Feeding the Beast

Yellowstone Wolf Collaring

Later this month the United States will observe the anniversary of the tragic September 11, 2001 attack that killed almost 3,000 people in New York , Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. in a single day, a horror that continues ten years later because of the resulting PTSD, suicides, wars. It probably isn’t a uniquely American phenomenon, but we sure do like to celebrate violence – Independence Day; Memorial Day, which began as Decoration Day; Veterans’ Day, which was originally known as Armistice Day; and most recently, Patriot Day.

Oh, sure, some people will argue that it isn’t war and violence we’re celebrating: we’re commemorating the end of war, honoring the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, remembering the victims, celebrating our hard-earned freedom as Americans. I recognize some legitimacy in those claims, but I’m not so sure that we’re really doing anything more than feeding the beast when we observe national holidays with fireworks, flags, and parades of people in military uniforms. Of course, it isn’t just holidays that contribute to our culture of violence.

Media violence is frequently cited as the source of the problem. Really? Is it the case that life is imitating art or are movies, television, and music just the mirror that illuminates the ugliness that surrounds us? I don’t have an answer; I’m just asking the question.

War, rape, murder, torture – those are impossible to ignore, but smaller acts of violence swirl around us like a swarm of dust devils and are so common that they frequently go unnoticed, sometimes even by the target. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. [1]

It may be a cliché but it’s true nonetheless: words hurt. Rage, gossip, constant criticism, and name-calling are all acts of psychic and spiritual violence. In his 1996 book Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes, “Words said about us define our place in the world.” [2] Anything – anything –that degrades or devalues any part of Creation is violence, and any act of violence is sin because it creates (or at the very least widens) a separation between creature and Creator.

There is a Cherokee legend about two wolves, one good and one evil, that battle within each person. Which wolf wins? “The one you feed.” [3] I believe that the only people who want to do harm and those who have, themselves, been harmed in some way. We will only end the cycle of violence and abuse that afflicts the world when we stop feeding the beast.

[1] Matt. 5:22 Common English Bible.
[2] Telushkin, Joseph. Words that Hurt, Words that Heal. (New York: William Morrow, 1996), 4.
[3] Two versions of this tale can be found on the website First People, http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html.

Chaplain for a New Century

In my work for Jubilee Economics Ministries, I record audio podcasts with Rev. Lee Van Ham and a monthly guest. For our August episode, we recorded an interview with his daughter Lauren, and on this occasion I decided to capture a bit of video too. If you like what you see and hear, please go listen to the full length (about 30 mins) audio podcast. This video is only about one-third of the program.

Lauren is an interfaith chaplain with an interesting background that doesn’t suggest she was originally from Nebraska! She is the Dean of Chaplaincy at the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley. She goes into quite some detail about her professional formation and how she understands the role of the chaplain in society today.

Lauren plans to contribute to Women Who Speak In Church, and the timing is such that this bit of video serves to provide a great introduction to Lauren, and if I might be so bold, it gives a taste of the JEM podcasts too. This video is posted to the JEM YouTube channel where a number of other clips feature Lee, who himself is a retired pastor of 32 years. No doubt he set a good standard for Lauren to follow 🙂

Presence and Praying for Peace

Two nights ago I attended a candlelight vigil, I had received a text message about it earlier in the day and knew only that a man had been beaten. The text cam from my husband who had heard about this through his volunteer/community ties. From the context of the message I received I suspected hate of some form had to with the beating. I did not have much to go on, but I was moved enough to go to the vigil, and to wear my vestments, although no one had asked me to.

When I arrived at the vigil it was a small gathering and this surprised me, but not for long. I soon found the “organizer” of the event and spoke with him. It turns out that the man who had been beaten, Jason, had been living in a local canyon and someone had beaten him in the head with a rock. No words were said at the vigil no statements made or prayers pronounced. Rather people stood around and talked quietly with others that they knew as they held candles, while Jason fought for his life in the hospital. Many the people gathered knew Jason, some were from the local GLBT community. It was simply a gathering of solidarity.

Shortly after I arrived I was approached by a man in a collar. Turns out this man who spoke with me was a gay Independent American Catholic priest who had left the Roman Catholic Church disheartened by what appeared to be the Catholic Church’s refusal or inability to protect victims of the sexual abuse scandal. The priest reported to me that he was there because he knew Jason; the priest explained that he had met Jason while teaching in the local community. Both the priest and I were there simply to show our solidarity with the victim of this senseless crime and his chosen family, as Jason lay in a hospital bed, reportedly, with a very poor prognosis. We were there to provide presence to those who had gathered; all those who had gathered had gathered to be present.

