A Tale of Two Pastors

Thinking Deeper than Skin

church

I read a post last week from a pastor in response to a list made by African American State Senator Jamilah Nasheed of this country’s current injustices, citing her reasons for declining to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Before I tell you about that pastor’s reaction, I’d like to tell you about my pastor’s response to a similar occurrence.

Eric Reid, 49ers safety, who took a knee during the national anthem with Colin Kaepernick, is a member of our church family. Our pastor, who is from European ancestry, knows Eric and knows his heart, but didn’t understand or necessarily agree with the gesture. What did my pastor choose to do?

He reached out to Eric, and asked him if he would be willing to have a video taped conversation to be played for the entire congregation over our four campuses. Our pastor wanted us all to have a better understanding of this issue of racial injustice, and the response to it of many who are taking a knee or sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem.

Before Reid and Kaepernick took a knee, they had a conversation with Nate Boyer, former Army Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks long snapper. One of their goals was to find a way to show respect to the military while still honoring their own protest and beliefs. In the conversation with our pastor, and in other interviews, Eric Reid said:

“Colin was speaking to something that’s very true and prevalent in our country and those issues do need to be addressed and I discussed this with him and prayed about it. We wanted to make a statement but we wanted to be respectful. That’s why we knelt. There have been things that have happened lately that have struck a nerve with me. I mean, we’re America. We should be the best at everything we do. This is bigger than football.

“Tweeting at each other doesn’t accomplish anything. Sitting down with each other face to face, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, that’s how you find middle ground, that’s how you find understanding, that’s how you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and that’s how you make our country better.”

“Sitting down with each other face to face, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, that’s how you find understanding, that’s how you make our country better.” Eric Reid

The pastor of our church is dedicated to grace, to spiritual maturity, to healing, to reconciliation. He is dedicated to building bridges and community. Thank you, Pastor Steve, for continuing this conversation and for leading and encouraging our ekklesia – gathering of people – to begin this conversation on our own.

So, back to this other pastor.

This pastor stated that he addressed Senator Nasheed’s list of injustices in light of his recent trip to a poverty-stricken, war-torn country, comparing in part the injustices in this country to the injustices of the other country. That is certainly one way to approach the injustices here; however, this pastor could have used his experience to should sharpen his focus on our own injustices, allowing him to contemplate a different cultural perspective. If he could place himself in others’ shoes in another country, why not in ours?

When Senator Nasheed wrote of the injustice of police brutality this other pastor said, “I’m sorry, but I’m sick and tired of this ‘police brutality’ business…Why not compare our supposed brutality to that of the cops in Iran?” Placing “police brutality” in quotes as he did, and preceding it with ‘supposed’ invalidates the experiences of a large portion of our American population. The unexplained death of a woman stopped for a traffic violation and assaulted by the policeman inside of her car for smoking a cigarette is brutality. And that is only a single instance.

When Senator Nasheed listed the injustice of poverty — the underfunding of our public schools, the other pastor wrote, “Seriously, how is being poor an injustice when the poor in this country are infinitely more wealthy than the majority of people in [war torn country]?” Again, that does not invalidate the economy of this country or the systemic differences in the way public schools are funded here. Go into any two public schools – one in a poor, urban community and one in a wealthy suburban area and compare textbooks, libraries, computer labs, science equipment, gymnasiums and sports equipment. It becomes readily evident.

When Senator Nasheed listed the injustice of voter suppression — passing Voter ID laws, the other pastor said, “So it’s injustice – as opposed to being just and lawful – to require that a person placing a vote in an election actually show proof [of] legal citizenship of this country? Do you even understand the definition of ‘justice’” Our American higher courts have defined justice quite clearly.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s voter I.D. law and stated North Carolina legislators had passed the law with discriminatory intent,” and that its provisions deliberately target African Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to discourage black turnout at the polls.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas that struck down the voter I.D. law found not only that the law discriminated, but that it was intentionally designed to do so.”

A U.S. District Judge in Wisconsin struck down several provision of its State law, stating, “preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement and exist only to suppress votes.

And in North Dakota, a U.S. Federal Judge blocked a law required photo I.D to vote stating, “The public interest in protecting the most cherished right to vote for thousands of Native Americans who currently lack a qualifying ID and cannot obtain one outweighs the purported interest and arguments of the State. No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote.”

No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote.” U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland

Senator Nasheed also listed the injustice of not having health care, the injustice of unlivable wages, the injustice of unequal pay for women, the injustice of mass incarceration and the injustice of economic disparity. The other pastor wrote equally misinformed reactions (equal pay for women: “This a load of absolute baloney;” mass incarceration: “I suppose letting drug dealers, rapists, muggers, back out on the street just because of skin color would be the best choice?”) to the remainder of Senator Nasheed’s list, but I believe this is enough to see the comparison between the two pastors, and my own responses would be too lengthy to go into here.

