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Archive for October, 2017

Living in Trust, Living in Peace

Philippians 4:5-8

Emotional health is hard to come by in a world that seems to discourage trust in a healthy way, especially among many of in our communities who have a history of being marginalized. How can we seek a path out of the destructive patterns that recreate abusive relationships? How can we work towards a future that doesn’t recreate the past? What keeps us from this kind of healthy, holistic living: broken trust. When trust is broken we feel betrayed, alone, even worthless. We can enter into behavior patterns of mistrust, even when people have shown us that they are to be trusted. We can even perpetuate the same patterns in our relationships

Thus, it is essential that we seek restored trust. What are the elements of trust that we look for in a person, in life? What if we pursue and nurture these qualities in our relationships?

So…who was Paul of Tarsus? Good question. Like every author of Biblical literature, there is a lot of speculation and interpretation as to who Paul was. What we do know from other historical documents of the time and other Biblical books, is that Paul spent considerable time in prison. He was accused by the people of Philippi of disturbing their city and promoting customs that were not lawful for them or the Romans to observe. Leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin also sent Paul to trial because they considered him an agitator and a leader of a sect of the Nazarenes. We don’t know for sure, but it’s very possible that Philippians was written while Paul was in prison.

Before I go on, if any of you have any baggage about Paul, i.e. what’s been most likely pushed on you by others, let’s put that on the table first. Some [and maybe that’s you] consider Paul a misogynist, homophobe, and strict legalist. By no means am I claiming that Paul of Tarsus [or any other Biblical authors for that matter] were perfect or extra-inspired, super-holy people, and that’s why they are Biblical authors.

No way.

Paul, like anyone else was a flawed human being and he actually said as much in some of his writings. Now look, I cannot address the whole “against women and gay people” thing in a few sentences and you’ll need to do more thinking and study to come to wise conclusions. What I do know, however, is that women covered their heads in the 1st and 2nd century. It was cultural. This is not a teaching of Paul. Likewise, some of Paul’s closest associates on his missionary journeys and most trusted leaders were women. They were obviously teaching and leading. People who wish to propagate the idea that women cannot be leaders or ordained ministers use Paul as a way to justify their gender bias. And, Paul was not a homophobe. This word and also the word homosexuality did not exist until this century and neither did the concept of sexual orientation. It’s a fact. When Paul mentions in his letter to Rome, unnatural acts, he is speaking of a whole of behaviors [as defined by Greco-Roman culture and Jewish culture]. I point you to Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and others for a more in-depth look at NT sexuality.

I say all this only so our conversation is not derailed by our biases about Paul of Tarsus. Otherwise, all that follows will not have any relevance. You see, Paul was a Pharisee originally. He was raised with a rigid belief system and set of morals. Most everything was “right” or “wrong.” He was raised to trust in a religious system and eventually to trust a Roman Empire that occupied Israel and spread its cultural and societal norms. But like most people who go through some sort of psychological break, Paul had a life-changing moment. We don’t know if it was a day, a week, or a period of years. Whatever the case, he changed his world view. He no longer trusted being a Pharisee. He no longer trusted the Roman Empire. He found peace and contentment in the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. But that was long after Jesus’ death; Paul never met Jesus. His journey to self-awareness and contentment was not as a follower of Jesus. Perhaps this is why some people can resonate with at least part of Paul’s story. He came from oppressive power and great privilege. At some point he broke away from that and changed. As Jesus did, Paul spent the rest of his days with the marginalized. And in doing so, he found peace within himself. This leads us to a pretty well-known part of Paul’s letter to Philippi, chapter 4.

The phrase “Do not worry about anything” could certainly sound like wishful thinking at first glance. But, as it fits within the original meaning of the Greek language, consider placing it after the first part of this text. In other words:

Be gentle with others, because you really don’t know what they’re going through. In your day-to-day moments, meditate, pray, be grateful. Whatever is honest, just, joyful, beautiful, kind, life-giving—think about these things and pursue these things in your relationships. If you do, a divine, holistic peace that doesn’t fit into society’s or religion’s boxes will fill you and surround you. You will think differently about yourself and others. You won’t judge life and its situations so much because you’ll take them as they are. And anxiety will not control you anymore.