Later in the evening a group of people came out of the hospital and physically leaned on some of those who had gathered for the vigil. They were Jason’s chosen family. One of the women in this group spoke with me and thanked me for being there. I did not do anything, but I was there. It was a reminder for me of how powerful our simple presence can be for others in time of crises.

So what about the vestments? I thought about this, particularly as the media came in and took pictures of the gathering. It may seem presumptuous, and perhaps it could be seen as such. At moments I felt a bit odd standing there, holding a candle in my clergy robe. But it was not presumptuous. It was not presumptuous because in many ways this event was the parable of the good Samaritan made real in the contemporary context. Here was a man and his extended community in crises and of course it was the role of the clergy to stop and bear witness to the pain of the other in crises. I was not there to fix anything I could not do that. But I could bear witness.

That is not the only reason I was there, though. We live in a society of great violence and marginalization of the poor, the GLBT community, the disability community, those who live with mental illness, those who struggle with addiction or propensity toward violence, and anyone else who steps beyond our norms. The truth is I do not know if Jason belonged to any of these categories expect being poor–he was living in the canyon. I do know, however, that we can not continue to accept senseless and extreme violence toward others within our community and continue to consider our society civilized, period. So I wore my vestments to show that God is with all who suffer, and that the marginalized are noticed by the communities who seek to bring God into the world. I wore my vestments, and I was there silently witnessing the suffering senseless violence perpetrates on its victims and on the community around the victims of violence. I did not offer to pray and I was not asked to pray; Jason’s family told the reporter who covered the “story” they were praying for his recovery. It was a gathering of presence and silent prayer. My prayer was one of peace not only for Jason, but for the community immediately around him, and our larger community that has become so fractured that such violence can occur without community uproar but rather be noted on the evening news before we all tuck into bed for a brief night’s sleep. God help us all.
A photo of  Jason, a homeless man who was beaten in the head with a rock, a candlelight vigil held in his honor.

Camping, Potter, and the End of the World

Thank you Mr. Camping, No, I’m serious. Keep reading. I would like to take just a moment to put this out there. As much as I am disgusted and (I’ll be honest) a little embarrassed at the moment to be associated with the title ‘Evangelical Christian,’ I have had somewhat of a revelation about myself while pondering the “end of the world” according to Mr. Camping. Mind you, eschatology and apocalyptic literature has never interested me, especially in seminary. I find it somewhat entertaining when people talk with such piety and authority when discussing such matters, especially those of whom share the same faith as I. How ridiculous (and a little frightening to be honest) to hear others when they suggest they speak for God or understand the mind of God. I digress. If anything, for me the more I have studied sacred texts and served as clergy, the deeper my awareness of my own ignorance. The way I see it whatever happens, happens and there is not a damn thing any one of us can do about it. If God did indeed create the world (which I believe God did) God and God alone will draw it to its intended conclusion. For me, Mr. Camping, I do not object to your proclamation of the physical return of Christ, my objection is that you believe to have had some foreknowledge. I too can quote scripture, sir, and with two degrees in religion I can assure you (and any one else who believes to have attained some kind of precise time and date) are indeed liars. I understand how for some the return of Christ is to be anticipated but it has been suggested his return is imminent since the birth of the early church. You sir are another voice singing an old song. Ok, I need to stop here.

For me the present is what I have been gifted and it is in need of my attention. However, in the spirit of the day I took my coffee to the beach early this morning to consider how I might spend my last day. Well, so far it’s coffee and breakfast at the beach, a long drive down the 101, writing this little piece and probably a little later a movie. Now, I know what you are thinking—she’s boring, and I agree with you because it’s what I thought. But as I was driving I had a thought and it made me laugh out loud because it was about Harry Potter. According to some in the religious right (with which I am assuming Mr. Camping is affiliated), Harry Potter is considered witchcraft and sorcery and, of course, evil. Good thing we do not burn at the stake anymore because it is maybe what Mr. Camping would suggest for me. My thought was about the Mirror of Erised. The Mirror of Erised (‘desire’ spelled backwards) is a mirror Harry stumbles upon while roaming around the castle one night. At the top of the mirror are the words “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” Harry of course saw himself with his deceased parents because more than anything Harry misses his parents. Ron sees himself as Head boy and Quidditch Cup champ because Ron struggles with being the best friend of Harry who is the most famous wizard of their time and has a desire to prove himself. One night when Harry is visiting the mirror Dumbledore appears to him and gives him both advice and warning about the mirror. Dumbledore tells Harry that the mirror shows the “deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts. The happiest person in the whole world would look in the mirror and see a reflection of exactly the way he or she is.” He goes on to tell Harry “Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible.”

