Failing to thrive. In prison and everywhere else.

Chaplaincy, Sermon

“Blessed is he who considers the poor.” This might also be said, “blessed is the one who cares for the weak.” Being poor is a bad thing in our paradigm. It’s a sign of failure, a sign that somehow, whether through some calamity not of their making, some character flaw that causes them to not seek to better themselves (though just what “bettering one’s self might look like is up for considerable debate), or just weak – being poor and needing help is a sign that one is failing to thrive.

When I worked on the mother/baby ward during my year of CPE, there were babies whose diagnosis was “failure to thrive.” It seemed to me to be something of a catch all for babies that just struggled to make it, struggled to gain weight, struggled for life. In any other world, they would have just died but through the amazing advances in medical technology, nutrition, and medicine, they are able sometimes to recover and thrive.

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in prison?

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in a marriage?

In a professional career?

In a one’s personal life etc.?

The psalmist in Ps. 41 declares that the one who considers that one who is “failing to thrive” is blessed! The one writing the psalm is so sick, so in need that they seem despairing of their life. This psalm is often identified as a prayer of individual thanksgiving but it reads more as a plea for help. The prayer comes from one so sick that his continued survival is in jeopardy.  Reading the Psalm makes me wonder if the writer is so sick they are getting a little paranoid?

If the writer is David, it would have been written during a time in his life that he was running. Running from Saul, running from his past, running from death which is always nipping at his heals. David, in the story of his running, takes huge risks. He takes on huge responsibilities, does things that one the one hand are courageous and on the other, frankly stupid. He struggles as I have experienced America’s warrior struggling, with life.

Listen to what his enemies say:

I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.

All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned[b] against me.

Ever feels like someone is just waiting for you to die? Waiting for you to fail? Waiting for you to struggle, fall, give up? Ever feel like there are those around you whispering about you? Imagining the worst for you? A close friend, someone you trusted, your spouse, your loved one, your confidant – turned against you? Just when you needed them the most, just when it would have been so important for them to stand by you – they walk away, leave you in your failure to thrive?

Ever feel like this might be God?

Have you ever felt like the old Yiddish proverb, “Thou hast chosen us from among the nations – what , O Lord, did you have against us?”

I believe that it is reasonable to feel this way in chaos. If you experienced this, are experiencing this, or are wondering if your feelings about this in the time of your struggle are valid, I can say emphatically that I’ve been down that road myself and they are valid.

Saints, what holds the Psalmist together here is the confidence that they are acting in integrity. They are doing what is right. Though around them is scandal and pain – they are confident that this too shall pass and moving to a place of integrity will carry them through.

“You shall know the truth,

And the truth will set you free.” – Jesus

I read this as a promise that when we get honest with ourselves and move to a place of integrity, we will experience true freedom. It will hurt, it will be painful, it might even give those who have spoken against you cause to triumph but know that in the long run you are better, you are healthier, you are stronger because you no longer care what they say about you! You are no longer dependant on “them” for affirmation and strength. Your day is your responsibility! Your health is your responsibility! YOU are your responsibility!

How freeing would it be for verses 5-9 to not even matter?

Blessed is he who takes care of the weak.”  Once we have cared for ourselves, we can care for others. It is given to us to be authentic, be real, get to the truth and acting with integrity  – then, when we care for others, we do so from a place of love.

I wonder what world’s view of the church would be if, instead of lashing out against perceived ills and confessing grandly the sins of others, we got real with ourselves and spent our energy on what we could control , namely “considering the weak?”

Luke 10:Jesus stood in a field. Around him were his disciples and among them were the “72.” These were disciples that had gone out to spread the news of the coming kingdom. They had returned and were ecstatic! They were bubbling with news of what they had seen and experienced. With joy they relayed what they had seen. A crowd gathered.

Lord! Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus smiled and replied that he had seen Satan fall from heaven and that he had given them power to tread on serpents and scorpions – over all the power of the enemy. The crowd around Jesus were in awe of the stories they heard.

Of course, not everyone was all that impressed. Some were quite cynical. Cynicism always follows the miraculous. As is should with reasonable people. Doubt can be a good thing.

Jesus praises God –  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

He then says to his disciples quietly (but remember, people are quite close so they can hear), “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Jesus says to his uneducated, unlearned, unread, unstudied grubby, blue-collar, emotions-bleed-all-over-the-place disciples that they are seeing things that many prophets begged God to see and did not. Things that kings, in all their power and wealth could not see – something that might be just a little annoying to someone standing close by, a lawyer, a theologian, a learned and holy man.

He jumps to his feet and challenges Jesus. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Immediately, all the air is sucked out of the space. It gets silent. People look to see how Jesus is going to respond to this challenge.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, questions are rarely perceived as requests for information. They are almost always viewed with suspicion as a challenge to personal honor. The hope is that the person who is asking the question will not know the answer and be shamed by ignorance. This is absolutely the case since Luke points out that the intent of the questions is to “test” Jesus.

