A Survivor Responds to the Stanford Rapist’s Father

[Editor’s note: Every once in awhile, someone else’s words are so eloquent and important that I know they need to be shared . This is one of those times. I share it because Callie Farnsworth’s words needs to be said, and society needs to hear them.. This kind of thing happens all the time, to so many people that it is no wonder we have such problems in our society. In fact, a friend I discuss cases with anonymously has come to understand that the more complex a person’s case is, the more likely that rape or sexual trauma is involved. Nearly every female addict that comes to my office (and many male ones, as well) have the experience of rape or sexual abuse as the underlying cause for their behaviors. It is a devastating experience with ripples in every aspect of the person’s life. To that end, I have shared the experience of the Callie’s  father — Rev. Todd Farnsworth–  as well. Please know that if you are a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, new and better treatments and coping skills are available, but it it still a difficult thing. Text size varies here in acknowledgement of importance, with the rape survivor largest of all].
Prelude — Todd: As the father of a beautiful young woman who is surviving (and many days thriving) post rape, I am stunned by the letter written by the Stanford rapist’s father. The complete lack of awareness of what his son did to the victim, and the impact that will have on her life, is staggering. It could have been written by the victim’s father. The loss of appetite. The constant reminders. The interruptions of work because something triggered the individual. The life sentence that carries a burden of “living with it.” The court rarely provides justice in these cases. Until laws are written with a new sensitivity, the same insensitive verdicts will be awarded. Praying for change. Praying for peace….for my daughter, and all the daughters who carry this pain.

Callie Farnsworth: A Survivor  Responds to the Stanford Rape Verdict…

I have tried to read the articles about Stanford through the past few days but I can’t. I have started them many times, read half way through, and had to stop. The event is horrific, the sentence is horrific, and it makes me sick. I walked around in a haze today, peeking at my newsfeed, reading headlines, trying to make sense of it. And I can’t. I can only hope that this is the straw that breaks the camels back.

I thought Cosby would, but we barely talk about him now. I thought the Columbia girl with the mattress would be, but she graduated last spring and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t shared on my newsfeed. I thought Kesha might hit a mark, but she has been slipping back into the cellars of social media. Those ladies who posted the Charlie’s Angels photo for stopping a date rape? They were active, and did something outside of their social media. But what next?

I think rape needs to stop being just a ‘trending topic’. It is wonderful to share and post and talk about it. It makes a difference. But what are the thousands of people who shared the article doing a week from now? Two weeks from now? Where are they when this woman is sitting at home on a Tuesday years from now and she smells pine needles? That stuff scares me.

A little boy I babysat told me he knew the worst word in the dictionary. It was four letters. It was the worst thing you could do to a person and he believed it had only happened in ‘olden times’. I hope when he grows up rape will only have existed in his ‘olden times’ and it is universally considered the crime that it is.

 

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

************************************

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.

This S— Has Got To Stop. It Just Does.

Today, more people died in a school massacre. I don’t need to publish the date, because — unless we do something NOW that first sentence will still be appropriate.

Apparently, there have been  142 (One Hundred and Forty-Two!!!!) School shootings since Sandy Hook.  This doesn’t include Columbine or the Colorado movie shooter!
This has got to stop.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now,” said President Obama. The President has been trying to do something since Sandy Hook. When a problem of this magnitude can’t be solved by the “leader of the free world”, there’s something wrong — seriously wrong — with our society.

Apparently, the NRA has more power to govern (at least regarding gun laws) than our government does. I don’t know how many members the NRA has, but as a percentage of the US population, it shouldn’t be enough to overcome majority rule. It’s not. That’s a problem. Money in our political system has made things this way. We need to get money out of our electoral process. Overturn “Citizen’s United”? If it’ll help, let’s do it.

Gun control is next up. Clearly, we can’t agree on anything regarding guns in this country, but we need to take the health crisis of “lead projectile enters body and causes death” seriously. I’m not making this up. The CDC has said this for a long time. For whatever political reasons there may be, no one can justify the sale of assault rifles, machine guns, gattling guns or anything like them to a civilian population. They are weapons of war. Unless we want to live in a war zone, we need to stop selling them, period. Another means to control this here would be to stop selling bullets that go in those type of guns. This is not a solution to gun violence, but it is solution to mass gun violence.

To those who say that the Constitution says that people need guns to overthrow corrupt governments, I will even give them that. Yes, the Constitution seems to say that. The Revolution that started all this — the American one that those people are so in love with — was fought with single shot rifles and their leaders told them to wait “until they see the whites of [the British Army’s] eyes”. If you can’t have your modern revolution with single shot rifles, maybe you shouldn’t be considering it at all. If that’s all it took the first time, that’s all it should take now. The idea that one weapon can get off more shots  in a shorter time than all the guns at Lexington and Concord suggests we don’t need it. Enough is enough. Ban Assault weapons now. Ban the bullets that fill assault weapons now. Either one of them will work. I’m for both.

For those who say, “those shooters are mentally ill”, you’re probably right. Either that, or they’re simply evil. I’ll get to the “evil” option next. If they are mentally ill, then cutting services to the mentally ill as part of our plan to build a safe nation is not going to work. Stopping Obamacare will mean that the mentally will have less chance at services than they have now. Insurance rates increasing or not covering mental health services also isn’t going to work. We have a Mental Health Parity Act in place but the desire to enforce it isn’t always there. Besides that, therapists need to understand that poverty (or simply the inability to pay bills) is one of the greatest stressors I know of. The AAMFT used to have a rule that said we couldn’t turn away people for the inability to pay. I don’t know if we still have that rule, but there are a lot of folks in my profession who don’t deal with the issue because they would like to make a good living, rather than simply making a living. Mental Health Care in this society MUST become a priority. Making it less of a priority makes it more likely these shootings will go on.

If these school shooters are simply evil, then there are more evil people in our society than we ever had before Sandy Hook. When you add in Church shootings, theater shootings, gang shootings, terrorist shootings, native-born terrorist groups like White Supremacists carrying out shootings, that’s an awful lot of evil out there. We have to figure out why this is. In addition to long-term biological studies which we will need, we need to do something now. At the very least, let’s stop teaching hate. Let’s affirm that every life matters. Let’s stop having flame wars about poor people vs. rich people, Black people vs. White People vs. Korean, Japanese, or Chinese people. Let’s stop dividing ourselves into the deserving and the “not deserving”. Let’s teach our children (maybe even at a church,  synagogue or mosque) to have the values that give life rather than the ones that lead to death. Let’s actually raise our children. All of us. All of them.  Let’s teach them right from wrong. In addition to looking for outside causes for evil, lets look for inward causes of it.

If we do all of these things, these school shootings won’t happen. If we do some of them, it’s a start, but not enough, I suspect. However we get there, this s— has got to to stop. It just does.

Peace,

John