I will only ask this pastor, as the shepherd of a congregation of Christ’s church – of His ekklesia – wouldn’t it be your mission to provide unity, encouragement, leadership and a safe place to worship for every member of your flock? To be well informed, invite conversations and seek solutions rather than condemnation?

Another of our pastors, Steve Ingold, spoke to us this past Sunday of the need for critical conversations. He said:

“Get to know someone different than you. Get to know their hearts. Choose to listen and understand. Choose to call someone and ask instead of choosing to judge and criticize and distance yourself. We have to do better as His church.” Pastor Steve Ingold, Cornerstone Fellowship

I respectfully and humbly pray this second pastor extends an invitation to lunch to persons of color and to women and begin to ask questions – not as someone superior, not as someone who thinks he knows better, but as someone who is ignorant of the experience of someone different than him, as someone who is humble enough to say, “I don’t know; teach me.

Silence

 

“Remember, before you speak, it is necessary to listen,” Mother Theresa

Tape Face

Arguments. Gossip. Hostility. Name-calling. Contempt. All this occurs in an atmosphere of wanting to be right, of not listening, of refusing to be slow enough to speak in order that we hear and learn. This kind of talking does nothing but stroke our own ego.

He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.” (Matthew 15:11)

How can we, in a climate of division and mistrust, practice the skill of taking a step back in order to arrive at a willingness to listen? And not just listen to form a reply, but listen with the intent of understanding.

This kind of listening accomplishes several things.

  1. It helps us widen our own narrow perception of reality
  2. It helps us form relationships
  3. It helps us understand the experiences, history and hurts of other people
  4. If we are Christians, it helps unify us with our brothers and sisters in Christ
  5. It allows us to hear the voice of God through the Holy Spirit

Of course, we must desire to step back from anger, practice thinking before speaking, prefer to find common ground, and aspire to approach people with openness and compassion. If we don’t, then we simply choose to reject, condemn and despise.

As we stay silent and think – seriously consider our words before we speak, weigh the consequences of our words on others, take time to evaluate the words of others, and reflect on how words that float on social media have an effect on you and the children you know – we begin to form conclusions driven by more than our momentary and sometimes incendiary reactions to an event.

We are able to respond in a way that includes listening to understand.

So faith comes from hearing the message, and the message heard is what Christ spoke. (Romans 10:17)

We are able and willing to widen our perspective to see another point of view. We are able and willing to have compassion for the experiences of people unlike ourselves. We are able and willing to seek common ground and thus solutions, instead of blame. We are able and willing to find unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And finally, we are able and willing to hear the blessing of God’s voice.

“In silence we will find new energy and true unity. Unity is the fruit of prayer, of humility, of love…We cannot find God in noise or agitation… In silence He listens to us; in silence He speaks to our souls. In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice.” Mother Teresa

 

Mother Teresa quotes from No Greater Love, ©1997, New World Library, MJF Books, NY, NY

Back to Basics, Part 1

©SamanthaSophia
©SamanthaSophia

I don’t know about you, but I find the more I hear disparate (and angrily stated) points of view about politics, values or theology, the more I feel my heart and mind under spiritual attack.

The more I recall this country’s history, understand and see evidence of our division, the heavier my heart is. Still vivid in my memory from 24 years ago is the vicious beating of Rodney King, the subsequent, atrocious beating of Reginald Denny and the riots in Los Angeles. We have not come very far, and I cannot simply let go of the events of last week. I cannot simply forget and move on.

Speaking with a friend of mine early this week, I listened to stories of her upbringing in Mississippi. Her childhood memories still vivid of walking past black men swinging from trees on her way to school, she visits a different world when she travels back to see her mother who still lives there. She tells me,

“Signs on public bathrooms still say, ‘Colored’ and ‘Whites Only.’ And when you walk into a restaurant, it’s understood which section of the restaurant you can sit in. You might legislate integration, but you’ll never legislate the heart.”

This is when I must go back to basics. This is when I go back into the heart of the One who was lynched for all of us. This is when I reread the Gospels for the actual words of Jesus. As I do so, I keep in mind what I have learned in a wide variety of Bible interpretation classes, studies and books:

  • Recognize and appreciate the frame of reference – the history and the audience being addressed.
  • Understand the context; never read just a verse, read the entire paragraph or chapter.
  • Don’t rely on just one Bible version or translation; compare and read parallel versions.
  • Repeated statements are the significant principles requiring our attention.

I cannot read the Sermon on the Mount or the Parable of the Two Sons or the Allegory of the Sheep and the Goats without being reminded of the paradigm shift in thinking Jesus brought to us from our Father – the thinking we still seem hesitant to adopt.