As such, this is not telling you to just push aside your problems and feelings, to ignore suffering, to be complacent and to “don’t worry, be happy.” Instead, this is an invitation to trust those things and people that bring you joy and encouragement, fill you with acceptance and peace. To think about and meditate on such trusted things and people, because the trust is earned. I’m hearing this text giving us all permission to Live into trust and into peace. Life is about Moving forward.

It is about stopping the continual dysfunctional patterns within our lives and relationships.

handscirclepeaceSee, we can try to be healthier, more spiritual, whatever—but we won’t be unless we change. We won’t find peace and wholeness by tweaking this or that or by trying various religious practices or joining clubs or making small lifestyle changes or making New Year’s resolutions. We can continually rearrange things in our lives, but it will never end. Not until we realize who we are at our core.

Are you feeling stuck in a dysfunctional past? If so, why? What relationships and behaviors are keeping you there? How can you move forward?

What drives you in life? Think about these things.

Where have you been hurt? Recognize this.
What qualities in people inspire and encourage you? Meditate on those qualities.

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EnTRUST-ed

Isaiah 5:1-7 Matthew 13:42,43

Love-one-anotherOnce again, let’s talk about trust.

In my last post we looked at how authority and trust go together, i.e. we give authority to the things and people we trust. And we focused on the idea that trust is not something we should blindly give; rather, that trust needs to be proven. Now, let’s take that same word trust and look at a variation of the root word in entrusted. If we entrust someone with something or someone, it means we give that person a responsibility to protect, care for, and handle. You give your beloved cat to your friend to take care of while you are on vacation. You entrust that person with your beloved cat. You put some money in a bank account. You entrust the bank to protect your funds, and in some cases, to grow the funds with interest. You send your teenager to college and entrust the professors, administrators, and RAs with your son or daughter.

So when we say we are entrusted with someone or something it is a responsibility to care for, protect, and in some cases, help to grow. I wish to connect the previous conversation about authority and trust to being entrusted. We give authority to political, religious, educational, and business leaders. By doing so we show that we trust them to do their jobs effectively and to serve the people they are supposed to serve. They are entrusted to do so.

And then, I look around. Yes, with social media and 24/7 news we are getting a heavier dose of politics than ever before. The issues, though, are the same ones we have always struggled with since the beginning of the human race. We give authority to political leaders, for example, like the White House Administration, and we expect certain things. We entrust these leaders who were voted in to care for human society, protect people, and serve the community. Sadly, I argue we have put far too much trust in people who since the very start didn’t have much of an interest in caring for or protecting people. And it’s not just in politics. Religion is no different.

How much are religious institutions and their leaders caring for and protecting people?

The issue of self-preservation is obvious among both political and religious leaders. And when you are afraid losing your authority and people’s trust in you is waning, then you will have the tendency to protect only yourself and the people you have around you. And that’s what is happening now.

A government that turns a blind eye to insane violence in places like Las Vegas, an individual who was able to plan out such a terrible shooting because it is far too easy to obtain automatic weapons that even people in the military think are unnecessary. Our own Conference Minister of PA SE the Rev. Bill Worley, stated after Vegas that as someone who served in the military and as someone who is a gun owner, he could not be more incensed and sad about the lack of interest in creating gun control policies that prohibit such terrible events and make it difficult for people to stockpile powerful weapons. It really doesn’t matter what political party you identify with or don’t, this issue is about people. And violence. And our political leaders continue to fail us. And I will also say that churches are far too silent about this. Far too many churches get all up in arms about Black Lives Matter signs or kneeling during the National Anthem and then say nothing after Sandy Hook, Vegas, and other mass shootings. None of us are that obtuse to insist that political leaders are not receiving money from the National Rifle Assoc., right? Those who have been entrusted to care for and protect are not following through.

Likewise, the AG of the U.S., at the same time of this horrible tragedy in Vegas, and during the continued suffering of people in Puerto Rico and Mexico, decides to rescind an Obama administration policy to protect LGBT people, undercutting federal protection, telling agencies to do as much as possible to accommodate those who hide behind so-called “religious freedoms.” So, in other words, it’s a license to discriminate. If that were not enough, the Trump administration issued a new rule that substantially undermines women’s access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Protection? Not unless you are white, male, straight, and wealthy.

And all this sounds so very familiar.

