Saturday, March 17, 2018

An Attack on Traditional Christian Values

This is a reaction opinion to an opinion piece from the Liberal, Kansas Leader and Times. The author, Larry Phillips, has submitted many such writings. I have found very little that is agreeable with his content or approach. But this writing was clearly the wrong thing at the wrong time.

No matter what the movies say, gay is still gay

Mr. Phillips begins his opinion with the statement: "The bombardment from progressive Democrats attacking traditional Christian values is always overlooked by the Lame Stream Media." He has displayed, in his writings, a bias against progressives, Democrats, and traditional news and cultural media outlets. There have been many times I have been offended by his tone. There have been many cases where his characterizations are thrown out with no regard for the humanity of the persons they touch. This article, for example, begins with a heterosexual pedophile and is linked to LGBTQ persons, and finally relates that to bestiality.

Liberal, Kansas is not a central hub for progressive and counter-traditional values. It is very traditional. It is laid back. But it does have persons who identify as LGBTQIA. Those people are members of the society of Liberal. They shop and work and go to school in Liberal. They play athletics and take walks in the park. They lead quiet lives where they want the best for their lives. But this attack was a horrible character assassination on those people.

And it was done under the banner of "traditional Christian values".

And that was wrong!

Traditional Christian values do not allow room for character assassination. Traditional Christian values are not filled with hateful characterizations of unknown persons. Traditional Christian values will not make another person feel demoralized, angered, offended, or put into a position where they are depersonalized, dehumanized. Mr. Phillips tries to stir feelings of division and hatred against people who he characterizes as: despicable, dysfunctional, amoral, inhuman, mentally confused, emotionally ill, mentally ill, disgusting, behaviorally sick, and abnormal. Some of those are television characters used to portray the lifestyles he finds reprehensible. Some of those are consumers of media which support those lifestyles.

I am not wanting to address the subject of the content of the media Mr. Phillips is attacking. I want to address the attack on people who Mr. Phillips characterizes as less than human. This is not the first time he has made such a characterization. These are the words of Mr. Phillips from a column following the Parkland, Florida school shooting. He was addressing the students who were speaking up for gun reforms.
These kids sat in front of a TV camera and said they were just stating their reflections on the Florida school shooting and were just explaining their feelings. After all, they were there. And they blamed the NRA. 
Sheer stupidity – apes, taught to mimic. Gun control has never stopped shootings, February 23, 2018
 From the column that sparked this opinion, he had this to say regarding a television show:
We get a cable series that humanizes one of these mentally confused individuals – a transgender teenager. It follows the life of an emotionally twisted teenage girl who wants to become a sexual transgender. They try to portray her as a sweet and tormented, poor little thing.
The fact is she’s mentally ill, and her parents are disgustingly sick.
I understand that Mr. Phillips is calling out a character on a television show. They are not a real person. But that "emotionally twisted teenage" character represents hundreds of real people. That character is the opportunity to see that there are struggles by teenagers in every one of our schools. Every day there are neighbors kids or someone around the neighborhood or perhaps in the grocery store who feel they are sick or ill or less than human. And attacks on a character on television only perpetuates the lack of support that a teenager you may know desperately needs. They need to be heard. They need to be respected as a human being. They need to be loved.

And that is the real understanding of traditional Christian values.

Mr. Phillips doesn't understand "values". He doesn't seem to understand "Christian" either. Traditional Christian values are not grounded in the dehumanizing of people. No where does Jesus tell his disciples, "Find the flaw in another person and use it as a point of assassination on them." Jesus does not condone the dehumanizing or demoralizing of any human being, except for the religious leaders who made true holiness impossible to attain. The only people Jesus judged were the religious who had such a narrow view of faith and obedience that they could not see the persons they were damaging along the way.

Jesus held out one standard for behavior among the disciples. "Love God with all that your are (heart, soul, mind, body). Love your neighbor as yourself." But maybe that wasn't clear enough for those early disciples. So Jesus goes through this over and over.  Love one another (John 13:34), love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), love the stranger (Luke 10:29-37), and love your enemies (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 & 35). And this is something that I believe Mr. Phillips has overlooked in his lessons on traditional Christian values. He views his enemies with contempt. He has no compassion for them nor does he seem to want to do good for them.

Traditional Christian values built upon the New Testament do not call Christians to attack non-believers, immoral individuals, or sinful behaviors of persons outside of the fellowship of the saints. The accountability that we are called to hold others to only for those who are of the faith and the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Mr. Phillips, and others like him, feel they are justified in calling the rest of culture to follow his understanding of values and Christian teaching. But Mr. Phillips has much to learn about both before he should call upon anyone else.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rainer on becoming a more welcoming church

