Orlando and Distancing

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I’m writing to those who, like me, identify as Christian and look to the bible to be authoritative and instructive in our lives.

I’ve been largely silent publicly since the shooting at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Since then, I’ve been grieving, I’ve been listening, I’ve been reading. I’ve texted and messaged some of my friends who identify as LGBTQ, because I can see that this monstrous act of murder has ripped out people’s insides and upended foundations. I’ve been reading a wide variety of responses.

Isaiah 6 has come to mind often. It’s a famous part of the bible, where the prophet Isaiah sees, encounters, and is overwhelmed by the visible presence of God in the temple. The first words out of his mouth are: “’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’” Seeing the majesty of the Almighty causes Isaiah to break down and look at his own wrongs and the wrongs of his people.

Woe to me! Not, “Woe to you, King Uzziah,” who worshipped false gods and led the people astray. Not, “Woe to you, people of Judah,” who rejected Yahweh and oppressed the poor. Not, “Woe to you, Tiglath-Pilesar,” the powerful bully of the area who threatened Judah’s existence. Isaiah could have rightly laid the blame at others’ feet, but instead his encounter with God led him to see his own wrongs and the wrongs of his people, and confess them. Before judgment was spoken to others, the encounter with God caused him to look at himself first. He didn’t distance himself from the wrongdoers and cast blame; he confessed that he had unclean lips, and lived among a people of unclean lips.

I’ve read so many people saying “Why don’t people name the real culprit, blame the real issue, in this Orlando tragedy?” Some of my friends are angry because radical Islam is not being named as the cause, while others are angry the NRA and Republicans have allowed guns to get out of control and are causing these tragedies. We react by wanting to distance ourselves and find someone to blame, to condemn the wrongdoer who is a “them”, who is not at all like me.

We say, “It’s them.” Isaiah says, “I am of unclean lips.”

It’s terrifically frightening to try to identify with someone who could murder and terrorize other human beings for hours. Far easier to think, “That’s nothing like me; it’s them.” It’s those ISIS people over there, and we have to unite and eliminate them and keep them out. However the facts we know in this case don’t match this narrative. He was born in New York, and the only connection to ISIS found so far is that he was radicalized and inspired by their ideas.

You can’t block the immigration of an idea. No matter how big of a wall you build.

And if it is ideas that are the problem, ideas that change and transform people’s actions, then it becomes imperative that we examine our own ideas and see where they are going toxic, where they are getting dangerous. But…how could my ideas, my values…how could they be toxic like this heinous act?

One article I read said: “How can a couple who chooses not to decorate a gay wedding cake be more dangerous to society than Islamic radicals who openly proclaim they want to kill all of us?” And it is true that those things the author compares have differences, different outcomes. One says, “I believe who you are and the choices you make means you are not worthy of a wedding cake from me.” One says, “I believe who you are and the choices you make means you are not worthy to live.” Clearly the second is more dangerous to people and society. Yet both ideas have this in common: “Because of who you are and the choices you make, you are not worthy of…(fill in the blank)” When people aren’t treated the same, it becomes a statement of worth that reverberates throughout the culture.

I think all would agree that at some point before we get to “you are not worthy to live,” at some point before that you have crossed a line and gone too far. (Although it must be acknowledged and condemned that there are pastors who said the day after the attack that gay people are worthy of death.) Somewhere there is a line where beliefs turn into toxic speech and actions and do damage to others. The only way I can figure out how to not cross that line myself is to take the Isaiah path and be willing to ask how I’m like the perpetrator, rather than cast blame and put him “out there”. At some point, will encounter with the Almighty God lead me to examine my words and actions and say, “I am of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips”? At some point, will being in God’s presence lead me to confess how my ideas, my words, can and have led to toxic harm to LGBTQ people?

So much pushes us to distance ourselves from the perpetrator. Isaiah’s example leads us to confess our complicity, our identity with. Oh, how much of me rebels against this.

