proof, what part of taking away people’s rights seems like “loving our neighbor as our self”?

When politicians try to be meaner to fellow humans than their rival in order to win approval from the voters, which ones are the Christians there?

When children die and our system doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it, again — what part of “you shall not kill” didn’t we understand? How Christian do we seem? Which part of Christ’s words justify this?

When we get angry at, or dull down the message of, people for saying that their lives matter, which part of Christianity are we invoking?

When an appellate court says, “Certain semiautomatic firearms deserve the highest level of protection the Constitution allows”, how do we square that with the ban on false idols?

When we try to divide people against each other, when we say “this group’s rights are more important than that groups” how are we modeling unity of Christ? When my daughter asks me if I’m “an ally” to a whole group of people, why should there be any question?

When I see client after client whose experience is that they aren’t loveable because they have been abused by more people than have cared for them, how does this happen? How does nobody notice? When I see women who finds a decent partner in middle age and doesn’t know what to do with the possibility, how can we say that God’s love is apparent in our society? How do some people abuse others and expect love to come from it?

How do we justify the existence of the Ku Klux Clan as a Christian nation? How do we create members of ISIS, or Al Qaeda in America? How do we create kids like the boy who shot up Newtown? What in our national psyche explains this hate?

If Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the light”, how do we justify denying climate change? Why do we need laws to protect whistleblowers? Why is “telling on someone” worse that whatever it is they’ve done. If we believe that the truth will set us free, why do we have whole industries whose job is keep it from us? How do we justify “spin doctors”?

 

By now, I’m feeling better, having gotten it off my chest, but the questions still hang around. I see what we could be as a nation, or as Christians, and we are so, so, so far from that dream/fantasy, I just can’t imagine how we got here.

Let’s start working instead on actual Christianity and finding…

Peace,

 

John

We Need to Reign In Deadly Force…

There has been some interesting news lately regarding the rash of police shootings of citizens that plagued our country in 2015.

  1. In a study of Chicago police and a wider policing, many of the police who have killed people recently have a history of abusing their power.  That means that fewer police are actually involved in the shootings we saw last year.
  2. Today, the Huffington Post noted that none of the fifty states have laws regarding when deadly force is appropriate/ is not appropriate.

I have struggled with what to do re: racism and police treatment of Blacks in this country which became so much an issue last year. There are so many forms of racism to deal with that it was difficult to know where to start, and how to make any strides against it — specifically how to change people’s hearts and minds and treat each other decently.

At the same time, there were so many mass shootings last year, it appeared that the world had gone off the deep end. While, as a pacifist, I’m not a big fan of guns or killing in general, I can understand people’s need to feel safe and the world felt very unsafe last year.

It is bad enough to feel unsafe and out-of-control, but to be made to feel unsafe and out-of-control by the very people who are supposed to keep you safe and society in control is beyond my comprehension. I see every day what happens, and its lingering effects, when I see clients who were or are abused by their parents, who are supposed to protect them.  What must it be like to be a victim of a crime and not be willing to call the police, because they’ll abuse you as well? This is the plight, apparently, of African Americans who already don’t trust the police (e.g. “driving while Black”, laws written with minorities in mind for more persecution (ever wonder why powdered cocaine had one penalty and rock cocaine had another?)).

How can we love each other, care for each other, see each other as Americans if we have two sets of standards and two sets of laws or two very different applications of the law? And how do we define morality — good and bad — when the good guys do bad things and get away with it?  We expect the bad guys to do evil things. When the good guys do evil things, what does “good” even mean?  None of us feel safe in a society like that.  If we equate “good” with being violent — via guns, choke holds, tasers, intentionally had driving — we had them all from police last year — then the more violent we are, the more “good” we claim?

The problem isn’t that bad cops are the norm. They aren’t. The problem is that cops are — by definition — supposed to be the good guys. When they aren’t, it’s a larger drop in our confidence, a larger drop from what we expect. In short, it messes with our heads and our sense of order in the universe.

If there’s anything that last year taught us, it’s that between corrupt Grand Juries, rebel police who shoot innocent victims in the back, Chicago’s “black ops” station, and ridiculously strong police unions, it’s almost impossible to convict a bad/killer police officer.