You see, in the Hebrew prophetic writings like Isaiah, the same things were happening. Governments were corrupt, self-serving, and refusing to care for the people—particularly those on the margins. Likewise, the religious institutions and leaders were silent and did not deem it their responsibility to care for and protect vulnerable people. YHWH, God, is not pleased with this. The image of the vineyard begins with a beautiful image of God’s good creation—the choice vines, the fertile soil, the potential to grow amazing grapes. But God notices that the beautiful vineyard that was entrusted has been neglected. YHWH expected justice, but saw violence; compassion, but saw indifference and silence.

Jesus of Nazareth knew the Hebrew scriptures and made the connection to Isaiah on various occasions in the Gospels. For Jesus, the vineyard was the kin-dom of God, i.e. the whole of creation, all living things. And this creation has been entrusted to human beings, to you and me. And those who produced the fruits of compassion, of caring for and of protecting, would experience this kin-dom and be in line with God’s great wishes for the world.

Friends, this is a critical time. It’s tempting at times to become overwhelmed with grief, sadness, and even anger over the break in trust that is happening now. So it is essential that we care for each other.

We must. Care. For each other.

Especially those who feel marginalized, vulnerable, lost, pushed down. We must care for each other. Because that is what God wishes for God’s good creation. Because that is what Jesus taught and did and passed on. It doesn’t matter what so-called authorities say or do, if they do not care for and protect people. We can. May it be so.

 

 

 

Authority: Listening and Trusting

Matthew 21:23-32

trustFallWhen I was in middle school I went to summer camp once. I remember bits and pieces of my experience there, and one thing I remember distinctly is a certain “game” the camp counselors had us play called a trust fall. Now I’m sure a lot of you have at least heard of such a thing [and maybe some of you where unlucky enough to have actually done it]. I say unlucky, because, think about the concept: the camp counselor asked me to close my eyes, turn my back on the other middle school students, and then fall backwards without opening my eyes, looking back, or catching myself. It is not hyperbole to remark that I did not consider this such a great idea. I mean, I myself was 12 years old, and I thought: Would I even trust my own self to catch me?

nervous-preschooler-boyThe answer in my head was surprisingly no and so this led me to the conclusion that falling backwards and then expecting a group of other 12 year olds I had just met to catch me was not the wisest choice. I mean, even the couple of kids I knew were not really instilling confidence in me, considering that two of them in my cabin had recently stolen candy from my backpack and had threatened to dip my hand in warm water in the middle of the night while I slept. So…the trust fall? I kept my eyes open, and when I “fell” back, I probably waited a mere second before I turned around to see the anxious, uninspiring and nervous faces of my camping partners and I stopped the fall before it even began.

What is trust anyway? Let’s see what Collins English dictionary says. Trust is: the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. Trust can also be a person on whom or thing on which one relies. Finally, trust can be the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed.

Which parts of this definition fit your own definition of trust?

Now do a quick Google search for songs about trust. What you’ll see in the results is that trust is not all that trustworthy after all? I mean, most of the songs written with trust in title are really about mistrust, betrayal, and manipulation! Trust in Me from The Jungle Book is one of the first songs that comes to my mind and it appears first on most internet searches. I mean, Kaa, the snake is singing this song to Mogli in a tree, using the song as a way to hypnotize the poor kid and then eat him.

Junglebook-disneyscreencaps_com-6045Trust in me.

Uh, no. And then the list goes on: I Don’t Trust Myself, Don’t You Trust Me, etc, etc. In fact, one of the most popular song titles is Don’t Trust Nobody.

So it appears we have a difficult relationship with trust. Not hard to see this in society. Recent Gallup and Pew Foundation polls and studies demonstrate the lack of trust we have in what we call the “great building block” institutions of society, to mention a few: religion, marriage, government, banks, public schools, and the media. According to Gallup, less than 32% of Americans trust said institutions.[1] Let’s hone in on religion, more specifically, the Christian church in the U.S. In 1975, 68% of Americans thought the church was trustworthy/they were confident in it; currently that number is at 42% and dropping.

Interestingly, since the current presidential election in 2016, the Pew Foundation found that people’s views of religions and other traditions outside of the traditional Christian church positively improved, specifically Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Jews, and Mormons. Trust in the Christian church, however, is at an all-time low. I don’t say this to be a Debbie Downer or to make any of you hearing this who are Christian to feel sad or hopeless. It’s the opposite. I want to honestly talk about trust. Why have many people lost trust in the Christian institution called church?

