Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Navigating the Difficulties

The storms. Mother Nature crying out in pain. Climate change, and those who reject the evidence of it. Fires. Earthquakes. The threat of war. People terrified of losing lifesaving healthcare. Xenophobia. The normalization of blatant racism. Demonization of same-gender loving people. Dehumanization of gender non-conforming, gender queer, and transgender people. Islamaphobia. Anti-Semitism. Inexperience and ineptitude in high places. And this is all in addition to personal difficulties, uncertainties, regrets, and fears which might seem daunting enough without angst on a global level. 

How to find peace in the midst of the chaos? How to hold onto faith, or at very least, hope? 

For me, this is where spirituality comes to the rescue. I turn to my sacred texts and I find Joseph recovering from betrayal, false accusations, abandonment and not only surviving but thriving and helping others do so as well. I see Jacob wrestling with the unknown and refusing to give up until he receives a blessing. I see Ruth widowed and in distress but finding ways to survive and take care of her loved ones. I see Jesus having love for Lazarus that death itself could not sever. I see Hagar crying because she has been exploited and abandoned by a powerful man and is alone in a desert facing almost certain death when suddenly she finds a well in the wilderness and a friendly community and her life is saved and takes on new meaning. The sacred stories remind me that difficulties are part of life, but so is navigating them and finding new opportunities and renewed joy. 

The faith community is also a source of strength for me. We pray together, sing together, laugh together, cry together...TOGETHER. We're never alone. We don't have to face anything in isolation. 

And in addition to stories and community, spirituality gives me the gift of prayer. Prayer for me is an inward experience, an embrace of high ideals, a immersion in hope, a summoning of strength, a moment to draw from the well of peace, a reminder that there are possibilities that we may yet see and seize. Prayer also reminds me that I am part of a larger life that cannot be diminished by any situation or circumstance. 

Maybe some of us are feeling a bit overwhelmed these days. There are many ways to navigate the difficulties. My primary way is to engage and depend on my spirituality: my sacred texts, my loving community, and the comforting power of prayer. My prayer in this moment is that those facing the storms in the Atlantic or any storm in life discover within themselves an abundance of peace, hope, courage, and comfort. Amen.  (dw)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Blessings in a Stormy Time

Re: Waiting for Hurricane Irma to Hit South Florida

Spent the last couple of days talking with people who are evacuating, and with people who are staying. Each has her or his compelling reasons, but what has been beautiful is how people are supporting one another. Those leaving are being offered places to stay by friends, relatives, and in some instances even strangers. Those staying are encouraging one another and helping one another stock up supplies and put up shutters. If good wishes, kind words, and heartfelt prayers were money, almost everyone I know would be a millionaire right now. Even the veterinary clinic was hopping today with people getting anti-anxiety meds for their pets in case the storm should frighten them. Even love of animals is thick in the air right now. 
Storm clouds may be rolling in, but hope is also blowing and love is making land fall long before rain ever does. Even in this time of uncertainty, blessings abound, and for that I am very grateful. (dw)

Monday, August 28, 2017

In Defense of Joel Osteen (sort of)

In Defense of Joel Osteen (sort of):

I don't share Joel Osteen's politics. I find his understanding of scripture to be overly simplistic and his theology to be shallow at best. 

I do appreciate Joel's commitment to sharing a positive attitude. And, I do not begrudge him the success of his ministry. People judge him harshly because of his huge congregation, and the apparent affluence of his ministry. But success isn't necessarily a "bad" thing and if people flock to his services by the thousands, they must feel they are receiving something useful from the experience. Are they more hopeful? Kinder? More generous? More determined to grow spiritually? If so, then how could I condemn a ministry that apparently brings healing to human hearts? 

I don't know the helping ministries his church offers. Do they feed people? Offer education? Do they have support groups? Do they have hospital visitation teams? Do they pray for the sick, the lonely, the fearful? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I wouldn't simply assume that they don't. In fact, for so many people to find their church compelling I would be more likely to assume that they do offer life-enhancing ministries to people with various needs. 

