Monday, February 28, 2011

SECOND-THINKING MY FAITH TALK IN LIGHT OF MY NONCHRISTIAN FRIENDS

I am ever more conscious of the impact of my faith assertions and actions in my community relationships

I realize--I am ever more conscious of the fact--that as I worship, write, speak and act, I do so as a follower of Jesus in the context of a larger community of people who do not.

Even as I claim a name and articulate a theology for what I experience of grace, I realize there are many who experience grace without naming it or hardly recognizing it as grace. Even as I formulate life meaning in historic Christian terms and trajectories, many whom I am privileged to encounter, know and be in relationship with formulate meaning quite differently.

This matters more to me now than ever before.

Because I have been led into relationships of integrity, mutuality and respect with people who are not Christian, I think about them and check what I am saying--in word, in action and in spirit.  I give second thought to the claims I am making about my faith and how I make them.

Note, I say "second thought," not "second guess."  This is not about unduly doubting my faith. It is about giving second thought to how I express it.  It is not about compromise.  It is about consideration.

I think of people like Sally. I admire Sally and appreciate our growing friendship; it is something like a gift I've received to care for.  Sally is one of the smartest, most community-aware, most articulate, most caring people I know. More a model of justice and mercy than most Christians I know, Sally is a non-practicing Jew.

'How would Sally hear this?' I sometimes ask myself.  'Does this claim or assertion invalidate her real experiences, hopes and possibilities?' 'Am I talking in closed and insider language; if so, can I find terms and a manner than opens the conversation wider?' 'Do my statements and assertions reflect a closed and provincial worldview; if so, is that what I really believe, or can I reframe and restate what I have experienced and believe to be true in a truly inviting way?' 'Do I readily excuse the sins of the institutional church or individual Christians in a careless, cavalier way that diminishes the reality of their impact on large segments of humanity historically?'

I ask such questions not so much to 'win' Sally as to respect her reality and the value of the relationship I've been given.  And, in making these conscious considerations, I simultaneously challenge my own grasp of meaning and move closer the core of my faith, to what really matters.

To me, this is no denial of my faith.  To the contrary, it is raising my confidence in the grace of God revealed through Jesus of Nazareth to the highest degree.  And, it seems to me, this points beyond stereotypical and divisive assertions and claims. It points to a reality that is deeper, higher, and underpinning what we can not so easily or claim to the exclusion of those who do not yet believe or believe in the manner we find meaningful.

Do I have this figured out?  No.  But I know in my heart that there is more room in the story of grace than most of us who claim Jesus as Lord have been able or willing to acknowledge or articulate.  Not being able to quite grasp it or articulate it should not stop us from saluting the grace at work in Sally's life and those like her.  The same God is at work--graciously--in us all.

WHO GETS THE COOKIES?

Simple, clear, real, poignant, timely

A unionized employee, a member of the Tea Party, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches over and takes 11 cookies, then turns to the Tea Partier and says, "Watch out for that union guy--he's out to get a piece of your cookie!"

Friday, February 25, 2011

END HUMAN TRAFFICKING

Let's challenge people of faith to lead in the fight to end global human trafficking




Once you view this video, please go to the website of International Child Care Ministries and make a donation so ICCM can open up a new hostel in Thailand to give rural tribal families an alternative to selling one of their children into prostitution and slavery.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WHY COLLECTIVE BARGAINING MATTERS

 A letter submitted to the Indianapolis Star

[Update: The Indianapolis Star printed this on Monday, March 7, 2011]


I was privileged to speak for a few minutes at
two of the rallies at the Indiana State Capitol.
That's me with the megaphone.
Apparently, some folks just can't see that the hard-won right to collective bargaining is--symbolically and in reality--the only legal leverage hourly-wage workers have in this thing we call free-market capitalism. 

But many people who are not members of a union, DO see it.  Maybe that's why 60% of American citizens in the most recent USA Today poll are against reducing the collective bargaining rights of workers.

Thanks to successful union-busting efforts by corporate powerhouses over the past 30 years, less than 8% of our nation's workforce currently belongs to a union.  Still, every hourly-wage worker, whether he or she is a member of a union or not, benefits directly from collective bargaining.

