Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent Midweek 1

This is the outline of the reflection I shared at last night's Advent midweek Vespers service. As one might expect, this outline does not contain exactly the words that were spoken, but it's pretty close.

Before the reflection, Luke 24:28-35 was read.

***

When they came to Emmaus, [Jesus] acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

      ~ text from the Common English Bible

***

They talked with one another as they walked along
which we, so often stuck in our cars
don’t seem to do much any more

sure, we talk with our friend who’s in the car with us
but the stranger going along the same road, not so much

of course, whenever I’m on a road trip, traveling down a highway
I often recognize the cars travelling more-or-less the same speed
we pass each other as we go along
leapfrogging when our gasoline or lunch stops don’t coincide

the thing is, though, I don’t know anything about them,
and I don’t have the opportunity to know anything about them
other than their driving habits
that one never signals … that one drives recklessly …
I hope the state troopers are parked just over that hill

it’d be different if we were walking along
for instance, when I’m hiking I have pleasant conversations
with at least 75% of the strangers I meet
sure, I may get annoyed with some people,
but I’d know a little more about them
than only why they bother me
they stop being a set of behaviors, and they become in my eyes a real person

so on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus
they had a little bit different of an experience than we do when we travel
they were talking with each other as they walked along
and as they did, Clopas and his companion
were surprised by the stranger’s knowledge and understanding of scripture
he was a real person to them,
yet they still did not recognize him

Then, in the intimacy of a shared meal,
they experienced the fullness of the incarnation

the incarnation – a doctrinal articulation of the truth
that God meets us in flesh, face to face


the incarnation – that which we celebrate at Christmas
when God arrives in this world as an infant

the incarnation – when God sits across the table from us

the incarnation – that which we spend Advent anticipating
but it’s not *only* God’s incarnation as an infant which we anticipate

more significantly, we do our best during this season of Advent
to sharpen our pay-attention-skills

so that we can watch for Messiah enfleshed
at any time
in any place
in the person of *any* one of the strangers
that we take the time to meet
as we go on our way

Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gun Laws - Some More Thoughts

We have a problem in our country. Well, we have lots of problems, but the one I want to address is the problem we have with people being killed as a result of gunfire.

In this country, since the Sandy Hook school massacre, there have been by some counting methods over 900 mass shootings. Of course, some will argue that we should use different counting methods, which gives us a number between 140 and 150.

During that same time period, there are by some counts over 32,000 people killed in this country by gunfire.

Those numbers are too big. No matter which numbers you use, those numbers are too big. Too many people are being killed by gunfire in this country - the statistics are comparable to some countries that are experiencing armed conflict (war).

I'm not interested in parsing the numbers. Maybe the ones I found online are off, and maybe you have better data. If we're going to parse numbers, the first questions I'm interested in asking would be, "How many people being killed by gunfire in this country is acceptable?"

Now as soon as we start talking about how many people die by gunfire, the conversation moves to the second amendment to the US Constitution (the assumption being, apparently, that government is planning to take away everyone's firearms). Of course, we'll have disagreements on the interpretation of the second amendment, particularly whether the right to keep and bear arms stands on its own, or whether that right in inextricably linked to the establishment of a well-regulated militia.

Then what happens is that individuals and groups seem to get entrenched in their position, calling for either more restrictions on firearm purchases and ownership or stating vehemently that we already have enough gun laws.

Fine. We disagree with each other. This is not the first time that's happened in anyone's life. Remember kindergarten? Remember learning how to negotiate the use of that one particular toy that two of you wanted? Some of us simply learned how to get the toy we wanted by yelling about it, or by simply taking it. On school playgrounds, those children are crybabies or bullies.

Those of us who learned conflict resolution in healthy ways learned how to listen to each other, and how to talk with each other. Surely by the time we get to be adults, we've discovered how to talk and listen, instead of whining and bullying (though to observe Congress, you might not think so).

So, no matter what the numbers are, I think we would all agree that something needs to change in our country in relation to how many people are killed by gunfire. If you don't think thousands of people being killed every year is problematic, you probably didn't read this far anyway.

I would propose the following:

1) Tighten the gunshow loophole. Set a limit on how many guns an individual is able to sell before they are categorized as a dealer. Maybe the number is 5 guns per month. Maybe it's 20 guns per year. Maybe it's a different number, but let's put a number to it so that the law actually has some teeth.