Earlier today, there were many posts on social media condemning Osteen's church for not opening up their property to displaced people after Hurricane Harvey. Since then, there are reports that they have done so. Were they planning to do so all along? Were they, like so many, overwhelmed by the suffering and needed some time to decide what they could do? Were they reluctant to become a temporary shelter until they were criticized and then changed their minds? Again, I have no way of knowing, but it does seem as if they are now helping people displaced by the storm. Why they are doing it isn't for me to judge. I assume human compassion has something to do with it.

As I said before, I don't share J.O.'s politics and I disagree with certain points of his theology. But I also assume from his success that people are getting needs met in his church, that they are supporting it with time, talent, and treasure because it is important to them, and that it is at least possible that Joel is motivated by high ideals and goodwill even if he and I disagree on many things. 

I can disagree with Joel without needing to be jealous of his success or demonizing his every action. There are people who use religion to promote hate, defend bigotry, and sow discord (Jefress, Falwell Jr., Robertson, and F. Graham come to mind)...I can't tell (so far) that Osteen is in that camp. I don't have to sign up for the Joel fan club, but neither do I need to paint him as evil. There are bigger (or at least more hateful) fish to fry. I have no energy for attacking Joel Osteen...and unlike some of the Bible thumping glitterati, Joel actually seems to give people hope and affirm their dignity...and that is something I can appreciate. 

Prayer for Houston after Hurricane Harvey

Dear God, Houston and the surrounding areas are very much on our hearts today, and they will stay in our thoughts for days to come. Of course we send them our love and best wishes, and we know that angels seen and unseen are present in Texas to offer comfort and aid. We give thanks for first responders, for human resilience, for neighborly kindness that motivates people to look out for one another, for indomitable hope, for organizations that are prepared to offer aid to those in need, and for donors and volunteers who make such aid possible. Let healing emerge from this situation and may we look for ways to meet and minister to human needs rather than diminish avenues of support. When the waters of the deluge recede, may hope and dignity be left standing stronger and more determined than ever before, for your mercy's sake. Amen. 

To donate to help with disaster relief, visit RedCross.org or call 1.800.RedCross or text HARVEY to 90999.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time to Get Real about Racism

It's good that we now universally get that "racism" is a bad thing (which is why even racists deny that they are). But racism is more than acting out publicly, saying deliberately unkind things, or having conscious hostility toward people of color. 

By accident of birth I am Caucasian. In this country that affords me some unearned privileges that people of color cannot necessarily take for granted. I am unlikely to be stopped for no reason. If stopped, I am unlikely to be harassed or threatened. At 50, I will never have the indignity of being called "boy" or asked to show a driver's license even if I am walking somewhere. Rarely on an elevator will I notice women clutching their purses tighter because of my presence. I've never had to wonder if walking in a hoodie in certain neighborhoods would cost me my life. If I were to miraculously become president, I wouldn't have my very citizenship called into question, and if I did, the person who led such a mean spirited campaign against my Americanness would certainly not wind up being the next president! And, I won't have to hear people telling me to get over the centuries of injustice that continues to inject racist assumptions into our daily lives. 

I try to be aware. Educated. Sensitive. I really want to be a good person. And still, I find myself using language sometimes that suggests whiteness is normative or my experience is universal. That's racism. It isn't conscious or intentional, but on some level I depend on the safety that simply looking white affords me. There are other perils in my life, but I will never be targeted by the systems of power for the color of my skin. That means that racism has infected me also. It means I have more work to do. 

It's not enough to not use pejorative language about the "Other" or to have a friend or two who doesn't look like you. It's not enough to have a racially mixed family or attend a fairly diverse church or have a family or two on the block who looks or sounds different from you. It isn't enough to say racism is bad or to pray for peace or unity when racial tensions explode somewhere. It isn't enough to say "we should be Americans first" or "we're all part of the one human family." 

If we think Nazis include "Good people" or that the murdered are as culpable as the murderers in acts of domestic terrorism, or that protesting white supremacy is as bad as white supremacy, or if we are bored or unconcerned with reminders of Native American genocide, of Brown families being torn apart by draconian deportation policies, with our history of denying Japanese Americans liberty simply because of their ancestry, or with the heartbreaking stories of Jim Crow whose attitudes plague our country still, or if we are completely unaware or intentionally ignorant about the realities of white privilege, or if we are untroubled by white supremacists in government or if we are silent when government leaders of any party refuse to condemn white supremacists and their actions (without adding false equivalencies between them and their victims), then we are not free of racism and we have work to do. 

