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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

If I Better Loved My Representatives

It is important for preachers to practice what they preach.  A few weeks ago I preached about the church’s calling to love one another.  Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us and then he loved us so much he sacrificed his life for us.  I invited us all to think about someone we love deeply enough we would be willing to die for him/her.  Then we considered what it would look life if we loved all people with that kind of love.  

There is no way I can do that.  And I acknowledged in my sermon that none of us can.  Yet we are called to work toward deeper love for all people.  Reflecting upon my own words, it occurred to me deeper love for all people includes those who anger us.  So, I asked myself how I could more deeply love my governor and representatives.  How would I respond if someone for whom I would die were behaving in the ways they are behaving?  I decided I might start by giving that person the benefit of the doubt and treating such a person as though he/she believed his/her own words.  Then, I might kindly and gently attempt to help my beloved understand the consequences of his/her actions. 

If I gave my representatives such a benefit of the doubt I would have to consider that they believe they actually are increasing funding for schools, that they believe tax cuts benefit all Kansans, that they care more about doing what is right, just and compassionate than advancing their own interests.  If I gave such a generous benefit of the doubt, then what would I say?  

I would beseech them to visit schools.  Talk to teachers and hear the challenges they face.  Sit in a classroom long enough the students and teacher forget anyone is there.  Witness the wonderful and difficult work teachers are doing.  Talk with principals and superintendents to hear the budget challenges schools face.  

I would plead they sit with the poor and hear the struggles of poverty.  Listen to the stories of those living in poverty.   Hear their hopes and dreams.  

Then I would try to talk to my representatives in language with which they are comfortable by appealing to their business sense.  I would point out quality education is great for economic growth.  I would draw their attention to the way in which block funding removes incentives for schools to perform their best when attracting additional students does not increase funding.  Would any business function best when producing more, higher quality product meant increased expenses but not increased income?  

If I could move myself to love my representatives more deeply, it might look something like the above.  So, I will try to set aside snark and anger and compose a letter or two along these lines.  

‘Cause something’s gotta change and maybe, first, it is me.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Open Letter to Kansas Legislators and Kansas Voters

An Open Letter to Kansas Legislators and Kansas Voters,
Writing an open letter is not something I would often do.  However, since direct letters to legislators have had no response and conversation about such issues is important, I thought this might be the best way to go.  

I always try to understand controversy from perspectives which differ from my own.  I want to be able to understand opposing views even if I find them unpersuasive.  So, I have contemplated the issue of threats to school financing from a point of view more conservative and more Republican than my own.  It is difficult to understand when it seems so clear to me future cuts to our school budgets will not benefit our children and will further disrespect and bring hardship to the teachers who are pouring their hearts and long hours of work into our children's education.  

But, I try to understand.  It seems the argument goes something like this: the tax cuts which have brought about our current revenue shortage will eventually improve our economy tremendously and are therefore worth our current hardships for the sake of future benefit.  Even if I thought this was a likely possibility, our own governor has referred to this as an experiment.  One might venture to call it a gamble since there is no way to be certain such an economic upswing will occur.  So, here is what I want to say to those who are supporting such a gamble: it is not your money with which to gamble.  This money which you would cut from the budget of schools to support your economic agenda belongs to our children.  It is their education, their future with which you are gambling.  

Investing in education affects everything from the economy, to crime, to health care and beyond.  Furthermore, consider many of us will grow older.  Eventually today’s students will be our doctors, architects, and engineers.  In the future when you get cancer, build a house, or drive across a bridge, their education will have crucial relevance to you.  

“But,” you might say, “the school financing formula was too complex and needed reform.  We are not really cutting school funding, we are just reforming the way it is done.”   Two years from now this could possibly be a legitimate argument.  However, as it stands we are replacing the school financing formula with a temporary system which has not been appropriately researched and has not had the input of experts, or educators, or students, or parents.  It is intended to be temporary until such research can be done.  The logic eludes me.  If my washing machine is functional but not to my liking I do not throw it out and wash my clothes in the river for two years while I research the purchase of a new one.  

So, to my fellow voters: Please, think it through and if you come to disagree with the way our legislators are handling school financing, let them know.  I am a liberal in a “red” state.  They don’t care what I have to say.  Maybe they will listen to you.

To my legislators: Get your hands off of our children’s money.  Find a way to fund your “experiment” which doesn’t hurt children, or the poor, or the vulnerable.  If you can’t find another way then take responsibility and repeal the tax cuts.  

A Concerned Citizen,
Sheri Ellwood

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lenten Truth Facing Week 6: The Church Taking Responsibility

Here is the final week's Lenten Truth Facing as we will soon enter into Holy Week.  If you missed the last few weeks, a summary is below.

