Responding to white supremacists

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By now, everyone is familiar with the white supremacists who held a “rally” in Charlottesville, VA.  I put that in quotes because extremists don’t hold rallies – they hold gatherings that are designed to cause problems.

There was a counter protest, which we all heard about.  And there was violence.  And even three deaths as a result.  Evil usually demands a blood sacrifice, this would be no different.

Frankly I’m tired of white supremacists and their tactics and their belief that their ideas are just a-ok and deserve attention.  I understand the desire to hold counter rallies.  But here’s some things that concern me with these counter rallies.

What is the purpose of the supremacists in holding a “rally?” to cause problems.  Why?  To get attention, ultimately.  What happens when there is a major counter-protest?  The counter protestors give the supremacists exactly what they were seeking – attention.  When we give attention to something, we give it legitimacy as if the ideas presented were of equal weight and consideration.  Let’s be clear, they aren’t.

I understand that we want to speak out firmly against what the supremacists stand for.  I agree.  I just wonder if there is a different way to go about it.  A way that wouldn’t give the supremacists what they wanted – attention.  It seems as though the supremacists plan their rallies so that they hope there is a counter-rally.  It just adds to the attention.  They are sure to get coverage because emotions run high when you have something like this that touches people’s nerves and identity.

The problem with this is that the supremacists end up controlling the message of the day – they become the focus.  Their hatred is the message.  The violence that they cause is what is displayed and talked about.  They get what they want.

I’d rather see something else take place.  What if we responded differently?

These protests are known in advance.  That gives communities time to think through a response.  Here’s my idea.  Instead of holding a counter rally that gives the inmates of the asylum a full voice and all the attention they want, why not give them no attention at all.  But do it a coordinated way that is very unique, that is active, and changes the message completely.  In other words, change the rules of the game.  If the supremacists desire attention and want there to be a counter rally – do what you can to change that so they get minimal attention and the message is not in their control.

How would this happen?  Here’s one idea – get everyone to vacate town.  What if the town became a ghost town on the day of the supremacists rally.  Not a soul in opposition – no one there at all.  No one waving any banners.  No one chanting at the supremacists.  Just an empty town.  You see, everyone has a right to speak.  But that doesn’t mean we have to listen.  It doesn’t mean that what everyone speaks is of equal value and worth.

By way of analogy, take a different situation – when a toddler starts to pitch a fit in a mall, they are seeking attention to get whatever it is they want.  When we pay attention to the toddler and respond, or fight with them, or talk with them at all, we are giving the toddler exactly what the toddler wants – control over the situation.  Instead, the best thing you can do is realize you are the adult and they are the child.  You ignore them completely, even to the point of walking away.  You can’t rationalize with a toddler – they don’t have the capacity for rational conversation.  You aren’t going to convince them to stop their fit.  You just need to walk away.  Frankly, these supremacists are no different – only more violent and irrational than a toddler and a bit older (Which means they ought to know better).

If everyone vacated town, it would send a message that the supremacists words are being shunned because they carry no worth and no value.  It would also draw attention away from the supremacists to the counter message, if you want to call it that.  In this case, you’d have one spokesperson for the town.  Someone who could do any interviews the media wanted.  It would be best if it was a pastor or someone who could speak from a religious context.  The response to any question would be similar – it wouldn’t be to engage in any conversation about the supremacists.  Instead, it would be to offer prayers for those that are hurting, prayers for those that are filled with hatred and rage, prayers for those that separate.  It would be to shift the focus from the message of the supremacists to a different message – a message of grace, forgiveness, and care for all who come to the town.  It would be a message of non-violence.  A message that says that we pray for those who are fearful and violent.  It would be a simple message, repeated over and over again.  It would be said in a calm manner – signifying with body language that there is no intimidation, there is confidence in a better way of living and behaving.  It would be displaying a vision for what an alternative way of living would look like and behave.

Could this kind of response be pulled off?  I don’t know.  The larger the city, the harder that would be.  The more likely that others from outside of the town would come in to counter protest.  And realize that this way of thinking about countering the supremacists is very different from the norm.  Which is why I would be curious to see how well it would work.  And there is an added benefit – because this would be an unusual response, it would throw the supremacists off kilter.  They probably wouldn’t know what to do.  They might even wrap it up quickly and go home.  This would be telling – it would signify that all they really want is attention, and they didn’t get it.

I welcome your thoughts on how to respond to extremists actions in unique ways that disrupt the message they spout.  Please share them in the comments section.

Namibia!!!