Notes for future reference regarding a community welcoming church:
  1. Attitudinal Angst: a church illness where church members are most focused on getting their own desires and preferences met, rather than being a serving member of the body of Christ. It is also called Church Country Club Membership.
  2. Slippage Syndrome: the church illness where a church stops focusing on its primary purposes. Evangelism slippage is the most common.
  3. Detail Distraction: a church illness where there is too much focus on minor issues to the detriment of major issues. For example, routine meetings can become more important than compelling missions.
  4. Institutional Idolatry: a church illness where the members have an unbiblical devotion to inconsequential matters such as facilities, order of worship, or styles of worship.
  5. Activity Acclimation: a church illness where the members see busyness to be the same as commitment and/or godliness. The church calendar becomes the guiding document for the congregation.
  6. Purposeless Prayer: the church illness where corporate prayer is non-existent or steeped in non-useful tradition. Such prayers can be perfunctory, showy, or gossipy.
  7. Detrimental Defensiveness: a church illness where the members and leadership are fearful to move forward because of memories of past conflicts and the presence of troublemakers and bullies.
  1. Are our members inviting others?
  2. Does our website communicate to guests?
  3. Are our members friendly to guests or to members only?
  4. Is our facility clean, tidy, and safe?
  5. Are there barriers to worship?
  6. Are we speaking a foreign language?
  7. Do we follow up with guests in a timely manner?
  8. Do we have clear next steps?

  1. Understand the community has changed
  2. Understand the level to which they have been blessed
  3. Understand the community as an opportunity to display love
  4. Understand it is obedience
  1. Avoid “Insider Trading”
  2. Nobody likes Worship Casserole
  3. Tick Tock, the Game is Locked
  4. To Thine Own Self Be true
  1. Pray as you enter the property.
  2. Park at the most distant spot available.
  3. Greet people.
  4. Look for people to help.
  5. Sit as close as possible to the front of the worship center.
  6. Sit in the middle.
  7. Sit closely.
  8. Volunteer to serve.
  9. Pray as you leave.

A Glorious Death

I was reading the Lectionary passages for this week (Lent 5B). The Gospel reading is John 12:20-33. Jesus is approached by some Greek seekers. Jesus speaks of his impending death, according the writer/editor. But the theme that develops in that conversation led me to the thought of the death in the pericope.

A glorious death is something that we don't talk about as having happened to real people. We hear it in poetry. We read of it in literature. We watch it in movies. When we confront death in the lives of human beings, flesh and blood we may know or who are known by those we know, we don't speak of death as glorious. It can be tragic or sudden. We may feel that it was expected or understandable. It can be peaceful or horrible. But we never talk about a glorious death for people. Even people of faith experience a death that is less that glorified.

John 12:24: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies..."
John 12:32: "when I am lifted up from the ground..."

Jesus uses two references to the ground or earth in this proclamation of impending death. There is a weight on the words that he uses. The grain must die in the ground to bring forth fruit. And the hearers of that word understood that part of Jesus' little parable. They had seen the farmers sowing the wheat into the ground. And what goes into the ground must die. There is no light. There is no life in the ground. What was once alive returns to the earth. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...."

But how many grasped the bigger picture of what Jesus was saying? Did they know that he was speaking of himself? Did they think of his death as something that was near? Billy Graham died recently (as of this writing). How many people were ready for the news of his death? Even though he was "advanced in years", did people grasp that he would really die in their lifetime or awareness? Jesus was forecasting something, but did anyone put it together what that was?

Then, he makes an even more veiled reference to being lifted up. He just announced what happens to the wheat seed in the ground. Now he is announcing that he would be raised up from the same. The writer/editor inserts this clarification: He was saying this to indicated the kind of death by which he was to die. But raising up is not related to death. Death is laying down to die. Death is putting one into the tomb. Death is going down into Sheol. Being raised up is not dying. It is glorifying.

Jesus is bringing glory to dying.

John 12:23: "now is the time for the Son of man to be glorified."
John 12:28: "Father, glorify your name." "I have glorified it and I will glorify it again."

Jesus isn't just bringing death down to earth. Jesus is also raising it up to heaven. God is now involved in the dying. But in God is life. God's name was glorified in the Incarnation (and God took flesh and dwelt among humanity). God's name was glorified in the Baptism of Jesus (this is My son in whom I am well pleased). God's name was glorified in the obedience of Christ witnessed to in the Transfiguration (this is My son; listen to him). And the name of God would be glorified again before all was said and done.

In the death of Christ, we see not only God's name glorified, but we also see death glorified. Through the death of Christ, we see God transforming life (by his stripes we are healed). In the death of Christ, we see God transforming our nature (sin is forgiven). In the death of Christ we have a victory over that which has been humanity's curse from the garden (where, o death, is your sting).

The death of Jesus is not beautiful. It is not easy to digest. It is beyond our full mortal comprehension to understand at its deepest meanings. But it is glorious.