Here, Jesus responds (as he does in other passages) by insulting the questioner back. Jesus asks the lawyer – a man who has spent his entire life becoming an expert in the law, a specialist in the Torah ,the written Word of God – “well, how do you read?”

What we have here is what is affectionately referred to in my military career as a “sharpshooter.” It’s that Soldier who knows Army Regulations and Field Manuals from back to front. They can quote paragraph and line number to contradict whatever point you are making and they do it in such a way as to make a fool out of you and make themselves look good. If they outrank me, I ignore them or say something like, “thanks for your input Sir. That is a good point.” Or if it’s not going to be disrespectful, I just call it out. “Help me understand why you needed to make that point???” Awkward silence ensues.

Jesus calls him out. “Ok smarty pants, how do you read it?”

The Lawyer, now on the spot, regurgitates the catechism answer. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 thereby revealing that he knew the answer all along. He question wasn’t just a test of Jesus, it was a lie. He pretended to be ignorant though he wasn’t. Instead of shaming Jesus, the lawyer shames himself and Jesus emerges – once again – as the honorable victor in the contest. I can see the gentle (and maybe a just a little condescending, trying not to laugh because the disciples are chortling off to the side) smile as Jesus answers, “You have answered correctly, do this and live.” By now, people are laughing out loud. The lawyer needs to save face. He retorts, “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”

Now that is a good question. Its really the question. No one argues the point that God requires us to help the “other” what we argue about is just who the “other” is and how much help we have to give them. We don’t argue about the need to holiness, but oh the legalese that comes out when we get into just what that look like and who gets to say what holiness is. Soooo, yeeahhh…

Jesus tells a story.

“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

It’s a parable in 7 scenes.

Scene 1 – Robbers strip their victim and leave him for dead. Now, no one can identify his ethnicity. This is important. Remember, this is a small place. Everyone looks the same. You distinguish your tribe, money, status by your clothing but now, that’s all gone. Helping this guy carries a risk. No one knows anything about him. If I help him, what does that say about me? What might others say about me, what might I be risking, I don’t know his charges, I don’t know his preferences, I don’t know if he’s weird or not, I don’t know if he can help me back – I just don’t know!!

Scene 2 – The priest comes, riding his donkey which highlights his own status as an elite. He sees the victim and ponders helping him. If the victim is dead or is a non-Judean, he runs the risk of defiling himself by helping him. Then, he would have to return to Jerusalem in shame in front of those for whom he had just performed, gloriously, his priestly duties! His shame stemming from the reality that now, he would have to seek purification rites. The risk is too great and who has the time for all that. No one will even know he didn’t help the “other.” Note: Sirach 12:1-7

Scene 3 – The Levite comes. He might have come a little closer to examine the victim since the road was not straight and it’s possible he even saw the priest pass by before. If the priest did not give first aid, why should the Levite? I mean, if someone else ignores the plight of the weak, should I put myself out there? This would be a challenge to the priest, an insult, and God forbid I insult a preacher! Moreover, if the victim lived in Shechem, that would make him a Samaritan and we all know what that would do to my rep! The Levite passes on.

Scene 4 – The Samaritan shows up. We talked last week all about how Samaritans (Northern Jews) were viewed by Southern Judeans. The fact that Jesus highlights this is shocking and controversial in this tale. Allow me to demonstrate. What if we read the story as this, “the Preacher passed by, not wanting to get his suite dirty – what if the man was a criminal or an addict?? He clearly has nothing for me. The deacon passed by, the director of the men’s ministry who has been a Christian all his life and always is there first thing on Sunday morning in his best three-piece praising God with practiced hand motions. Can speak tongues on command. This guy saw the preacher pass by and thought better of putting that guy into his car. After all, he had another marriage retreat to plan for. Then, an atheist comes. A person unwelcome in their church comes upon the man in the street. He is filled with compassion and reaches out to help.

Scandal.

Scene 5 – The Samaritan offers first aid (wine, oil and bandages), which the Levite could have done but neglected to do. This is risky. The victim could hate him once he regained consciousness since, after all, he was being treated with Samarian wine and oil – impurity. In this story, the Samaritan is “damned if he does and damned if his doesn’t.”

Scene 6 – The Samaritan does what the priest could have done but didn’t: he places the victim on his own animal (by the way, very, very risky – who knows if the robbers are not close by) and takes him to an inn and continues to care for him.