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In May, 2017, I went with a group of students and professor and staff from Gettysburg Seminary to Windhoek, Namibia to attend the Lutheran World Federation Assembly.  This is a big year after all – the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  What better place to spend it than with the Lutheran World Federation and it’s gathering of Lutherans from all over the world.

One would think that this would be taking place in the Germany where the Reformation began, but the Assembly wasn’t interested in looking backwards, but rather forward to the future.  Hence having the Assembly in Africa – where Christianity is growing.

So the adventure began, we got on a plane and flew across the Atlantic.  And we flew and flew and flew.  Did I mention that we flew.  And we finally made it to Africa.  But that was only half way.  Africa is a big continent.  Really big.  We took off again and started flying South.  And we flew and flew and flew.

We had a layover in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Enough time to enjoy a cold beer and then back on the plane for one last leg of the journey.   This time it would be a short hop, skip, and a jump away.  And then we landed.  After 19 hours of actual flying time, we landed for our adventure.

What a welcome sight it was.

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Jesus walks on water…you can too!!!

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This Sunday is the Gospel reading about Jesus walking on water and Peter giving it a try, only to realize he isn’t God and starts to sink.  I’ve always found the reading a bit odd to be perfectly honest. I never really liked the passage.

I don’t the words from Jesus – “Oh you of little faith.”  Often I don’t like it because what I hear in my head when I hear this is a voice that is condescending – As in “Oh Peter, you have got to be kidding me, try harder home boy. That was pathetic.”  Heard that way, this passage of Gospel is really disheartening and can just be a really killer for people.  That’s the danger of it anyway.  It’s a message of “try harder or else you’ll sink.”  That’s not gospel – that’s the message of the world.

Yet here we are – a statement by Jesus that sounds just like the world.

But wouldn’t you know it, Jesus doesn’t let Peter drown. He doesn’t give Peter what he deserves.  Instead, Jesus reaches out his hand and pulls Peter to safety.  Jesus embodies grace and does the exact opposite of this world and its gospel message.  How great is that.

But really, what’s the deal with Jesus walking on water?  Maybe it’s the message that Jesus can not be controlled by the chaos of the sea.

Imagine if this story were told today.  You’d see News Team 21 going to the scene to interview the guys on the ship and report what they experienced.  Then there would the viral selfies of James and John showing Jesus in the background, but it wouldn’t be too clear – it was stormy you know.  And finally, we can’t for get about the tweets.  Thomas: Jesus walks on water.  You’d think he was God or something. #doubting, #gottogetmeapairofthoseshoes

Then the 30 seconds of fame would die off because one of the Kardashians would have walked across something and tried to outdo Jesus.  And then Jesus walking on water would be so last week.

At any rate, what does this mean for us today?  Good question.  I don’t think it’s God’s call for us to try crazy things that might get us killed.  And I don’t think it’s God’s call to do publicity stunts either.  I think it’s about this.  We get sent out into a messy world that tosses us and turns us all over the place.  And it’s scary and messy and we feel like we’re going to get thrown out of the boat. And just when we think it can’t get any worse, Jesus shows up in unexpected ways – ways we have trouble believing.  And bam, grace happens.  And boy do we need that.  And when grace comes, all the chaos doesn’t matter any more.

Sound like modern life?  based on some recent conversations, it sounds exactly like what the passage about walking on water is all about.

Community defined

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How do you define community?

I guess part of the way you answer the question has to do with the context.  How we define community in relation to a community park should be different to how we define community in relation to a church.

in relation to a church, how would you define community?

Here’s some things that I thing relate to what a community is in relation to church – trust, people, commonality, values, direction, respect, value, humanity.

Each of these, of course, has a definition too, but for the sake of not boring you all to death, I’ll stop with the downward spiral into definitions that only a true work nerd would care about.

Instead, here’s my stab at defining community.   A community is build on a foundation of trust.  Sitting on top of that foundation is a group of people who hold values, respect, and a vision in common.  Theses building blocks set guidelines for how the people in a community interact and recognize one another’s humanity.

A bit wordy, I know.

Maybe a simpler version would be – a community is a group of people who recognize others as having value because they care about similar things and also recognize that together, each person gains far more than going it alone.

So what is a church community?  A group of people who have a similar belief system, to band together to support one another in order to carry out the mission of the church – to make more disciples.

How would you define community in relation to church?

 

What are the poor capable of?

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So, if i asked you what a poor person was capable of, how would you answer?

Did your mind immediately go to a negative?  As in what crime is a poor person capable of?

