Monday, March 12, 2018

Chris Ladd’s Piece on the Cruelty of White Evangelicalism

Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel
By Chris Ladd

It was initially posted on Forbes’ site, but later removed. The author posted the article at the link above. It is a must read.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

I've Seen ( and experienced) Resurrection

Resurrection Narratives symbolize (for me) the possibility of renewal:
I’ve seen churches that were facing extinction experience a revival of passion and purpose and become thriving faith communities again.
I’ve seen people who were rejected by their families form new families of choice that were loving, functional, joyful, and life-giving.
I’ve seen people who were not the best parents get a second chance and prove themselves to be absolutely heroic grandparents.
I’ve seen old emotional wounds finally heal.
I’ve seen people who dropped out of school go back 50 years later and finish what they started.
I’ve seen people accomplish in wheelchairs more than they ever did when they had stronger bodies.
I’ve seen people face their addictions and live in freedom.
I’ve seen people outlive their prognoses by decades.
I’ve seen victims transform into survivors, and then into helpers who show others how to survive.
I’ve seen people come out and live in the powerful truth of their gender identity or their sexual orientation and realize that what they once thought of as a problem is in reality a great blessing.
I’ve seen people who had no self esteem come to believe that they are indeed God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!

Friday, March 02, 2018

Is the Bible Just a Bunch of Fairy Tales?

I am often asked if the bible is "just" a bunch of fairy tales or "just" some old stories. For a lover of stories, "just" seems misplaced. 

Religion is mythological. Myths are meant to help us get at truth, not facts. 

Bible stories, for me anyway, are allegories for life. I honestly couldn’t care less if not one thing in the Bible ever literally, factually happened...because in my experience, what the stories are trying to communicate are true and timeless and relevant for my life. I’m Joseph. I’m Jacob. I’m Mary. I’m Elizabeth. I’m Miriam. I’m Aaron. I’m Elijah. I’m Amos. I’m the serpent. I’m Eve. I’m Noah. I’m Peter. I’m Paul. I’m Stephen. Each story shows me who I am, or who I have been, or who I can be. Each story shows mistakes I’ve made or are likely to make. Each story shows me that redemption is possible, that I am more than what I currently know and more than what I’ve done so far. So, they are true for me, even if they are not factual (and, honestly, I doubt if many of them are entirely factual).

Remember the famous editorial in the 1897 Sun answering the question “Is there a Santa Claus?” When “Virginia” asks if Santa is real, the writer explains that what Santa represents (hope, generosity, kindness, goodwill, etc.) is very real and very much needed. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is the most remembered line from that piece. There isn’t a man living at the North Pole, flying with magic reindeer tossing presents under trees, but there is a human urge and need to care for others, to express love, to be generous...we need, and in our best moments believe in everything Santa is supposed to be. So, Santa is true, while not being factual. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Marcus Borg said there are three phases to faith development:
1. Precritical.
They sold it, we bought it. We accept the stories as they are, taking them as literal facts with no need to question them. This is how we start out.

2. Critical.
Things don’t make sense and we have a lot of questions. We start to not believe some of the stories. Walking on water? Lazarus coming to life after 4 days of decomposition? Abraham willing to slaughter his son? People in the desert being cured of snake venom by looking at a serpentine tchotchke? At the critical level, we start to call “bullshit.” [Of course Borg didn't say "B/S". The categories are his; the explanations of them in this piece are mine]

Most people get stuck at the first or second level. But Borg says there’s an important third. We have to go through 1 and 2 to get to #3, but 3 is the goal.

3. Post-critical.
That’s where we reclaim the stories and find new meaning and relevance in them. We don’t take them literally, but we no longer need to toss them out entirely. We read them and breathe new life into them and let them be free of the bondage of literalism and they become alive for us and fresh and exciting.

Sometimes people fear that expanding their understanding of and relationship to the bible is akin to giving up on God. One - don't worry about that. Two - we all give up old notions of God as we grow. We've all cast upon the garbage heap of life old gods (or understandings of the divine) that no longer serve us. Meister Eckhart wrote, “I pray God to make me free of God.” When God is presence and power and goodness and possibility rather than a person (with personality quirks), that may not be abandoning God as much as simply letting God be bigger for us...beyond description and images. Graven images of God are too limiting, that’s why the Decalogue discourages us from having them.