2) Restrict the sale of assault style and military style weapons. Unless a person is part of an assault team, or is in the military, I don't understand what reasonable use they'd have for that kind of weapon. And since we already restrict what kinds of firearms a person can own (I don't think it's legal for me to own anti-aircraft weaponry), this restriction is simply one of degree, not kind.

3) Restrict the size of ammunition magazines that citizens are permitted to own. If a person is truly and honestly worried about nine rounds not being enough to deter an intruder into their home, they either need better training in the use of firearms, or they have a reason to need police protection.

4) Require licensing, registration, training, and insurance for all gun owners. We do it for automobiles, we should be able to do that for firearms. Obviously some people wouldn't be able to pass the training. Some people don't pass driver's training either.

We don't allow those people to drive because we, as a society, have determined that they're not able to do so safely. If a person can't pass the training, they probably can't safely own a firearm ... and so probably shouldn't.

Obviously the simple fact of passing laws isn't going to force everyone to follow them. However, the reason we pass laws (ideally) is for the betterment of our society. In this case, I'd propose that we pass these laws in order to keep people safe.

Will everyone follow them? Of course not. We have laws on our books regulating the use of child safety seats in automobiles. Does everyone follow them? Of course not. Did the passage of those laws decrease the number of child deaths in car accidents? Yes it did. And for that reason, the laws are worthwhile.

If passing laws regulating firearms decreases the number of people who die from gunfire, then they're worth passing.

***

Some people, and maybe even some of you my seven readers, may disagree with me. That's fine. In fact, that's encouraged. I'm not so bold as to think I have thought through everything I need to consider. And I'm not so arrogant as to think I'm always right.

So please disagree with me. But instead of simply railing against this (or any other) proposal, I invite you to offer your own opinion about what needs to change. Because obviously something does.

$0.02

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mass Shootings, Gun Control, and Politics ... some thoughts

I posted a link on Facebook to a website with mass shooting statistics for 2015. In response, a friend (who I really like, and with whom I disagree on any number of issues) asked a question privately. My friend asked what my perfect solution would be. Here’s my response to my friend’s question, expanded from what I responded on FB messenger.

***

The trouble with this issue (mass shootings that happen in our society) is that it's way more complicated than anyone seems to want to admit, especially politicians and others with a financial stake in any part of it. But here’s what I’d do.

I would probably advocate first (for non-politicians) that people put down electronic devices, get out of their houses and out of the friend groups that *only* reinforce what they already believe. I'd advocate that we interact with our neighbors, that we sit down and eat with people we don't know and with people we don't agree with. 

I'd want to require politicians to have dinner with a member of the other party at least once a month, and prohibit them from talking politics during that time. 

Both of these would help us to recognize that the people who might disagree with us are still people, valuable members of society. 

Further, I'd shorten the presidential and congressional campaign season and set a limit on political fundraising, getting big money out of politics and preventing elected leaders from becoming so beholden to corporations and wealthy individuals. 

Without doing those things, or something else that would achieve the same results (less animosity between individuals of different parties, less money in politics), we won't ever be able to come up with sensible regulations (of guns, of individuals' mental health, of corporations, of militias) for much of anything, and we'll keep yelling at each other instead of listening to each others' pains and struggles and joys and celebrations. 

It's not only about the mass shootings ... they're just a symptom of the dysfunction that is our political reality these days ... and after years of continued prevalence of shootings, nothing had changed - we've just gotten accustomed to people shooting each other, and that's not ok (imho).

However, while it’s not only about the mass shootings, that is the presenting issue … and along with the mass shootings, we must address our nation’s gun regulations.

We already live with gun regulations. For instance, I can legally own a handgun and a rifle and a shotgun. Some convicted felons, however, are prohibited from owning any of those. That’s regulation. And I’m relatively certain that I am prohibited from owning anti-aircraft weaponry. That’s regulation.

So the question for politicians to address is what kind of firearm regulation is appropriate. However, when politicians have received huge contributions from corporations and individuals who have a financial interest (for instance) in selling guns, they’ll have a tendency to vote against stricter regulation. When politicians have received huge contributions from individuals who have experienced personal loss as a result of firearms, they’ll have a tendency toward enacting stricter regulations.