Wages, working conditions and benefits are as good as they are in a non-union business because of what workers in unionized shops have been able to access via difficult collective bargaining.  That's why many people are convinced that a threat to collective bargaining anywhere is a threat to hourly-wage workers everywhere.

What's happening at our Indiana State Capitol and in Wisconsin is as much a symbolic line in the sand as it is a real stand against untenable legislation.

By the way, I am not a union member, have never been a union member, and I am not being paid by a union.  This is, to me, just common sense.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A BILL WORTH KLLING

The proposed "Right to Work" bill making its way through the Indiana legislature needs to die

Here is the text I prepared and shared at Indiana State Capitol today:

I am not a union member and have never been.  I am not a paid lobbyist and have never been.  I am an urban minister.  I've invested the past 24 years of my life in the heart of Indianapolis, both as a pastor and as a community advocate.  Out of this experience arises my concern for the so-called "Right To Work" legislation that has been introduced in the Indiana State House of Representatives.

I speak up for two reasons.  First, because I take the Bible seriously, and this includes what the Bible declares consistently in both Old and New Testaments regarding social justice in general and the fair treatment of workers in particular.  Second, I speak up because in my work as an inner-city pastor, I have repeatedly heard and felt the desperation of workers--employed and unemployed--living in the shadow of downtown Indianapolis who have been routinely taken advantage of by bosses, businesses and corporations.  What I understand of this "Right to Work" legislation would give businesses and corporations more leverage collectively to further reduce wages, benefits and rights.

I do not represent faith communities, but I know what most faith communities in Indiana value regarding work and the marketplace:

We value the Bible over any ideology.
We value fair treatment of all workers.
We value fair wages for all workers.
We value justice in the marketplace.
We seek an end to people or corporations dominating people and situations.
We desire a people-centered economy that raises the value of all participants.

I would hope that all our state legislators--Republican and Democrat--would agree with these minimal principles and values.

Given this, I speak against the "Right to Work" (RTW) legislation for two reasons:

First, it is unnecessary.  Even proponents of the bill, like the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, agree that its positive impact for corporations in Indiana might be marginal.  Even without RTW and even in the tough economy we are in currently, Indiana's economic growth outpaces the nearest RTW state (Iowa).  With the potential downside of this legislation considered to quite be negatively impactful, the small possible upside doesn't seem worth the risk.

Second, this legislation is overly divisive.  It pushes a limit that is harmful both to our workforce and to a healthy business climate.  It unnecessarily further polarizes workers and business owners at an economically stressful time.  Corporations and businesses already hold a vast advantage over the rights and opportunities of hourly-wage workers.  This legislation appears to be aimed at tipping those scales further.  It is clear that, with thousands of union workers and advocates showing up at the State Capitol on the first day of a planned extended action, lots of folks feel pushed to their limit.

Besides, over 80% of Indiana citizens responding to an Indianapolis major news media outlet's survey indicated that this legislation should not come before this General Assembly.

Additionally, it appears that few citizens of our state know what "Right to Work" means or what this legislation really contains.  It is a deceptive label and a bill that most agree will weaken collective bargaining.  Of those of our citizens who HAVE taken some time to understand "Right to Work" in general and the specifics of this legislation in particular, many find it alarming.  They also appear ready to mobilize in a large way against it.

Should this legislation move out of committee, I, too, will be quite motivated to inform my fellow faith leaders and networks of friends in congregations across Indiana of the real nature of "Right to Work" and mobilize against it for the sake of a better, more equitable approach to growing Indiana's economy and quality of life.

So, I urge my representatives in the Indiana House of Representatives, do what you can now to kill this bill.  Then, let's open a real dialogue for what's right, good and possible for Indiana's workers, businesses and all its citizens.

-----------------
Links about this "Right to Work" legislation will be posted below.


Indianapolis Star story and photos on the day's activity - http://www.indystar.com/article/20110221/NEWS05/110221002/Indiana-union-workers-rally-Statehouse-protest-bills
Labor Committee Passes Bill along party lines - http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/news/politics/state_politics/state-house-examines-hoosiers-right-to-work
Bad for Indiana - http://www.badforindiana.org/
Right to Work via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law
Right to Work Indiana - http://righttoworkindiana.com/
Central Indiana Jobs With Justice -http://www.centralindianajwj.org/

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

UNRESOLVED

More unresolved
now than ever.