And what of the biblical Jesus? Was he a prophet? A teacher? Philosopher? Rebel? Social activist? Healer? Miracle worker? Revolutionary? Messiah? Divine being? Someone who lived so authentically into his humanity that people thought he must something more?

Jesus himself (in the story anyway) asks the important question: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Following Jesus, in my view, will include seeing Jesus differently over time. Relationships grow and evolve. If Jesus is going to have a primary place in my consciousness, then my understanding of him will probably change over time.  I don’t think we can get it wrong really, unless we stop trying. 

No wonder one is to work out one’s own salvation “with fear and trembling” (h/t the Apostle Paul)! It is a lot of work, and every question leads to more questions, and every answer must eventually be discarded or replaced or upgraded. But that’s the journey. That’s the faith walk. Doubting and questioning and wrestling and wondering...that’s the gig! And that’s what we see in scripture...people working out their stuff and sharing their journey in literary, symbolic, allegorical, metaphorical, mystical, mythical, tragic, comedic, political, ritualistic, poetic, clumsy, smooth, and courageous ways. 

Even if the characters aren’t real (and honestly, some aren't), the writers certainly were real, and the writers are using their characters to tell their stories and when we read and question them, we are adding our own. That’s the magic of scripture. Again, I don’t need one character to be historical in order for their stories to be relevant and powerful and life changing for me. 

Those of us who free ourselves of literalism find the Bible to be new and refreshing...offering something powerful with each new reading. It’s a conversation rather than a crystal ball, a builder’s tool rather than an anchor, an open door rather than a locked one.  So, maybe there was no Abraham. Almost certainly there was no global flood (there may have been a regional disaster). Of course Jonah didn’t live three days in a fish. Snakes and donkeys do not talk and never have. Virgins and 90 year old women don’t have babies. And the resurrection may be more about resurrecting hope and purpose and courage than about one body that was reanimated for a few weeks. AND...none of those “facts” change the truth that I find in each of those stories - truth that is applicable to my life, my journey, my faith. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Panther: A Truly GREAT Film (and here's why)

Of course I LOVED Black Panther. 
We got to see the glory of what could be without the evils of colonialism. 
We got to see the struggle with understanding the difference between serving and saving a nation. 
We got to see the struggle with the tempations of isolationism (and the possible dangers of openness, but still, we are left with the supremacy of bridges over barriers). 
We got to see the mixture of tradition and inovation. 
We got to see the complicated dance of fighting oppression without emulating the oppressor. 
We got to see the difficulties of being a good leader while also being a good person, a person whose values inspires the leadership rather than being sacrificed in the name of leadership. 
And we got to see the pain caused by even well intentioned dishonesty. 

A high regard for science and technology was featured. 
An almost all Black cast, no white savior (though the importance of being an ally was featured), the beauty of shamanic religion, and super bad-assed women warriors were all part of the mix. 

The governing council was gender balanced and age diverse. 
And, the message that war should always be a last resort was unambiguous. 

We also saw the danger of having an unprepared, illegitimate ruler fueled by hate and anger assume power. 

To Queer eyes, there was even a moment for LGBTQ people...a child was left behind/sacrificed to protect a lie (how many children have been abused, rejected, psychologically tormented to protect the lie that heteronormativity is sacred and anything else is damnable?)..the pain that caused impacted him and others for years thereafter. 

The film was beautiful and sophisticated and the social, philosophical, theological, psychological, and political messages artistically communicated could fuel a graduate level academic project (and probably will). All of that with breath taking vistas and thrilling action (and a sweet love story). And miraculously, with all of that going on, it wasn't scattered; it wasn't too much. It remained coherent, focused. The film was entertaining and empowering at the same time. By almost every measure, it is a truly great film.

Monday, February 19, 2018

I Can Say Something Good About Most Presidents, but Not Trump

Today I reflect on President Ford trying to bring healing and normalcy after Watergate. 
I recall President Carter as one of the most moral and decent presidents in U.S. history. 
I remember President Reagan appointing the first woman to the Supreme Court. 
I remember President Bush organizing (with James Baker) a global coalition that quickly and decisively liberated Kuwait from Iraq. I also remember him signing the Americans with Disabilities Act. 
I remember the charm and erudition of President Clinton (and the strong economy he presided over).
I remember the 2nd President Bush appointing the first African American Secretary of State and the first woman National Security Advisor (who later became the first Black woman Secretary of State). 
I remember President Obama being an orator, a diplomat, and a constitutional scholar as well as the first African American president, appointing the most diverse cabinet ever, appointing the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, and overseeing the most gains for LGBTQ Americans in US history. 
I recall Hillary Clinton being the first FLOTUS to hold elected office and being the first woman to  head a major party presidential ticket (and making history by winning the poplar vote in that election - “the people’s president”). 