In its shame, his death is honorable.
In its brutality, his death is miraculous.
In its disgrace, his death is justifying.
In its injustice, his death is reconciling.
In its pain, his death is peaceful.
In its suffering, his death is gentle.
In its dying, his death is glorifying.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

My answers to the frequently asked questions a pastor receives

For anyone who may end up reading this, wondering how to deal with me as a pastor, here are some of the answers you will be wanting to know.
What do we call you? Pastor, preacher, brother, Hey You?
What you call a pastor depends on your background and tradition. I don’t expect anyone to call me anything specific. But here are some helpful guidelines:
    • Reverend is a formal title best used for official address and invitations or business letters
    • Pastor is what I do and my relationship to the church. It is fine for people to call me Pastor Todd. Or even just Pastor.
    • I’ve had a few folks call me “Brother Todd”. I don’t have any problems with that. It doesn’t reflect a theological statement for me or an office.
    • Preacher is also what I do. I don’t mind people calling me Preacher.
    • “Hey, you” is perfectly fine until you get to know me.
    • Above all else, Todd works just as well. It’s the name my Momma gave me and I’m pretty attached to it.
Are you going to change things?
The simple answer is yes. My coming to be your pastor is about change. I am nothing like your leaving pastor. Your former pastor and I will do things differently. There will be unavoidable changes because of that. I will not, however, make any drastic changes in the beginning of my time of serving. The exception to this would be if there are MAJOR problems that must be dealt with. Until we get to know each other better I will not institute changes to things that are familiar for a church. We have plenty of time for something like that.
There is one thing that I like to change fairly quickly when I arrive at a new appointment. I like to get rid of meetings that waste time. My time is precious. Your time is precious. If I don’t think a meeting needs to happen, I won’t call it. I don’t mind spending a little time informally, but I like to start on time, end on time, and use the time efficiently. So if you like meetings that go on forever and never seem to get anything accomplished, I’m sorry that I may offend you.

What kind of preacher are you?
I was called into ministry through the campus ministry at East Central University. I was also called into ministry while studying History. Two people have shaped that calling: Rev. D.A. Bennett and Dr. Davis Joyce. Those two men have been such a great influence on my understanding of ministry that I could not consider being the man I am if it weren’t for them.
D.A. Bennett taught me about being passionate in my preaching. I get fired up when I preach sometimes. I shout a little, now and then. I preach the Bible from a scholarly point of view but at the lowest level so everyone can get something. I get animated. I get silly. I take preaching seriously.
Davis Joyce taught me that there are people in this world who don’t have a voice and I have privilege they do not. I use preaching to remind the Church that the world is not perfect, and neither is the Church. I use preaching to put before us the last, lost, and least because that is who Jesus sought out. I remind people that justice and mercy and societal changes are as much a part of the work of the Church as praying, singing, and fellowship dinners.
If you want to know what kind of preacher I am, I try to record them and post them to the internet.
I am also the kind of preacher that isn’t afraid to admit that sometimes I get it wrong. When something is pointed out to me, I will address it and correct it and seek repentance for it.
Are you going to visit people?
Growing up, my Momma always taught my sister and me that we should never invite ourselves over to people’s houses. That is a rule I still live by. I will be glad to visit with you. I would ask that if you desire a visit, please invite me to come and set up an appointment. I feel that coming to a person’s home is a privilege extended and should be something you control. It is not my right or within my responsibility to intrude upon your “safe place”. An appointment ensures that the time is protected from anything that may compete. I want to be able to visit without worrying that something else may compete for my time. You have to ask me to come visit you. I don’t operate from the understanding that people expect me to come into their homes. I operate from the understanding that your time and home are yours and I am invited into them. This way you can pick a time that is best for you. If my schedule allows it, I will be glad to visit.

When it comes to hospital visits, that is something else. I will gladly come and pray for you before a procedure, if that is what you want. If I come, I usually stay until the procedure is over and the attending doctor reports. But again, you have to let me know when and where. Hospitals are cracking down on information they will release. It is law that they cannot release certain information. If you are going in, and you want a visit, please inform me in advance. If you are in the hospital for an extended stay, I will pay a visit. In order to make it easier, please let me know what hospital, what floor, what room, and if there are any limitations (gowns and masks, special hours, etc.). I will try to make it to the emergency room in the case of a serious event as soon as I am able. But I will also respect the rules and boundaries of any hospital.

How can I get in touch with you?
You are welcome to contact me whenever you need to. I will acknowledge a message at my earliest convenience (usually fairly quickly). I may not be able to physically get to see you at the moment but at least contact me. The best way to reach me is in this order: text message, instant message through Facebook Messenger, cell phone, email, office phone, home phone.
I will try to post times when I am available in the office. I don’t mind people stopping for a visit. An appointment will ensure that I will be there when you wish to visit.

Will your wife be/do ___(fill in the blank)______?
I know that some churches have expectations of the preacher’s wife. My wife is her own person with her own gifts, talents, and interests. If you would like to ask her to do something, she should be allowed the opportunity to consider it. She is not appointed to the church, though, I am. Please don’t expect her to do something without sitting down and talking with her.

Will you be at various events?
Personal family time is very important to us. We like to spend time with one another and do things together as a family. If there are events that we can come to as a family, we will be there. We also like to enjoy quiet time together. So we most likely will not be every event.
If there is something special you would like me to be involved with, please come and talk to me. I don’t know what you want or expect. The things you consider to be important or community building may escape my notice. Some traditions and community bonding experiences are things I don’t have any history with. But if you come talk to me, then we will come to a better understanding of each other.