It's probably a good sign that no one wants to be thought of as a racist. It will be better when no one wants to BE a racist. That may not be possible, but the goal is worthy nevertheless. And yes, white friends, neighbors, and family...WE are responsible for enjoying unearned privilege without trying to make society more fair, and we are responsible for not doing enough to confront and combat racism in our midst and in our hearts. Not owning that responsibility is also racist. Let's do better. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Business Ethics "Trump" Religion

CEOs leaving the Trump corporate advisory board to protest racism and authoritarianism prompted him to disband the committee entirely. However, so far not a single evangelical has left his religious advisory board in protest. How/when did big business leaders become more ethical than religious leaders? How embarrassing for those of us who are persons of faith!
The religious right has long worshiped their fears and prejudices and tried to tell us they were principles, values, and devotion...but now, I wonder if they honestly believe their own hype. Has this unrepentant, unreflective, racist, xenophobic, mendacious, sexual predator really become the cultic symbol and savior for christian fundamentalism? And if so, whatever have they done with the justice seeking, compassionate, healing, radically inclusive Jesus?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Removing Hate Symbols Isn't Erasing History

Removing Hate Symbols Is Not Erasing History
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

I get it...If we grew up in Hot Springs or Augusta or Mobile or New Orleans or Richmond or Memphis...there are things about our home towns we love; and, we don't want to think of our heritage as being cruel or unenlightened (but, no one's story is all nobility, wisdom, and grace). We love our crawfish and our cornbread dressing and our collard greens and our fried okra. We love our gardens and relatively mild winters (very mild in south Florida). We are proud of Vanderbilt, Tulane, Prairie View, Southern, Emory, Rice, William and Mary, and UNC-Chapel Hill. We enjoy the fact that log cabins, grand mansions, and manufactured homes all exist within the same family. We find a Blanche DuBois or Julia Sugarbaker accent to be musical and pleasant to our ears. Some of us like duck, squirrel, and deer hunting (not me, but many do). We may even take pride in the fact that 3 of the last 7 US presidents {Carter (Georgia), Clinton (Arkansas), and Bush 2 (Texas)} all came from our neck of the woods. And as much as we get to take pride in all of that, the truth remains that slavery, treasonous secession, Jim Crow, and vile racist attitudes left over and passed down from that era are also our legacy and inheritance.

Battle flags that have become the banner of every white supremacist organization and statues of Confederate generals are not just "history" to be remembered. They are painful reminders of the worst of our frailties and failings. They hurt people. They remind people that our history includes not viewing all people as fully human, and some evil residue from that time has not been washed from our collective consciousness yet. These monuments aren't gumbo, blue grass, and sun belt football...they are a tableaux of hate, oppression, and injustice. Maybe we can be proud of what's good about the South without needing to feature or revere what was never good.

These symbols of oppression become even more toxic when defended by those who claim to follow the prince of peace, a homeless born child and refugee who grew up in an occupied territory and who was executed in the manner of a run away slave. When followers of Jesus turn a blind eye to symbols of oppression, it taints our religion as well as our culture.

Our feelings may be complex, but let us be open to those who feel unsafe, unwanted, and whose history of oppression are effectively swept aside by statues that honor a time when our ancestors wrongly believed that some humans could be owned. And let us also know that some of these monuments were erected in the 20th century as a nod to segregation, another unfortunate chapter in our national history.

Monuments honoring those who fought for slavery and for treasonous secession are an attempt to rewrite history. Taking them down won't erase history, it will allow for a fuller telling of the whole story.

If we think we need reminders of an evil past, let's put them in text books and museums, not in public squares to insult the descendants of the victims of that past. The mere fact that such monuments are now revered by present day nazis is reason enough to move them from our Southern sunshine.

Yes we have an unfortunate past...let's not build shrines to it in public squares. Confederate idols must go the way of the golden calf. And then, we can celebrate our healing and evolution Southern style...with New Orleans jazz and Memphis blues, with Kentucky bourbon and Texas beer, with Carolina barbecue and sweet iced tea, with Florida stone crabs and deep fried hush puppies. Let's be clear about what is historically worth celebrating, and what is not.