Scene 7 – Finally, the Samaritan, in contrast to the Robbers leaves money and promises to pay what else would be needed in the care of the victim. This is perhaps the most risky part of the story – if the robbers find out that this guy has a soft heart and helped a witness who was supposed to die (tying up loose ends right?) they might come for the Samaritan and his family. Or, if the victim survives, he might rage at the Samaritan for helping him. I cannot express effectively how much these two groups hated one another. Purity matters. Read Leviticus.

The story is not lost on the lawyer. Red with shame and anger, he cannot even bring himself to utter the word, “Samaritan”  when Jesus asks, “Which of the three became a neighbor to the victim?” The lawyer’s question was, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus question was, “To whom must you become a neighbor.” The obvious answer is anyone and everyone in need.

The victim is laying on the ground like the psalmist, failing to thrive, his life passing before him. Naked, his exposed skin (his shame) feels every pain and agony on that ground. He sees his commander, his NCO come near him. At last!! They will help me!! Then they pass by. He sees his Chaplain come near. “He’ll help me. He has to. He’s the chaplain!” The chaplain follows the commander’s lead and passes by on the other side. Then, in shame, he goes to prison. He deepest, darkest secrets known to the world. His career gone. His family gone. His success gone. He is failing to thrive when an inmate, a sex offender, reaches out to him and says, “come, be healed.”

Oh saints!! What stops up from helping? What stops us from healing? What stops us from receiving the blessing of God for “considering the weak?” What keeps up from becoming the neighbor of those who need us? Is it pride? Anger? Is it others? Men of God, this will never go away. You will not get some special dispensation from God once you leave here to help others. There will ALWAYS be a good reason to not help. There will always be a good reason, a solid justification why you can’t “get your hands dirty” if you will not help now, if you will not be a part of God’s healing in someone’s life here, when will you?

When will you?

 

Tribal Love.

Sermon

We came up in tribes. We naturally divide into tribes. Some scholars suppose that the human brain can only recognize about 150 people as fully developed relationships. Beyond 150, we need to resort to “hierarchical schemes and stereotypes” to make sense of the world around us.

150 people is alot of people!                                    … and hardly any. Look at your facebook…

Our natural state in the “hunter/gatherer” society was to divide up into tribes. Our tribes were social in nature. Inclusive. In your tribe, you wouldn’t meet many new people. You would stay in the same basic place for weeks, months, years – maybe your whole life.

In New Guinea, anthropologists have studied similar cultures that still operate this way. In fact, if two men meet out in the jungle, they will sit down and go through their entire family history looking for a connection, looking for some common thread – if they can find one, they don’t have to fight! There might be a lesson there. I wonder what it would be like if we spent, oh I don’t know, 5 minutes seeking to understand one another, seeking for what we have in common – before we unload on other another!

Tribes help us make sense of the world. If we just hang out with people like us, we’ll be comfortable, we’ll be more at ease with our world. But then, it’s a global world so we often have to interact with the “other.” The one who isn’t in our tribe, they are not in our little world. What is different, what feels different, what looks different, is a threat to the integrity of our tribe. It’s a threat to our worldview. It’s  a threat to the way we understand the world.

What does your tribe look like? Who gets to be “in” and who gets pushed “out?” What are the significant features of your tribe? What does the language sound like? What are the symbols? The rituals? The artifacts and ceremonies?

What does your god look like? Tribal gods. Everyone has them. Its that attribute of God that makes the most sense to the tribe. Its that part of God that  gives meaning and a sense of “rightness” to the tribe. Thats a tribal god.

Tribal gods are a reflection of the culture. They are reflections of the values, principles, and prejudices of the culture. They reflect us. For better and for worse.

Of course, as a Christian believer, I hold to the theology that there is only One God. This God transcends other gods. This God is understood through the sacred writings known as the Bible, through the testimony of professed followers, and through the very Nature around us. Clearly, my God isn’t tribal.

Except when I start to define God as such.

When I make God in my image, when I speak for God, when I get to say what God hates and what God loves, I am starting to define what my tribal god looks like. Herein is the rub, how do I follow my calling to preach and avoid painting God in my image?

I grew up in West Michigan. A place “settled” and certainly shaped by the influence of the Dutch. Grand Rapids oozes the Dutch influence. The religion is strongly reformed. I like to joke that everyone in Grand Rapids is at least a little Calvinist. The Methodists lean that way, the Baptists lean that way, even the Catholics are not without the influence of the god of the Reformation!

Here’s the thing – it’s not that somehow my tribal god is not the Almighty I grew up worshipping – it’s that we Christians tend to shape our tribal god by emphasizing the parts that we like, the parts we relate most to. If we relate to the god of the Old Testament, we tend to shape our God in that fashion. Our New Testament God seen through Christ is still vengeful, still angry, still desiring of our fear – our worship reflects this, our stories reflect this, our preaching reflects this.