And what about when we think of the victims?

I noticed with the Paris terror attacks that there were so many people who identified with the victims. We could imagine ourselves eating at a restaurant outside or going to a concert just like the victims did. So it shook many Americans. “How could this happen?” was a frequent question, and we turned our Facebook profiles into the French flag. Even though we weren’t French, we identified with the victims. How could this happen? It could have been us.

At the time there were some who drew attention to terrorist killings in Beirut which happened the same week as the Paris attacks. But most didn’t notice, didn’t identify, didn’t question “How could this happen?” in Beirut. Because…they weren’t like us. Because…we expect that’s what happens there, among “those people”, those “thems” who might not be exactly innocent.

I haven’t seen many straight Christians ask “How could this happen” in Orlando. How could someone walk in and shoot human beings at a club? I wonder how that feels to LGBTQ people…do we not ask because we can’t identify with people who would spend Saturday night at a gay club? Do we not ask because underneath, we think there was a reason it could happen, that maybe that was why it happened? Underneath, do we think we should expect violence against gay people?

I’m hearing and reading that one thing which makes this so heinous is that a gay club is a sanctuary, a place where gay people can be who they are without fear. It is a sanctuary from the idea that because you are a gay person, you aren’t worthy of… (fill in the blank).

When we turned our profile pics the colors of the French flag, no one misinterpreted it. No one thought, “Oh, they must speak French. They must support Francois Hollande’s proposed tax increase on the wealthiest French.” No, we recognized that by changing the colors of a profile pic, a person was identifying with the humanity of the victims, not endorsing everything about them. A person was saying, “I’m with you. I grieve with you. I find enough in common with you to say, ‘I stand with you in your pain.’”

With Orlando, it’s only been my LGBTQ friends who I’ve seen with rainbow-hued profile pics. Perhaps we worry about misinterpretation– “Will someone think I support gay marriage?” What a devastating sign that we have a double standard when it comes to identifying with the humanity, grief and pain of LGBTQ people! Straight Christians cannot identify with having our lives targeted because of our sexuality, but we can choose to identify with the humanity and suffering of LGBTQ people.

It seems many straight, cisgender Christians are not finding it easy to identify with the victims at Pulse club. How might we try? Watch Anderson Cooper read the names of the victims; perhaps reading some of their stories would help as well.

One time people came to Jesus and asked, “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Who did something to deserve this?

And Jesus changed the question.

Jesus said look instead for the way this man’s life, any life, can be an avenue for the redemptive power of God. Look at people, look at yourself, and see an avenue for the redemptive power of God! Identify with that, says Jesus.

So whether we look at the perpetrator or we look at the victims, we see this overwhelming tendency to make “them” a “they”…to make shooter and victims “other”, over there, not me, not human like me. That is exactly what people mean with the word “dehumanizing”. The more distance we can put between ourselves and the other, the less human, the less worthy the other becomes. Whether perpetrator or victim.

Isaiah and Jesus are calling to us to identify. To look at ourselves. To see where our ideas, speech and actions are turning toxic and evil. To see every person as an avenue for the redemptive power of God.

Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. This tragedy shows our blind spots, our failures, our inability to see ourselves as complicit or to see the victims like ourselves. Heal us. Redeem us. Change the words from our lips and the actions of our lives.

Togetherness

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on May 10, 2015)

Anyone here taken the written driver’s test lately?

I thought I’d start today with a little DMV quiz. Take a look a this.

rightoway_2

Assuming these cars arrived at the same time, which of the cars gets to go first? A or B? [ASK] Yes, A. You’re supposed to yield the right of way to the car on the right.

Now the thing that really threw me when one of our kids was studying for their driving test was the actual law about right of way. Right of way in one sense doesn’t really exist. You cannot “claim” or “take” the right of way…you can only yield it.

yield right of way

I don’t know if I ever had that sink in myself when I was learning to drive and cramming to take the driver’s test. The more I think about it, the more intrigued I get about this idea. And it’s got me wondering if we would do well to take this changed perspective outside of driving and to our relationships with others.