Contained in these words are principles of humility, forgiveness, grace, generosity, compassion – and most of all love. This is the paradigm shift of which Jesus spoke, and He put His actions solidly behind His words. He did not raise a hand to anyone; He extended His hand in invitation and empathy.

I don’t know how long this series will span; I will follow where my heart leads and where the Spirit takes me. I just know I must lean in, dig in, and go all in; I must surround myself with His wisdom and surrender to His will. I must rediscover, not the whys, but the Who in all of this, and allow Him full access. I must acknowledge that I am His child, and so are we all.

“You, beloved, are worth so much more than a whole flock of sparrows. God knows everything about you, even the number of hairs on your head. So do not fear.” (Matthew 10:30-31)

Black parents across America have been having “the talk” with their children for quite a while. It’s a painful family discussion necessary to have about ways to act – and refrain from acting – if stopped by white police officers with a gun, about how to survive in America unlike Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Maybe we all need to hear this to understand the fear and pain Black parents feel every time their children walk outside their homes.

Following the Thread

But I am like a green olive tree, thriving in the house of God.

I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

OliveTree

On occasion I like to look at a verse revealed to me and follow the thread (those tiny, inside marginal notes) through my Bible until it leads right back to that verse again. My devotional this morning presented me with the verse above.

I do thrive when I spend time with God. There is nothing better than opening my heart and mind to the Spirit, allowing a mystery to be imparted from the Living Word. Sometimes, His hand, His love and grace travel deep into my core, and I feel Him surrounding me with His unfailing love. Which led me to the verses below.

goldthread.1The Lord once called you a green olive tree; beautiful with good fruit. (Jeremiah 11:16a)

And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But some of the olive branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive branch, have been grafted in their place. You get your nourishment from the roots of the olive tree. So don’t brag about being better than the other branches. If you brag, remember that you don’t support the root, the root supports you. (Romans 11:17-18)

As I respond to other people – people unlike me, who have different ways of being, contrasting points of view, I must recall His commands to love. They are not many and are not optional, but vital to my life under His domain. Instead of letting anger or fear control my mind and heart, I humble myself to the Spirit’s control.

As I allow His Spirit to work in me and mature my faith, His strength uplifts me and enables me to embody His fruit when I alone cannot. He empowers me to love, to have patience, to be kind and generous, to be gentle and to have self-control.

I am the Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me. I am the Vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear sweet fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. (John 15:2, 4-5)

What mysteries are revealed to me in the thread of these verses?

Do not adhere to ideologies; to not cling to law.

Do not hold fast to doctrine; do not grasp onto litmus tests.

Do not worship the word

Or let it become your god.

Instead, hold fast to Jesus; cling to the Father.

Worship God; give dignity to His name.

Gain nourishment from the roots of the Tree;

Obtain wisdom from the Vine.

Discern with clear eyes through truth and the Spirit.

Forgive, dispense grace and mercy; offer compassion and love.

Honor all life: the unborn; lgbtq; Christian, Jew and Muslim; Democrat and Republican; man and woman, white collar and blue collar, those from every nation, faces of every color, for God loves the heart.

Whenever possible, be a peacemaker.

Stay humble, open to the Spirit’s teaching.

We are here at His behest, His creation, all beloved children of our Father.

Isn’t it time we treat each other that way?

Kitchen Table Conversation: Justice Here and Now

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Justice is one of God’s key attributes; as such, there are so many aspects of it, so many different direction we can go in discussion it, and I suppose that’s why it is a great topic for our Kitchen Table Conversation.

For me, the more pressing aspects of Justice are those that concern the here and now, those aspects of Justice that the prophet Micah wrote about so very long ago in 6:8. For each of us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God is, for me, the priority in this life.

Jesus took this to a higher level when He travelled around Galilee proclaiming the Kingdom of heaven, for when He did so, there was healing, wholeness, sight and… Justice.

Justice isn’t usually in this list, is it? Yet Jesus demonstrated what Micah was talking about as He preached and healed, for He took His message of the Kingdom of heaven to both Jew and Gentile. He healed both Jew and Gentile. He gave sight to Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, saint and sinner, breaking all of the cultural boundaries that had kept God from the masses of humanity for far too long. He respected the disrespected, He valued the humble, and He loved the unlovable, and that is Justice in the here and now.

There are times in this life when acting as Jesus acted isn’t the easiest thing to do; I sometimes fall short in my efforts and for this reason, I have little time to worry about the eschatological implications of Justice. I say this because I earnestly desire to serve Him as He called me to serve, and I desire to do so because I love God and I love humanity You see, I am a work in progress and I have not yet attained the goal that is set before me in Christ Jesus.

So I content myself with doing my best in Christ to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God, for it seems to me that if I do so, then if nothing else I can walk along with Jesus, secure in the knowledge that I have followed God’s ways, and done harm to no one along the way.

