Tag Archives: justice

The Fat Pastor Goes to Washington

The last time I was in Washington DC, I was 12 years old.  Even then I was a history geek and remember the chills when I first entered the Lincoln Memorial.  I remember standing in front of the Gettysburg Address.  I read it out loud, unafraid if anyone thought I was crazy.  It was the first time I read it, and I was in awe.  Now I am 34, and last night when I walked into the Lincoln Memorial, the chills came back.  I stood in front of those words and read them aloud again.  Tears rolled down my cheeks.

My giant head makes it hard to see Abe, but I’m using a pretty old camera phone.

I’m in Washington DC for the 2012 Young Clergy Leadership Forum hosted by the General Board of Church and Society.  It is an awesome privilege to be here among 51 other clergy from over 30 Annual Conferences.  I’ve already met some terrific people.  I got into Washington yesterday afternoon and spent about four hours just walking around the mall.  I think my goosebumps tally was four, and my tears came twice.

I think the most emotional part of my night though, was when I approached the Martin Luther King memorial.  It is set up so that as you come to it from the Lincoln Memorial, you have to walk in between a few huge stones.  The opening between the stones is aligned with the Jefferson Memorial, creating a beautiful geographic juxtaposition.  I stood with Lincoln, the man that helped save the Union, behind me and with Thomas Jefferson, the man that wrote “all men are created equal” directly in front of me.  In between is the rock that reads “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.”  It was quite powerful to think about the promises that were offered by Jefferson, the tragic work of Lincoln, and the dream of King.  I paused and read some of King’s quotes that adorn the memorial.  I sat by the water and pondered his dream.  Surely there is much work to be done, but I am awestruck at how far we have come.  The mountain of despair remains daunting, but the stone of hope is sure.

The Jefferson Memorial can be seen through the rocks of the Martin Luther King Memorial


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Trunk or Treat

This is the new, more honest, Fair Trade logo. According to a local store owner I talked to, the old logo has loosened their standards for what is deemed “Fair Trade.”

Halloween is supposed to be scary.  Chocolate shouldn’t be.

It is Halloween season again, and soon kids across the country will be going from house to house in search of treats.  There will be scary decorations and fun costumes.  Some will watch scary movies.  Some will go to haunted houses.  It is fun to be scared – especially in a safe way.

On Friday night at my church, we will be hosting a Trunk or Treat.  It is meant to be a community outreach.  Kids have been invited to come and trick or treat in our church parking lot.  We have many volunteers that will come to give out candy.  There will be games and crafts as well.  I’ll be brewing hot chocolate and coffee.  We also plan on having brochures to give to parents about our church’s children ministries.  We’re hoping that many kids come and have a great time.

I’m pretty sure that not one of those kids will have spent the day working in hot tropical fields, wielding machetes and being exposed to harmful pesticides.  I think it’s a safe bet that none of the children getting their chocolate treats were sold into work camps by their parents, desperate to provide for siblings that are starving.

Unfortunately, such an existance is common place in West Africa, where the majority of the world’s exported cocoa beans are grown.  Equal Exchange is one group that is making a difference in the world by fighting poverty at its root.  By bringing the products of small farms to consumers in the United States, Equal Exchange has been able to empower people to maintain economic stability.  Their Interfaith Store  is a way for churches and individuals to buy products that they can trust – and feel good about.

We will set up a special table to tell people about Fair Trade chocolate.  I’ve bought a bunch of chocolate bars for people to sample.  The coffee and hot chocolate is Equal Exchange brand.  I bought all the chocolate and coffee and a great little store in Davenport called SIS International Shop.  Most big towns (Peoria, Champaign, Bloomington, Davenport, Moline and several in Chicago area) have a shop like the SIS International Shop.  It might be too late for this Halloween, but Christmas is coming.  Search for a Fair Trade shop in your area.  Ten Thousand Villages is another great resource.  Here is their store locator, but click on the “listing for all shops in the US” don’t use the locator by Zip Code or State.

Reverse Trick or Treating

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Miss Representation

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. (Alice Walker)

The trailer below begins with this quote.  It reminds me of an anecdote I heard in seminary.  I don’t remember the exact details, so I cannot properly attribute the story.  My professor said (something like), “C.S. Lewis once said that, ‘Man’s greatest sin is pride.’ In other words, it is believing that being ‘made in the image of God’ is equal to that of being God.  This might be true, but another theologian said, ‘The greatest sin of man might be pride.  But the greatest sin of woman is lack of pride.'”