What do you like?
Favorite food: Bar-b-que ribs.
Favorite drink: Coffee with sugar and milk or a big glass of sweet tea.
Favorite music: I enjoy a lot of different styles of music and depending on my mood, I will listen to different things.
Favorite movie: Any Marvel or Disney movie, The Greatest Showman, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Princess Bride, One Crazy Summer
Favorite television show: I like almost all science-fiction shows; I watch DC super hero shows with my youngest son, and action shows with my wife. My DVR gets really full.
Heroes: Walt Disney, Dave Ramsey, my mother, John Wesley, E. Stanley Jones
Favorite sport: I don’t care much for sports but I like hockey most of all
Favorite snack food: beef jerky and gummy bears (not together)

What do you dislike?
Water, heights, flying.

Where do you come from?
I was born into an Air Force family. I was born December 29, 1970 outside of San Bernardino, California. We moved to the Philippines and Wichita, Kansas. When I was about 10 we moved to a little town in southeastern Oklahoma. I have spent most of my ministry (and now a largest portion of my life) in northwestern Oklahoma or the Panhandle.
I attended college at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. I have a degree in History with special focus on Russian and Soviet studies and Sociology as my minor. I attended seminary at Asbury Theological in Wilmore, Kentucky.
I have served churches in Calvin, Stuart, Gerty, Alva, Leedey, Camargo, Hammon, Claremore, Turpin, and Baker. I have been in the ministry since May of 1998, but served for one year between 1993 and 1994.

I am a moderate with conservative and liberal leanings. Theologically, I am grounded in the Church tradition that extends through all 1900 years of Christian history. I believe in the apostolic faith as declared in the creeds. I stand under a healthy umbrella of John Wesley’s influence. I believe the Bible has been inspired through the Holy Spirit, entrusted to human writing, preservation, and translation, and is open to understanding by all people while subject to the Tradition of the Church. I believe that faith is not the ideas that we hold about God, but the life that we lead because of Jesus Christ. I believe that the Kingdom of God is the pursuit and mission of the Church and churches. Christians have a responsibility to the teaching, serving, evangelism, and justice mission of the Kingdom of God.
Politically, I do not affiliate with any established party. I do so because I believe that issues of politics are bigger than a static platform pronounced by party officials. I believe that politics has become a business that holds its own livelihood above the interests of the common welfare. Therefore, I judge each issue and candidate separately and how they fit within the mission of the Kingdom of God. The Church has a duty to lead the world in many eras and to hold politics at arms length in relation to the Kingdom of God.

I bleed black and orange – the colors of East Central University Tigers. I don’t root for either against the other. If you want to talk sports, my oldest son Nick is the one to go to.

What do you do in your off time?
The Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has established the following guidelines for clergy under full time appointment (source: 2017 Journal):
4 weeks of paid vacation, which includes four Sundays. These days may be taken consecutively or on separate occasions. The dates should be coordinated with and approved by the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee. The pulpit funds should be provided by the church, but the minister is responsible for arrangements.
Days Off
We strongly recommend each pastor receive two days off per week and encourage a two-day schedule (equivalent of Saturday-Sunday weekends). We recognize, however, the demands of the ministry often make it difficult for a pastor to take off two days consecutively. It is, therefore, very important for the pastor and the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee to come to an understanding as to days off and compensatory time off.
Continuing Education
The United Methodist Church requires all pastors to receive three Continuing Education Units (3 CEUs = 30 classroom hours) per year. The Pastor-Parish Relations Committee must understand this is a requirement and allow the pastor to be absent in order to satisfy it (normally this will not involve a Sunday).
Edited to include:
The pastor and the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee should be familiar with ¶351 of the 2016 Book of Discipline, which outlines: 1) the importance of continuing formation and spiritual growth; 2) allowance for leaves of at least one week each year and at least one month during one year of each quadrennium; 3) that a clergy member may request a formational and spiritual growth leave of up to six months, while continuing to hold a pastoral appointment—if the clergy member has held full-time appointments for at least five years; 4) financial arrangements for such leave; 5) pastors shall be asked by the district superintendent in the charge conference to report on their programs of continuing education, formation, and spiritual growth for the past year and their plans for the coming year. The superintendent shall also ask the local church to describe its provision for time and financial support for the pastor’s program of continuing formation and spiritual growth; 6) clergy in appointments beyond the local church shall give evidence in the annual reports of their continuing formation and spiritual growth program and future plans.
Responsibilities within the United Methodist connection
Pastor-Parish Relations Committees should be aware that pastors are not only appointed to serve local churches, but also have responsibilities within the connection: in camps, in the district, in the annual conference, in the life of the orders, and occasionally in the general church. Time away from the charge for these purposes is not to be considered as vacation.
Now, what do I do with my time off? I’m not much of an outdoorsman, although I do like to go fishing now and then. I don’t play golf. I am not a sports fan.
My main source of recreation is computer centered. I play computer games. I surf the web. I blog and write. I work on computers.
I also like to read. I love role-playing, tabletop games. I like board games that are cooperative and interactive. I am currently exploring writing a few books. I play guitar. I read and collect comic books. I go to “comic cons”. I like astronomy. I have 2 boys who are my pride and joy and 2 dogs who are my babies. I like to cook and grill out. I am a bit of a foodie. I enjoy visiting museum and historical places. I want to get into metal detecting. I enjoy doing genealogy and family research. I watch movies and review them.
My favorite vacation destination is Walt Disney World in Florida. When I grow up, I want to work there. My bucket list of places I want to see in the world includes: Japan, Petra and Egypt, and Germany.