Society needs to make a statement that no one is above the law, that the law applies to everyone, that violence is a bad idea. For states or the Federal government to create laws about when “deadly” violence  might be appropriate — and therefore isn’t appropriate, is to make all of those claims, and to restore some portion of justice to America’s racial problems.

This is something we can and should do.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger — Rev. Todd Farnworth on Guns and Us

Editor’s note: This is probably the third time I have had a guest blogger whose ideas I wanted to share. The first was Joe Roberts and Cathi Chapin-Bishop on saving energy. The second was Liz Solomon Wright’s story about a Veteran who couldn’t get aid due to a policy. This is the third.

Rev. Todd Farnsworth is the pastor at Hamden (Mass.) Federated Church, UCC. One of the most kind and friendly people I have ever met, his preaching style is –and always has been — experimental. While I try to be serious and loving in my writing, Todd just tries to be well, Todd. He just loves his people, and his message here shows that. I am posting this sermon — preached last Sunday at his church for two reasons: 1) It’s a different take on the subject than mine and 2) to point out that great preaching happens in just “regular old” UCC churches all the time. I don’t know anybody at a BIG church like Riverside in New York. Generally — though there are some jerks among us — if you go to UCC church, you can find preaching like this.  OK, not like Todd’s preaching, but of similar quality. May you be fed by this sermon, and may you consider any UCC church where you can be fed…  [The sermon is printed in its entirety here, as it should be].

Title: Perks of Faith

Mark 10:17-31

The parallels are Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30. [ NOAB]

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

I’d like to begin with vs 21 of today’s text. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

It’s important for you to know that the rich man in today’s story was not a bad man. He wasn’t a haughty man. He wasn’t a man trying to make a name for himself. He was a good guy. Tried to be faithful to the Law of Moses. Tried to follow the rules of his day. He was a decent guy. Even his repartee with Jesus was sincere. It was the kind of conversation that students and teachers had all the time. A little give and take discussion to clarify, to crystallize one’s thoughts. Probably similar to the questions and answers you would hear at a Bible study or during a children’s message. Perhaps a little bit of cheekiness thrown in on either side to keep things lively…but all done with respect and a desire to learn…to grow in one’s awareness of faith stuff.

So this beloved man runs up to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” He sincerely wants to draw closer to God. He really desires to “make the grade.” Jesus parries with a teasing comment about only God being good, and the young man replies that he has done his best to keep the law…keep the rules….do what is right!

And Jesus looks at him and loves him.

What happens next is remarkable.

Jesus invites the rich man to “draw closer.”

Jesus offers the rich man a way into the “perks of faith.”

Jesus says, “do this, and you will receive:

peace of mind, healthy respectful relationships,curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, hope, healing, compassion, joy, a sense of safety,  a leaning toward justice, and love.

Not a bad list. Notice, it’s not things that can be purchased; it’s not things that can be forcibly taken; it is the stuff of heaven, it is the inheritance of those who follow Jesus…and this guy seems like a good candidate.

Jesus does all this by giving the rich man a directive designed to set him free so that he can really experience what it means to be part of the realm of God.

Now, I’ll confess that I am not a rich man…young, old or somewhere in the middle. I know that probably comes as a shock! But the point of Jesus’ words are not targeted at wealth or age, so in light of recent events in our country, I’m going to paraphrase Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I could have said, “Go, sell your cell phones…or Go, sell your tablets….or Go, sell your Hummel collection….but I’d like to stick with “guns” for the moment.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had many guns.

We have many guns in our culture. We have come to treasure them. To stockpile them. To rely on them to keep us safe and secure. To protect us. To do our talking for us. To resolve our differences. To make our statements of dissent. They have become, like cell phones, tablets, or Hummels…our treasure; a distraction to our faith…and when I say, “distraction” I mean, “they stand between us and the realm of God.”

When we keep guns to do the work that God is capable of doing, we lose focus on the Holy and become obsessed with the mini god at hand.

I believe that happens in situations where people are killing each other with guns on college campuses. I believe that happens in situations where people are killing each other in the streets of our community or in local homes. I believe that happens where people are going into schools and movie theaters and claiming a godlike power over people who may or may not have done them wrong in the past. I believe that happens when we fool ourselves into believing that if we wake up in the middle of the night and find someone stealing our stuff, we will have the presence of mind to shoot the invader before he or she shoots us…or, before he or she wrestles the gun from our sleepy, frightened hands, and then shoots us.