The God that some worship is still a violent God. A god of wrath and thunder. A warlike, masculine god that sends armies of angels to fight our battles. The remnant that remains struggles to survive the onslaught of the Wicked One and we fight in great spiritual battles. Everything become shaped by this idea and soon simple conversations about what to decorate the county courthouse lawn become moments of epic battle! A conversation about who gets to “marry” (whatever that means) gets painted in terms of the great apocalyptic battles in Revelation. Cause that’s not tribal at all…

Saints, are we even making an attempt to understand the Other? Are we even trying to see life from another tribes point of view? What exactly are we fighting for? How are we being known? Is this what our god looks like?

John writes to brand new, baby movement. It has grown out of the singular teachings and traditions established by Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples. The story of the earliest Church is the story of a transformation of a tribal God into something bigger, something grander, something different than the world had know to this point. When John writes his gospel, he calls to memory what is important for this group to know. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke write their stories into the collective memory of Christ, John aims squarely at the problems that are coming to the front of this burgeoning faith. He, having the benefit of hindsight, is able to emphasize the parts of the story he believes this new religion needs to remember.

A main theme throughout his Gospel? Love. “For God so loved the word (cosmos) that he gave…” This is not the traditional Jewish view. This is not the Roman view or the Hellenistic view. This is something different. John himself is a sufferer at the hands of the growing persecution. He does not have a good reason to be inclusive. He is in a real battle – not some perceived threat to culture – a very real struggle that violates his very person.

And he writes of love.

Thinking through everything that the new Church needs to remember about Jesus, thinking through everything that this Body needs, through what Paul has been writing, through what the missions movement has accomplished, thinking through Peter, James, Judas, Thomas, Philip, Junia – what his brother and sister Apostles have endured – he recalls to mind Jesus’ imperative to them:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Read the entire chapter if you can. I envision John leaning up against a rough door frame somewhere on the Island of Patmos, an eager scribe sits next to him writing down what the revered Apostle can remember of his time with Jesus. John is the oldest, the last remaining Apostle who walked and talked with Jesus. Already, Jesus was becoming the stuff of legend and tales. Already, there were battles about who Jesus was and what Jesus taught and what it meant to follow the prophet from Nazareth. But here, leaning against door, sipping water from a clay cup sits one who actually knew what was important to Jesus. He begins the chapter as the narrator:

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” I love this. What does the old man remember? Jesus loved him and all the rest “till the end.” John associates what Jesus does with the love that God showed to the world by sending his Son. John, who started the Gospel by declaring Jesus as the “logos” the “very expression of God” in human form, remembers the Jesus loved them right to the Cross.

The next two stories that precede our text are expressions of that Love. Jesus, coming from God and going to God, knowing the everything has been given to him, takes the place of a servant, takes off his outer robe, puts the towel on his shoulder and washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus loved them unto the end. He showed by service.

Then, he prophesies that Judas would betray him. As a master storyteller, John puts us there, we feel the tension in the room – “what you are going to do, do quickly.” The disciples are shocked, angry, and afraid as Judas leaves. Then our text picks up:

“When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.   If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What is to be the new artifact? What is to be the symbol of this new religion? Right doctrine? Right actions? Earnestly contending for the faith? Getting it all correct? Having the right answers? Protecting the judeo/christian culture? Is that what the disciples will be remembered for?

It is certainly not what John remembers Jesus wanting.

Love.

Later, John would ask Peter, not “is your doctrine correct Peter?” Not, “do you love my church Peter?” Not, “do you love the liturgy Peter?” Not, “have you the right apologetic to defend me to atheists Peter?”

He asks, “do you love me?”

Saints, it is so easy to give in to the god of violence and power. It is so easy to emphasize the parts of God that are most like us. It is so easy to declare that God is on my side and everyone who is against me and my perception of reality is clearly against God – but that is so small. It’s so limited.  God is SO much bigger than the stunted little world a barely understand.

Jesus calls us to something far more difficult than learning and defending dogma. Something far more difficult and challenging than picketing or voting or screaming in an online forum battle – Christ calls us to love.

When our tribe comes out and interacts with all the other tribes in the world, let us be known, not by what we are against, what we hate, what we declare that God hates, but by who we love; how we love; the overwhelming concreteness of our love.

Its simple. Its profound. Its so challenging because it demands so much of us.

They will know that we are Christians by our love.

Responsibility and Gun Control

General

I just bought a gun. Two actually.

I’ve been a gun owner for years and really enjoy shooting. I’ve owned about 20 different firearms since I became legally able to own them and currently own about a dozen. Like everything, its cyclical for me. I went through a “whatever I could afford phase” wherein I bought really, really, cheap guns; an “automatic weapons” (I refuse the title assault weapon – it’s pejorative and unhelpful) phase wherein I purchased multiple weapons that would deliver lots and lots of rounds downrange fast; a long hiatus wherein my “post deployment” blues caused me to put all my guns away and not shoot for years; and my current phase which is interested in hunting/historical replica shooting. I have a desire to own (a replica) of every gun the US Army has used in it’s history – kind of a bucket list sort of thing. Currently, I own two. I have a long way to go…

I say that to highlight that I care about owning firearms. I believe in owning firearms. I have a right to own firearms. I also recognize this:

Owning a firearm is a massive responsibility to myself and my community.

