Tag Archives: politics

Re-mything America

Most societies are built on myths —  symbolic tales of the distant past  that concern cosmogony and cosmology (the origin and nature of the universe), may be connected to belief systems or rituals, and may serve to direct social action and values. Our myths help tell us who we are and how we relate to the world around us. And, as Joseph Campbell wrote, when our myths are taken from us, when they begin to break down, the society structured around it begins to break down as well.

America (white America, in particular) is built on a myth. This myth is that this country was founded for the ideals of liberty and justice for all. These words are, after all, written into our founding documents. We believe that success is determined by hard work. If you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything. Our courts are fair, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and, while there may be a few errors here and there in our criminal justice system, generally the outcomes of court proceedings are good and right. After all, the rites and rituals of the criminal justice system are also some of the rites and rituals that help us act out our belief in our story, in the American myth. Our nation is fair, because it was created by brilliant human beings (who in some cases we revere in ways close to reverence religions have for gods). The protectors of our myths (our priests) the police and judges and the military, have gone through tests to prove their worthiness, they are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of our myth, and they can do no wrong.

The symbol for our myth is our flag, and when it is raised we praise it with promises of commitment (the pledge) and praise music (the national anthem). These have become (albeit recently) the rites and rituals of our myth, and to disrupt these rites and rituals disrespects the myth, and the priests, and scribes who attend to it.

Like the faithful who have never really had a prayer answered, there are many who are faithful to the myth of America who have never seen the fruits of the faith. There are many who have worked their fingers to the bone and yet don’t seem to get ahead, those who dream big dreams only to die poor and anonymous. But it is faith in the myth that keeps them pushing ahead, faith in the possibility that makes the hard work worth it, even if it may take generations.

It seems that there is a rather large racial divide in those who believe in the myth and those who don’t. To be sure, there are white people for whom the myth has proven to be empty, and people of color for whom the myth holds promise. But all in all, I would imagine that being born into a country that once saw your people as less than human (3/5 of a person), where your ancestors worked until they bled, and were beaten into working more, yet never saw anything come of that work but more work, would lead you to see the myth for what it is long before others might.

What I believe we are seeing now is a vociferous objection to this myth by those for whom the myth has never been seen as true and for those who have been listening to and learning from those who have not experienced liberty and justice. White people are hearing our brothers and sisters cry out that they have been working, working, working for generations only to see that it would take generations more work to catch up to the same amount of material wealth that white people have. Video recordings of police killing unarmed black people, of dogs being set on native people trying to protect what is theirs, are showing those of us who are white and willing to listen what our brothers and sisters of color have known for so long — the American myth is just that: a myth. It is a story we have told ourselves for generations both so that we might keep working towards an imaginary goal and so that we can blame those who do not reach their goal for their own personal failings. Believing in the myth ensures that those of us with power and privilege are not responsible for those who do not succeed. We are not complicit in the breaking down of the dream for another; it is their fault.

Yet there are others for whom this myth is so integral to the fabric of their being that to question the reality of the myth is to question reality itself, to question the core of one’s own being. If your life is inextricably tied to belief in this myth and this myth is being shattered, you have two choices: allow the myth to collapse and figure out a new story around which to find meaning, or fight like hell to keep the myth in place, facts and figures be damned. Many, many Americans are choosing the latter.

Myths are based in the past, not the future. They are creation stories and hero stories around which we guide the structures of our lives. We use them to guide our decisions, but always as a touch point in the past, not as a moment in the future towards which we aim.

The American myth is not a bad idea. To strive to be a nation that believes in justice and equality, that actually allows for everyone who works hard to get ahead is a wonderful goal. But it is that, a goal. It is not a reality, and it has never been. There is not point in the past to which we can point and say, “There! There is a time when the American myth was actually American reality!” And yet we gather around it as though it was. We focus our political and religious yearnings towards a time that never was, towards a myth that is as real as the stories of the Greek and Roman Gods. However, unlike the stories of the ancient Gods, this myth has potential. It is something we can strive towards if we are willing to let go of the myth and work towards it as a goal. If instead of looking to this point in the past (that does not actually exist) in which our nation was truly free for all, we work together towards a point in the future when this actually could be.

