Fear and Loathing in Cleveland

21 07 2016

I am trying to process what I am seeing at the Republican convention in Cleveland.  The ugliness, the bald faced hatred and bile is just really hard to take.  Is this an accurate reflection of our society or are we peering into a fun house mirror?


I wonder and I am afraid to find out.  I wake up in the morning these past few days with a heavy heart.  A sense of foreboding.  An abiding sadness and sense of hopelessness for the future.


Maybe this is just what the world looks like when belligerent children are in charge.  Who trash the place with government shut downs, slashed spending and obstruction at every turn, and then come back and indignantly denounce the mess created.


“How did this happen?”  they scream.  “They did it.”


‘They’ is a blank to be filled in by any number of things; Immigrants, Democrats, Mexicans, Radical Islamic terrorists, and Hillary Clinton (that’s go-to blank filler at this convention).


Never, WE did this.  Never, WE had a hand in this.


Instead, they gleefully chant “lock her up” for imprudent emailing.  You could almost forget, in all the noise and shouts of “guilty” that this is the very party that lied us into the Iraq war, then blessed us with torture, renditions, black hole sites, and not a single investigation or any accountability!


No one has been “locked up.”  Millions have died, been injured or maimed.  The suffering is almost impossible to measure or comprehend, and it is still unfolding as a world-wide refugee crisis.


Their response?   “Build a wall!”  Nominate a candidate who would double down on all of it.   Who champions everything decent law abiding people would be ashamed of.  And then touts himself the Law and Order candidate!


There’s a snap shot of how evil works, by the way.   Project your faults, wash your hands of them, and continue self-righteously on your merry way.  The suffering and mayhem that results is not your fault.


Have the people at this convention learned nothing?  Is there a shred of self-awareness, humility or simple decency to be found there?   Or, is that just asking way too much of any political convention?


And if it is too much to ask, then politics is not the place to turn for what we need today.  Because these times cry out for humility, compassion, a simple human decency that refuses to demonize the other.  To remind people that Freedom ends where Fear begins.  People who desire freedom must first overcome fear.



This is the real danger of politicizing religion.  Because religion should be the place we turn to find the traits and teaching we so desperately need today.  Not justification for the divisions our politics seeks to exploit.


Our faith should be our refuge, the place we connect with our better angels and transcend the divisions that demonize the other and dehumanize us all.


Politics exploits duality, enlists allies, divides the world into Us and Them.   Religion is only useful in politics for getting people on your side and consolidating power.  Listen again to the opening prayer and benediction for this convention.


Religion in its true sense holds the disparate pieces and people of the world together.  Binds us in the heart of God.  Unites us in a single family, which is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray Our Father.


We are acknowledging, right off the bat, the God in whom we are a single family.   The God and Father of all.    Including those who call God Allah, or Yahweh, or even nothing at all.   Including those of every color and orientation.  OUR Father….


That will be my challenge for the final night of this convention and through the rest of the campaign.  I will try to hold fast to who my faith calls me to be.  Love the God in people waving signs and screaming “guilty.”


And maybe find the grace to paraphrase Jesus, “Father forgive us, for none of us really knows what we’re doing.”


May God free us to act in good faith, keep hearts open to each other, and simply do the best we can.


If anyone were asking, that would be my closing prayer for this convention.  Amen.

What Faith Is About

14 07 2016
Change is difficult. No one likes it. Oftentimes, we will suffer a familiar injustice, habitual dissatisfaction and disappointment, rather than risk the effort to change the outcome.
It’s not what we want, but, it could be worse. And who knows, we reason to ourselves, maybe change will make things worse. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire.
Change seems particularly hard in the church. We feel we should be immune to change. Our message is about eternity, right? The Gospel that leads unto eternal life.
For some of us then, the very suggestion of change is an affront and an outrage. There always the demand that we go back. Return to the tried and true. Do it the way we always did it. Resurrect old ideas, and implement them better this time.
Those impulses are very much at work in our culture today. The privileged demand a return to a time that favored them. When life made sense and good was defined as what was good for them.  When the tent was small and people were satisfied with their lot and knew their place.
And yet, if we are honest, we see the need for change and renewal is built into creation. And, it is built into us inasmuch as we are part of God’s creation. Even as we struggle to resist. Even as we push back and demand things stay the same.
The earth is constantly spinning day into night, the seasons arrive and depart according to their appointed hour. The tides rise and fall. People come and they go, roots are pulled up and replanted, families grow, pull back, start again. That’s what our lives are made of, this is who we are.
As much as we resist it, we know the old cliché is true, “the only constant in this world is change.”
I find it strange sometimes that we as Christians haven’t recognized this as the focus and object of our faith. Not timelessness. Not perfection. Not rigid codes or stiff moralities. Not doing things the one right way, and doing it that way forever. Not preserving places of privilege for a few, even for ourselves.
We confess a God of change, renewal and transformation. Which is another way of saying a God of Love.  Isn’t love a state of constant renewal and transformation? A reach beyond the limits of sight and scope to what lies just beyond? Just out of our reach?
Our faith is that God changes and grows with us!
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the creation story in the Garden of Eden, is that God leaves the Garden with Adam and Eve. That doesn’t get a lot of attention, but check it out.

