Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Text:  Luke 19:45-48 — Jesus, the Great Disruptor

Although our current president, Donald Trump, likes to advertise himself as The Great Disruptor, he was could have learned a lot about disruption from Jesus Christ, the
Great(est) Disruptor.

Today’s reading offers two illustrations:
First, Jesus disrupts the institutionalized corruption that characterized the sale of small birds and animals to worshipers for sacrifice.  That vendors were working within the temple precincts was not the issue, but their price gouging was a problem of the kind OT prophets, such as Isaiah, criticized.  When Jesus ousted corrupt vendors he disturbed an economic system that had developed to the benefit of both vendors and those who were oversaw the operations of the temple.

Second, amidst the establishment consisting of temple priests and religious legal experts, Jesus attracted the people and taught them his understanding of their religion, characterized by the summary commands to love God with all we’ve got and love our neighbors as ourselves.  And he laid out a vision of the coming kingdom of God (as we read throughout the gospels) that was one without the structures of power, position, and privilege his society knew.  He preached and taught a disruption of power and privilege that would disrupt the wealth and position those who benefited from them and showed us a world shaped by social and economic leveling that brought justice to the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised.

As disruptions go, this is so much different than the Trumpian disruption that merely seeks to shift power and wealth from one group of the privileged, powerful, and wealthy (the so-called Washington establishment) to another (Trump and his family, friends, and wealthy supporters).

What might America look like if the existing structures of power and privilege were disrupted and transformed so that benefit did not just “trickle down” but was a flood and ever-flowing stream?

Advertisements

Text:  Luke 17:26-37

It will happen.  No preview of coming attractions (suitable for all age groups).  No series of announcements in bulletins and newsletters.  No email or text blast.  No notification on Facebook, Twitter, et. al. social media.  “Thy kingdom come” will be answered without fanfare or pomp and circumstance.  Without warning, the old, established, comfortable for some, hard-scrabble for many, reality will be gone, transformed into God’s new reality.  The prophetic imagination that throughout the Bible offered views of an alternative reality to our own will be itself realized.

Are we ready?
Can we let go the old?    What will we be giving up?
Are we willing to embrace the new?

Today’s reading, with its recollections of Noah and the flood, the fiery end of Sodom, and vultures gathering around a corpse, has a fearsome tone.  God’s kingdom will come and all the broken-world stuff we cling to, but which dominates and plagues our lives, will be swept away, and with it all those unwilling to let go.  For the really scary bit is that we will not simply wake up one morning in the new kingdom but be confronted with the new reality that calls us to give up all the ways we live high on the hog at the expense of others and the health of our planet, all the ways we inflict violence in the name of national interest and security, all the ways we profit from injustice, all the ways we take it upon ourselves and our churches to judge who is loved and who is condemned by God.  In other words, we will be confronted with giving up our lives and gaining Christ and kingdom or saving our lives as they are and losing everything.

We had better get ready.
We had better be able to let go the old.
We had better embrace the new.

After all, it’s not just some delusional Camelot but the Kingdom of God and God is good!

To all nervy white folk who are anxious (or just plain panicked) about increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in America:

Become a well-rounded musician or music-listener and you might lose your fear of diversity.

As I bounce back and forth between sermon preparation and rehearsal for a piece of music I’m presenting in church tomorrow, it occurs to me that I am playing a flute traditionally used by Native Americans of the Great Plains, a guitar built by a Canadian company, all played over electronic music with roots in Europe with improvisation based on jazz, an African-American invention.

Oh . . . and the sermon is based on a piece of scripture from a writing originating in the Middle-East around 3,000 years ago (a Psalm from the Hebrew Bible, a.k.a. Old Testament). And to my knowledge, the Bible which we Christians, including White Christian Evangelicals (the religious group most disturbed by cultural diversity) claim to be the cornerstone of our religion, spirituality, and ethics was written by a bunch of Semitic Middle-Easterners and Greek-speakers from what is today’s Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. No American white guys involved.

Maybe I’m due to give an apology to my ethnicity, so here it goes:

To all white Americans—my apologies but, I just don’t get the fear of diversity that’s created the Alt Right, nurtured racial division and inequality, and somehow makes the angry rhetoric of American isolationism and wall building seem reasonable to far too many. Sorry, but I just don’t understand what the problem is and why I should be anxious, suspicious, and hateful of non-whites either in America or outside of it. Indeed, I feel enriched by exposure to cultures other than my own.

Okay . . . so that wasn’t really an apology. I guess I have no apology I feel I need to make for my embrace of the world’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Why should I? As God says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humanity in our image,” and that means all of us (I just can’t get that to read “Let us make white Americans in our image.”).