Simply put, owning any firearm means that I have at my disposal the means to kill very easily. The more rounds I can shoot, the faster I can shoot them, and the faster I can reload them simply adds to the severity of that responsibility. If I choose to purchase a a firearm, I am assuming the responsibility for how it is used.

Currently, the conversation that I have read/heard/witnessed seems to be stuck on bans/mental health/original intent/the AR15 is the new musket. All of which I believe frame the discussion in an unhelpful manner.

1. Bans generally do not accomplish what they set out to do and just create sub markets off the radar. Look at our bans in history: alcohol, prostitution, drugs, etc. Not particularly successful in stopping anything.

2. Do we really want to do down the road of mandating that a social worker report anyone who should not shoot a gun? Depressed? No shooting for you!

3. The AR 15 is nothing like a musket and who cares anyway. Going down the road of “original intent” is not usually helpful since we can say whatever we want about what they meant. Cause the Founding Fathers really cared about a woman’s/minorities right to own a firearm…

None of these conversations help us to get a reasonable place where there are some rules and expectations on those who desire to exercise their 2nd Amendment right!

I would compare this to the freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion. However, one cannot just do anything they want to call it their faith. Churches have to obey zoning laws. Polygamy is illegal. One cannot just state that meth trips are a part of their faith and justify a church sanctioned meth lab. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of child abuse. Traditionally, a church’s advise to a parishioner is confidential and a conversation between a congregant and minister is held in the highest confidence. Not anymore. Pastor’s are mandated reporters in many states and here in Kansas City, a bishop was held responsible for suppressing the actions of a priest. One cannot just do whatever they want and cover it in religious freedom.

Or the 2nd Amendment.

“Shall not be infringed” That boat sailed the first time a town said that you couldn’t bring a loaded musket into church or the saloon. As America westernized (I’ll say that since there were certainly active, functioning civilizations long before the Pilgrims landed) and started to apply English common law on these shores, regulations around the use of firearms came with it. Certainly they would have been different than they are today but that goes with common sense. Their laws matched their tools and our laws ought to match ours.

It would be silly to apply the road rules of say, 1900, to the massive Petersen Truck that has the ability to pull tons or freight at high speeds. Laws need to match risk.

I know, I know. Criminals won’t obey the law. Got it. That’s why they are criminals and should be treated as such. If a criminal has a gun illegally or someone buys a gun for a criminal, they should be treated accordingly. Got it.

Here’s a common sense idea: treat a weapon with varying levels of regulations related to risk.

Clearly, my single shot .410 is a dangerous weapon. It can absolutely kill, maim, wound. However, there is much less risk associated with that firearm than, say, an AK47 variant which has the ability to lots of lead very quickly. They are different firearms with differing capabilities. They should be treated differently, that makes sense.

I believe that anyone who wants to own an AK47 should be able to. I also believe that there is a grave responsibility one should also have to assume when purchasing that firearm. One should be able to afford it, demonstrate that they are responsible, upstanding citizens, can care for it (i.e. keep it out of the hands of those who should not have access to it like children), and, above all, be able to deploy it effectively.

Not all of those things can be governed. However, some can. What if a person had to take a class (like is required to get a Concealed Carry Permit) in order to own/shoot a certain class of firearms (like we already do with fully automatic weapons)? The ability to fire a hundred rounds as fast as a person can squeeze a trigger is not something to be taken lightly!

What if a person was held accountable for distribution of a firearm? I.e. if I sell a firearm to someone else, I am responsible to report that sale otherwise I’m in trouble for trafficking a firearm to a criminal. Lets put the burden of responsibility on the person who owns the gun. Again, it’s the idea that owning a gun comes with the responsibility for safe use.

I recognize there are laws on the books for this – good – lets find a way to leverage technology in such a way that it makes the laws easier to enforce rather than harder.

There are lots of creative ways to mitigate risk while protecting rights. Many more than I could think of to be sure. That’s the conversation that needs to happen – not fruitless fighting over bans and original intent.

What if we framed the conversation – how do we mitigate risk effectively – how can people utilize their rights in a way that is safe for the community.

By the way, I’m all for a well-regulated militia. I’m all for people getting together, training, shooting, holding each other accountable.

Reasonable regulations are always appropriate when there is significant risk involved. We do this with cars, money, drugs etc.