God leaves Paradise too! What some would call the place of timeless perfection and accompanies Adam and Eve into the messy imperfection of a temporal world. Where we live, work and sweat, where we are born, grow old and die.



Where things are constantly changing.



And perhaps the only requirement is that we trust God enough to live beyond easy bounds and limits. Beyond the reach of our eyes, of our limited knowledge, even our beliefs of right and wrong.
For everyone who loves knows, that to live in love is to live in the dark unknown. To accept what we cannot control. Perhaps even learn to embrace it.  Why?
Because it is here, in what we cannot control, that we experience Grace. And, as Saint Paul writes, and Luther later reclaimed, “we are saved by Grace, through faith…”  That’s what Easter and our faith is all about.

Holy, Holy, Holy…thoughts on the Trinity

20 05 2016

The festival of the Holy Trinity is a culmination of sorts.

Every other season in the church year builds to the next.   We go from Advent to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany, Epiphany to Lent, Lent to Easter, Easter to Pentecost, Pentecost to the Trinity. After Trinity Sunday, we enter the season known as “Ordinary Time.”

From Trinity it’s…  business as usual!?

Seems like an anti-climax, doesn’t it? All those Christmas carols, all those Easter eggs, only to arrive here? We’ve come all this way to the Trinity only to land in the lap of a Mystery?

We, who love to have things nailed down, who set out to discover answers, the mortar to cement the bricks of our certainties into strong, impenetrable, fortresses where we may live safe and secure and happily ever after.

Then this… we’re dropped on the doorstep of the ultimate mystery. One God, consisting of Three Separate and Distinct Persons: FATHER SON & HOLY SPIRIT.   Each fully unique and each fully God.  How can this be?

Christian faith ushers us into the presence of the ultimate question.  We stand before a God whose very nature is beyond our ability to understand.

So, what does this mean?  And why is it important?

Well, in short, it means everything changes.  From top to bottom, it is anything but, “business as usual.”

Our relationships with each other for example. How can we draft God into our battles of orthodoxy or ideological purity, when the truth is, we just don’t know?   In the Trinity  our efforts to judge, to condemn, to deny, are exposed as foolishness.
The Trinity moves us from Judgement to Compassion, from Exclusion to Inclusion, from Polarization to Communion.

We may prefer to approach God on the basis of our certainties but God draws near to us on the strength of our questions.  And that is a very, very different sort of proposition!

In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity implies that our certainties move us further away from God, not closer. For what the Trinity affirms in no uncertain terms is that the experience of God begins in what can’t be understood. Or grasped.  Or manipulated.  Or divided. Or controlled.

God is known and made known in love, and so, God can only be trusted.

Noticing The Unspeakable

27 04 2016

I had an epiphany today at the gym.  I was on a treadmill, watching the 20 flat screen TVs, each tuned to a different channel, that are there to distract you while you work up a sweat going nowhere…

Source: Noticing The Unspeakable

Noticing The Unspeakable

27 04 2016

I had an epiphany today at the gym.  I was on a treadmill, watching the 20 flat screen TVs, each tuned to a different channel, that are there to distract you while you work up a sweat going nowhere.

You’re supposed to bring your own ear phones so you can plug into the receiver on whatever machine you are using, and watch whichever TV you want.

All well and good.  Unless you forget your earphones, like I did.  Then, you’re stuck working out in silence, watching 20 TVs without any sound except the clank and hum of about 100 treadmills, stairmasters, rowers, and stationary bicycles running behind you, and the desperate panting of the people using them.

I usually watch the news or something when I do my 20 minutes of cardio.  But without earphones, the news is just the world’s worst silent movie.  So, I fired up the treadmill, started my workout and took in all 20 TVs at once.

Maybe it was because I couldn’t hear them, but I realized for the first time how these 20 TVs are really a mirror to the culture that produced them.   Here’s what I saw reflected in that mirror.

On one TV there was a sort martial arts, kick boxing match.  One fighter was pummeling another fighter while riding his back.  It was brutal.  And that was the tamest thing up there.   At least when the referee called the match, the fighters hugged in the center of the ring.  Which made me wonder why go through all the pummeling?   Just cut to the chase and hug in the center of the ring.   But, that’s not the way we do things, is it?

Over on the TV next to that, there was a cop slamming a suspect’s head into a wall while twisting his arm up behind him to put on the cuffs.  Maybe he was reading him his rights…

On the TV below it, a man held a knife to a terrified woman’s throat, backing away from two other men who were aiming their guns at him.