In order to do this, however, we need to find a new myth around which we can gather ourselves. We need to provide those for whom this myth is a defining life belief (those who have faith in this myth) another story. As it is, half of our nation is fighting the loss of this myth, fighting it with all their might. We have people absolutely irate at the perceived disrespect shows to our rites and rituals, to our priests and scribes.

We need to re-myth America.

These are just some things I have been thinking for which I have no statistical evidence. I am not an anthropologist or sociologist, I am a person who thinks a lot about myth and ritual. I am working this out. Feel free to add your own thoughts, we can all work this out together.

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Embody hope

Art by Banksy, photo unknown

Art by Banksy, photo unknown

A sermon for the 4th Sunday in Easter.

Revelation 7:9-19

John 10:22-30

It is part of a preacher’s job to bring good news, and have I got some good news for you: today is Sunday. That means that last week is over and we have a new week with new possibilities ahead of us. Wahoo!

Weeks like this past week are the weeks, the days, the times when it is most difficult to come up with good news and, simultaneously, the weeks when sharing, hearing, partaking in the good news is vital. When everything seems to be spinning out of control, that is when we need the good news of Jesus Christ more than ever.

I really wish I could just come up here, say, “Jesus loves you!” and sit back down. I’m angry and I’m sad and I’m frustrated with the state of the world. I’m tired of watching innocent people die, angry about the role money plays in politics, tired of people who prefer their own version of liberty to the safety of others. I’m incredibly sad that every time a terrorist attack occurs on our soil, someone decides to just start beating up anyone who looks like what they think the terrorists may have looked like (usually someone with brown skin). I’m very much over companies that complain about regulations, don’t abide by them, and then have horrific accidents that kill people. I’m outraged at the way our elected leaders have violated human rights accords and human decency. I’m kind of tired of it all. I want to take my ball and go home.

Then I am reminded of the reasons to hope, the reasons to stay and keep playing.

I have read a ton of great mini-sermons this past week that are springboards for hope and optimism. One of my favorite memes going around right now is the quote from Fred Rodgers that says, “”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Look for the helpers. They are everywhere. Not only in times of tragedy, but in every day life. We are surrounded by people who teach, who heal, who serve and love boundlessly.  But these aren’t the news stories. The news stories celebrate the ugly, the inhumane – the news stories celebrate our sin and keep us in a state of fear. Fear of our neighbor, fear of the other, fear of this world.

As the 24 hour news cycle rolled on and on this week, they managed to highlight the helpers, but still kept a lazer focus on the gore, the blood, the death that happened on our own soil, with nary a mention of the daily reality of terror that exists around the world or the terror that our nation has inflicted on other nations and individuals.

Sorry, I’m going down the spiral of negativity again. My bad.

Here’s another mini sermon I read this week, a quote from comedian Patton Oswalt:

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

 

There is a lot of gospel truth in those words. The prices and penalties incurred Oswalt is talking about is what we, as Christians, call sin. We are all broken, but every once in a while someone (or some ones) get more broken than the rest of us or they act out on their brokenness in ways most of us would never dream of.

In our brokenness, in spite of our sinful nature, most of us still try to do right. Most of us still try to follow Jesus, most people still try to do the right thing. We hear his voice beckoning us, trying to call us out of the darkness and into the light, calling us away from our self-serving ways and towards God-serving ways.

The helpers, the people who run into the violence, the people who open their homes to strangers and immediately donate blood: these are the people who follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.  These are the people who give us hope that not all is lost, that there is still love and decency in the world.

I have seen these helpers and felt sparks of hope for the world in the world. Where do I, in my cynical, irritable state, look to find hope right now in the word of God?

