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

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.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Think of the Children

Lately the phrase “think of the children!” has come to mind a few times.  Of course, this immediately makes me recall a Simpson’s episode in which a woman repeatedly shrieks “Think of the children!” and “Won’t someone please think of the children!”  Ah, the Simpsons.  Indeed such a cry can be a meaningless play on emotions, as it was intended to portray in the aforementioned episode but recently it seems to me thinking of the children might be an extremely helpful thing to do.  

One of the most obvious areas in which we need to “think of the children” is education.  Slashing funding for public schools seems to be par for the course in many areas around the country.  Legislatures are not content to limit themselves to cutting funding either.  Mandates about curriculum,bonds, school boards have all been tossed about without any seeming understanding of what will even work let alone what will benefit children’s education.  When it comes to education, thinking of our children should be the focus.  It is what our teachers, principles, paras, aides, cooks, custodians and all other staff at our schools are engaged in throughout the school year.  It is what will benefit our society, our legal system, and political system.  Having educated citizens impacts nearly every aspect of our lives.  Whether we have children ourselves or not, we all definitely need to “think of the children.”

We could also stand to “think of the children” when considering political campaigns.  In this case, such thoughts might clarify what should be obvious to us anyway.  Do we want national leaders who teach hatred?  When we teach children how to be good citizens, how to be good neighbors, and so on do we tell them saying hateful, ignorant, and cruel things is okay as long as you are using “straight talk?”   Do we teach our children basic decency and kindness is kowtowing to political correctness?  It is frightening to think we might have to ban children from watching the President of the United States make a speech for fear children would copy his speech at school and end up in deep trouble. 

Let’s reign in our political bickering, divisiveness, and party loyalty.  Please, think of the children.