These uses of guns do not point us toward Heaven. They lead us toward fear, and anxiety, and distrust, and anger, and retribution, and hatred.

This is different from the gun owner who uses guns to hunt their dinner, or practices a steady hand shooting targets. That mental and physical challenge can give us an awe of the power and the responsibility inherent in gun ownership. It can lead us to a life of discipline; a life that points us toward the realm of God; a study that leads us closer to the stuff of healthy respectful relationships, curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, and hope.

Please hear me clearly: Guns are not inherently evil...but a reliance on them that surpasses our reliance on God, can be a distraction…and Jesus understood that…and Jesus knew that rich man was a good man…and Jesus believed that rich man really wanted to get closer to God…and Jesus loved that man who was coming to him seeking a deeper relationship with the Holy…and Jesus advised that man to “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had many guns.

We have many guns. We have many cell phones. We have many tablets. We have many Hummels. We have lots of  stuff that is drawing our attention away from the remarkable perks of faith God has in store for us!

And we can go away sad. Or we can go away mad, claiming that Jesus just doesn’t understand!  Or we can go away and later, change our minds and come back.

At the end of the day, no matter how far we go, no matter what we decide, we need to remember, that Jesus loved that man. He was not trying to hurt him. He was not trying to deny him something important. He was not putting the man in jeopardy…in harm’s way. He didn’t chastise or begrudge  the man for the decision he made or the decision he couldn’t make at that moment.

At the end of the day, the truth is, Jesus loved that man….like he loves little Madison and little Wesley. Jesus loves us, and he wants us to experience all the perks God has to offer. He wants us to know: peace of mind, healthy respectful relationships, curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, hope, healing, compassion, joy, a sense of safety, a leaning toward justice, and love, without distraction. He wants us to experience the kingdom of heaven…the realm of God…In this moment. like Jesus experiences those things in this moment.

The choice is ours. To hold onto what we have, or let go and receive something far more valuable.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record, that  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What will we do? In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“How To Figure Out Anything (About Ethics)”

Editor’s note: Every once in awhile, I have a sermon that expresses an important (to me) theological point. This is one of those. The beginning piece is from the morning’s news about Tamir Rice.

Sermon given at Center Congregational Church, Torrington, CT 10/11/2015

“How To Figure Out Anything (About Ethics)”

            Ask my friends. I’m generally a very loving guy, generally calm, generally peaceful, opinionated, but kind, for the most part. But I have my pet peeves, things that just set me off. Dead kids is one of them. Racism is another. Unhealthy systems is another, which is why I do the work I do — whether for families or churches. This morning I was awoken to the news that all my buttons were set off at the same time. I am so upset, I could spit. Tamir Rice and his family were hurt again this morning. According to the New York Times this morning, “2 Outside Reviews Say Cleveland Officer Acted Reasonably in Shooting Tamir Rice, 12”

            One of the reviewers said “The question is not whether every officer would have reacted the same way,” Kimberly A. Crawford, the retired F.B.I. agent, which noted that Officer Loehmann had no way of knowing Tamir’s gun was fake. “Rather, the relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable officer, confronting the exact same scenario under identical conditions could have concluded that deadly force was necessary.” What she is saying is that the police system has policies that, under the same circumstances, with the same report/ call to the police, would have left open the door to using deadly force.

            A 10 year old Black child is dead at the hands of a white police officer, without discussion, without attempts at de-escalation, because the officer shot “was in fear for his life” from a 10 year old sitting openly in a gazebo, while he was inside a metal automobile? Really? Under those circumstances, deadly force is “reasonable”? If that’s the view of the wider law enforcement community, there is a problem with the law enforcement community’s system. From a Christian perspective, it is wrong.

            Now, there are some you who will point out that racism isn’t an issue here, and that the dispatcher didn’t mention that the child was African-American. The fact of the matter, though, is the officers responded quickly to the situation and had to rely on their “intuition” or “instincts” and their instincts told them that that 12 year old was dangerous when any child of 12 like the ones who were just in the children’s time probably wouldn’t. It’s society’s racism that poses for the cop’s “instinct” or “intuition” that led to this shooting.