On another TV, a coroner performed an autopsy on a gruesome burn victim, while saying something to his attractive assistant, which looked to me like he was asking her out.  Ah, the banter of love and death, familiar enough themes I suppose.

What struck me most though, beyond the relentless violence in its many manifestations, was the fact that no one was paying any attention to it.  Everyone was utterly unfazed by what was happening right in front of them.  But then, I never paid any attention to it either when I had my ear phones.  And I’d been coming here for years.

What does this say about our lives?  In America, violence just plays in the background.  It’s an accepted part of our reality.  We just go about our business, work our machines going  nowhere, while the unspeakable unfolds all around us.    And that’s just the way things are.

Occasionally, someone’s cry breaks through the buzz…movements like Black Lives Matter.  Mass shootings and the call for gun laws and background checks, that go nowhere.  Or, the anger and frustration that seems to mark this election cycle that seems to have taken those in power by surprise.

Jesus used to say all the time, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  Funny that I didn’t start to hear until I forgot my ear phones one day.

Thoughts on Repenting

10 02 2016
I wonder if I should preach about repentance tonight? About what a gift it is?
We resist repenting. It feels manipulative. Judgmental. Our hackles are raised when it is suggested that we need to repent, even when we know it.
Leonard Cohen sings:
“When they said, ‘repent, repent’
I wonder what they meant?”
Repentance at its core, is the opportunity to start again.
By repenting, we release the future from the constraints of the past.
By repenting we free the future to become what God wants for us, not the dreary sum of consequences we bring upon ourselves by our actions or inaction.
By our pride and ego. By our fear and lack of vulnerability
By repenting, we relinquish control
Repentance is freedom.
Repentance is potential
Repentance is moving away from what harms us
and moving toward what heals us.
In these 40 days of Lent, we travel through the desert of our longing to prepare for God’s future. Repenting. Releasing. Growing lighter with each step.
And in that journey, we are freed to hope beyond a future constrained by logical consequences and bound by pride.
Repentance and humility; they go hand in hand.
Every Lent, we say that “Christ has humbled himself, and become obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
What we are really saying is this is where the fullness of our life begins.

Super Bowl 50 Takeaways

8 02 2016
Because I am going to forget. Because there is really no earthly reason for me to remember. I am going to record that the Denver Broncos won the 50th Super Bowl.
Ha. I just saw it last night and still I had to stop and think for a minute.  
I am already forgetting.
What I do remember though, and I thought about it all during the game, was seeing the first Super Bowl game 50 years ago, which would have made me 9 years old.
Nine years old! Here was a direct thread back, teased from the mass of tangled threads a life becomes.
The reason I remember the first Super Bowl, is that the Super Bowl was the first thing I saw on a color television!
A family from church invited us over. This was also the very first Super Bowl party I ever went to as well, come to think of it. Wow. Who knew?
I got the shock of my life in front of that color television. I saw that the Green Bay Packers were not green, as I’d always assumed they were. The Green Bay Packer were gold. The color of cheddar cheese.
I sat in front of the television, marveling, and very upset.
Why the hell did they call them Green???
I spent the entire first half in utter disbelief. Trying to reconcile this new reality with the world as I knew it. Feeling it slip away before I was ready. We would go home to black and white television and a world where the Green Bay Packers wore gold.
No. This could not possibly be. There must be some mistake. I could accept that the Kansas City Chiefs wore red. Yes, that was a bit of a surprise too, but I could accept it. But a team from Green Bay had an obligation to be green.
Color television was a mixed blessing. It was wonderful and rich. I luxuriated in the lavish splashes of color, seduced by this new reality. It was like scales had dropped from my eyes.
But there was something false too. Color television presented a reality clearly in contrast to the world I assumed I lived in, and told me that the things I counted on to be true could be wrong. And I figured if you can’t trust that a team called the Green Bay Packers wore green, what could you trust? Even though it was right before my eyes.
Last night, as I watched the Broncos play the Panthers, I thought about how many times that process had been repeated over these 50 years. The reality I assumed contradicted, shown to be foolish and naive. And how I resisted the things I learned so I could stay in a world where Green Bay is green.
Or where we can enjoy a Super Bowl without thinking about CTE brain injury and the unsettling knowledge that these men are quite probably destroying themselves for my amusement tonight.
Suddenly, it isn’t all that amusing….
Fifty years ago, I had to accept the fact that The Green Bay Packers weren’t green and move on.
During that time, I learned that too many of the heroes of my childhood, Kenny Stabler, Frank Gifford and a host of others, went on to become hollow shells of themselves, destroyed by the game we loved.
As I watched the Broncos and Panthers, like I watched the Packers and the Chiefs 50 years ago, I knew something had to change, even though I may not have been ready for it to change.
Fifty years, and the stakes have only gotten higher.
Because the Green Bay Packers are gold and always have been, and it seems we’re learning that about a lot of things these days.


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