Loving Las Vegas

A hand reaching out of a puddle in the forest.I’ve never been to Vegas, but after the mass shooting there last night, they’ve been on my mind and heart this morning. Enough that I posted this to Facebook this morning:

Praying for #LasVegas, and for a country that can seemingly agree on nothing except that we should pray.
Maybe that’s the best place to start.

Of course, sharing such a sentiment gets “likes” and positive comments.

And, then I read this post from my friend Jared Slack:

the fact there we’re all secretly hoping Stephen Paddock (Vegas shooter) is a by-product of our political/religious rivals is the problem.

After that bounced around in me for a while, I realized a potential shortcoming of my post.

I left it too easy for us to end up just praying for the other. Sure, “others” like victims, victim’s families, friends, residents of Las Vegas, the shooter and his family, friends, etc.

But if all we all agree to do is pray like that, for the other, whoever the other might be, I think we give in to remaining caught in this tragic cycle of simply agreeing to pray.

What if we moved a step further?

What if we invited God, in our prayers, to help us see the steps we, ourselves, can make beyond the impasse of only agreeing that we can and should pray?

If we remain in our place, disagreeing with so many others about so much, and only willing to agree to pray, I believe we find ourselves in the place of the Pharisee in this story from Luke 18

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

I hereby commit to continuing to pray for Las Vegas, victims, victim’s families and friends, Stephen Paddock, his family and loved ones.

I further commit to finding, meeting, interacting, and listening to some of the “others.” for whom I am praying. Let’s call this reaching out.

When I reach out, the place for me to reach out from is the recognition that something or some things about me and the way I view and move in the world might be part of the problem.

I am reaching out not only to help, but for help.

My recent brush with the Law

 

You know that sinking feeling you get when you look in your rear-view mirror and see a police car with lights flashing?  And you heard the siren before you saw it?  And then the next feeling is supposed to be relief because you pull to the side and the police car zooms on past?

Well, I got the first of those feelings without the second a couple of weeks ago, when I got my first speeding ticket in quite a few years.

No doubt I was guilty. 30 in a 20. I hadn’t noticed the change, thought I was keeping up with traffic; you know the drill.

So I pulled over, put the car in Park, put my hands on the steering wheel, and waited.

We had a fine conversation. I kept hoping that I might be let off with a warning. Might have, except it was in a school zone.  I guess I want no tolerance in a school zone. Maybe even more than I want a citation.

I can’t say I have been stopped a lot of times.  I also can’t say that I have always thought that stopping me and writing me a citation was really the best thing to do.  So, I rolled a stop sign, but there was NO ONE else on the road! Oh, yeah, except that parked police car down the street….

For all the times I’ve been stopped, maybe ten over the 35+ years I have been driving, I have always been treated well.

Judging from ONLY my own experience, I cannot make any sense of the challenges our society currently faces over policing.

On the other hand, there are too many stories, and too many incidents, for me to believe that there is not a problem.

But I am absolutely convinced of this: the problem is not the police, and the problem is not one particular race or class of people. The problem is us; the problem is in and with all of us, and until we can all admit that, I do not expect the problem will get any better.

And I don’t know anyone who wants things to keep going like they are. I don’t believe there is anyone who wants things to keep going like they are. But when, and how, are we going to get past the fear and hashtags that frame all of this?

Who is willing to stop vilifying the other, WHOEVER the “other” might be?

I am going to try. Wouldn’t you agree it is worth a try?

If it is worth a try, would you also agree that it has to start with ME trying, and YOU trying, not waiting around for THEM to try?

That’s from my recent brush with the Law. May your next brush with the law be at least as smooth as mine.

 

Does God agree with you? with me?

20160617_144150In the face of all the many disagreements, and further, in the face of what seems to be a lack of ability to communicate in civil and well-intentioned ways, I thought this morning of these words from Isaiah 55:8-9
My plans aren’t your plans,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways,
    and my plans than your plans. (CEB)
Do you suppose that when God says, in Isaiah 55, that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, God is referring to everyone? I have to admit that my usual first read of that passage is that God is referring to my enemy/opponent/anyone who disagrees with me.
 
To be fair, though, I have to admit, though it sometimes takes me a while, that God is, in fact, saying this to ALL of us.
 
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I do not have a second thought on my agenda for which this is the setup. Not that I never operate that way, but I am not this time)

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

On this day, April 28, in 1992, the Bloods and the Crips, rival gangs in Los Angeles, declared a truce.

This was the day before the riots started in response to the not guilty verdict in the trial of police accused of beating Rodney King.