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Last Week, at the beginning of the sermon, I talked about the recent shooting at a community college in Oregon. This past week, in my “other life” as a therapist, I had a client who was — with her brothers and her mother — smacked across the knuckles by her drunken father and told not to cry because he was trying to toughen up the kids. In the next few weeks, members of the Connecticut Conference will make decisions about various things. All of these things, though quite different, have something in common — they each require an ethical response, and — for us as Christians — they require a Christian ethical response.

There are those who would offer a Republican ethical response or a Democratic ethical response or a capitalist ethical response or a socialist ethical response. There are those who would offer a philosophical ethical response and those who would offer a military response, or an American response. None of those are the same as a Christian ethical response.         There are lots of competing ideas and choices out there on which to make our ethical decisions, and it’s easy to find some idea to hang our hat on and be loyal to.

As Christians, though, we can’t be Americans, or Republicans or Democrats first. We are not socialists or survivalists before anything else. We are Christians — who live in this country, who belong to a party or like a philosophy or whatever, but we are Christians first, because as Christians, we know that if we go mixing loyalty to the country with Christianity, you get “Deutschland Uber Alles” — Germany above everything — being preached from the pulpits, and that doesn’t work. God doesn’t like it when we split our loyalties or worship things that aren’t God, because they inevitable lead to… well, unholy results.

So how do we make difficult decisions — or easy ones — in life? How do we live? How do we know what’s good and what’s bad? And how can we trust others to make good decisions that resemble our goals?

Let me start with an odd source. …Years ago, in private practice, I had a client who was a recovering alcoholic and cocaine user and, well, she had been messed up by every drug she had tried and she had tried a lot of drugs. Early in her recovery, though, she had learned something I had never heard of before: “Do the next right thing”. If you want to live life and you’re not sure what to do, do the next right thing”. It’s as simple as that.

In therapy, we do a thing called “treatment planning”. If a client comes in, and they want my help, I first listen to who they are and what they think is the problem. Then I ask where they want to go with their lives. Between point A (where they are) and point B (where they want to be) are all of these dots that need to be filled in, all of these days to be lived before they get “there”, wherever “there” is for them.

Christians and Christian churches can be like my former client — spun around so many times mentally by all of the different choices and temptations out there that they no longer know what they think or what they feel. Treatment planning in that case looks a lot like interim work. While they first recover, I focus them back on listening to themselves, and feeling what they feel, just to get their bearings.

What do we do in the meantime? I point them in a healthy direction and — using their own senses and intuition — they do the next right thing. Then the next right thing, and the next, then they’re on the yellow brick road until they can click their heels and get “there”. As I like to say, “if you put your ducks in a row, one day they’ll start walking”.

But here’s the real question: How do we know what the right direction is? The early church talked, as I said last week, about “the way of life and the way of death”. We can start by taking Jesus at his word, “I am the resurrection and the life”. If we want to follow the way of life, we could do worse than ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?”. Along with that, what did God do? What does “of God” mean?

In this morning’s texts we see what it means to act in a Godly way. It’s “godly” because, by definition, it’s like God.

1) God creates and likes what God sees. God rests and sits in awe.

2) God creates new things.

2) God, in Jesus, resurrects people.

So, this is the basic character of God: give life to things. Angry people with guns — or mentally ill people with guns or however you understand that whole thing — take life from things. That’s not Good, and that’s not God’s will. What gives life is “of God”, what doesn’t…isn’t.

The woman who was abused as a child? Her father deadened her soul. That’s not God’s will. His acts didn’t inspire her, he didn’t make her more alive. They didn’t make her be in awe of the universe. They didn’t help her to rest and appreciate life. They didn’t resurrect her spirit. That’s how we know they are wrong. God is the founder, and fountain of, what some theologians call “life-givingness”. Anything that doesn’t make you feel more alive, or doesn’t leave the person you’re trying to help feeling more alive isn’t “of God”. It is as simple as that. Anything that does — anything that makes you more hopeful, more alive, more creative, more forgiving, is “of God”. “God” does not equal “hurt”, and if somebody tells you it does, they’re lying. OK, I know I said “it’s as simple as that” and — generally , it’s true. As a starting point, if you ask yourself, “will I feel more alive?” when thinking about your choices, you’re generally going to be on the right track. If you ask yourself “at the end of this, will the other person feel more alive or less alive?” you can figure out the “next right thing” and go that way, building strength on top of strength.

