Tag Archives: society

Billy Graham Library, A Mechanical Cow, and what unintentional prejudice looks like

Facepalm.

It was a total facepalm moment.

There I was, staring at the silly mechanical talking cow that was introducing me to the farming history of Billy Graham. It was a protestant chaplain field trip to the Billy Graham Museum, Charlotte NC. The opening exhibit is a full size talking cow that praises God and Billy Graham. Its four minutes of “halleluah-indnt-God-great-praise-Jesus-this-is-where-Billy-was-born” talk.

In the best stereotypical “Aunt Jemima” black woman voice I’ve heard… ever…

It’s the only distinctively black voice in the entire museum. The only one. Every other voice I heard was distinctively Caucasian. Mostly, who you hear speak are narrators and Billy Graham but they are all serious and they are all white.

The only levity in the whole place is the silly praising talking cow, in the barn, behind the fence. It’s meant to be funny, bring a smile, and appeal to the kiddos.

And it’s the only black voice.

In 2014.

Celebrating a man who worked diligently (at least that is certainly what the museum said in its various exhibits) at working toward reconciliation and bringing diversity to the world.

For what it’s worth, I seek to understand Billy Graham in the world in which he was raised, I give him great credit as a person who worked for and actually achieved reconciliation and diversity across the American religious landscape.

It’s what makes the decision to make the only person of color voice the silly, talking cow even worse.

And then there was the prayer.

Before we went in, an older man who works for the library wanted to pray for the large group of Army chaplains who was about the tour the museum. In his prayer, he passionately prayed for male chaplains who bring the gospel to male Soldiers. I know he didn’t mean to exclude the female chaplain who was there, I’m certain that he didn’t intend to exclude all the female Soldiers in the US Army – but he did.

This is why we, as Christians and certainly as chaplains have GOT to be more intentional about inclusive language. We need to name everyone.

I’m certain that the library didn’t intend to be prejudicial when they chose the black voice for the talking cow, I’m sure that when they respond to the letter I’m sending them, that they’ll talk about Billy’s dedication to diversity and reconciliation.

It just highlights how blind we white men tend to be when it comes to minorities. We are just unaware of who we leave out and what prejudice looks like.

We’re better than this.

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Google Glass in Law Enforcement

When I worked in the prison, I was initially put off by the ever present camera. They are everywhere in a prison, always on, always recording.

At first, I thought about them, found myself looking distractedly in the corner, and fascinated when in the control room looking at the live feeds.

Which is where I was the first time I witnessed and incident. I watched the inmate’s actions, the correctional specialists response and the resulting team effort calming the situation.

I was amazed.

The camera footage actually protected the inmate in that the cadre could not contradict video footage. It protected the correctional specialist in the same way. And, by reviewing the footage, all the Soldiers could benefit by using it as training. It is a mark of a profession that they self-evaluate, self-police, and train to a standard. The cameras were a vital part of that effort.

Turns out, cameras were good for everyone.

I thought about this after reading about Ferguson. If only there was some video footage of the incident. That got me wondering about cameras in regular policing. The dash camera has been in use for years but what about something like Google Glass?

Then I looked it up. Here, NYPD is considering using it; here, it is analyzed for use by police.

Technology never solves problems in of itself but why not use what we have to protect both law enforcement and citizenry?

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O Church, how limited you can be sometimes…

The Church is in constant need of reform. Recently, a fascinating conversation took place on my facebook page about the Independent Baptist Church movement. I am a product of that movement. I went to those schools, I was trained in that hermeneutic and learned my homiletics there as well. Like most who leave an all-encompassing movement like that, I did so because of intense personal hurt. When I needed grace, I got law. When I needed love and acceptance, I got rejection and judgement.

As a chaplain and pastor now for well over a decade, I have come to realize that this phenomenon is common to all institutions in the Kingdom of God. Heck, it’s not even unique to the Kingdom! Its an institutional thing. I’ve watched it happen in the Army and in other types of organizations.

Just as predictable as the cycle is, so to is the reality that reformation will come along as those involved follow Christ. At it’s best, the Church is a community that provides encouragement and support for everyone. It’s the whole, “no difference between the Jew/Greek/Male/Female/slave/free idea. I was so angry for so long at fundamentalism. Now, I accept them for who they are. I hope they grow. I hope they experience grace. I am sad often when I experience them bound by their rigidity. It is no more fair for me to judge them for their paradigm (limited though it be) then it is for them to judge me for mine.