If you think clearly and listen to others with an open mind, you will know why. Really, there is no reason to trust, because trust is not a blind faith, falling back with your eyes closed, hoping that you will be caught and kept from harm. Trust is confidence in someone or something because that someone or something has instilled said confidence in you. In other words, we trust someone or something because it has been earned. Proven. Demonstrated. The church institution is not proving this to people.

So to bring this home [and in coming weeks we’ll talk more about trust, because there is no way to adequately address it in one segment], let’s look briefly at an example of trust in a story about Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus was teaching in the temple [a religious institution that people were taught to have confidence in but which had been oppressing women, the poor, lepers, the marginalized, and was also in the pocket of the Roman Empire.] Those present were chief priests and elders [also the religious elites who were supposed to be trusted]. And said elites came to Jesus upset, asking him by what authority did he teach and heal and hang out with those who were considered unclean. But Jesus knew what they were doing. They were trapping him with questions that had no right answers. So he asked them a trap question. Did the baptism of his cousin John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Jesus asked this, because there was an argument among the religious elites about whether John or Jesus was the true prophet, or whether both of them were wrong and just competing against each other’s teachings.

So the religious elites who were supposed to be the trusted role models, were worried about saving face in front of the crowds and maintaining their power; they copped out and said: We don’t know.

And then Jesus told a parable, one that was meant to drive the point home. It was a story about authority, and this authority is only granted because of trust. John and Jesus had the same message of love and acceptance to the tax collectors and the prostitutes [the marginalized of society]. Those on the margins accepted this message and trusted the love and acceptance they were shown.

They got none of this love or acceptance from the institutions, from the elites they were supposed to trust.

And this was [and is] the consistent message and good news of Jesus. Trust is not about blind faith in a church or a religion or a person or a thing. Jesus didn’t expect people to close their eyes and fall backwards into his arms. Jesus invited people to receive healing, to join community, to forgive and be forgiven, and to love, and be loved above all else. Trust is, on every level, about experiencing love and respect, commitment and honesty.

Trust must be shown and proven.

It must be lived. So when ministers or prospective members of most Christian traditions are asked: “Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ…” what are they are really committing to? A belief statement? A doctrine? A religious creed? Loyalty to an institution? I hope not.

Because trust in institutions hasn’t gotten us very far as humanity. Many in this world [and maybe you too] have been marginalized, manipulated, used, or even betrayed by institutions [whether government, religion or others] because you were vulnerable and someone or something took advantage of that.

This is wrong.

I am sad that this happened to you or to anyone else.

So let us reclaim this word and concept of trust. In my view, Jesus exemplified what it means to love and accept people and proved it.

So may we have confidence in the people who love and accept us as we are, who sit with us in vulnerable times and don’t take advantage; may we also be especially aware of those we encounter who are vulnerable and looking for love and acceptance. May we give them a reason to find us trustworthy by showing them that we are.

[1] http://news.gallup.com/poll/192581/americans-confidence-institutions-stays-low.aspx

Generosity and DACA

Matthew 20:1-16

GenersosityWhat are your initial thoughts to this story—the idea that an employer sends out workers at different times all day long, but then pays everyone, regardless of how long they worked, the same wage?

Do you find yourself in the shoes of those who worked all day, who aren’t happy with the employer’s decision? Are you feeling envious?

Or do you find yourselves in the shoes of the workers sent later, feeling grateful for the generosity of the employer?

Whoever you identify with this story, keep in mind what the employer says at the very end to the workers first sent out when they complained: You were happy with the wages I offered. Are you envious because I am generous? The last shall be first and the first last.

As Jesus parables often do, this one challenges cherished values, long-standing opinions, and the so-called “order” of things that we hold to. It’s nothing new for Jesus—he did the same thing with the stories about a hidden treasure in a field, a lost sheep, a pearl of great price. The way we often see the world is turned upside down. But not it’s some pie-in-the-sky, over-spiritualized thing. It’s not something very nice to say but impossible to practice.

We are not talking about fairness at all, or the value of a hard day’s work.

This is all about generosity and the way of generosity, and how that generous way can change people’s lives and bring  more balance to society in general.