Revelation? Yeah, that’s totally weird for me. Revelation has never been where I have gone to for hope. Weird stories? Yes. Tales of bloodshed and war? Yes. Hope? Not usually.

But it’s right there. John has been writing for quite a few chapters about all kinds of horror. Then he takes a break and reminds us that horror, even of the kind of horror he describes in his Revelation, has an end. Pain has an end. Hunger has an end. And we have a God who wants to end all of these things for us and to wipe every tear from our eyes.

We could argue all day about what Revelation is. Is it an accurate prediction of what will happen when Jesus comes again? Is it a hallucination brought on by seizures or eating the wrong berries on the island? Is it a political tome to provide courage and hope to the Christians in the diaspora? Does it matter? However literally it is meant to be taken, Revelation is still a book of hope, of renewal, of encouragement for us when we go through our own tribulations. It is a story for when we see our worlds falling apart around us we can take a moment to remember that it hasn’t always been this way and it won’t always be this way. We can take a moment to remember that God wants to wipe every tear from our eyes.

The cynic in me asks, “If God wants us to not have any pain, then WHY IS THERE PAIN?” The cynic in me asks that a lot.

But the answer is sin. Our world is a broken place. Not everybody hears the Good Shepherd, and not everyone who hears follows. God doesn’t force us to listen. We get to make our own choices. And, sometimes, we make some really, really bad choices.

The root of our bad choices is, usually, fear. We fear for our lives, our livelihood, our safety, our belongings. In order to stay safe, to protect what is ours, we put ourselves first.

This is how common sense gun regulation supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people gets voted down. Representatives afraid of losing money, of being primaried, afraid for their careers (more so than for the lives of their representatives). This is how our leaders justify torture of prisoners – they are afraid of more injuries, more attacks and will use any means necessary to get the information. Information that usually ends up being useless. This is how terrorists rationalize what they are doing – they are protecting a way of life they fear losing. Fear is what drives racism, homophobia, misogyny – the list goes on and on.

When we trust in God, we are able to lose that fear. When we follow Jesus, we are able to let go of our fears for our own lives and worry more about the lives of others and the life of Christ.

Our world will never be free from sin. It will never be not broken. But it can be less broken. There can be less violence, less hate, less anger, if we truly hear Jesus’ voice and follow. We are called to be the helpers, we are called to be beacons of hope when the world gets dark. Our knowledge of salvation in Christ in both this life and the next allows us to hold on to hope when the rest of the world can’t, to be hope for others when their worlds are falling apart. We are called to be hope, to embody it. This is the call of the good shepherd. We are able to do this, to follow Jesus, to be hope as a gift of God in Jesus Christ.

I am still angry, I am still sad, I am still hurting for the world. But I can hear the voice of the good shepherd calling me, calling us to follow and I know that, in that call, lies hope.


White Christians sleep while young black men die

If you're white, there's a good chance this person scares you. Deal with it. Sit with it. Think about it. Then try and do better next time.

This is largely addressed to my white brothers and sisters, particularly those in the church. I’m a white woman, was raised in an almost all-white town and have spent most of my life in predominately white faith communities. White people don’t like to talk about racism. We like to pretend it isn’t real and we don’t benefit from it. This has got to stop.

When Barack Obama was elected president, there was all kinds of talk about the United States being a post-racial society. This was, and is, total bullshit. It was (and is), however, a really nice bedtime story us white folk can tell to our kids and to ourselves. Rest easy, everyone. Racism is dead. No need to worry about race anymore. Go to sleep, sleep. sleep…

Every once in a while , we (by we I mean my white brothers and sisters) wake up from our little racism-doesn’t-exist slumber. When a celebrity says something out loud that we know is something you just don’t say (inner voices, white brethren) we get all up in arms and demand an apology. Then we go back to sleep. While we sleep, some of us clutch our purses on the train, lock our doors when we drive through minority neighborhoods or cross the street when groups of dark-skinned men stand in our path. We tell ourselves that we are doing it for our own safety, if we realize we are doing it at all. We make assumptions about people’s intelligence, responsibility, work ethic and a whole host of other things based on the color of a person’s skin. I do not exclude myself from this description. I do it too.