Week 6:  The problems of the Christian church cannot be blamed on those outside of the Christian church.  The church is not in decline because it is under attack from secularism.  The church is not in decline because of the latest generation’s messed up priorities.  It is possible the church is in decline to make room for some new way of God at work in the world.  It is also possible the problem is within the church itself.  It is even possible some of the things you like best about church are unhealthy.  Consider what within the church might be getting in the way of the church being God’s love at work in the world.  Face the truth of problems within the church. 

What are other areas where the Christian church avoids the truth?

A review of past weeks: 
In preparation for Ash Wednesday I wrote these words: “It is easy for Christianity to dissolve into platitudes.  What is intended to be about speaking hope can become dodging reality.  We speak platitudes to diminish the pain of others.  We speak platitudes to run away from our doubts.  But tonight we stand boldly on the edge of the abyss, acknowledging our faith does not prevent death.  We stand on the edge of the abyss with nothingness spread out before us and proclaim there is hope to be found even here.”

It did my heart good to think about the church boldly facing reality.  But it lead me to wonder at how many ways we, the church, fail to face reality or even do things which intentionally obscure reality.  How do we use faith to avoid uncomfortable truth?  How does such behavior damage any credibility the church might have and get in the way of being love and justice in the world?   

So, I propose a different Lenten discipline: each week of Lent let’s face honestly a new truth about church, faith or life.  Such as: 
Week 1:  Speak honestly about someone else’s pain.  I don’t mean tell someone else how they feel, but resist temptation to minimize someone else’s pain.  We use our religion to minimize the pain of others all the time.  We use euphemisms and platitudes.  We talk about faith as though it is proof against pain.  We talk about ministry as though it is a prize for suffering.  This week, pay attention to how you react to other people’s difficulties.  At least once, respond to someone by frankly acknowledging hurt without any caveats or comforts.  Resist using phrases like “passed away” “with the angels” or describing how God is at work.  Say something like “I am sorry he died” or “that sucks” or “how awful” or just “I am sorry.”  Listen without fixing or comforting.  Face the brutal reality of suffering in this world. 
Week 2:  Face honestly the limits of faith.  Being a Christian does not mean we know what happens after we die.  It does not mean we have an answer for everything.   It does not mean certainty about anything.  It does not mean we know exactly what God wants us to do with our lives. It is perfectly possible to have great faith in something and be absolutely flat out wrong.  Think through your own personal creeds and beliefs and callings and consider the possibility you might be wrong about any of them.   Talk with a friend about one thing you feel sure about and then ponder together what it would mean if the opposite were true.  Face the truth you might be wrong. 
Week 3: Recognize Christian does not necessarily equal good person (meaning moral/kind/etc.).  Professing faith in Jesus does not make one immune to doing bad things.  Atheism or following some other faith does not mean one is incapable of doing quite wonderful and moral things.  Purge “he/she is a good Christian” from your vocabulary when the phrase is intended to mean the same thing as being a good/moral person.  “Good Christian” and “good person” are not synonyms.  No dodges by saying “if a person were a true Christian than he/she would be good.”  Whose definition of “true Christian?”  If we had such an objective definition, how would one ever know someone else’s heart and behavior were truly “true?”  Assuming someone is trustworthy because they attend church or say God words is a recipe for disaster.  Think about someone about whom you have made assumptions based on their God talk or coarse language, church attendance or lack there of, and reconsider.   Face the truth “Christian” is not synonymous with “good”.
Week 4: Prayer is a mystery.  We do not know how, when, or even if prayer works.  We may trust in the power of prayer or hope in prayer  or find prayer personally beneficial but we do not know that prayers are ever answered. You can fancy dance all you want with “sometimes the answer is no” or “if it is according to God’s will” or  “prayer is about changing the heart of the one praying.”  The first is nonsensical, the second says God will answer prayers if God was already going to do it anyway, and the third seems like prayer as cosmic biofeedback.  The reality is all those are just another way of saying we don’t know how or if prayer works.  This is important because it is true and also because without this humility about prayer the words “I am praying for you” can sound empty, condescending, or judgmental.  They can also be a convenient way of avoiding getting off our hind-ends and doing something.   We can trust in prayer.  We can hope in prayer.  But prayer is another thing we need to be brutally honest about.  Think of one thing you would have prayed about this week and do something about it instead.  Face the truth we don’t know the truth about prayer.
Week 5: Christian faith is not a good basis for government.  As Christians we are to love all our neighbors, even the non-Christian ones.  Governing according to our faith, which some of our neighbors do not share, amounts to silencing them, ignoring their voices, ignoring their wants and needs, in general, not loving them.  When it comes to government and public discourse, reasoning needs to come from another source.  Your faith will inform your stance on various issues but your reasoning for public policy cannot rest solely on religious beliefs without excluding much of the population from the discussion.  Reconsider your political opinions to look for reasoning which people of another faith or no faith could find persuasive.  Face the truth our world should not be ruled by Christianity.