Marriage Forever?

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on May 3, 2015)

Barb Mitchell and her team usually have flowers up front on Sunday mornings.

But when she saw the topic today was about marriages that last, she thought a 50th anniversary balloon would be a good addition. I like it! Yesterday, I was over at Friendsview because Leo and Abigail Crisman were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. 70th!! That’s such an amazing thing it is difficult to wrap my mind around.

We all know not everyone experiences that kind of lasting marriage. People who never imagined divorce have gone through it. People who’ve tried everything have still been left by their spouse. Sadly, abuse happens and unfaithfulness happens, causing deep pain and ending marriages.

And of course there are many here who have never been married. There are people here who are still married in name, but not living with the joy or intimacy that they would like. There are people here who have lost a spouse to death, there are people here who left a marriage and carry guilt and remorse over it.

I want you to be sure and hear me say that I know the struggle and pain, the shame and guilt that come up for some people when we talk about marriage being forever.

So many times, I’ve spoken of God’s deep love for us, love that isn’t contingent on getting it right or being mistake free or having circumstances go well. God’s love just IS. If at any time today you feel that shame or pain taking over, remind yourself that God’s love for you has never changed. It just is!

Time

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 26, 2015. During the message, I asked for and received many excellent suggestions from the group. So unfortunately here, you miss those, and instead read some of what I prepared and didn’t share.)

Jesus had a way of seeing things differently than most people.

Mark chapter 12 gives one of those times where he looked carefully and turned things around. Turn with me to Mark 12:41-44.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44, TNIV)

Boundaries and Practices

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 19, 2015)

Remember last week I told you I usually come up with a little paragraph and the bible text we are using for a particular Sunday?

Remember how I said sometimes it changes a lot when the week actually comes? Well this week, I realized I needed to add a whole other message to the plan, and bump the rest of them back a bit.

Last week I spoke about the importance of questions over creeds, about choosing not to enforce boundaries on other people in order to conform them to the image of Christ, but to trust God to do that transformation work. I challenged all of us to not take advantage of that lack of boundaries, not to see how far we could be away from Christ and still be “in”…but rather to do everything in us to seek the center of God’s will, pursuing Christ, searching the scriptures, asking community to help us do that.

I stand by what I said. Somebody externally giving me boundaries and rules has not been as effective at bringing change in my life as seeking God’s transformation and being obedient to what the Holy Spirit challenges me with.

But when we got home last week, Elaine said, “You kinda threw me at the end of the message. I thought you were going to talk about when boundaries ARE helpful.” 

Questions vs. Creed

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 12, 2015)

Whenever I consciously think about it, the huge variety of ways that the bible talks about God overwhelms me.

The spectrum goes from huge, cosmic God on one end…the God who creates everything, who parts seas, who comes in fire and earthquake, whom Isaiah sees “high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple”…huge and cosmic on one end, to close, personal and intimate on the other end of the spectrum: the God who walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the garden, who gives Moses his personal name, who sends an angel to feed Elijah in his depression and tell him to take a nap.

Psalm 139 is one place that holds the ends of the spectrum together in one place.

A Wide Open Table

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 5, 2015)

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is always a deeper layer of meaning to discover in these huge moments in Jesus’ life, these holidays that truly celebrate holy days.

I used to think that all these big events were just sort of self-evident, just obvious. Sometimes that made me feel like I was missing something, because I couldn’t really articulate exactly why Easter or Christmas were such a big deal. Other times it made me feel sort of superior, like I was in the “in” crowd, I understood this, and all these other people are just missing out on something so obvious.

But I see it differently now. Things like Jesus’ resurrection are so monumental, so outside the norm of the rest of life, that they aren’t self-evident at all. From the first sight of the empty tomb long ago, followers of Jesus have had to work to unpack the meaning of Easter. It’s challenging! It took awhile for the disciples to really grasp what was happening, to begin to grapple with the implications.