This is not written about what is happening now in Baltimore, or these days around the country. This post is not about police violence or the violence in communities that leads to police violence.

This post is about peace. Or at least truce.  The Bloods and the Crips can lay down their arms, their hatred, their distrust, their contradictory narratives of who is a fault or who is right and who is wrong.

They could stop fighting each other. They could, and did, stop killing each other.

It makes me wonder. Ooh, it makes me wonder.

Can Tea Partiers and Progressives stop fighting each other?

Can Republicans and Democrats stop fighting each other?

Can Sunni and Shia stop fighting each other?

Can evangelical Christians and progressive Christians stop fighting each other?

Can opposing factions in The United Methodist Church stop fighting each other?

Let’s see if we can learn this simple lesson from history: that on April 28, 1992, the Bloods and the Crips stopped fighting.

Racial This, Ethnic That…

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Or, in this case, the first step is admitting you have an identity.

A racial identity.

An ethnic identity.

Once more I received notice from something/somewhere United Methodist offering “racial/ethnic scholarship”

Does this mean that anyone who has a racial or ethnic identification, but only those who have such identification can apply?

Of course not!  It clearly means that emphasis is being made to attract and include people of racial and ethnic minority groups to participate.

Am I opposed to that?  As Pete the Cat would say, “Oh, heavens no!”

Rather, I think that recognizing the condition of racial ethnic minorities as such is not enough.

I think that we ought all recognize our own racial and ethnic identities.

Using “racial/ethnic” as shorthand for “racial/ethnic minorities” maintains the fiction that some of us have no identity except as individuals.  It’s just all those other people – the hyphenateds – who have some specific identity.

That some people have an identity as individuals and others don’t is fiction.

All of us have a story.  More importantly, every one of us has a story and is part of a larger story.

If or when some of us pretend we all have the same story we deny the reality of another person’s story.

If or when some of us pretend that we have no story at all, that we are each just absolute individuals in the moment, we deny social reality and the fact that we live in time.

There is no subset of humanity that can be defined as “racial/ethnic.” We all are.

And I am quite confident we will be better off once we admit it.

US Christians Demand Religious Freedom…

for everyone!

I have long said that Christian are at our best when we are advocating for the rights, liberties, fair treatment of others.  I suppose I am willing to allege that this is true for everyone, not only for Christians.  But I especially want Christians to own it.

I think it represents Jesus far better than getting all whiney about our own rights, liberties, or fair treatment.

To be fair, people can advocate for their own rights, etc., without being whiney.  This is just my opinion: but US Christians seem to go whiney awfully quickly if we feel our rights, etc. threatened.

Just look at all the fuss we’ve been making over the persecution of Christians around the world lately.  I believe we would make a better case AGAINST persecution of Christians and FOR following Jesus if we opposed all religious persecution.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if you noticed, but a case of religious freedom was argued before the US Supreme Court yesterday. Samantha Elauf was 17 when she applied to work at an Abercrombie and Fitch store.  She was rated as a very good candidate.  Her rating dropped when management found out she wore a hajib – a traditional headcovering worn by some Muslims.  This dropped her rating enough that she wasn’t hired.

I don’t know how the case will come out.  The report I heard indicated that most of the Justices, in oral arguments, sounded like they leaned in her favor.

I have heard Christians lament about not being allowed to wear cross necklaces to work; shouldn’t we be just as concerned for the religious liberty of others?

You don’t know… You CAN’T know…

Bill Cosby, in the interest of helping men understand the agony of giving birth, likened it to “taking your lower lip, and pulling it up over your head.”  I’m not sure how close a match that would be, but I know it is closer than  this:

Rachel was in the hospital the day after giving birth to our son Liam.  I had gone down to the first floor for something and got onto the elevator to return to the Labor and Delivery section.  I rode with a man and a woman, who I quickly identified as a father and grandmother of a newborn.

The man mentioned that his back was hurting. He had not slept well on the pseudo-bed the hospital provided for partners of those giving birth.  Then he said this, “my back hurts so much I know how my wife must feel.”  (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP)

No, sir, you don’t.  You can’t

My own wife had, the day before, gone through a rather brief labor.  She delivered Liam without any pain medication, in less than 3 hours.  I think I would rather pull my lower lip over my head.

His wife, he explained, had endured 36 hours of labor and then had a C-section.  I don’t care what kind of mattress he slept or tossed-and-turned on; it didn’t match what the mother of his child had just done.

I know we are wired to make comparisons.  Sometimes, when motivated by empathy and compassion, such comparisons may be helpful.

I don’t think this man’s was.