What do I do when you make me mad?
I will make this promise: I will make every effort to not intentionally hurt your feelings, offend you, or hurt you in any way. But realize this: I am human. I make mistakes. If you have gotten this far in this than I may have already made you mad or offended you. If that is the case, I want to do what I can to mend the relationship.
If I have said or done something that offended you, tell me about it. Call me, email me, come by the office or house. But tell me that I’ve hurt you. If you don’t feel comfortable coming alone, then bring a friend or two that you can draw strength from. If you can’t face me or speak directly to it, then ask a third person to come to me, in your name, and tell me about it. I will then come to you and try to find a way to restore the relationship.
I should also say that I do not honor anonymous information. If you send me a letter without a name, I will read it, but I cannot do anything to respond to it. If you come to me and say, “Some people…” or, “I can’t tell you who…”, I will listen to the complaint, but I will not respect this as honest communication.
I know no one likes conflict. But let me say that the pattern that I have stated above works. In fact, it is a modified version of the way Jesus recommends how to handle offense among Christians. I believe that the only holy and right solution to conflict among believers is speaking to one another in love about the things that hurt us. Offense can, and does, destroy churches. So if I have offended, I want to heal the wound in order to save the church.

What is something we must absolutely know about you?
I am an introvert. That means that I have to retreat into seclusion to recharge my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual batteries. It does not mean that I am not a people person. I love to be around people. I love chatting and socializing. But in order to function in that way, I have to have some cave time. That means I have to hide in my cave until I’m recharged.
I am a thinker. I operate in a realm of ideas and possibilities. I see things in my mind and wish they could be reality. I like that I can dream dreams and see things that are yet to become reality. Theory and ideas are my playground. I work out problems in my head. I think in pictures and symbols and connections. Sometimes my brain works in the past, present, and future at the same time. I see connections and groupings naturally. Many times, I also count by 3’s.
I’m an analyzer. I sit back and take information in before I make a choice. I research and gather data before making a decision. I weigh the matter out in logical terms. If I’m not speaking, then I’m listening. I will speak when the opportunity is right or when I have something to say.
You may perceive me as being arrogant or anti-social. It may appear that I don’t have any emotions or that I’m overly critical. The truth is that my personality is such that, to many people, yes that is exactly what I am. But please understand that I am not being rude. I may have my head wrapped around something or I am on my way to an objective. It doesn’t mean I’m a snob or I don’t like you. I’m just focused. I may seem arrogant. But the self-awareness and confidence I possess helps me survive in the settings I find myself in. I do have emotions. I just don’t swing between emotions. I don’t get overly emotional in happy or sad ways.
I label myself as: weird, geeky, and nerdy. I define weird as not fitting within the social normal of the surrounding culture. A geek, to me, is someone who loves something very deeply and devotes time and resources to it. A nerd is someone who allows themselves to become consumed by something. I experience all three.
I do experience the mental illness of depression. It is normally a seasonal or situational experience. I recently had a more severe incident that resulted in panic and anxiety, a form of bulimia, and what used to be called a nervous breakdown. I reveal this information for two reasons.
The first is that, and I am not ashamed of this, it is part of who I am and who I am becoming. I have to be aware of my emotional and mental states at all time and provide for myself the care necessary to continue to function. The mental health crisis that I experienced occurred because I took too much into myself and could not cope with it. It compounded over time until I collapsed. I NEVER want to get to that point again. So if you wonder why I might be oversharing? It is because I need people around me to be aware and to watch over me in love and help me avoid ever reaching that failure point again.
The second reason I am transparent is because there are people in churches who suffer mental health problems but never feel anyone can understand. They feel alone. I am transparent because I want people to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
But that is me in a nutshell. Or I’m a nut without a shell. I’ll let you decide
Where can I learn more about you?
Currently, my sermons are available for viewing at

My Twitter is

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meditation on Romans 5:1-5 and This Is Me

I am not ashamed to admit that I absolutely LOVE the movie The Greatest Showman. The soundtrack sold me on this movie. I wake up every morning with a different song from the soundtrack playing in my head. The music is catchy and somewhat addictive (for me at least).

If there is one song that I come back to over and again, played as loud as possible, it is This Is Me. It is performed by Keala Settle. I had not heard of her before this movie. She performs this song as the anthem of the story.

The Greatest Showman is about P.T. Barnum and the beginning of his famous circus. It started out as a freakshow, according to the movie. Barnum collected those whom "polite" society regarded as freaks, oddities, and cast them out. Barnum offers them the chance to be something more. In This Is Me, the Bearded Lady (Settle) is confronted with that polite society as she sings about the life that she and her fellow circus attractions claim for their own.

This song hit me hard. It came to me in a time when I was healing my "broken parts". It comes to me as a person who has never seen themselves as part of society. I have long viewed myself as an outsider, a stranger, someone on the fringe of everyone else's conversation and social group. This song tapped into those places of my life where I am proud of who I am. They are my identifiers.