More grace
now than ever.

Confidence
in grace
to draw
to prompt
to guide
to change
to complete.

In God's time.
In God's time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WHAT FULFILLS?

Reminder to self:

If you're still harboring an inkling of the notion that other people can fulfill your life or make you complete, give it up. You'll be disappointed. And you'll put others through a hell of unrealistic expectations. Your partner, your children, friends, associates and work are not about completing or fulfilling you.

God's grace does this. Grace is more than enough.  Go there.  Focus there.

Loved ones, family and friends--along with opportunities in work and service--are gifts.  They are resources, not sources. They are instrumental, not ultimate.

Monday, February 14, 2011

DOES THE CHURCH WANT TO BE THE CHURCH?

I wrote this while sitting in a cushioned theater seat of a megachurch on Sunday.  It could have been written from within any church facility or fellowship.

Does the church want to be the church?
I'm not sure.

It seems to want to be successful.
It wants to be bigger.
It wants to be attractive.
It wants to be phenomenal.
It wants to be known as authentic.
It wants to have lively, uplifting gatherings.
It wants to be notable.

But does it want to be the church?
Can it bear to be broken again and again?
Is it honoring the poor with anything more than leftovers?
Does it really want to do justice?
Does it make room for misfits and difficult people?
It is being faithful to its ever-changing locale?
Is it ready to serve in obscurity?

Does the church want to be the church?
Or, does it just want to be what its current leaders think it should be and want it to be?
I wonder.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

SAME GOD, SUCH LOVE

A reflection on what's behind my poem "Point to Love."

I wrote the previously-posted poem "Point to Love" in January on the flight back from Vietnam.  I was not impressed by religious devotion in Vietnam, though there were Buddhist shrines and some Roman Catholic churches.  But, for some reason, I was impressed that there is a universal search for the sacred and for God as people variously and diversely conceive of a higher being--in Vietnam and every place.

I tried to conceive of myself in the shoes of an unwitting or naïve worshiper.  I would hope this poem describes me as well as one who has been led into a devoted spiritual life via another religious tradition.

I was also thinking of this: often, as a child and adult, I have heard pastors and Christian teachers reduce, mock or dismiss religions other than Christianity as mere idolatry.  This has always bothered me.  Such judgment is not necessary, not helpful, and not in the spirit of Biblical Christianity, it seems to me.

In Athens, the Apostle Paul points to a statue inscribed “to an unknown god.”  He says that many simply worship “what they do not know.”  Perhaps many worship as well as they know or have been taught, which may be as well as you and I know regarding the terms and understandings of our faith.  Paul doesn’t say they are wrong or that they are worshiping idols.  His statement is not spoken to reduce, mock or dismiss.  It is spoken in consideration, exploration and invitation.  Can we not do the same?

Paul is finding common ground with those he addresses.  He recognizes that the unknown god whom his hearers may venerate is the same God whom he worships.  This is critical.  Unlike some in my faith, I am convinced that all who look to or call upon God by various names and understandings are calling upon the same God.  Muslims call on Allah, who is not a different “god” than the God referred to in the Bible.  The same can be said for some other faiths, as well.  The presumed attributions one makes to God may diverge, but what is conceived commonly is significant.

Calling upon God from within divergent cultural backgrounds and frameworks is different from what is described in the ancient days of the Old Testament as turning away from God to mere idols.  In the situations described in those Scriptures, the emerging Hebrew culture is grappling with its own unique call to believe in and rely on God as unseen, known by faith, and who provides graciously.  This wrestling is done in contrast to conceptions of gods as human-made images infused with some personified power that somehow can be cajoled to benefit people through acts of human sacrifice, work and/or appeasement.  The transition away from conceiving of God as contained in inanimate objects and/or needing to be appeased or cajoled is a continuing invitation.
But it is difficult for me to equate ancient idolatry with the contemporary use of images and icons as aids to devotion in various faiths today—including the use in Christianity of crosses, nativity crèches, images of Jesus, and icons of saints.  To me, the bigger issues of contemporary idolatry relate to the basis of our sense of security and well-being (i.e., money, investments, wealth, national security, violence, and domination).