In a few weeks, the CT Conference will vote on some things. In this church, on every committee, people will vote on things. Each of us — individually and together — will make decisions. If you start with the right question, and listen honestly for the answer, you’ll be doing the next right thing.

Having worked with addicts, though, I have to tell you it’s not that clear in the short term. It’s still very clear in the long term, but right now, at this moment, feeling “good” will hurt and feeling “bad” will lead toward healing. This is why addiction is a lie. People who use cocaine, for instance, I understand, feel better-than-great for some period of time — perhaps 20 minutes or so — but — and this is a big “but” — then they feel horrible and broke and mad at themselves for days, weeks, even years.

But what happens when we non-addicts — do a version of this ourselves? What happens when we — trying to do the right thing — do something with unforeseen consequences? What if — while trying to do the right thing, we do the wrong thing? What if our lives have been turned so upside-down that we don’t know what feeling good looks like anymore and we act out of the lies which have led us there?

Nothing is over til God says it’s over. Richard Bach, in his book “Illusions” says “here’s a test to see if your mission in life is over. If you’re alive, it isn’t”. As long as we’re alive, we can resurrect our souls, and regain our sense of truth and reality. After we’re dead, God does it because only God can. During life, as Robert MacAfee Brown noted in our Bible Study last week, people can feel resurrected (alive again) when they bring their mistakes to God and repent.

Now, by “repent”, I don’t mean say “I’m sorry”. The Biblical Hebrew word for what we would now call “repent”, is the word “shoov”. It means “turn around”, “go back”, do the opposite of what you were doing and return… to yourself — to the truth and the way that leads to life. In the story of the “Prodigal Son”, it says “he came to himself” and returned home. God wants that for you. So again, the goal for our decisions, if they are to be godly, is fuller life for everyone involved.

If you, or your corporation, or your denomination, or your church, is planning something that will hurt someone — take over their land, destroy the earth, shoot them, whatever — if, at the end of your actions, you will see sad faces, or people in pain — it’s not the right thing to do. Don’t do it.

If people will, or do, have new hope, then it is the right thing. If it allows for forgiveness with repentance, it’s holy. If it doesn’t, there is no hope, there is no resurrection, and God is not there.

To illustrate “the way of life vs. the way of death” My friend Dave used to tell a story of a man with a peaceful lion and an angry one in front of him. When he asks a wise man, “which one will live?”, the man answers “whichever one you feed“.

We need, as Christians, to be about the feeding of the good things in life and starving those things which would feed into evil. Which brings me to my final point. This is the first of four sermons with a stewardship theme in them.

If you believe that this church has enriched your life, and fed your soul, brought you closer to God’s creation and awe or helped you turn your life around, then you want to feed it. If you have hope for it, then it’s doing the right things, and you should feed it.

If, on the other hand, you feel abused by this church or by its members, don’t feed it. You know what your experience is. I don’t. We should never expect you to feed our coffers if we don’t feed your soul or bring joy into your life.

If you’re one of those people that hurts others, and you want this church to succeed, then you want to stop hurting others, you want to repent — both by saying you’re sorry and by not doing those things again. You can get more bees with honey than vinegar. If all you’re putting out is vinegar, then you need to stop. Or if you think that honey must always be “flavored” with vinegar, you need to re-think your plans. We are each responsible for our actions and God offers us new choices and new lives if we do — the way of life and the way of death. This church should be about “life”.

But back to the larger picture: as long as I am here as your pastor, I will do everything I can to feed and protect the best parts of who you are. If you see that happening in this church, feed this church. If you see it elsewhere, then feed that other one. If you feel hopeful about this church and enjoy the people you meet here, if you feel renewed by the sermons or the music or the children or whatever, then support it. We’re doing good things for the world. And if this past week has shown us anything, it is that the world needs more good things — things on the way of life, not the things which lead to death.

Amen.