 

The Room of Righteous Indignation

Another wonderful excerpt from Tales of a  Magic Monastery, by Theophane the Monk.

Magic Monastery Righteous Indignation

The Guestmaster looked at me carefully and lead me to a room marked Righteous Indignation.

“Good,” I thought, “back home some people don’t understand me. They think I’m judgmental. But this man understands.”

There wasn’t much in the room besides the four walls, and that was all right with me. I sat down and meditated a while. Then I read my Bible. I found myself looking at those walls. I read some more, then meditated, then looked at the walls again. Late in the evening, as I was staring at one of the walls, it became transparent, and I found myself looking at my own monastery. Fascinating. What’s more, as I watched, I found I could see right through its walls and into its church and cloisters.

After a while I could even see inside the cell of each monk. I saw everything. I saw what each monk had in his room and what he was doing. I saw some praying, some sleeping, some reading. I could even see what each one was reading. Brother! Do you see what that one is reading? And look at the private property! Soon I could hear their voices. I could hear everything that was said—the complaints, the backbiting. My own name was mentioned. Huh—that one to be complaining of me!

I began to take notes. I filled page after page. I thought the place was bad before, but here were the facts—what they said, what they did, what they had. Nothing subjective—just cold facts. As I kept writing, I began to see right into their heads, to see their very thoughts. These also I wrote down.

Once, when I was resting my eyes, the thought came to me, “I wonder what I would see if the other wall were transparent?” Perhaps if I kept looking at it long enough… Well it did open up and through it I saw the Magic Monastery, every bit of it. What an eyeful! I thought my own place was bad. Talk about individualism. I began to write that down too.

I rang for the Brother and asked him to bring me some more notebooks. There was so much to get down. From time to time a further question would come to me, “I wonder what’s behind these other two walls?” I became uncomfortable. “Who is there? What are the walls hiding? Why don’t they let me see? It’s probably dreadful.” I took to staring at these walls. The Brother said that behind the one wall were the deceased members of the Magic Monastery, and behind the other were the deceased members of my own monastery.

“Ah,” I said, “but why can’t I see them? I want to see them.”

“You won’t like it,” he said.

“Truth, that’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I call a spade a spade. Show me!”

“You’ll only get angry.”

“Show me. Bring me some more notebooks, and show me.”

But he refused and hurried away. I was determined that when he returned the next day I would get the truth out of him.

I did. I took him by the throat and demanded to know what was going on behind those walls. “Behind this one,” he gasped, “are the deceased members of your own community. They are all looking in at you. They are weeping and praying for you.

“Behind this other wall are all the deceased members of the Magic Monastery. They are all looking at you and laughing.”

All our love must be for God

good-sam-glassFrom the treatise On Spiritual Perfection by Diadochus of Photice, bishop
All our love must be for God

No one who is in love with himself is capable of loving God. The man who loves God is the one who mortifies his self-love for the sake of the immeasurable blessings of divine love. Such a man never seeks his own glory but only the glory of God. If a person loves himself he seeks his own glory, but the man who loves God loves the glory of his Creator. Anyone alive to the love of God can be recognized from the way he constantly strives to glorify him by fulfilling all his commandments and by delighting in his own abasement. Because of his great majesty it is fitting that God should receive glory, but if he hopes to win God’s favor it becomes man to be humble. If we possess this love for God, we too will rejoice in his glory as Saint John the Baptist did, and we shall never stop repeating: His fame must increase, but mine must diminish.

I know a man who, though lamenting his failure to love God as much as he desires, yet loves him so much that his soul burns with ceaseless longing for God to be glorified, and for his own complete effacement. This man has no feeling of self importance even when he receives praise. So deep is his desire to humble himself that he never even thinks of his own dignity. He fulfills his priestly duty by celebrating the Liturgy, but his intense love for God is an abyss that swallows up all consciousness of his high office. His humility makes him oblivious of any honor it might bring him, so that in his own estimation he is never anything but a useless servant. Because of his desire for self abasement, he regards himself as though degraded from his office. His example is one that we ourselves should follow by fleeing from all honor and glory for the sake of the immeasurable blessings of God’s love, for he has loved us so much!

Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God. In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him. When this awareness is keen it makes whoever possesses it long to be enlightened by the divine light, and this longing is so intense that it seems to penetrate his very bones. He loses all consciousness of himself and is entirely transformed by the love of God.

Such a man lives in this life and at the same time does not live in it, for although he still inhabits his body, he is constantly leaving it in spirit because of the love that draws him toward God. Once the love of God has released him from self-love, the flame of divine love never ceases to burn in his heart and he remains united to God by an irresistible longing. As the Apostle says: If we are taken out of ourselves it is for the love of God; if we are brought back to our senses it is for your sake.