There are things men don’t know, and can’t know, about being a woman – including giving birth.  Even if you (or a comedian) offers us an analogy, we will not and cannot really grasp it.

There are also things women don’t know, and can’t know, about being a man.

Categories are now flooding my mind of all the possibilities of limits on comparison here.  We are all humans, but not a single one of us is *just* a human.  Every one of us is identified in multiple other ways, too, that limit the ability of some to really grasp everything about us.

And vice-versa.

However many hyphens this adds to your self-description, I believe it is incredibly helpful for us to humbly acknowledge not only what we *all* have in common, but how very much we don’t.

 

Actual or Percieved Boundaries?

I work in Euless, Texas.  I live nearby; my mailing address says I live in Hurst, but my house is actually within the city limits of Fort Worth.

In the four months since we moved, we have found that none of the boundaries between these three cities makes much difference day-to-day.  There are different taxing entities, different access to services (usually based on the taxing entity). There are taxing entities (Tarrant County, Tarrant County College system, etc.) that include each of these.  So far has I have noticed, and I have even asked a variety of people, there is no noticeable preferential treatment or discrimination based on where one lives.

On the other hand, not far to my east is Irving.  I don’t know all that much about Irving, but I have found that the Irving version of some stores or services is closer to where I work than the next closest store or service of the same kind to my west.

Irving, though, is across the county line and on the other side of the DFW airport and highway 360.

Something about the way the DFW metroplex has developed, I have noticed that this perceived boundary between the Dallas side and the Fort Worth side is really quite real.

I am trying to figure this out. At the same time, I realize that I live within other boundaries that are more based on perception than reality.  Architectural style, age of  neighborhood, proximity to a WalMart (among others) that some might perceive as establishing boundaries.

Are you aware of the boundaries within which you tend to live?  Which of them are actual, which are perceived?

 

Finding Identity-Thinking Ethnically

I have trouble dealing with ethnicity. It isn’t that I have trouble dealing with people who have an ethnicity. No, my problem, like that of very many of us, is that Anglo-Americans have generally grown up without any ethnicity. In fact, I would argue that the American Myth is that the only identity or ethnicity one needs is whatever one freely chooses as an American.

StanleyHauerwas , theologian at Duke and one of my favorite Southwestern University alumni has said and written famously that “the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

This is us, Anglo-America!

While this might be all right with you, I can’t take it anymore.  It is belittling, probably condescending of us to consider that everyone else has some ethnicity, some story, heritage, tradition of which they are naturally a part and with which they identify.  This is belittling and likely condescending because we have to put ourselves someplace outside of tradition, lineage and story to make such judgments, and we cannot do so; it is impossible.

As several people have pointed out, in support of Hauerwas’s definition of modernity above, to explain why one needs no story but the story one chooses, one has to tell a story.

Every one of us has a story, much of which we did not and can not choose. All of us have traditions, lineages, etc., that have played significant roles, whether active or passive, for good or bad, in developing our identities.

No one has any more ethnicity than anyone else.  Some are just able to admit it.

We’re all Users

I’m reading Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint’s Come on People: on the path from Victims to VictorsComeOnPeople_HQ. On p. 32 they write:

One way slaves survived such brutal conditions was to turn the Christianity they had learned into a liberation theology.  The stories of the Hebrew slaves became their own. Even as slave owners used the Bible to justify slavery, black people used the Bible as God intended-to give people hope for a time when there would be true justice. (emphasis added)

I love this! (Except for the part that the term liberation theology immediately turned some of you off because you pigeon-hole such labels)

What slaves did with Christianity, in turning it into liberation theology begs the question of what kind of label ought we put on to kind of theology that justified slavery?

Cosby and Poussaint correctly identify that slaves and slave owners used the Bible to support their own vision of the future, and of the way life ought to be.  Don’t we all do this?

I’m a user.  I read the Bible regularly. I preach from the Bible.  I gain much of my understanding of life, of the world, of humanity, of the future, from the Bible. I also read it and understand it differently now than I did when I was a teen, and also differently than when I was only 30.  At all these ages, I used the Bible.

Slave owners used the Bible to enslave people. For at least a century after slavery was abolished, some continued to use the Bible to subjugate people. (Cosby and Poussaint point out wisely that science has been used too).

Slaves, I think, had a better claim to using the scriptures than did slave owners.  They had the stronger claim to scripture the same way Moses, not Pharoah, had the message of God.

If you ever catch yourself thinking or accusing someone else of using the Bible to support their cause, consider how you might be doing the same.

It seems to me that whenever the Bible is used in the direction of giving “people hope for a time when there would be true justice” is a great way to use the Bible.