Then, in the middle of our nice black-man-is-president, post-racial dream, a young black man is killed for walking through a neighborhood in a hoodie carrying some skittles, an iced tea, and talking to his girl on the phone. We wake up. We are sad, we are shocked (really? shocked?), we are horrified. We call for the ousting and jailing and public shaming of all involved. Our eyes are getting heavy. All of this sadness and dismay about racism is tiring. We’d like to go back to sleep.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE, STAY AWAKE!

Jesus said this to his followers a lot. Maybe not in those exact words, but he did tell them to stay awake directly and in parables. Jesus knew his followers would have a hard burden to bear once he left. He knew that they would want to fall asleep. He knew they, like most humans, would prefer a life of comfort to the life of the cross he was walking them towards. He implored them to keep awake.

What did that mean to Jesus? Be aware of what you are doing and saying, be aware of who is around you, be aware of your inner thoughts and your prayer life. Be aware. Be awake. Know yourself — know your weaknesses, know what sets you off, know what you are afraid of. Keep awake. Know the difference between what the world tells you and what God is saying. Keep awake. This is how you stay faithful to God and keep the devil at bay. Keep awake.

2000 or so years later, we are asleep. This is, in no small part, a fault of the church. Christian pastors and churches want to keep our numbers up, so we strive to keep people comfortable. We profit off of people staying asleep. I know that there are good Christians out there and good churches working hard to keep people awake. But this shouldn’t be the work of a few churches well suited to social justice work. This is the work of all of us.

We (white people) are complicit in the murder of Trayvon Martin and all of the other non-white folk who have been killed over the years. We are complicit in the wage gap between people of color and the pigment-challenged. We sit idly by as we watch the number of young black men in prison grow as the unemployment rate for the same demographic in the United State is around 17%. This happens because we are asleep.

We are asleep to our fears. We deny that we are afraid of people of color because it sounds so ugly. No one wants to be that person. But we all are. In some way, we all are. We are asleep to our assumptions. When we make assumptions about a person’s intelligence or capabilities on the basis of the color of their skin, we shrug it off. We tell ourselves that some stereotypes are that way because they are true. When someone defies our expectations, we assume that it is because that person is exceptional, not because our assumption was wrong. Most of all, and I believe, most importantly, we are asleep to our power and privilege.

If you need a primer on the benefits of being white, check out the essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. What can you think of off the top of your head? How about not being afraid of the police (unless you’ve actually done something illegal or are high and therefore, paranoid)? That’s a great privilege. I had a black friend in high school who refused to visit me because he knew he would get pulled over in my 99% white town. Not getting followed around in a store — that’s pretty cool. Most of the people of my race I see on TV are heroes. Nobody looks at my skin and assumes I have a bad credit score. Read the essay. Learn. Be aware. Be awake.

And another thing: rid your mind of the idea of reverse racism. Reverse racism is not a thing. Yes, white people are occasionally judged on the color of their skin. This is race prejudice, and it happens. Racism is different. Racism = race prejudice + power. And white people, as a whole, still hold the power. I know that this is complicated and there is a hierarchy of power that includes all sorts of things like wealth, education, gender, sexual orientation, nation of origin, immigration status and color. But the top of that hierarchy of power is white. And until white people like myself are ready to talk about this, nothing will get better, it just won’t.

Next time you find yourself clutching your bag or crossing the street or making an assumption about a person stop. Think. Ask yourself what you’re doing and why. Admit that you might have been racist right there, for a moment. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Next time you get a sweet interest rate, your credit check is waived, you get out of a traffic ticket or have the police drive right past you without even glancing your way stop. Think. Ask yourself what’s happened and why. Admit you have power and privilege. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Most importantly, my white friends, wake up the people around you. Wake up your churches. Talk about race. Deliver sermons about race. Have workshops about race. How much do we not talk about race? I was hard pressed to find a friend who went to a white church where Dr. King was talked about on Martin Luther King Day. We can’t even talk about it when we’re honoring one of the greatest prophets of our time. We are comfortable. We are asleep. People of color in our country don’t have this luxury.