But as I listened to this song the first few times, I realized that this should be the invitation of the church. This should be the anthem we proclaim to the last, the least, and the lost. So many broken people are not welcomed by the church. We like to think in our pristine chapels that we are a polite society. But we need more Bearded Ladies, Dog Boys, Tom Thumbs and Giants. We need the broken. It isn't the other way around.

Yes, they need a place to belong, but they will find that (as Barnum offers in the movie). We need them to remind us that we are not so different. Our nods to a polite society are covers. We all have broken parts and shame that we hideaway. And we do it right in the plain sight of the church.

As I was doing devotions Sunday morning before worship, I was reading Romans 5:1-5 and everything clicked into place. This Is Me became a meditation on Romans 5:1-5.

The opening verse of the song speaks to the broken parts and pain we have all experienced at the hands of others and our own bad decisions. We all come into this song as we come into faith: broken and ashamed. We have heard the voices, mental and real, say that we are not wanted and we won't be loved by anyone. We don't need to be reminded because some of us hear those voices daily.

But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
1:Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2: through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand

There is a place for us by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We have peace with God. What more triumphant place is there? What greater introduction than to have been ushered into the presence of the creator and recreating God?

There is a scene in The Greatest Showman when Barnum and his troupe get to meet the queen of England. They are terrified of that audience. But according to Romans 5:1-2a, we have been ushered into the presence of the Almighty God by Jesus Christ. And it is a meeting of peace. The faith that opens the door to grace has been extended to us. We don't just belong to an alumni of forgiven people. We are also part of the audience received by God. Our introduction, not on our own merit but on the merit of the Son of God, gains us admittance. We stand in the presence of the glory of God. But we cannot stand as we are, we must be transformed.

2b:we exult in hope of the glory of God.
For we are glorious

We don't stand being seen in our scars and broken parts. We share in the glory that God radiates. Christ extends to us the same glory that was received from the Father and transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit. We radiate the glory having been transformed in spirit now (and in material form later) that is God's own glory. 
That glory may seem inadequate in the face of the world we live in. There are always things that arise that want to stop us, dim the glory we possess. 

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades
And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that's what we've become

But we have something that bullets and barricades cannot stop. The glory we possess, the light that shines within like the sun in its fullest brilliance, is an unstoppable force. 

3: And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4: and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope

Hope is an unstoppable force when we realize that the tribulations are just irritations that can be laid to the side and put into perspective. Yes, sometimes those tribulations are overwhelming. I am not a fool. I know that cancer and depression and school shooting are not minor irritations. And fear and despair and grief are not minor emotions that are just pushed to the side with a few happy thoughts. But in the universal scheme of things, they are insignificant.

What does the universe care that a few cells in a body turn rogue and against the system that provides them life? How can the stars and planets and nebulae and galaxies empathize with the disturbing thoughts of isolation when the vacuum of space separates them by years, centuries, millennia? How does the all-consuming power of grief compare with the inescapable forces of gravity, light, entropy, and chaos of the random chances of the forces of nature? The universe offers issues that dwarf the concerns of our "world".

But we hope in a God who is bigger even than the forces of the universe.

And we hope in a God who does care.

And we reach for that God, fighting through the forces that try to separate, divide us, and keep us from that glory and grace. We rise above our tribulations by persevering and proving that we are have become warriors, willing to fight back against the forces that would try to stop us with bullets and barricades.

And I know that I deserve your love
There's nothing I'm not worthy of

5: and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

In the light of God's glory and grace, offered abundantly through Jesus Christ, we do deserve the love of God. No, we haven't earned it. But we never needed to earn it. It was offered freely from the very beginning. We were just confined to our "world" and we couldn't see it, hear it. We couldn't feel worthy of anything good. We thought we deserved the worst that could come at us. But the Holy Spirit reminds us of a greater universal truth: God loves you. There is nothing we are not worthy of in God's love. All the benefits offered to Jesus the Son are now ours to receive. All of the full love that God the Father has for Christ the Son is extended toward us. And nothing can separate us from that love except falling back behind the barricades, surrendering to the bullets, and diminishing ourselves in the glory that is ours to claim.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Friday, February 23, 2018

My gun-toting change of heart

This post reflects my personal opinion and only that. It is not an effort to convince anyone to accept my point of view. It is not intended to be directed at any person I know personally.

I'm done with the gun rights argument. The assassination of concert goers in Las Vegas (where two of my step-cousins were attending) was the straw that broke this camel's back. The shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and staff were killed sealed the deal for me. I can't accept that unlimited rights and access to guns is a legitimate position.

My background is intertwined with guns. I grew up with BB and pellet guns. I have been hunting. I love guns. In college, I was part of a cowboy gunfighting group that performed around Oklahoma. At some level, I wished to have served in the military. I can shoot with some accuracy. I am not afraid of guns. I have field dismantled and reassembled an M-16 and M-60. I would have loved to have owned guns, including assault style weapons, the FN P90 and Steyr AUG. I don't have a problem with guns. They fascinate me. I can get into the joy of collecting and shooting them. This is not about guns.

This is about a culture that has become lost in the freedom of access to weapons. Much as there is a gold fever associated with the discovery of that precious metal, there seems to be a "gun fever" that clouds the thinking.