I like shooting. I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I do not believe that I need to “demonstrate a need” in order to own a gun. I also believe that I should be held accountable if a gun that I own falls into the hands of an unstable person, minor, or criminal by my negligence.

Tapped Out

Chaplaincy

I did an unthinkable thing today – I told my boss that I was “tapped out.” I didn’t have more to give.

This is a first for me, at least for as long as I can remember. “Stick-to-it-tivness” was a theme in my family. You work until the job is done. This, of course, has about killed me on several occasions. I just don’t have good boundaries. I have a terrible time saying no.

It’s not that I don’t WANT to do it (whatever “it” is) – I very often do! In fact, most times, I could do it better than it’s being done and I want to help. But, there are only so many hours in a day and I only have so much time to give.

Self-care. It’s never been a strong suite with me. I’m something of an “on or off” person. For the last ten years or so in ministry, the spiral works something like this:

Get the new job or assignment. 

Work like a mad fiend. 

Be very impressive because I just don’t ever go home. 

Get lots of kudos for my workaholism. 

Feed on the kudos and work more. 

Start to feel the burn. 

Work harder. 

Crash. Burn. Let the ball drop. Depression. 

Recover. 

Repeat. 

Now, the thing is, my career path has not helped this natural tendency in me. Since I joined the Army, I have had a change, move, PCS EVERY year! Every year, I would go through my patterned cycle and every year about the time I was at my worst (always hidden from my leadership and Soldiers through secret ninja skills I learned growing up a pastor’s kid) I could recover because I knew there was a change coming. There was a moment on it’s way that would give me an artificial shift in my circumstances and I knew that I’d be able to take some time off and recover from my woes.

Until this year.

This year has been the first time I’ve started a new OER (Annual Evaluation) in the same unit and NOT be deployed/coming back from a deployment. This has highlighted the need in my life to actually do something about my spiral. I had never identified this pattern in my life. During my year of CPE, I identified something through group work and this year, my wife and I nailed it – this pattern of exhaustion that torpedos my ministry.

So. I. Made. Change. I broke the spiral. I felt coming on and I owned it. It was the first step. I had to own that I was overwhelmed and starting to spiral downward. Then, I had to do what actually hurt: say no to programs.

Here’s the thing, when you are a minister, saying “no” not only means that you personally will not do something or give up time it also means that OTHERS will not get to have the event because you turned it down. So, as a prison chaplain, it means that my inmates will not get to have a service because I can’t handle doing it and remain healthy. That’s where it gets tough. That’s where the rub turns into a burn. Having to face your commander and your congregation and tell them that you just don’t have more to give goes against everything I have ever experienced for a Soldier AND a pastor.

I’ve heard and read a great deal about “Self-Care,” the idea that we pastors have to take care of our selves in order to properly minister. I have experienced others and myself sighing and affirming that reality. Then, we all go back to work, head into the same meetings and carry on with the business of wearing the hats of “staff officer” and “chaplain.”

Too often, the ones who pay the steepest price are the kiddos, spouses, and families of the minister. I’ve certainly done ministry on the back of my family. This last Christmas season, I made a commitment to NOT do that. This does not mean that I didn’t work on Christmas – I did – however, it DOES mean that when I am home, I am home. When I am playing with my kids, there is nothing taking me from that. When it’s my wife’s time, it’s hers and she does not have to share me with my smart phone or email.

It’s been challenging. It’s been stressful. It’s also been life-giving!

Who knew that embracing my own limitations would be so… liberating?!!

Hindu Army Chaplain

Army, Chaplaincy

In this world of changing times and culture, I love how this video highlights how there are no boxes. The Army Chaplaincy does have many evangelical protestants but it also has a Hindu Chaplain. The Army has always been a micorcasm of the greater society and the chaplaincy is a microcasm of the greater clerical world. Religion exists in the same marketplace that everything does in this country. Thats what the “free exercise of religion” is all about.

Two views on the repeal of DADT

Army, Chaplaincy

In the wake of the study that highlighted that the repeal of DADT has had no real impact on the military, I thought I’d share a couple of articles from chaplain’s groups (both sides of the debate) that express how they feel about it.

My own thought is: does the loss of the preferential treatment of my faith (Christianity) equate to the loss of my own religious freedom?

My answer is of course: no. It is true that America is a traditionally Protestant Christian nation and thus most of it’s chaplains are, military chapels are based on Christian churches etc. etc. However, as we become more religiously diverse (as reflecting the diversity of the nation as a whole), it only highlights how great our system is when those from other faith groups and expressions can express as we do.

Is religious support fair? Is it just? Are the ideas, rituals, tenets of your faith still able to be expressed? These are the questions we need to ask.