Or did you start to think of all the possibilities that a poor person might have available to them to change their life?  Did you think of how lazy a poor person must be?

Or how about this – did you think about all the things that a poor person couldn’t possibly do because they are poor?

What are you basing your answer on?  Do you know anyone who is poor – or (gasp!) homeless?  By that I mean, do you know someone who is really poor or homeless by name and could easily have a conversation with them, or do on a regular basis?  As in you are essentially involved in their life and they are involved in yours?

Often we middle class folks don’t like to get involved with the poor or homeless – it messes up our lives and is messy.  Making eye contact or getting to know a person’s name might just mess up our schedules, or force us to see the humanity in someone else.  Or it might cost us something.

But here’s something another pastor told me yesterday that struck me – God has a way of messing our plans up and stirring the pot.  When we encounter the poor and homeless, it stirs the pot of comfort, of what is expected, and of what is considered normal.  Those that are different make the rest of us uncomfortable. But it is in that uncomfortableness that we have an opportunity to see why we are uncomfortable and we can grow from that.  And we can learn what it means to really help someone who is poor and homeless.

What does it mean to help someone like this – it means not making decisions for them, but to walk along side someone.  That’s no different from if someone is helping you – do you like to be told what to do?

What are the poor capable of?  Well, for one, they are capable of putting a mirror up to us so we can see the fear that we have – fear of being in their place and situation.  Secondly, they are capable of humanizing us again by giving us an opportunity to see the humanity in someone different from ourselves.

Love is…

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I recently read an article that defined love as the absence of power.  The fascinating thing about this definition is that it was in relation to an article about politics. Given that information, I’m not surprised that the author defined love that way.

But I think the author was way off.  Love isn’t the absence of power at all.  In fact, love is very powerful.  Maybe part of the difference here as to do with definitions – specifically for love and for power.

I think love is the presence of power.  But it is not power that is held over someone or used to force someone into something.  That isn’t love at all, but rather coercion, or manipulation.

Love, however, is powerful.  Love is the power behind forgiveness.  Love is the power behind grace.  Love is the power behind freedom.  Love is the power behind mercy.  Love is the power behind peace.  Without love, why would we live any of these things out?

Being fed and feeding

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Yesterday’s reading in the Revised Common Lectionary were all about feeding.  Isaiah 55 spoke of coming to the water, and asked why spend money on that which is not food.  Our Gospel story was from Matthew 14 and told of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000+ in a desolate place.

There is a great deal debate over this reading – did Jesus do a real miracle by multiplying the loaves and fishes, or was the real miracle that people saw Jesus sharing what little there was and they began to share.  I don’t think it matters – regardless of the how, thousands were fed – that’s a miracle.

Instead, I would rather focus on the fact that this was a desolate place – that’s the terminology we are given.  Desolate, deserted, empty – they all mean the same thing ultimately.  These terms signify that there is no life, nothing of value.  And this is where Jesus goes.

The people go to where Jesus is.  I think it’s quite fitting that the crowd would search out Jesus in a desolate place.  Desolation isn’t just a physical place – it’s a state of being for some people, maybe for many people.  So many people are empty, exhausted, and their state of being is desolate.  There is no life where they are.  Yet, if they are searching, they are hungry.  They are hungry for food, for love, for attention, for care, for mercy, for forgiveness.

But where there is desolation, Jesus shows up and amazing things happen.  Jesus shows up and people are fed.  Not just enough to kill the hunger pains, but we are told to their fill.  But it doesn’t stop there – the disciples collected the leftovers and found 12 baskets full.  That’s because when Jesus shows up, there is overflowing abundance – never to run out.

Jesus shows up and amazing things happen.  People are fed love – in overwhelming ways.  Where they had only received conditional love, Jesus gives unconditional love – to the point of death.  We are overwhelmed by God’s love and have more than enough to give to others.

Jesus shows up and we receive forgiveness.  Forgiveness that we don’t deserve and can’t possibly do enough to earn.  Yet, it is given – in overflowing abundance.  So much so that we take the extra and give it our to others who need forgiveness.

Jesus shows up and we receive mercy and grace and so much more.  And we receive these things in overwhelming abundance.  So much so that we give it away.

The miracle isn’t that God is this good.  The miracle is that we are invited to participate in handing out God’s overwhelming abundance to others.  The miracle is that it doesn’t run out – ever.  When Jesus shows up to places where there is desolation – to lives where desolation runs rampant – lives change in overwhelming and abundant ways.  Thanks be to God!