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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Open-hearted Understanding...Or Not So Much

Within a recent sermon, I talked about a possible understanding of the Greek word "pisteo," which is often translated as belief,: trust within the context of a relationship.  Then I said this:

"I think about relationships each time I prepare a message for a funeral.  As the life of an individual unfolds and I hear a variety of stories from families and friends I am often moved to speak of a person as a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend and so on attempting to name some of the many relationships in which the person was involved.  Each one of these relationships was unique and comes with its own unique joys and sorrows and often needs to be addressed in different ways. 

So it is with our relationship with God.  In my own relationship with God I find I have difficulty relating to God on a personal level, this entity whom I cannot see or touch.  And so my relationship with God tends more toward the intellectual and the practical rather than the emotional.  My heroes of faith tend more toward Jacob who wrestled with God and the Syrophenician woman who debated with Jesus.  The way I find trust and hope in my faith would differ from someone who admires Mary’s humility and obedience.

This is not to say there is no objective truth but rather to say none of us have a monopoly on that truth.  When we listen to the truth which speaks to the hearts of others, the truth within our own hearts becomes deeper and richer. "

I wrote and then spoke these words pondering how I should be more understanding of the beliefs of others, recognizing we all have different stories, different needs, different personalities.  Then, within minutes of these nice open hearted sentiments, something happened which accentuated the differences in belief between myself and some people I care about.  Even with my focus on open-mindedness, still it felt a little heart-breaking.  It made me feel lonely and misunderstood.

This renewed my understanding of why discussions about religion can become so heated and why many people can be extremely resistant to change or new ideas when it comes to faith.  We all want to be understood.  When our beliefs are similar, we understand each other and hear each other.  We feel validated. When speaking with people whose beliefs differ greatly from my own (which, frankly, is most of the time) I often feel like I am speaking a different language.  I sometimes feel dismissed or judged.  It is all such a lonely and futile feeling.

Sometimes we talk about needing a sense of belonging.  This may be true but it always strikes me as talking about people as though we are all children pouting because we didn't get picked to join a club. There is reason for wanting to gather with like minded folks which goes beyond a desire for popularity and strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves and how we connect with others.  Hence, even when we approach a conversation about faith, or the lack there of, with open minds and open hearts, still it is a difficult task we undertake.

Let's be patient with each other.

Patience is not one of my strengths.  But I will try. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Open to Fighting Racism and Not for Church Publicity

I have read and thought about the shooting of Michael Brown.  I have thought about white privilege, how to stand with those suffering from discrimination, how to speak on such issues when I know so little, how our country responds to protests, our judicial system, etc.  Lots of thoughts but few words.  Why is this?  I have read comments which suggest white folks hesitate to speak on these issues because they are afraid speaking out about racism might be unpopular.  This is not my concern.  If I worried about who amongst my Mid-west neighbors might dislike my words I couldn’t write half the things I do.  Rather I am concerned about the reactions of those suffering from discrimination.  I live in an area of the country which is very white.  It is difficult to understand racism when I am surrounded by people who look pretty much like I do.  I am speaking from a place of ignorance and yet not speaking feels wrong.  I am afraid of offending the very people who are already hurting.  So, I hesitate to speak.

I thought about going to Ferguson.  It is not so terribly far away.  I saw pictures of a white female pastor participating in the protests.  Could I, like her, be of help?  But, she was from the community.  I am an outsider.  What do I know?  Do I intrude upon this community in their struggle so I can feel good about standing against injustice? 

There was some talk of pastors putting themselves between the protestors and the police.  I understand using position of privilege to intervene for others.  Yet would using the position of pastor as a shield not in a sense condone the grading of human lives as more or less worthy of protection?  Does this not lend some credence to attitudes which say “he robbed a store, therefore it is okay he was killed?”   The life of a pastor should not be more valuable than any other human life. 

Part of me was relieved to see a church presence at those protests because too often the church is absent from justice issues.  Another part of me wanted to roll my eyes.  Remember that old and no longer politically correct joke about dyslexic people worshipping dog?  I think there was more truth in the joke than we realized but not just for people with learning disabilities.  Way too often the Christian church treats God like some cosmic dog who needs to constantly mark his territory.   If we stand up for justice do we have to do so while waving a cross in the air?  Do we have to claim our actions as Christian rather than simply human?  Can we not work for justice without it feeling like a publicity stunt? 

Everywhere I turn I have more questions than answers.  Yet the pain of racism in this country has been laid bare before us.  Regardless of the particularities of this particular case the anger it has revealed does not fall from the sky.  There are racist realities in our society which need to be acknowledged, confronted and transformed into justice.  I do not know how to help this happen.  A wise friend once told me if I hold myself open to helping in such situations opportunity will come.  It already has in some very small ways.  So, I hold myself open to helping fight the injustice of racism and other injustices, not as a pastor, not as a white person, not as a Christian but as a human being with no more or less value than any other human being. 

For now, it is the only thing I know to do.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Church Wide Vow of Silence

A Church wide vow of silence.  Wouldn’t that be something to see?  Or hear, rather.

I love science fiction/fantasy novels and I dream of one day writing one.  Mostly I realize there are others more gifted than I to do the writing and I should stick to the reading.  But sometimes, I do a little writing or have a storyline idea floating around in my head.  One of the scenarios about which I dream of writing is a religion, with a history similar to that of Christianity, taking a vow of silence as an act of repentance. 

Sci-Fi/ Fantasy stories often represent our fondest wishes or our greatest fears.  A church wide vow of silence would not be a fear for me. 

Haven’t we said too much already?  There is such a history of words.  Hurtful words.  Hateful words.  Ignorant words.  Arrogant words.  Manipulative words.  What if we just stop?  Stop talking.   Stop trying to convert others.  Stop using religion as an excuse for discrimination.  Stop using God’s name as a way to minimize someone else’s pain.  Stop with the platitudes.  Stop using religion as just another way to blame the victim.  Wouldn’t that be a glorious act of repentance?!?! 

It might be tempting to make exceptions.  Maybe we could at least say, “God loves you, ” for example. Yet we could manage to say even those words in a way which sounds like we are talking to something we just scraped off the bottom of our shoes.   Considering the number of times I have heard “I am praying for you” said in a way which clearly means “you are SO going to hell,” I just don’t know what words with which we could possibly be trusted.  

I suppose it would be okay to very carefully and quietly talk about God amongst ourselves.  Very carefully.  I had a Seventh Day Adventist friend years ago.  I disagreed with her on many things but one thing I appreciated was the care with which she spoke about God, carefully trying to say only things which she believed were true in the deepest sense of the word.  Something to be learned there.

I know some of you might ask, “But if we don’t tell people God loves them, how will they know?”  We have used so many words.  Their echoes will resound long after we have stopped speaking.  Perhaps we could trust God to make sure the echoes which resound longest are those times when we did speak love.  Or, scripture talks about even stones will speak.  We have done such a lousy job of speaking surely the stones could do better.  Perhaps it is time we gave them a chance. 

But, since a church wide vow of silence doesn’t seem likely, I guess I will go on speaking and writing and hoping against hope the church will some day at least turn firmly away from proselytizing and 
toward speaking out for justice for all people.  Or perhaps I have better odds of writing that Sci-Fi novel.