I’m a believer that there is room for ALL of us in the Kingdom.

That said, I do not have time or space in my life for mean people. And I’ve experienced mean people everywhere.

Christianity, at it’s best, will be about love and authenticity.

During my CPE residency, I was given this illustration. It was very helpful to me.

Imagine you needed 75 cents for a coke and you went to your dad for that 75 cents. He reaches into his pocket and produces 50 cents. He offers it to you. You get angry, 50 cents is not enough! You need 75. Your father gets angry and says, “but this is all I have, I don’t have any more!” Hurt and pain ensues. You keep demanding 75 and your father only has 50 cents. It’s all he can give. You storm off determined to find it elsewhere. Your father sighs and collapses into his chair, broken that he did not have what you needed.

Later, you realize this reality and give grace to your father. He gave you what he had.

It’s how I now feel about fundamentalism. It gave me what it had. Admittedly, it was not enough and I was so hurt in the process and I’ve seen others very hurt. I’ve also seen great good in people. They try hard. Perhaps they could do  more. But then, who am i to judge. People would not be fundamentalists if it did not fill a need (or assuage a fear) in their lives. I hope they experience some grace. At least, they will get it from me.

In the prison context that I currently minister in, I minister to unchurched and barely churched most of the time. I often get the question, “why are there so many denominations?” There are many answers to that question but last night I drew this on the board to illustrate how movements become institutions in need of reform become movements that become institutions in need of reform, become movements….

Cycle of the Church

I hope my children extend the grace I need someday when they are experiencing the limitation of my theology…

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Coming Out as Inclusive.

It would seem that a post about this would be completely unnecessary in the pluralistic world of the Army Chaplain Corps. It would seem that the directive to perform one’s own faith and provide for all the others would make such a statement redundant.

Only it’s not.

Somehow, this needs be said.

So, I am going to say it: I am a chaplain for ALL my Soldiers. All of them. The gay ones. The straight ones. The fat ones. The skinny ones. The conservative ones. The liberal ones. The religious ones. The non religious ones. The connected to church and the far away. The reason driven and the faith-based. The agnostic and the Christian. The pagan, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the whatever-you-happen-to-believe right now. Everyone I can think to mention and everyone else.

All means all.

This last summer, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted to call all Disciples Congregations to be a welcoming people of grace to ALL God’s children. All is given as “race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective.” Seems patently obvious but then, if we were all doing this already, such a statement would be unnecessary. This is my answer to that call.

A call given by my church but heard by me as a call from God.

I’ve been ministering in this way for well over two years now. I thought it sufficient to just ignore it and not really say anything. I thought it best to let people believe what they wanted about my ministry and be pleasantly surprised when they found out that I didn’t judge them (this is after they got the courage to come into the office for counseling). Over and over I heard my Soldiers, inmates, and family members vocalize that they didn’t expect me to be understanding. They would say something like, “frankly, I was worried about coming but you are different from other chaplains…” Still, I didn’t want to “put it all out there.”

“After all,” I reasoned, “if I make it too well known, I’ll just be labeled as the one who is “ok with the gays” and it’ll be all anyone thinks about when my name comes up. It’s just not that big a deal to me. I minister to everyone but surely, that’s a given.

Here’s the thing: I’ve met those with HIV because there was no safe place to identify as gay so they went to where they could and it was not safe. I have met those who ran from the church only to come to the Army for a sense of community and get rejected yet again. I’ve cried with those who finally say the words out loud, “I’m gay and I can’t tell anyone.” I’ve heard the stories about walking past the Chapel and in isolation, thinking about suicide but thinking there was no one inside who would help them.

It is not enough to just minister by word of mouth.

In a world where state legislators are literally passing laws that would allow them to refuse service to my fellow Soldiers (and everyone else) simply because of their orientation – it is not enough to be silent.

As a chaplain, I do not have a church to challenge with the Open and Affirming process, but I certainly can be exactly that – Open and Affirming.

I’m not saying this to be reactionary or a contrarian. I do not speak for anyone else but me.