So if you feel like you are missing something in this faith journey…or if you are feeling sort of smug, like you’ve explored all there is to understand about the meaning of Easter…I want to invite you and challenge you to dive in today. Wrestle! Think! Look to unpack a new layer of meaning to Easter for you, and let that journey and exploration be a step of faith toward God today.

Courage and Confidence

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 29, 2015)

For those of you who’ve given up chocolate, or coffee, or Diet Coke for Lent…your long suffering is almost at an end!

Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember the celebration as Jesus entered Jerusalem, before being killed on what we now call Good Friday. Next Sunday, we celebrate Easter, the resurrection-the ending of Lent, and the beginning of new life for all of us.

Palm Sunday is doubly ironic…ironic first, in that the very crowds shouting “Hosanna!” and honoring Jesus as King will be calling for his death before the week is out. And ironic second, because although the crowd celebrated for the wrong reason, the truth is Jesus should  be celebrated and honored by all!

How does our theme through Lent, this theme of suffering and sacrifice, this theme of taking up the cross…how does it fit with Palm Sunday? That’s the journey we will explore today. We’ll begin by looking at Isaiah 50, before moving to Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday.

Lent: Christ Crucified

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(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 22, 2015)

For those of us who have been in the church and around Christians for a long time, I think we tend to forget how strange and foolish the central part of our faith sounds.

This season of Lent, leading up to Easter, reminds us of the submission and suffering at the heart of Christianity…it really seems like a failure, the death of the one we put our entire trust in.

True, we believe and teach that it didn’t end there. Easter did come, resurrection conquered the power of death. But Paul and the gospels refuse to gloss over or throw away the suffering of the cross. We can say it even stronger than that: even with the truth of resurrection, we still put our eggs in the crucifixion basket.

Is it ok to use an Easter basket metaphor about faith? Or do I just confuse everything that way?

There’s something scandalous and strange and frankly offensive and unattractive at the heart of our faith. This is Paul’s message, and I think after 2000 years of Christian culture, we can forget how strange it is.

Wearing the right clothes

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I ran out of gas last week.

As these things usually go, it was a series of wrong choices. The warning light went off on the way to the hospital, but I wanted to get there ASAP for the visit. I forgot about getting gas leaving the parking lot, and then I was on the freeway, and then there was traffic, and if I pulled off it would take forever and then the traffic would be worse, and of course there would be a gas station on Scholls Ferry Road, only of course there wasn’t, and then there I am stalled on the side of the road a mile and a half from the next gas station.

It started raining.

I considered who I might call, but realized it probably wouldn’t be any faster than dealing with it on my own. So I started walking, thumb out, hoping (assuming?) I could get a ride to the gas station. I got picked up within 200 yards of my car, and despite some awkward silence in some really bad traffic, had an easy time of it. Bought a gas can, filled it with gas, and started walking back to my car, thumb out again.

This time, I had to walk considerably longer, getting wetter and wetter, left thumb out, right hand holding six pounds of gasoline, brain wondering if a protruding rear view mirror was going to give me a concussion. But sure enough, another guy pulled over and let me in.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. I was taking my kid to practice and saw you, and was like if he’s still there after I drop off my kid I’m picking him up.” I was impressed. He’d come out of his way back this direction because he saw me, just to be nice. Humans aren’t so bad after all.

“Wow, that’s above and beyond. Thanks a lot!”

“No problem! I mean, you were wearing the right clothes. It wasn’t like you were all homeless looking or had a sign saying you were a veteran or something…” He chuckled.

Jeans and a plaid, collared shirt. That’s what I was wearing.

This is what privilege looks like.

Jeans and a plaid shirt meant I had a better view of humanity.

Made me think about what it must do to your view of humanity when you live a lifetime walking, without having anyone stop.