The video is about eight and a half minutes long.  It is worth watching.  Make no mistake, this is not a girls issue.  It is not a liberal issue. It is a human issue.  The objectification of women is damaging to both boys and girls.  Treating anyone as less than a precious child of God does harm.  It is the act of ignoring what is fundamentally true of all people: That we are ALL created in God’s image.

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NRSV)

This is an issue that I’ve written about before in my blog Princess Paradox.  As a father of two daughters, I obviously have a lot of interest in how the media will affect their lives as they grow up.  As power as the media is, it is not more powerful than a loving relationship.  The movie is a warning.  It can help provide  a sense of urgency, and a better understanding of what we’re up against. It cannot be an excuse.  It is my duty as a father to make sure that my daughters know that they are smart, strong, courageous people that were created in the image of God.

I hope you take the time to watch this and go to the Miss Representation website to learn more.

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What would they think?

I remember mixing the blueberry muffin batter.  I was so careful not to spill the little tin of blueberries on the counter, because I knew it could stain.  My brother was really in charge of the batter, but he would let me mix it too.  He added the secret ingredient – the honey.   It was my job to make the tea, which meant I put the mug of water in the microwave.  We put the carefully crafted breakfast on our Dukes of Hazard TV tray, but we would cover up Bo, Luke and Daisy with something classy – like a paper towel.  Just one more added touch to make it perfect – go out in the yard and find a flower.  Pick the dandelion, put it in the glass and a perfect Mother’s Day breakfast in bed was ready.

anna jarvisI wonder how much the founders of Mother’s Day would recognize today’s ritual?  What would they think of the handmade cards, the breakfast in bed, and the dandelion bouquets?  There are three women generally recognized as the co-founders of  Mother’s Day.  All of them had similar ideas, and were inspired by similar motives.  They were churchgoing women who wanted to recognize the role of mothers.

They were crusaders, rallying around the universal power of mothers to make the world a better place.  Their passion, their overriding sense of call, was to the cause of peace.  Julia Ward Howe, who wrote, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was appalled by the evils of war and wanted to create a day where women would come together to make change in the world.  Juliet Calhoun Blakely came to the pulpit in her Methodist Church in Michigan when the pastor was too drunk to finish the job and preached about temperance.  Anna Jarvis taught Sunday school at a Methodist Church in West Virginia.  Jarvis advocated for children’s health and welfare and promoted peace in a community torn by political rivalries.  It was in West Virginia that the first Mother’s Day was officially recognized in 1908.  On Mother’s Day we stand in the shadow of these mighty women, and I wonder what they would think.

These were women that had a strong sense for the pain in the world.  What would they think of the sentimentality of the day they helped create?  They understood pain in the world as only a mother could.  Their sons’ bodies were sacrificed on the altar of war.  Their sons had missing limbs, broken bodies and shattered spirits.  Their sons abused alcohol, wasted their income, their time, and their energy on the promise of an empty bottle. Their daughters lived with terror of domestic violence.  Their sons and daughters died slowly of disease.  They were mothers – not just of the offspring they raised – but of all children.

It was in the midst of this pain that they stood.  Out of the ashes of war, out of the shadow of abuse and alcohol, out of the despair of disease, the mothers stood.  They were angry with the state of the world, and wanted a day to recognize the power of mercy and love.  They wanted a day to recognize the power of women – mothers – to make a change in the world.

What would they think now?  What would they do when they saw women in Africa weeping over a child dying every 45 seconds of malaria?  What would they say to those that claim that health care is a privelege, not a right?  What would they think when they saw more sons and daughters going off to another war to kill the sons of other mothers?  How would they respond to the meth labs in living rooms?  What kind of pain would they feel?

I’m guessing that they would feel just as mothers do today when they see their children suffer.   I’m guessing they would continue to stand with their fellow mothers and support a local shelter for victims of domestic violence.  They would get involved with Imagine No Malaria, a project with a plan to eradicate malaria deaths.  They would help at food pantries at their church, organize health clinics, contribute to literacy campaigns.  What would they do when they saw that their children were in pain?  They would do what mothers do today: they would work, volunteer, preach, donate, teach, mentor, guide, and pray.

What would they think of a dandelion bouquet?  I think they would treasure it just as my mother did – like all mothers do.  They would see the love out of which it was made.  They would know that all the work they do in the world is for this: So that children every where can live in peace.  Those women, and women before them, and women since them have wanted this: to live in a world where all of God’s children are free to pick a dandelion bouquet – free of disease, free of fear, free of war.

Its a dream we all share.  It is a dream for which we all work.  In the meantime, take the time to pick a dandelion bouquet, and say a prayer for mothers.

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Justice tastes good

Halloween is supposed to be scary.  Chocolate isn’t.