The argument of "right to bear arms" is not logical, historically accurate, or helpful in the current climate. First, the argument that the 2nd Amendment is a guarantee for individual rights to own and use weapons does bear up with the historical fact that England moved to remove personal weapons from colonists, or at least limit their access to powder. The right to bear arms was a provision directly aimed at limiting the national government from seizing private ownership. This is the most logical point made by the NRA and other lobbyist organizations (and that is what the NRA is now - a political machine for a particular platform). But that is the only argument that has feet to stand upon. But the fear that is drummed up by the organizations that cry "They coming to take our guns" is irrational and not helpful. It fuels emotions that override common sense approaches to this subject.

The counter argument to the 2nd Amendment based on technology is not valid. "The 2nd Amendment was written when guns could only be fired once or twice a minute" has no relevance. This is not about flintlock or muzzle loading technology versus semi-automatic, magazine fed capability. The reality is that the Bill of Rights must be applicable to every level of technology. The right to speech and vote have not been rewritten just because every person has the access to a platform of speech or access to new voting manipulation methods. But there is a counter argument to be offered by realizing that the access of militarized weapons and ammunition by citizens limits the ability of the legal police and military to protect the interests of municipalities, states, and the nation. With anyone having access to semi-automatic weapons and conversion kits to make them closer to automatic weapons, police forces are typically outgunned. I still remember the shoot out in Los Angeles between bank robbers dressed in body armor and using semi-automatic militarized weapons and ammunition. The police officers who responded in the standard operational fashion were already losing ground. Terrorists (domestic, religious, personal) having legal and nearly unrestricted access to those weapons push anarchy as a legitimate state of being; not just personally but as a culture.

"But those are bad people to begin with. We need to limit THEIR access to those." How do you limit access to people who look, act, and talk like everyone else? The signs are not obvious. The systems are not able to fill all of the cracks within it. Radicalized domestic terrorists do not always post their intent in public arenas. Violence is their manifesto because it brings more chaos and fear. Religious terrorists can use the rhetoric of their sacred speech to veil the threats and leave their comments up to interpretation (protected by their freedom of religion and speech). Personal terrorists (those who have gone into schools, public places, businesses; those who are domestic abusers, sociopathic in their mental illness, emotionally unable to cope with negative emotions) are not easy to see until they present themselves in a violent manner. If we as a nation truly wish to limit their access, then we have to make it a tighter system for all people. Terrorists do not necessarily carry an association card or access certain websites. They are property owners with jobs and shop in grocery stores with us.

Some want to say that this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. As a person who suffers from mental illness, and has friends who work in that field, the label of "mentally ill" is not clear cut. Mental illness cannot be parsed and separated out into dangerous, potentially dangerous, and benign behaviors. Mental illness can move through stages and phases. I do not own many guns (yes, I am a gun owner). I have never felt the need to commit an act of violence or harm against myself, my family, or a stranger. I don't even know that I can commit an act of violence that takes a life against someone who would do harm to me or my family. But that does not mean that when my mental health is not managed, it may not happen. I take precautions to limit access to my weapons. Ammunition is not located in the same place as the weapons. I have gun locks or cables and the keys are not immediately accessible. Am I afraid of myself or someone in my family? No. I am afraid for them. I don't know what happens to make a normal, sane seeming person "snap". But we hear of it happening. Access to weapons increases the chance that something tragic can happen.

I would posit my own argument that gun rights have gone off course. They have gone off course because of 3 things. First, the right to keep and bear arms was written with the expressed intent to maintain a militia. The amendment was written in the ink of the fresh memories of the Revolutionary War. Volunteer units, as well as units of French military, were used to flesh out the Continental Army. Those units were disbanded following the war. Many of the Continental Army were released from service. But Britain was sent home, still smarting from the sting of losing to their colonists. The fear and threat of a return performance was in mind. But the fledgling government could not sustain a standing army capable of providing for the defense of the nation. They had written into the Constitution the provision for the defense of the nation, but there was no realistic way that a standing army could be paid for. The answer lay in the provision of those volunteer units.  But keep in mind, the Continental Army couldn't be provisioned during the war. They were short on supplies. The only logical means to fulfill the Constitutional mandate to provide for the defense of the nation was to provide for a regulated militia that could be called from the populous. Those Minutemen were still needed in those early days, as was seen in 1812, only 21 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

We live in a nation and in states where a well regulated military can be provisioned. The Federal Government regularly debates how much money it can spend on the military. States have National Guard units that can be activated at any time. The argument that a personal militia is necessary flies in the face of the conservative "respect" they have for the military. Our service members are trained, equipped, and disciplined to serve the nation and the states. There is not a need for a civilian militia, contrary to the belief of so many who form themselves up in anti-government oriented organizations. But more on that later.

The rights that are "guaranteed" under the Constitutional Amendments are freedoms that are afforded to all citizens of the United States of America and its designated territories and organizations. Those rights were given, though, to promote the common welfare. They do no represent an effort to promote the welfare of the individual. The Bill of Rights was written to limit the Federal government's power and release some room for individuals to live without fear of too much authority by the government. But those "freedoms" are not the freedom to exact the life an individual wants at the expense of the community, state, or nation's welfare. One person's right or freedom cannot infringe upon another person's right or freedom.
We the People of the United States, in order to from a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution is about the corporate life of our people as a nation. The individual does not outweigh the communion of citizenry. We stand together. We fall together. We live together. We die together. The best of our nation is all of us. The worst of our nation is all of us.