Oh, by the way, . . . about that wall one of our presidential candidates wants to build to wall off Mexico— The French tried that tactic already. It was called the Maginot Line and after great expense and effort to wall off France from Germany, the Germans simply went around it.

Demon Drug (…prices)

Posted: 2016/08/25 in Social Justice

To hell with the pure free-market economics—people are sick and dying and it will only get worse.  It was announced, yesterday, that drug manufacturer Mylan has doubled the price of the EpiPen, the ubiquitous life-saver carried by people with dangerously severe allergies. The two-pack, and that’s the only way to buy them, is now $600. I cannot begin to imagine what it would feel like knowing I would probably die because I was accidentally exposed to an allergen that has triggered anaphalactic shock and I could not afford the drug that could easily save my life. Nor can I imagine what it would feel like to lose a loved one to severe allergic reaction because they could not afford to carry an EpiPen.

The drug’s manufacturer blames an economy outside their control  Policy makers say that the problem with the high cost of medicine and its solutions are extremely complex.

Damn them all if anyone dies because it cost to much to live!

Obviously, I’m a bit hacked off about the high price of drugs and, no, I do not understand why they need be so high. I might be able to understand and even give some grudging acceptance to the situation if expensive medicines were expensive for everyone everywhere, but they are not. We in America pay far more than anyone else. The cowpies are beginning  to pile up.

Drug manufacturers and industry spokespersons seem only to have one seriously lame two-part answer to give us:

  • No one covered by health insurance pays very much (. . . but what if the one drug that is needed is not covered?!?), and
  • If someone cannot pay full price they would most likely be qualified to receive the drug at a drastically reduced price (. . . which implies that those drugs need not be so expensive).

To call it what it is—this is about greed and a market economy that is hardly free. Not being an economist or a Harvard MBa, I cannot map out a solution. But there has to be one. All I know is that it is grossly unjust and tragic that anyone should be either disabled or dead because s/he could not afford the medicine s/he needed. This situation is wrong enough that it simply should not be tolerated.

While accompanying the seminary choir on bass (guitar) during worship one Wednesday, things were going well for the first two and a half measures.  The choir sounded musical, passionate without melodrama, and articulate, and I was playing with smoothness and subtlety so that the bass became another voice in the choir.  And then I hit a B. The Asbury Seminary chapel range like a large bell. It sounded like I had replaced my modest combo bass amp with a big Ampeg stack and turned it up to 11.  It was ridiculously loud . . . but only when I played B.  I made it through the choir anthem by consciously playing that note very lightly.  As I explained to the choir director (who already knew what the problem was), the brash and bold B was at the resonant frequency of the chapel’s interior, its only architectural design flaw. My bass guitar’s B was at just the right wavelength to bounce around the room in a way that made it sound a lot louder than any other note.

I had a psychological experience of such resonance while at the School for Pastoral Ministry this over the last few days.  Listening to one of the two excellent keynote speakers, Nadia Bolz-Weber, talk about her calling in ministry, something she said—probably several things—rang like that bass B through the cognitive and emotional mess that is my consciousness. The resonance was with my own calling into ministry—my religious raison d’etre, the “why I got into this ministry mess in the first place”.

I have been struggling for a while with a sense of direction in my ministry, which has led to a bit of paralysis and a lot of frustration as I feel pushed to get the church I serve to grow in numbers and figure out something a somewhat elderly church can do to fulfill the United Methodist Church’s slogan (part 2): “transformation of the world.”  I’ve tried blending contemporary music into worship and preaching about social justice and changing the world. The problem is that I am just not called to, or capable enough at, either engineering church growth or prophetic preaching.  Some pastors, such as Adam Hamilton, are greatly adept at providing a worship and discipleship environment that attracts a lot of people of all ages.  Others do a lot of social justice work, preaching about the issues of society and leading mission work. These are all great things and important, but they are not why I entered ministry.

My calling to preach the Gospel (Good News of Jesus Christ), offer the sacraments, and help sinners realize God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness. It’s these things that I am here to do and mean to return to doing with focused intent.  I don’t need to engineer church growth or figure out how to transform the world.  If I help people deepen find their home in the house of God’s grace, embrace God’s forgiveness, and discover for themselves what Christ crucified means for them, then the other stuff will just happen.  Forgiven and grace-filled people who “get it” about what God was doing suffering on the cross and dying for us will go out and transform their world as well as bring others in to experience that God can do for them as well. I need to simply do what matters most and get out of God’s way.