First, a response from the conservative “Chaplain’s Alliance:”

“This list of problems and incidents that have arisen mere months after this administration imposed its will on the armed forces is disturbing to say the least, and we know it is only the beginning,” said Crews. “Compounding the outrage, service members are not free to speak out about these matters. This ensures that distrust in the ranks will increase and morale will decrease as the number of silenced victims grows.”

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty said it has worked with members of Congress to enact legislation to protect freedom of conscience for chaplains and those they serve. The proposal has passed the House of Representatives but is awaiting action in the Senate.

The second from a progressive chaplains’ group run by the UCC:

Will religious conservatives in the military no longer be able to practice their religion? Will their chaplains have to refrain from preaching against homosexuality (their term, not mine)? Not at all. Chaplains have always had the right to preach according to the tenets of the religious bodies that endorse them — and they still will. Will anti-gay chaplains be forced to conduct same-sex weddings in military chapels? Of course not. They will continue to conduct rites and sacraments as allowed by their religious bodies. And the same principle applies to conducting religious education and pastoral counseling. The one thing that every chaplain is required to do, regardless of their religious perspectives, is care for everyone. If these chaplains can’t minister to gay and lesbian service members themselves, they are obligated to refer them to another chaplain who can.
So where is the threat to religious freedom? And where could their right to free speech be limited? It will no longer be acceptable to speak about fellow gay and lesbian service members in demeaning ways in the workplace and other public settings. The fact that this has ever been acceptable by anyone anywhere, but especially by chaplains, is regrettable. And chaplains from the religious groups who are now demanding protection from discrimination have been some of the worst offenders. They, and others who agree with them, may continue to think and believe what they want, but outside of those areas where their religious speech is protected, they may now have to keep their bigotry to themselves.
I agree that religious freedom is a precious right that we must hold inviolate. It is a right that all service members serve to defend, and which all should be able to enjoy. By all, I mean those who are religiously liberal as well as those who are conservative, and by those who are gay as well as straight. Are ADF and the religious groups they represent as willing to defend the same rights and protections for others they claim for themselves? Are they as willing to acknowledge the right of chaplains from gay-friendly denominations to perform gay weddings in military chapels? And are they as willing to speak up for those who suffer discrimination because they are gay? If not, their pleas for special protection from discrimination for themselves are self-serving and unworthy of consideration.

This highlights the reality that Christian’s have always struggled through – how do we work out our understanding of Jesus’ teachings? How do we walk as salt and light? I am convinced that both these groups claim salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ and his salvific work on the cross. Yet they come down hard on both sides of the issue.

Such is the way of families. I just hope it doesn’t ruin the family reunion.

Thoughts on DADT

Army, Chaplaincy

A continuation of yesterday’s post:

I stayed out of the great “gay debate” that swirled around the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. There was a great deal of misinformation being pushed about that, on a local level, I sought to correct but given the political nature about the whole thing (and me being a federal chaplain) I felt it necessary to stay out of the debate until it was concluded how we would move forward.

As a citizen, I have strong opinions and feelings about this (and many other issues), but as a Soldier, I also follow the orders given, salute the flag, and drive on. There is also the imperative of a chaplain to be a moral voice to power. It is within my mission as chaplain to advocate for the powerless and speak truth to power in a respectful way. Navigating the nuances of these conversations can be and have been a struggle.

Today, I read an article about how gay military families have found a warm welcome within the ranks and at unit events etc. The article highlighted the fact that there has been no negative impact of recognizing same-sex couples in the military. There have always been gay Soldiers. Now at least they don’t have to lie about it.

During my first deployment, I had a Soldier I could tell was struggling with something but seemed to never want to talk about it. I watched the Soldier move deeper into depression. Finally, after a couple of months of relationship building (I suspect it was when the Soldier felt safety with me), the individual confided that their seven year same sex relationship was starting to fail (as many relationships fail during deployments) and how their depression was impacting them. It was a moment when I realized how terribly crippling it can be to have a struggle (that most everyone around shares) but be unable to find solidarity with others because of judgement.

Regardless of how an individual believes about this subject, surely, grief and pain are grief and pain. I reached out to the Soldier and learned something about myself, my ministry, and Christ.

I’m glad DADT was repealed. Not because of my beliefs about this issue but because of the freedom that individuals now have to be who they are in the public spere. Much is asked of Soldiers. There are standards of behavior and conduct that we abide by that the rest of the Country does not. This has not nor should it change. Thankfully, honesty is one of them.

Addictive “Worship”

General, Theology

So, my brother, who is a worship leader, brought this to my attention this week. Its an article that theorizes that “mega-church worship” has qualities that can be highly addictive.

“Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through  external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”

No doubt many, like Moses, have an authentic encounter with God through these events. But new research indicates another explanation for our spiritual highs. A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God.

“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshipers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the study.”