The grand hypocrisy of gun rights conservatives is that they cry "We are a Republic" pointing to the form of government that we stand together under. Yet when it comes to their right to bear arms or other rights they feel are being infringed upon, we are a democracy and their individual rights override the Union, disrupt the domestic Tranquility, assume the common defence in adequate, demean the general Welfare, and demand the security of their Blessing of Liberty.

Third, the right given to keep and bear arms was brought forward in the memory of a rule that got bigger than itself. What arose was a rebellion, a revolution. It was a movement to undo the power that rested over them and a movement to usurp the rightful authority of the government. The momentum to keep a government in check had not subsided. Even though George Washington was a semi-national hero, he was not loved and admired by all. And many of his vocal opponents saw him having too much power and authority. The Anti-Federalist movement was one that wanted the ability to place a check and balance on the government outside of the Constitutional system. The Bill of Rights is filled with the fear of becoming what was once a reality - a power-hungry despot demanding ultimate allegiance to themselves. The answer was violence.

The ultimate argument for gun control is that we have not risen above our expression of fear and anger through violence.

The world is not getting more peaceful.
The world is not learning to sit down together.
The Kingdom of God is not more evident in the classroom, boardroom, legislative floor, chatroom and social media, or fellowship hall of the church.

Violence is still the answer when fear and anger reach a certain pitch. We are discussing arming teachers to protect students. How can that be an answer? How can we ask a teacher, who has ideally given their life in sacrifice to make the lives of students better, providing for a better tomorrow, to carry the burden of knowing that they ended one of those very lives? How can we ask church attendees to carry a concealed weapon into the earthly representation of a the Kingdom of Peace? How can we live with the weight of knowing that our neighbor who hates a certain race or people has the means to also turn their fear or anger upon us if we do something to spark their ire? How can we believe that our police forces, who know what weapons and mental states that are on the streets, can choose to protect themselves while preserving the lives of innocent, rightfully armed individuals?

I have had all I can take. I stand with those who say that gun violence must end through the limiting of types of weapons and ammunition available to citizens. I stand with those who believe that the NRA and the legislators who take their money and are swayed by their influence have had their day. I stand with those who believe that enough is enough. The death of innocents in public places and schools should be a wake up call. It is the day to say #NeverAgain.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Backwards Toward Heaven

My devotions this morning involved reading from Catherine of Genoa's Life and Teachings (in Devotional Classics). The subject was waiting on God to bring us to where God wants us to be in the plan God has. Within, I encountered this quote:
If we could see what we will receive in the life to come (as a reward for what we have done here), we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven. But God, who desires that we see by faith and who desires that we not do good because of selfish motives, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith which we are capable. In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed.
I read that and wondered. God offers us the "reward" of eternal life in the kingdom that never ends. But the vision of that reward is so small. There are only hints and glimpses of it in the New Testament. There are no strong affirmations of what that experience will be. We have the glorified life of the risen Christ as our only tangible hook upon which to hang our "heavenly" hat. There are slight inferences from Paul and Peter and a vision from the Revelation. Jesus gives us a rhetorical picture of bosom of Abraham and a promise of paradise. But many of our pictures of our heavenly reward, when held to the literal descriptions, are wrong.

And Catherine points a finger of accountability at these descriptions. We have created these images not out of a mature faith that has been revealed by God. They are like the scribbles of children given crayons for the first time. The bright colors do not truly convey the hues of radiance. The thin, stick-like proportions of humanity are not the full representations of God's infinite depth. The boxes and circles are not the grand throne and full expanse of the new heaven and new earth. We have drawn these with the limited understanding of perspective and space that are the obvious signs of our immature development.

Faith is not staking our claim on our plot of land for our heavenly home. Faith is living the eternal life here and now. Faith begins with the moment we grasp that we are not sufficient on our own to produce a better life for ourselves. It takes God through Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. And from the moment we receive that grace that leads to faith, and increases our faith throughout our journey in grace, we are living the eternal life. Everything that we do - acts of worship, devotion, service, and witness - is part of the work of maturing our faith. God steps in on our short sighted and weak efforts to make something good and powerful. The Holy Spirit enables and empowers those efforts to create miraculous change within those works to produce glorious transformation within us. Our faith matures and grows.

And as our faith matures and grows, God reveals more of the picture of the eternal reward. Our understanding increases as God reveals to us the steps along the journey toward what God intends for our life after life after death. Those steps are intentional picking up our feet and allowing God to put them down where they need to be to move us along the Way. Or, to change the imagery, every step brings us to a higher place here and now to see over to what is next.

Offering heaven to a potential new convert is important. They should know that there is more to life than life here and now. But without focusing on the here and now where transformation begins and matters the most in preparing us to understand what is to come, we set them up to leave them as artists who never trade crayons for glory, stick figures for the multi-dimensional God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit; infinite and personal, transcendent and incarnational, just and gracious.