What will this mean for my work as a pastor?  Past changing the direction of my preaching and how I approach the sacraments, I haven’t a clue. But I’m sure God knows. . .

The ones I am speaking of are those enshrined by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. These are the same that are apparently fungible for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

As CNN reported today about an incident at a Trump campaign rally in Rock Hill, SC —

“Rose Hamid [a Muslim wearing a hijab], a 56-year-old flight attendant sitting in the stands directly behind Trump, stood up Friday during Trump’s speech when the Republican front-runner suggested that Syrian refugees fleeing war in Syria were affiliated with ISIS.”

Her protest was silent. No yelling. No insults. Just silence.

She was then escorted out of the building; forced to leave by local law enforcement.

“Major Steven Thompson of the Rock Hill Police Department told CNN Hamid was kicked out of the event because the campaign told him beforehand that “anybody who made any kind of disturbance” should be escorted out.”

Really?!? Standing silently was a disturbance?!? According to the report, the ruckus that arose after Hamid took to her feet were Trump supporters behaving badly. In contrast to the silent Hamid, they remained welcome.

While I understand that a candidate’s campaign rally is not a place a candidate and his/her supporters want to face opposition or protest, but this incident makes we wonder how Trump would deal with dissent if elected president. Would he contrive some executive action silencing such dissent in direct violation of the 1st Amendment? Would the most strident critics find themselves accused of sedition or treason?

Just as concerning, because I believe character matters in leadership, is the implication that Trump has no tolerance for dissenting opinion. Instead of engaging with the politely protesting Hamid, he had her removed, in effect saying, “I will not listen to you; I cannot be your president!”

I suspect that five minutes into a discussion about the ethics and social conscience of Jesus Christ, he would have me thrown out too.

By the way, why were local police complicit in abetting his 1st Amendment violation? . . . hmm . . . (another rabbit hole to explore another time)

I thought I was tossing my congregation a softball Sunday morning. For several Sundays I’ve been pushing them pretty hard with some challenging preaching, such as two Sundays ago when I took on the relationship of religion and science (which, by necessity, pulled in biblical interpretation, Creationism, and evolution). To give us all a break I offered up a bread’n’butter sermon entitled “What Does Jesus Christ Want Us to Do?”

I came up with the idea for the sermon while thinking about the many times I’ve been asked by a parishioners what Jesus wants us to do within various difficult situations. Throwing together Scripture from Matthew and John, I came up with a preachable list of general tasks that outline the Christian life:

  1. Believe in and believe Jesus (which means not just cognitive assent but change of heart; John 3:16 & various other bits from the 4th gospel).
  2. Let go of our worldly attachments, especially to wealth and possessions (I.E. remove the competition for who gets our loyalty… our stuff or God; Matthew 19:16-22).
  3. Learn to love as Jesus does (John 13:34-35).
  4. Put that love to use serving others, especially the “least” (Matthew 25:31-46).

This is boilerplate stuff, as preaching goes.

About mid-afternoon Sunday, I had an “Oh My GAWD!” moment when it hit me how counter-cultural and subversive this stuff really is. Believing in Jesus (in particular, as Lord) coupled with letting go of attachments to things that might compete for our loyalty to Jesus, pushes to the backseat our nationalism (patriotism, if one prefers) and even family. This is especially subversive, especially for conservative Evangelicals in my country (America) whose majority of concerns seem to be around family and patriotism.

Letting go of attachments is also very dangerous to our consumption-based economy. What would happen if millions of Americans decided that we don’t need to buy so much stuff so frequently?

Loving as Jesus does and serving the “least” are at least as dangerous and subversive. I live in a nation that idolizes the mythical rugged, self-sufficient, individual who wouldn’t think of burdening those around him. Since the Reagan years, the driving economic theory is supply-side. Even though the American middle class has been economically static, if not slipping, we as a society seem to buy in to the idea that wealth will trickle down from wealthy, lightly regulated corporations to the rest of us, especially if we can find more ways to give them more money. We idolize the rich and powerful. Moreover, we blame the poor for their poverty and resist doing more to help them, whether that help is a higher minimum wage or continuing welfare for the long-term unemployed (to name a few). So, the idea that we should help the “least”—the poor, powerless, disenfranchised, and needy—runs against the grain.

A favorite mental experiment is to imagine how Jesus Christ would be received today. I suspect that the mildest reaction might be to ignore him and laugh him off. The strongest reaction would probably a good-ole-fashioned lynching, corporately funded using tax-sheltered income and cheered on by a gang of conservative Evangelicals (or even United Methodist clergy who disagree with Jesus’ stand on homosexuality… but that’s another story).