The more money there is in politics, the less elected leaders are able to actually listen to constituents.

Further, and this is critical, when we see people who disagree with us as the ‘other’, we’re easily able to vilify our enemies, seeing them as less than us.

At the same time, if we have spent significant time with people who are different from us, we begin to recognize that they’re not too different from us. We begin to recognize that they’re people, too. We begin to recognize that it’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’ … it’s all ‘us’.

The thing is, I have to believe that politicians really do want the best for our nation, for our society. If I didn’t believe that, I’d simply sink into despair … so I really do believe that they all want the best for all of us.

So, to the guns. If politicians recognize that their opponent is a real person instead of simply an enemy … if politicians recognize that everyone wants the best for our society, and we simply disagree with each other about what that means … if the huge sums of money are removed from the whole political process … then the elected leaders might be able to sit down, actually listen to each other’s thoughts and concerns, and then come up with a reasonable solution.

But right now, it seems like no one actually listens to anyone else. Which is why I believe it’s a much bigger problem than just the guns.

$0.02

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ferguson

The decision announced last night to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mr. Michael Brown is no longer only about this one incident, if it ever even was. This incident has become, and is, about the state of race relations in this country that so many of us love.

At the congregation I serve as pastor, we've begun working in earnest to equip folks with the tools to intentionally share their faith with younger generations. We recognize that, as much as church leaders might want to be incharge of everything having to do with faith, parents have a much greater influence on their children than anyone else ever will.

Parents, or more specifically the adults with whom children spend the most time, are the ones who (intentionally or accidentally) share their worldview with young people. Kids learn how the world works from their parents.

I move through every day assuming that I'll be safe, that I'll be able to get what I need at almost any time, and that I'll have access to someone who has the power and authority to change what needs to be changed in order to make my personal situation the way it should be. That's how my parents taught me to move through the world

What do you assume about the world? If you're white, and especially if you're straight and male, you very well may make similar assumptions to mine.

If you grew up in this country black, or Latino/a, or Asian, or Native, or with any skin color darker than (northern) European, you almost certainly learned something different about how the world works.

See, we learn about the world from our ancestors. I grew up trusting authorities, at least in part because my ancestors had essentially been treated fairly by the culture in which we live.

Most people who grew up in this country with darker skin than mine grew up with decades or centuries of history of being treated unfairly. That deeply-embedded family history cannot be turned around simply because the voting laws changed 50 years ago. It takes generations of everything being different before culture even begins to truly be any different.

From a priviliged white perspective, this is what Ferguson is about. Folks are looking around, seeing that what we have is broken, and demanding that things change.

I'm not a legal expert, so I can't offer an opinion about whether Officer Darren Wilson ought to be indicted.

I do know that Mr. Michael Brown was killed without an indictment or a trial or a sentencing.

Which leads me to believe that our system, our culture, our world needs to be indicted, put on trial, and (most importantly) rehabilitated.

And the place to start, perhaps, would be to start trusting one another - specifically, for white people to start trusting that when people of color talk about how they experience life in our society, they're telling the truth.

$0.02

Monday, July 7, 2014

Belonging

The other day, the day after I arrived back at my home after a mont-long journey, I went to work out at the (amazing, fantastic, unbelivable) gym where I'm a member.

I walked in to the gym, into a large group of people, into a surprising welcome. I felt like the mere fact that I had returned and was going to work out again was celebrated - I felt like I had arrived at a place where I belong.

(At this point in the story, I'm compelled to recall the theme song from that 80s sitcom ~ a song completely and fully about welcome.)

Now, granted, I'm a regular at the gym, and have been for a couple of years. I'm not new, I'm there pretty frequently, and I show up a different class times, so I get to know more people than just one subset of the gym membership.

Of course some of the people there the other day didn't welcome me back, simply because they don't know me. But the ones who I'd spent tiem with seemed genuinely glad that I had returned.

***

I'm thinking about three specific families who I've known in my capacity as a pastor. Each of these families had been members of the congregation for at least four years (or as long as 15). For each of these families, life circumstance had taken them away from the congregation for between 6 months and two years.

When life circumstance brought them back, I observed them slip quietly into a pew with hardly any notice from anyone in the congregation.

***

What's the difference between my gym and many congregation?