And so let’s bring this story and this idea of generosity down to earth. Let’s talk about DACA.

DACAcongressMany of you probably know about DACA or at least have been hearing about it in the news. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a U.S. immigration policy that has allowed certain individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country without documentation, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. Currently, approximately 800,000 individuals—called Dreamers—were enrolled in the program created by DACA. This policy was established by the Obama administration in June 2012. The reason we are talking about it in the past tense is because DACA was rescinded by the Trump admin. this month.

Some of you may wonder why so many people, including the current administration, would be against a thing like DACA. Especially because research shows that DACA increased the wages and labor force participation of DACA-eligible immigrants, and reduced the number of unauthorized immigrant households living in poverty. Further, DACA has increased the mental health outcomes for DACA-eligible immigrants and their children. All told, there are no known negative impacts from DACA on U.S. citizens who were born in this country. U.S.-born people are not losing jobs. And most economists say that DACA benefits the U.S. economy as a whole.[1] And finally, though certain TV personalities and Donald Trump claim that DACA-eligible individuals are more likely to commit crimes, there is no evidence of that whatsoever.[2]

So then, why are we in the middle of a very public and emotional argument about these dreamers, youth and adults who have been here since they were small children, brought here by their parents? This is the only home they know. English is their language. They have been going to U.S. schools their whole lives. Many are productive, tax-paying citizens, contributing positively to society and doing all kinds of skilled work from nursing to business to education. And yet, there are far too many loud voices [and I’m appalled to say that too many of these voices are so-called Christians] that are shouting that DACA is not fair and that these Dreamers should not be given this chance to study, work, and live in the U.S.

Why?

It’s about fear. People fear that if they let go of their preconceived notions about society and nationality and status and economy that they will lose everything or at least something important. Their fear causes them to ignore actual facts; their fear makes them prejudiced; and their fear keeps them from generosity.

This is the same thing that happened in the story about a generous employer and grumbling workers. Think about this—the workers first sent out were guaranteed a full day’s pay. They could rest easy. If the employer chose to offer full pay to others who were sent out later, why would the first workers complain? Because people want to believe they earned something or deserve something, meaning that they are better than others, more deserving It can be applied to immigration status, wages, education, and even salvation. Yes, it can go to that extreme.

Last week, I was at the International House of Philadelphia for a presentation entitled DACA: A Dying Dream? featuring panelists Alicia Kerber, Head of the Mexican Consulate of Philadelphia; Sarah Paoletti, Director, Transnational Legal Clinic at Penn Law, Adam Solow, Attorney with the immigration and nationality law firm Solow, Isbell & Palladino; and Anel Medina, DACA recipient. I met with other Dreamers who were there. If you would have been there, you would have heard the same story:

DACA is not perfect, and another conversation for another time is immigration “status,” but at the very least, DACA is a starting point for opportunity, an attempt to make society better by improving the lives of those around us. I am unsure what will happen in the next few months as Congress is charged with “fixing” DACA. I have no idea what the future will hold for those who were planning to apply for DACA but cannot now. I will continue to work with all those who are on the forefront of this issue and I will continue to listen to the stories of the Dreamers. All I do know is that the majority of the people who speak loudly against DACA are living in fear. And their fear keeps them from seeing facts and their fear paralyzes them and can even lead to hate and prejudice. And those full of fear do not accept generosity, either for themselves or for others.

And I wish they would just meet dreamers like Anel Medina and listen to her. She’s amazing.

Friends, the world is unfair. If you don’t think that is true, just look around. The idea that we always “earn” or “get” what we deserve just isn’t true. So in this world where there is plenty of injustice and unfairness, generosity is needed.

It’s desperately needed.

What if you thought about your job [if you have one], as a gift. What if you thought about your home or apartment as a gift. What if your ability to go to school, eat food every day, feel safe, what if all of this is because of generosity? Honestly, I think this perspective is healthier for you, for me, and for the world. Accept generosity in your own life. Accept generosity when it’s shown to others.

[1] “Fact Check: Are DACA Recipients Stealing Jobs Away From Other Americans?”. NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-09-07.

[2] Nowrasteh, Alex (July 12, 2017). “Illegal immigrant crime wave? Evidence is hard to find”. Fox News. Retrieved September 9, 2017.

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