I found this article interesting on the level that someone is questioning the validity of “mountain-top” experiences. However, I would note that these types of experinces have exsisted throughout time and that they are part and parcel to the human interaction with the divine.

What I most liked was my brother’s response to the article – I thought it so good, I include it here in it’s entirety.

1.  I hate the Yankees, they have all the money, players and fans.  Easy to be a mega church hater.
2.  The same argument could be used for any worship style: Liturgical, Catholic, Old Fundamental KJV Hymn singers.  Any time we only look for God in a system or specific place its off.
3.  The most dangerous view may be that you can find God in all of those places and more.
4.  God says if you seek Him, you will find Him and I’ve found that to be true.  When I don’t seek Him, I can get way off track and only see darkness.  When I do seek Him, I see Him everywhere.  Kinda like a Rich Mullins song I used to listen to.  “And everywhere I go, I see you…”
5.  Even in the dark I see Him if I seek Him.  The face of a chinese orphan who will probably never hear of Him, a rock in Scotland, a good story, a piece of art, the devotion of a muslim.  See?  Told you that was dangerous.  But God is dangerous and His stamp is everywhere.
6.  We all have those warm fuzzy places where we go to find the divine.  Some, its a mega church rock and roll show.  Some?  Bill Gaither.  Still others?  A quiet place in the woods dressed in camo. Me?  I like a good secular concert.   I love it when I meet someone who “gets” this concept.  They are a cool person.
7.  That article makes me hate my job.  I’ll never make anyone happy.  Maybe the debate will get the author some speaking gigs and his wife will be able to buy that dress from Abercrombie.

We are rich and we are poor – living with it.

Sermon

poor” – it’s a word with baggage in our culture. Every four years about this time, it’s a political word – most other times it’s either equated with guilt or anger. Seems like we either feel guilty for not doing more or angry for perceived abused of the system.

Today’s Text was all about the poor. It is a sermon that I approached with some trepidation. My goal was to preach the Scripture without it being a. political, b. some guilt inducing rant, or c. a progressive diatribe. My wife tells me I got there. I went with the Proverbs and James passage.

The central question I dealt with is the one that I think we struggle with – who is poor?

Often, the comparison is made with the poor in third world countries and the poor in America but this is comparing apples and oranges. The two are not the same. The question in my mind is: does this person have resources? See I want to get away from “rich/poor” and focus on resource. Those who are fat in resources (be that money, time, spiritual, emotional etc) verses those who are lacking. A person may not have much money but be rich in time. A person may have a pile o’ money but be destitute in spirit.

Proverbs 22 equates a good name (solid reputation) as transcending riches. The ideas of wealth and poverty are human designations. We put that on each other. Verse 2 does not pass judgement on the rich/poor but does emphasize that God made them both – not that God designated one to be wealthy or one to be poor but that both humans come from God and thus are the same. In the eyes of God – there is no poor/rich category. Verses 7-9 speak of the reality of the rich and poor – once one loans money to another, the relationship is going to be master/servant. Sallie Mae taught me that! Losing that master was a great day in my life! Those verses highlight that there are blessings that are on those who are generous and curses upon those that deal unjustly with the poor. Justice is a value in God’s economy as is a good reputation. Verse 16 highlights how God views oppressing the poor to enrich others – its bad and leads only to poverty in the community! I love this idea that the author points to – when the poor are stolen from to put more in the pockets of those who are rich – everyone loses! The whole community suffers. This thought is continued in 22-23 – the meaning here is understood in terms of power and voice, the poor do not have power to resist, they have no voice, they are “crushed at the gate” (in the ancient city-state the gate is where legal issues were settled, if you had money or resources, then you had voice and could win your issue, the poor have no money, they have no power or voice) – be careful, because God is the legal representation of the poor. That was remarkable to me in this text – using the legal system to take from those who have not to give to those who have is particularly bad for everyone and will bring calamity!!

Clearly, in this text the writer makes the argument that the poor and the rich share the same community. He does not make a moral judgment as to who is better/less than the other but it seems that one has a responsibility to care for the other. To provide some sense of security. Certainly, there is blessing for those who share and calamity for those who oppress.

I covered even more in the James passage but what it comes down to is this – lets not use our politics and emotions around poverty as an excuse to do nothing. We ALL have something to give. Yes, we do need to discover for ourselves what we belive is a lack of resources and what we are willing to give to – but we NEED to give. We all share the same space. We all share the same community. Breathe the same air and all that. We are responsible for one another. Who is poor? Who is destitute? I imagine that needs to be answered by each of us individually but let it not be an excuse for inaction. Let it not be an excuse for superiority. Don’t let a person’s station be just another way to judge and separate them from you. We are called to actually serve. Actually DO something. The poor and rich will always be with us. But those separations don’t have to BE us. We can be different. Let love and service to others be the defining characteristic of a Christian.