A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

6 Positive Results of this Election

There has been great lamentation from all across the political spectrum about this year’s election.  I have felt more sadness and anxiety in regards to this election than any other political event in my lifetime.  Of late, though I have come to realize there can be some positive to be found even in the midst of this mess.  Here are 6 Positive Results of the 2016 Election Year:

1.  Future elections won’t seem so bad.  I hope.  A few years ago, my area of the country had drought conditions for several years.  I no longer stress out every time we go through a dry spell.  If we are not looking at hauling water because of dried up ponds or feeding hay in the middle of summer because of dried up pastures, I know it is not so bad.  Those years of drought gave me a whole new perspective on weather.   This year’s election has given a whole new perspective on politics.  Even if I disagree with a candidate's policies on just about everything, if he or she is not a prejudiced, sexist, braggart, intentionally inflaming bigotry and completely unqualified for the position, I will know it could be worse and perhaps not worry quite so much.

2.  The importance of fact checking has become clear.  With the internet and social media, false information travels quickly and looks just as valid as factual information.  “If it looks too good to be true it probably is” or gut reactions of “that can’t possibly be real,” are no longer enough. Information on the internet can look factual and real without having even a passing acquaintance with the truth.  It behooves us to fact check before we believe what we read and certainly before we pass it on to others. 

3. Our attention has been drawn to fact checking as an ethical responsibility.  Fact checking is not just about keeping ourselves appropriately informed.  We need to also take a stand against the spreading of misinformation.  If we do not take the time to fact check we enable those who spread misinformation in order to influence public opinion and public policy.  It is also much more difficult to inflame prejudice against any population if one is forced to deal in facts.  Believing anything which comes across our screens, without considering the facts, feeds the bullies of our world.  

4.  Racism, sexism, and ignorance present in our country have been exposed.  To be sure, I have been deeply saddened to hear crude racism come out of the mouths of my fellow citizens and out of the mouths of children as they echo what they hear in their communities and on TV.   However, such racism was not born this election cycle.  This election has stripped another layer of excuses away, increased awareness and may push us toward addressing the bigotry amongst us.

5.  We have had opportunity to consider our partisanship and how far it goes.  I have done some soul searching about what I would do if the candidate I would normally support was inflaming prejudice, sexism, and hate.  Could I get myself to vote for someone with whom I disagreed on most policy issues in order to take a stand against hate?  I hope so.  Perhaps I am more likely to do so now that I have been forced to consider such things.  

6.  Credibility of the Christian faith has taken a huge hit.  This may not seem like I should think this a good thing but bear with me.  When a large segment of the Christian church chose to support a contempt filled bigot and misogynist for the Republican party’s nomination, any claim to moral high ground for the Christian church was eroded badly to say the least.  How is this good?  It could serve as a much needed wake up call.  This could serve to open our eyes to see that when people outside of the church talk about hypocrisy in the church they are not talking about Christians making mistakes or simply being flawed human beings.  They are talking about a deep problem within the Christian church which allows hateful and prejudiced behavior to be justified or even encouraged all while we claim to be guided by love.  I may not belong to the part of the church which supported the Republican nominee but the deeper problem is present throughout much, if not all, of the Christian church.  There is much conversation and repentance needed and perhaps such will now begin.  

I would prefer things had gone differently than they have in our country this election year.  But if we have to endure this election, perhaps some good can come from it yet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Throw A Meme At It

Some say the time following tragedies, like what happened in Orlando, is not the time to talk about political issues like gun control.  There is some truth here.  Tragedies should not be considered mere fodder to support one's own political opinion.  However, following such a tragedy seems like an excellent time to thoughtfully consider and even debate various methods for preventing such a tragedy from happening again.  Instead of such debates we launch simple minded memes and pictures and phrases at each other designed to provoke emotion or reinforce preconceived notions rather than producing thought.  

I implore you when tragedy strikes please do not throw a meme at it.  In addition, I personally repent from liking memes and humorous quotations when they align with my political views or I think they are funny.  

Such simplistic slogans disrespect the victims of tragedy through over simplifying situations and acting as a barrier to real dialogue, real progress, real preventative actions.  For example, pretending a shooter would have been just as lethal had he been armed with a rock is insulting to the victims and insulting to everyone’s intelligence.  Simplifying past horrific events such as Wounded Knee to support your political agenda disrespects current and past victims.  Rather we should be  honoring current victims with in-depth consideration without minimizing the horrors of the deliberate, government instituted acts of genocide perpetrated against Native American people.  
I am sure there are equally offensive and simplistic liberal postings but I don't recall seeing any, probably due to the area of the country in which I reside.  Whatever your political leanings such posts are not helpful.  