Of course, Paul contrasts whatever “unknown god” or unknowable god, along with the God of Abraham as he had understood God prior to his experience on the Damascus Road, with what he encounters in Jesus Christ.  Paul’s enlightening experience, changed perspective and new outlook is, to him, all-surpassing.  He finds—or is found by—something that surpasses everything he has believed to be true about God, law, culture, community, relationships, life and love.  And this surpassing experience is what he spends the rest of his life trying to describe, trying to share, trying to help others experience, trying to understand and explore and expand his previously-prescribed boundaries into.  And the most, the best, the highest, the simplest way he describes what he experiences and is trying to share comes down to one reality: love.

Paul is ready to meet people where they are in their diverse conceptions of God, in their search for meaning, in their culturalisms and spiritualisms and religious iconographies and, yes, even and particularly in their entrapment in Christian Phariseeism and sense of superiority over all other religions, in the hope and confidence that love—transcendent and transformational—will have its way.  Paul is confident that this love is embodied in and found through Jesus and he is more than ready to assert powerful claims and arguments in support of that conviction.  But, remember, for Paul—as for many of us—the way into faith defined by love was not via exclusive claims and arguments, but through an experience of grace.  Perhaps we can find it within ourselves to offer such grace to other seekers and worshipers, too, in hope and confidence that they, too, will experience such love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

POINT TO LOVE

Do not mock the one who
worships what she does not
understand and so conceives
of lofty yet inexplicable
certitudes and powers.
The Revealer has given
clues that could lead to
wildly diverging conclusions
by our finite minds. But
let all our hearts point
to love.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"FEAR HAS BEEN DEFEATED; THERE'S NO TURNING BACK"

It was inspiring listening to Anderson Cooper of CNN read this piece from Cairo today


Eleven days and counting. Hard to believe so much has changed in so sort a time.  In Tahrir Square, the liberated zone, the anti-Mubarak protestors will tell you fear has been defeated. There’s no turning back.

When morning comes, you see the makeshift metal barricades, the hand-forged weapons, dug up rocks, bandaged bodies, they are still standing their ground. Fear has been defeated, they’ll tell you. There’s no turning back.

They bought this square with blood, paid for it with pain. Bruised, they’re not broken. Battered, they’ve not bowed. Fear has been defeated, they’ll tell you. There’s no turning back

Raised to keep silent, not criticize the state, beaten by cops, gassed and abused, turned on, attacked by fire-throwing thugs. They’ve stayed in the square, and today more kept on coming. Peacefully protesting, their lives on the line. Fear has been defeated. There’s no turning back

Some are Islamists, there’s no doubt about that. But this goes beyond one religion or party. That’s not why they’re here. They speak about freedom and fairness and justice. They speak about the things all of us say that we want. You never really heard that in Egypt in the past, at least not openly called for in the streets. Fear has been defeated. There’s no turning back.

All the reporters and camera people and producers have been working around the clock, trying to cover these fast-moving events. On the ground, among the anti-Mubarak demonstrators, it’s easy to move around, talk to people. It’s another story in pro-Mubarak crowds. Many of us have been attacked. It happens quickly, spirals out of control. All you can do is stay calm, try to escape. It’s not a coincidence, I plan: it’s a plan, clear as day. The people in power want to control what you see. We try to position ourselves in different spots. We find balconies that give a view of the battle. But if we can see them, they can see us. And sometimes you have to stop, close the curtains, move somewhere else. Fear has been defeated. There’s no turning back.

We’ve all heard the roar of the crowd, the cries of the wounded. For me, the most haunting sound echoes in the night. Sticks and stones banging on barricades as these anti-Mubarak demonstrators wait for an attack that inevitably comes. It’s a sound made by warriors all through the ages, a warning to those who have tried to defeat them. We are here, they’re saying. We are strong. We are not giving up. Fear has been defeated. There’s no turning back

View photos and listen to Anderson Cooper read this piece.