I can say at least one good thing about every president in my lifetime (I was too young to remember Johnson, who did increase the safety net making life better for may Americans, and I barely remember Nixon); from Ford on, there was something admirable about each president. Until now. 
Without being partisan or petty or intentionally mean, I honestly cannot say one good thing about the current president’s skill, intellect, character, motives, or achievements. 

On this President’s Day I celebrate the good that was done by all the presidents of my lifetime (choosing to not focus on mistakes or philosophies and policies I might have disagreed with)...except the current one. And that, truly, makes me sad (and more than a little nervous). Nevertheless, may our nation find healing and reclaim its potential and promise.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Pastoral Response to ANOTHER Mass Shooting


A Pastoral Response to ANOTHER Mass Shooting
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral
Fort Lauderdale, FL

A high school in Broward County has been attacked. Another mass shooting. More victims. More traumatized children. More devastated families.

There have been almost 30 mass shootings in the US just in the last 45 days. Let that sink in. No other developed nation has such an incomprehensible mass shooting epidemic.

I used to say, “that’s not who we are.” I acted as if each outrageous mass assault was an appalling exception to who we are as a nation. And, of course, the attackers are few in comparison to the larger population. But I can no longer say it isn’t who we are. It continues to happen and we do very little to prevent it from happening again.

Oh, some of us cry, or pray, or yell  into the ether that someone should do something. But how many of us demand that our government leaders do something? How many of us use our vote to bring about positive change? How many of us can’t be bothered to vote in any case? Our inaction, apathy, or acceptance of this on-going soul sickness of our nation is showing who we are. I don’t like it any more than you do. In fact, it breaks my heart to say it. But the evidence is clear: As of this moment, this IS who are. We are a nation that allows our children to be sprayed with bullets.

This time, the tragedy is in my county. This time, the violence is on my local news broadcast. This time, the senseless brutality has struck near me. But, of course, it was naive to ever imagine it wouldn’t be my community next.

Aurora showed that this could happen anywhere.
Sandy Hook Elementary School showed that this could happen anywhere.
The Washington Navy yard showed that this could happen anywhere.
San Bernardino showed that this could happen anywhere.
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston showed that this could happen anywhere.
The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX showed that this could happen anywhere.
The Pulse nightclub in Orlando showed that this could happen anywhere.
Las Vegas showed that this could happen anywhere.
And now, Douglas High School in Broward County.

God forgive me for not expecting it. God forgive me for not shouting from the rooftops many mass shooting ago, “We’re infected with an apathy toward violence and it’s time to repent.”

It’s time for prophetic voices to call for us to beat our swords into plough shares.

This is not a political issue where many sides have merit. This is a nation that calls itself good, democratic, and evolved that has allowed mass violence to happen so routinely that multiple deaths no longer stun us or even remain in our thoughts for long beyond the initial news of the event.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, on this day of repentance, that is, on a day that calls for a change of heart and attitude, I do lift my voice to call my congregation, my community, my family, and my nation to repentance. Bullets are raining down on us like a biblical plague. Children are dying. We talk and sing and preach about peace when there is no peace. Toxic attitudes come to kill, steal and destroy. And it is time for people of faith, and leaders of communities of faith, to speak up and say, “Enough!”

Let us pray for the victims of today’s violence. But let us not take too much comfort in our prayers, especially if those prayers are not leading us to speak up and to do what we can to change a culture where mass murder is normalized. Let us pray, and then let us be the answer to our prayers.

Who we are is a country infected with out of control violence and too little righteous indignation about that. But, just maybe, we are also a country that remembers the moral victories of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement, the Marriage Equality movement, and maybe, please God let it be so, we are the kinds of people who are determined to work for what is right again, and to not settle for anything less than the healing our country so desperately needs.