  • Is it that I spend 2-5 days per week at the gym, while most people spend 2-4 days per month at church. I show up at they gym at least four times more often than most people show up at church?
  • Is it that we suffer together at the gym, while most people show up to church acting as if they don't experience suffering at all, and therefore don't need to share suffering?
  • Is it that the simple act of showing up at the gym is an implicit (or explicit) admission that we fall short and need improvement, while at church we do our best to hide our faults?
  • Is it something else?


These are real questions, and I'm genuinely interested to hear what my eight readers think.

$0.02

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Royalty

Royalty

* Royalty: an internationally-connected, and often wealthy, group of people who stewards a nation and provides for the large-scale needs of all of the people.

* Peasantry: a locally-connected, and often not wealthy, group of people who steawards the local land and landscape, and who provide for the small-scale needs of all of the people.

* Definitions you see above: idealistic visions of royalty and peasantry, which probably have never been and will never be realized in the actual world.


***

It doesn't usually work like this. And so royalty is baffling to me, a person who's never lived in a society with any collective experience of royalty. I don't understand the English fascination with royalty.

The other day, we visited a palace. The beauty and impressive grandeur of the place were inescapable. I was impressed.

But just below the surface and equally inescapable to our perception, was a very uncomfortable class system that made itself evident in our experience of the palace - that gave me the feeling of being used by the aristocracy for their own gain at my expense.

What I expected was a tour of the palace and an opportunity to see how a palace might have functioned in the past. That's what we got at the other historical places we've visited on this trip - why wouldn't we expect the same?

I would have loved some kind of compare-and-contrast presentation - maybe a look at the staterooms and the kitchen as they functioned in 1800; maybe an articuilation of the differences between the bedrooms used by a dutchess and her maid's chambers; maybe an explanation of the differences between the life of a 10-year-old son of the duke and the 10-year-old son of the footman.

What we got, though, was a walk thorugh a few staterooms and an un-engaging history of the palace, while most of the palace was private residence and therefore off-limits to the public. Of course, I also got the feeling that my money is being used to prop us a system that benefits very few and has virtually no place in today's world.

Of course, I'm willing to stipulate that there may still be a place in the world for royalty. For that to be the case, though, the whole system would necessarily have to be restructured - everything would have to start from scratch in order to get anywhere close to the ideal.

Of course, one could make similar criticisms of the church.

$0.02


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Public Houses

I've had the pleasure of enjoying some extended time in Scotland and England over the past couple of weeks. While most of the trip has been fantiastic, I'm interested right this minute in public houses (pubs). Sure, I enjoy having a beer - but my interest is deeper than that.

Dictionaries don't seem to distinguish, but common parlance here in the UK seems to note a difference between the following: pub, ale house, tavern, bar. (Because this is posted on the internet, I have no doubt that if I get this wrong, someone will correct me ... in fact, I expect someone may correct me even if I get it right.) To wit, I heard the following: "He went into a pub ... no, it was more of an ale house."

The bars I've been in, most of which have been in the US, seem to exist so that people can drink. Sure, there are often other things to do in bars (pool, darts, conversation, etc.), but drinking is primary.

On the other hand, my experience of Scottish and English pubs is that they exist as gathering places. Sure, ales and lagers and whiskies are consumed, but the conversation that happens as community gathers together seems to be central.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a pub. Around me there are three groups of 2-5 people sitting and sharing conversation. I'm the only person sitting alone, and that's only because I'm writing.

At another pub, there were at least 35 people in a 12'x12' space. In addition to the musician singing from behind his guitar in one corner, there were no fewer than five conversations, at least one of which was between strangers. I know this, because the person next to me started a conversation with me even while I was writing. Then, when the musician took a smoke break, another patron stopped his own conversation in order to sing his own song.

Another time I was interrupted in the midst of writing was when I was surrounded by at least 60 people gathered almost shoulder to shoulder filling a pub that was also filled with friendly conversation and impromptu live music.

It may well be simply because I'm in a foreign place that I see with idealistic vision - or maybe the pubs I've been in have just been really great. Still, the culture seems to be that whoever shows up at a public house has a place to belong, and everyone who shows up belongs there simply because they've walked in the door.

I appreciate the idea and practice of a local establishment being a regular gathering place where everyone is welcome, where ideas can be exchanged, and where life can be lamented and celebrated.

$0.02