This Halloween you may be giving away a lot of chocolate to boys and girls dressed up as princesses, vampires, monsters, fairies, and superheroes.  It is one of the most fun nights of the year for kids, and this year it falls on a Sunday.  In my town, there is a big bonfire in the city park where the VFW has a hot dog roast and a costume contest.  It is one of those classic nights that makes living in a small town so much fun.  There will be 70-100 kids and their parents.  I’m pretty sure that not one of them will have spent the day working in hot tropical fields, wielding machetes and being exposed to harmful pesticides.  I think it’s a safe bet that none of the children getting their chocolate treats were sold into work camps by their parents, desperate to provide for siblings that are starving.

Unfortunately, such an existance is common place in West Africa, where the majority of the world’s exported cocoa beans are grown.  Equal Exchange is one group that is making a difference in the world by fighting poverty at its root.  By bringing the products of small farms to consumers in the United States, Equal Exchange has been able to empower people to maintain economic stability.  Their Interfaith Store  is a way for churches and individuals to buy products that they can trust – and feel good about.

While big corporations like Hershery continue to “lag behind their competitors” in making improvements in the labor practices of cocoa farms, Equal Exchange provides an alternative for those that want to make sure that the chocolate they give to smiling faces on Halloween was not made by children across the ocean.

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No relief for the Reverend

So, now I’m ordained.  Someone asked me on Sunday if I feel any different.  My immediate thought was, “No,” but I paused before I answered and thought about it and said, “Yes, I guess I sort of do feel different.”  He smiled.  I think he appreciated that I took the time to answer him honestly, and he said, “Good.  You deserve to.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting to feel like after ordination.  Some have asked if I feel relieved.  You would think I would feel relief.  After all, the process has taken almost eight years to complete.  I’ve been interviewed and approved by three different groups.  I’ve submitted myself to psychological analysis, turned in hundreds of pages of theological writing, went through CPE, and graduated seminary.  Along the way I have served at three churches, had various mentors, been criticized by anonymous letter, chastised by the mysterious “some people,” and made enough mistakes to  put even Jesus’s limit of forgiveness (70 times 7) to test.

So you would think that I would stand here relieved.  I’m not.

There is no relief.  There is way too much work to do.  If anything, I feel the weight of responsibility now more than ever.  I have been charged by my Bishop before God, my Church, and my family, to do something.  The world is a broken place, and there is so much work to be done.

I went to Peoria on Wednesday.  I was accepted into membership by my brother and sister clergy on Wednesday afternoon.  I was introduced to the conference on Thursday morning.  I was ordained on Friday evening.  I came back to Chenoa  on Saturday and the world had not yet changed.

The oil was still pouring into the ocean.  Wars over greed and power were still being fought.  The divide between the rich and the poor was still growing.  Children were still dying of curable diseases.  Wayward souls were still wandering without knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ.  Young people were still being influenced by the TV telling them they could only find happiness if they looked this way, and bought this product.

The building downtown was still crumbling.  The food pantry across the street was still in need.  The basement of our church was still a wasted space waiting to be turned into something wonderful.  The meetings still had to be scheduled.  The sermon on Sunday still had to be preached.  The dishes still needed to be washed. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to work for the Kingdom of God.  When I turned on the TV this morning I saw plain as day that it had not yet arrived.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to move onward toward Christian perfection.  It didn’t take long for me this morning to realize I hadn’t made it yet. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

Instead, I feel empowered.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to go into the world and do something.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to equip the saints for ministry.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to teach and preach, to break bread with sinners, to heal the sick, to proclaim release to the captives, and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I am empowered by God to do something.  And you are too.  Let’s get something done.  And then, and only then, may we find relief.

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The trouble with blogging

I started this blog about three weeks ago as a way to help chronicle my struggle to become more fit, to share some of my theological insight, and to have a place to record some random thoughts.  I had no visions of grandeur when I began this endeavor.  I got a real kick out of the first set of comments I received from friends who appreciated my writing.  It was great to hear from a couple of people I was not expecting, and I was flattered by some very kind words both here and in other places in cyberspace.  I enjoyed monitoring the number of visits I had, and I get a small sense of joy when I see the history graph on my blog stats spike past 30 visits in a day.

Last week I achieved two milestones as a blogger.  The first was that I passed 500 visits.  I average about 100 a week, and that is pretty cool – but those are just numbers, and I have no idea who those 500 visits were, but I figured they were mostly friends of mine.  Then the second milestone happened.  Last week, I had a comment from someone named Neal.