In Jesus’ stories, the ending is never good for the people who fall sleep. Stay awake, therefore. Stay awake. Stay awake. For the sake of the world, stay awake.

If you want to talk about race, racism, power and privilege in your community, check out CrossRoads. They do excellent anti-racism training.


Slut shaming (Jesus says don’t do it)

Slut shaming. It’s the new thing. Well, it’s not new at all, really. It’s at least as old at the prophets, who repeatedly refer to Israel as a whore and a prostitute (two different things, mind you) for being untrue to God. Over and over again, Biblical imagery paints Israel as a woman who is verbally and physically abused by YHWH (God) for being unfaithful, for straying to other Gods. It is really painful to read this. It would be even more painful if I read these words as God’s words and not the expression of a community of faith trying to come to grips with horrific suffering. These are the scriptures of my faith. This is my holy book. And, at times, the things it has to say about women are pretty ugly*. Sadly, things haven’t changes much in the past 2500 years.

Clearly some things have, at least in the wealthier nations. It’s pretty uncommon to sell your daughters or to kill women who aren’t virgins when they get married, at least in the United States. These things are also illegal here. However, as mouthpieces as diverse as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Mahr have recently demonstrated, it’s still okay make women less than due to their sexuality. As it has been true throughout history, a pretty quick and easy way to take down a woman is to call her a slut, whore, hussy, tramp, prostitute, or bimbo. Call a woman’s sexual activity into question and she’s done. This is even more clear when we examine how quick everyone is to say that the woman Limbaugh insulted, Sandra Fluke, is NOT a slut, she is NOT promiscuous, she was just standing up or a friend who needed birth control for medical reasons. What if she did sleep with a ton of people? Would that have somehow made Limbaugh’s take down of her okay? Would it have been totally reasonable to disregard her testimony because she was *gasp* having a lot of sex?
This is tricky territory as a female Christian leader. I don’t want to strap women in chastity belts or conscribe us to lives of submission, nor do I want to make anyone feel dirty or ashamed of sex or their bodies. However, I don’t want to glorify having a lot of sex with random people. It is my observation that women tend to have random sex to fulfill other needs — the need for emotional connection, self-esteem, or approval — and usually end up not only not fulfilling these needs but usually feel worse afterwards. I also fully believe that sex is best had within a loving, committed relationship. This is where emotional and physical needs can be met (even spiritual needs), where you can talk about what you like and what you don’t like, where you can experiment, where you can cry during sex without being a total weird-o, and where you will (in theory) both be physically safe from disease and (also in theory) where you will be better prepared if a life is created from your coital joy. However, there’s something else I believe.
I believe that when Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” he meant it. He said this to a crowd that was about to stone a woman who had been caught in adultery. He took on an angry crowd that was about to kill a woman for having sex by drawing a line in the sand and challenging the status quo. He stood up for the sluts of the world. When all the men went away, he asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” I love this part. He takes the time to point out to her that no one has any room to judge her, freeing her from her internal voices of judgement. “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus replies. “Now go and sin no more.” So, he’s not saying, “Have at it sister!” But he’s saying she’s alright, but she might want to change her ways. He doesn’t lecture her, doesn’t demean her, doesn’t take away any of her humanity. He loves her. He implores her to fix her brokenness. At no point does he judge her. And, as he is Jesus (and therefore God), if anyone gets to judge, it’s him.
So, in conclusion, STFU, angry mob of slut-shamers. Jesus said so.
*I’m still working on the roles of women in the prophetic texts. If anyone has words that will make me feel better about the whole God raping the woman Israel thing, I’m all ears. Or, in this case, eyes.