I have been lucky thus far to be affected by gun violence only at a bit of a distance.  The closest I have come was a friend of years gone by, Margaret Anderson, who put her life between others and a gunman and was tragically killed.  But even from my view point, if mindless memes were being cast about in regards to her death I would be sickened and angered and can only imagine the pain such would inflict upon her husband, her children, her parents.  

There is plenty of pain.  We need not add to it.  What is needed is thoughtful discussions honoring the depth of loss and seriously considering various actions to reduce the chances of such tragedy happening again.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Remembering The Slave Girl

I thought I would share the sermon I preached a few days ago.  With recent political events, I feel like I have to say something.  Perhaps there is a relevant tidbit or two in here:

In Acts 16 we read about a slave girl with the power of divination.  We don’t know exactly what this means but we do know this power gives her owners some economic benefit.  And we read this girl follows Paul and Silas and repeatedly proclaims them to be “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  This seems harmless enough but alas Paul finds these proclamations annoying and so he orders the spirit out of her.  And that is all we are told about the slave girl.  I find this troubling.  Here is a girl, held as a slave, one of the most vulnerable in society, and Paul seems to give her no consideration other than removing the part of her which annoyed him.  She is left with lowered value in the eyes of her owners but as far as we know still a slave, still at the mercy of these men whom we will find in the following verses to be completely without scruples or mercy.  

As I considered the seemingly gross injustice of the treatment of this girl, I tried to think of Jesus in this situation and tried to imagine him treating her so callously.  And suddenly I realized this story reminded me of the story of the Syrophoenician  woman.  In the story of the Syrophoenician woman the woman begs for healing of her daughter and persists despite Jesus’ attitude of exhausted dismissal toward her pleas.  It made me wonder if perhaps the slave girl had a purpose to her annoying proclamations.  Perhaps she followed Paul and Silas hoping they would be worn down into seeing her plight and freeing her from the spirit within her.  Perhaps there were things about her divination duties and the position they put her in which made her long for healing.  Perhaps her cries were annoying to Paul because he felt called to heal her but knew to do so would be dangerous and so she persisted until Paul could resist no longer.  For Jesus the Syrophoenician woman’s persistent and wise words moved him to act.  For Paul it seems to be the sheer weight of annoyance.   But this is all speculation since we know so little about the girl or the situation. Perhaps this girl’s slavery was being unfairly lengthened due to her economic usefulness, maybe the divinations were part of a larger illness.  And it could be I am way off base, she didn’t want to be healed, lost her value to her owners and lived out a pitiful existence abandoned and alone.  Whatever the case I feel it is my duty to honor her story by at least acknowledging that she had one.  

There is much to wonder about regarding the slave girl but the behavior of her owners seems pretty clear.  Upset at their loss of profit, they slander Paul and Silas.  They play upon the prejudices of the local populace and appeal to their patriotism in order to get what they want, revenge upon Paul and Silas.  Prejudices are a reliable way to stir up violence and so Paul and Silas are arrested and beaten.  

Phillipi was a place important to the Roman empire.  Imperial power was strong in such a place and with many benefits but also ruthlessness.  Seminary professor, Matthew Skinner points out the description of imperial rule which the story from Acts lays out for us:  An empire which exploits the power of religion, and values people for their economic worth, skillfully uses scapegoating, utilizes violence and torture, and refuses to admit defeat. (from ON Scripture article)  

So many of these imperial tactics are being paraded before our eyes this election season it is appalling.  Obvious use of religion to manipulate is rampant.  Scapegoating of refugees, muslims, undocumented immigrants, hispanics, transgendered people is just a tip of the iceberg. Calls to violence toward those who disagree have become common place.  Refusal to ever admit any mistakes or wrongdoing regardless of the magnitude of the offense has become bread and butter of politics.  Valuing people only for their economic worth has distorted our view of reality until someone who has benefited from privilege and power with every breath from the first moment of life can claim to be outside of the establishment and we buy it seemingly because of the economic power associated with a name.  

It is discouraging, depressing, appalling, and frightening.  So, what can we do?  We can remember the slave girl.  We can commit to never forget she and people like her have stories.  They are people of equal value to the more powerful of the world.  We can work to lift up stories of the oppressed, those suffering from injustice and discrimination, the outcasts and the feared.  We can value people just for being people, not for their economic status or how they can promote our own agendas.  We can stalwartly resist violence in all its forms and remember honesty and repentance as virtuous acts.  We can refuse to be silent in the face of hatred.

We are not a people without hope.  We are a people guided by love, healed by forgiveness, and called to be light in the darkness as was one who came before us, Jesus, our guide and our hope. Amen.