I do not know Neal.  I am not sure how he came across my blog, but he commented on my blog about the Social Creed.  He and I carried on a discussion through a few posted comments.  We seem to disagree on the nature of the gospel.  He seems to be a thoughtful person, a Christian, and probably a pretty nice guy.  But I have no idea who he is, and I realized that I have officially expanded my sphere of influence.  I have now reached people with my ideas that I would have otherwise never reached.  There is great power in that concept, but there is also a serious problem.

If you read the comments we left for each other, it is clear that Neal and I disagree about some things.  He clearly has little respect for Chuck Currie, who was a classmate of mine.  And while I don’t agree with Chuck on everything, I respect his passion, his intellect, and many of his ideas.  I also have a great deal of admiration for the mission of the National Council of Churches. 

Neal and I could have gone back and forth for sometime on my comments page and argued about the mission of the Church, the interpretation of Scripture, and the authority of the Bible.  I am willing to bet that we disagree on a lot of things, and could probably argue about abortion rights, homsexuality, immigration, war, poverty, and probably over the advantages of a queen opening in chess and the designated hitter. 

Neal and I could probably argue and argue and argue, and have lots of very logical and eloquent diatribes.  We could quote the thoelogians of the past, we battle with Bible quotes, and have a literary contest of wits and wisdom.  But what good would that do?

I wonder if a single heart has ever been won with those tactics.  Has anyone on a discussion board ever changed their mind?

Theology is a tricky thing.  What makes it so difficult is that we think about God with more than our head.  Knowing God is not a purely intellectual endeavor.  I stand whole-heartedly behind the idea that education and scholarship can bring us to a fuller, and more healthy faith.  At the same time though, I recognize that God-words are written by the heart. 

That is the problem with blogging – with discussion boards – with chat rooms – with call-in TV shows – with formal debates – there is plenty of head-work, but little heart-work.  We can argue all we want, but until there is a relationship, there is no transformation.  Theology is a barren wasteland if it is not connected to human hearts.  Theology, if done without relationship to other human beings, is dead.  And I cannot help but think that the internet has created a vast network of pseudo-relationships that fool us into thinking we are influencing people, when all we are really doing is spitting in the wind. 

I am going to keep blogging.  I am going to keep it up because it strokes my ego just a little to see those spikes in my blog stats.  I am going to keep it up because maybe, just maybe, someone will read my words and be touched or inspired or challenged or entertained.  I am going to keep it up because I am, at heart, a writer.  It’s what I do.  And I am going to keep it up because despite all of its shortcomings, this blog is still a great way to increase my sphere of influence.

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The Social Creed, 100 years later

100 years ago, the Methodist Episcopal Church put forth a Social Creed.  It was a statement of solidarity with the millions of victims of the industrial revolution.  During a time of unchecked capitalism, the industrial revolution had created a system of enormous oppression.  Workers were forced into labor conditions that were dangerous, grueling, oftentimes cruel, and usually for little pay.

In the face of this injustice, the Church found its prophetic voice, and ushered in the era of the Social Gospel.  Reading the creed of 1908 is like reading a summary of modern labor laws.  Among the items covered by the creed was the abolition of child labor, the six-day work week and the right of workers to have a safe working environment. 

Some decried the creed as Socialist, and many thought that the Church was overstepping its bounds.  Critics wanted the Church to stay out of politics and policy.  They felt that the Church should just have worship on Sunday, a few Bible studies on Wednesday night, and a pot-luck from time to time.  If the Church wanted to get involved, these critics felt, then open up a food pantry or give money to a missionary in Africa.

I like a good green bean caserole or deviled egg as much as the next guy, and I love sitting around a table to talk about Scripture, but the Church is about more than pot-lucks and Bible studies.  Read Isaiah 58, and you will find these words:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
   and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
   and to strike with a wicked fist.
Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Isaiah demands that we do more.  Isaiah demands that the Church act when it sees injustice.  In the New Testament, James agrees:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

I, for one, am proud that the Social Creed of 1908 is a part of the legacy and history of the Church I love.  In this, the one hundredth anniversary of the Social Creed, the United Methodist Church has created a new creed.  It is more universal and timeless.  Instead of being directed at specific injustice, it speaks of the nature of God in hope that believing in a God of justice will lead people to act for justice.  It is more liturgical in nature, and is written to be read responsively with a beautiful musical response.

There are many injustices in this world.  There is economic turmoil, a growing disparity between the rich and the poor; there are preventable epidemics, growing extremism, environmental disasters, and wars being fought that could have been avoided.  The writing of creeds and social principles will not solve the problems of our world.  The idea of a creed though, is to set a standard – to give people a place to fall back on when the work of justice becomes difficult.  It is a reminder of the God to whom we belong, and it holds out hope that in time the world in which we live can reflect God’s goodness more perfectly.

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