I know others have been joking and making sarcastic remarks this whole week about the end of the world. I know this because I am one of them and will do so again the next time another prediction is offered. I think often about my life as I work hospice, and being surrounded by death makes one think about life on a regular basis. But it has been interesting to hear others—especially those in the media and other public areas openly process their life and the quality of their lives. It made me think about the mirror in that I planned to do everything on May 21, 2011 the way I normally spend my Saturdays. But…what about the mirror? I wonder what it would reveal. For me, no burning desires to do anything today differently than yesterday (that I know of) and for those hopes/dreams of the “what if’s” I feel as if I have made my peace if they never happen. But I question if I really have. It would be interesting to see what the mirror would reveal but then again I would really have to consider if I would want to know about my ‘hidden desires.” Something to ponder…

So thank you Mr. Camping for this little exercise. Seriously, I appreciate the opportunity to think even though I am sure this was not your intention. So out of my appreciation I would like to offer something for you to ponder, how do you intend to explain May 22, 2011?

Others: Lent 3

The Lectionary reading for the third week of Lent is John 4:4-42. It is the text about the Samaritan Woman at the well and her conversation with Jesus.

I want to start by thanking my former seminary classmate, the Rev. Alison Rainey English, for posting this video on Facebook. I thought this was a breathtaking retelling of the text, so take a minute and watch it:

This video reminds me that the art of biblical story telling is one that I have much respect for. It is an art that seeks to tell a story in a new way, to reach out and shake the audience into new awareness of what is being said, much like poetry does. Perhaps this is why this particular video strikes me. (There are other similar portrayals of this text.) It makes me take notice of the woman at the well and her story that became so much of the encounter with Jesus.

I have been pondering this text in part becuase it may be used in a worship service that I am helping to plan for a conference this summer. It is indeed a rich text, perhaps one that begs for the liturgical arts be present as witnesses to it. But this text is also one that comes up time and again when we talk about crossing social boundaries to invite others to our faith and to include them in worship. Here is a woman possibly outcast in her own society, certainly a woman who has seen her share of trouble, who is also a member of outcast group talking with Jesus. Jesus who does not shy away from her but engages in dialogue with her. Gail R. O’Day makes an interesting point by naming that while this woman is often seen in some immoral light because she has had five husbands Jesus does not condemn her for this but rather allows her to become an apostle by telling her people about him (Gail R O’Day, “John” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, Westminster: Louisville, 1992, 296). The truth is we don’t know much about the history of this woman before she meets Jesus. She may have been repeatedly widowed or part of a non-Jewish marriage that was based simply on a contract that could be exited at will–but we know what she does when she meets Jesus, that she unlike many in the gospels recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and we know she acts as an apostle after meeting Jesus.

It is precisely the actions of this woman in contrast to those of the disciples that strike me as a Lenten nugget in this text. This woman is outcast as a woman, outcast as a Samaritan, outcast by having a personal history; this woman is not only welcomed by Jesus but takes it upon herself to become an apostle. This Lenten season we have thought about fault and sin, about leaving and change, and now we are faced with a text that appears to lift up a person who would not be lifted up as a religious example as one who sees and seeks the truth. The woman at the well is the other who only seeks truth and love while being denied both by society. But all that changes when she meets Jesus. For Jesus reveals the truth to her, a truth that sends her back into her community, where she might to be listened to.

Could it be that the Lenten journey is one that not only calls us to examine our own actions but to also examine our social expectations to consider who we may be missing, and the truth they have to share, when we decide who is in and who is out according to our traditions? Jesus did not exclude persons; he always found a way to bring the other in. Perhaps this third week of Lent we are called to meditate on that part of the journey. The stories we could tell, and we still have so far to go!

UCC Widening the Welcome Article

Widening the Welcome logoKelli’s article on Widening the Welcome has been republished in the Connecting Voices e-magazine. Connecting Voices has all sorts of great news of the happenings within the Southern California/Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Read the Connecting Voices article here. Also, watch for more such material to appear here on WWSIC in coming months.

Must Read Article

Came across a very good article on Sojourners today. The Sojourner’s article is entitled “Mary and Martha: Women in Ministry in the 21st Century” and was written by Theresa Cho. I am sharing the link to the article so you can read it

Mary and Martha: Women in Ministry in the 21st Century by Theresa Cho

I thought Cho raised many important points about being women clergy in these days. So, let’s talk about it…here is your assignment respond to Cho’s article and let us post it here On Women who Speak in Church!