For our country and our culture, I pray the words of a hymn which is also my favorite prayer of repentance:
“Dear Mother-Father of us all, forgive our foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful minds, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.” Amen.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

It Took Trump to Make Me Appreciate Other GOP Presidents

When the U.S. invaded Lebannon I called the 40th POTUS a maniacal bastard in a sociology class. After presiding over 100 or so AIDS funerals, I called the same POTUS a murderer (blaming his silence and his reluctance to address the AIDS crisis or provide funding for research and care on helping the epidemic take more lives than it needed to). Today, I look back and while still disagreeing with his philosophies, policies, and inaction regarding a health crisis, I now see a decent if flawed human who was sincere in his beliefs even if I did not share them and who conducted himself with diginty and decorum. You shouldn't get bonus points for not being a total A-hole, but these days that seems like a really big PLUS.

Poppy Bush never really embarrassed me (except when he puked on the Japanese PM, but hey, people get sick...what can you do?). He built a world coalition to save Kuwait from Iraqi agreesion (or, James Baker did, but he was smart enough to have JB). Of course, he also chose an idiot for his VP and that was a little scary. Still, over all, he was a pretty good president (although we now know he may have gotten a little handsy now and then...SMH).

When Bill Clinton (who I very much admired) signed DOMA and allowed DADT turn into a witch hunt, i was disappointed. I know he believed in government and to govern is to make sacrifices and compromises, but nevertheless, I felt a little betrayed. And then when he had an affair with an intern (I didn't care about his sex life nor did I presume to know the covenant that he had made with his wife, but I was very much disappointed in the abuse of power - the most powerful man in the world seducing or allowing himself to be seduced by a virtually powerless intern - the breech of ethics was astounding), my only defense of him was that being a bad husband didn't make him a bad leader. In hind sight, taking advantage of an intern is almost unforgivable and I should have been more outraged. Still, his charm, his oratory skills, his intellect...those I miss to this day.

When W. invaded the wrong country for the wrong reason and lied about WMD, and when he "won" his first term ever so barely (damn Nader), I was certain he was the worst president in history. But, I think he really cared about most people, never intended to be cruel, thought of himself as a public servant, and while I bemoaned every minute of his presidency (he was certainly no advocate of LBGTQ rights), I'd trade the one we have now for him in a minute (but not his satanic vice president...what is it with the Bush boys and their veeps?).

President Obama was pretty close to perfect. Historic private sector job growth, marriage equality, protections for Trans people, elogquent speeches, optimistic rhetoric, a brilliant mind, a kind and generous demeanor, a way of connecting with people that was almost magical, a constitutional scholar, someone who took more abuse than anyone should with more grace than almost anyone could, recovery from the Great Recession...but even he, though close to perfect was not perfect. I was very disappointed with his use of drones and with his not fighting harder to get his legimitate SCOTUS choice to have a Senate hearing.

I'm a left of center kind of guy on most issues and my candidate doesn't always win, but I was never humiliated by any of the presidents. I was a kid for Johnson/Nixon/Ford/Carter and my views of them are shaped by what the grown folk were saying and by historical accounts (though I really like me some Jimmy Carter...he may be the best "person" to occupy the WH in my lifetime with BHO tying or coming in a razor thin second...I'm talking character, not skill, though both had plenty of that as well), but I have lived through Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama as an adult and in the end, they were all decent people...not always right in my view, but never evil, never insane, never cruel or infantile or a danger to the planet.

I don't think I will look back on 45 with the grace I have discovered for his predecessors. I hope we survive 45. But even the worst circumstances reveal a blessing. It took 45 to make me appreciate 40 and 43. The GOP platform is just too radically different from my values for me to vote for their candidates, but hopefully I will not in the future demonize candidates simply for having different views. Good people can disagree. Now, I will remain vehement and adamant when it comes to human rights - whether its LGBTQ people or immigrants or refugees or Muslims or whoever...justice and equality shouldn't be negotiable...but I believe that there are Republicans who share that view.

45 IS the worst ever (the data is pretty conclusive), and he is the most mendacious ever (a neat trick in the world of politics which lends itself to spin, exaggeration, and lies of omission), and he may be the most dangerous ever. He is the least decent and least moral. I find nothing good or commendable about him, except that his ineptitude and viciousness forced me to rethink some of his predecessors and see their good qualities. So, thanks for the lesson 45...Now, if only a house would fall on you and some chick with a dog from the midwestwould throw a bucket of water on Pence...