I am saying this for the Soldier who is alone and thinks the world has rejected her because of who she is.

I am saying this for the Soldier walking by the chapel thinking that there is no one in there who can hear his pain and not judge him.

I am saying this for the spouse who, in shame, does not feel like he has anyone to turn to because of what he thinks about himself.

I am saying this for the parent whose gay child has just joined the Army and they are so worried that he’ll be abused for who he is.

I am saying this for the chaplains who also are “in the closet.” Truth is, they feel as I do but do not want to say it out loud and experience other chaplains reject them for interpreting Scripture differently from them.

I’m saying this for me. I’m saying this because if one of my children came out and was in the Army, I hope they would have a chaplain that would help them process what they are going through without judgment or condemnation.

I’m saying this for all those I have known, closeted and not, who have experienced great pain because the God they know and love is represented as doing the opposite.

From now on, this sign will hang on my door as a message to all the Soldiers, family members, and other chaplains I run across in my career – You are welcome.

Sign

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s all the excitement, family, food, and joy of Christmas without the presents and all the special services. Yes, when you grow up a pastor’s kid and serve as clergy, all those special Christmas services are exhausting. My “relaxing Christmas holiday” starts about 26 December. This year, as the last couple years, I’ll be on duty so my holidays will start even later.

But not Thanksgiving. This weekend will be filled with all the fun traditions that are a part of the Army and our family.

Prior to 1863, Thanksgiving was a local holiday. It was primarily celebrated in New England. Where it was celebrated elsewhere, when it happened was driven by the States or local counties. Sometimes, it was celebrated as early as July and as late as January. Thanksgiving, as a holiday, was largely unknown in the American South. Sarah Hale, the influential editor of a popular woman’s journal and the one responsible for raising the money to build the Bunker Hill Memorial, had been unsuccessfully campaigning for it to become a national holiday since 1846. Her work came to fruition when Abraham Lincoln, probably looking for something to brighten the country as 1863 was the year of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. A year that thousands upon thousands of Americans died in the Civil War. Lincoln instituted a day of thanksgiving as an effort to unify the country. Prior to thanksgiving, the only other national holidays were Washington’s birthday and Independence Day.

“The year which is drawing to it’s close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… I do therefore, invite my fellow citizens… to set apart and observe the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863

Whatever your reason for celebrating, may your thanksgiving be filled with joy!

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Paid Patriotism

Well, at least according to Calvin Coolidge.

It was 1924. The veterans of WWI had very little to nothing in regards to actual benefits after serving their country on foreign soil. The “World War Adjusted Compensation Act” was brought before Congress.

From Wikipedia:

The act awarded veterans additional pay in various forms, with only limited payments available in the short term. The value of each veteran’s “credit” was based on each recipient’s service in the United States Armed Forces between April 5, 1917 and July 1, 1919, with $1.00 awarded for each day served in the United States and $1.25 for each day served abroad. It set maximum payments at $500 for a veteran who served stateside and $625 for a veteran who served overseas,[1] senior officers and anyone whose service began after November 11, 1918.[2]

It authorized immediate payments to anyone due less than $50.[3] The estate of a deceased veteran could be paid his award immediately if the amount was less than $500.[4] All others were awarded an “adjusted service certificate,” which functioned like an insurance policy. Based on standard actuarial calculations, the value of a veteran’s certificate was set as the value of a 20-year insurance policy equal to 125% of the value of his service credit. Certificates were to be awarded on the veteran’s birthday no earlier than January 1, 1925 and redeemable in full on his birthday in 1945, with payments to his estate if he died before then.[5] Certificate holders were allowed to use them as collateral for loans under certain restrictions.

The part of the Bill that deferred payment over $50 until 1945 was understandably called the “Tombstone Bonus.”

Coolidge vetoed the act saying, “Patriotism which is bought and paid for is not patriotism.” 

Thankfully, Congress passed it anyway. Paving the way for future benefits for veterans.

So, thanks 1924 Congress, for recognizing that the laborer is worthy of their hire and the reality that if we, as a country, are going to ask our young to die, we should also bear the burden of their repair.

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WWI and Hell

One my favorite take always from my Clinical Pastoral Education experience is the recognition that the Pastor/minister/spiritual person is expected to be, as Christ, a “person of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” I often use this line now as a recognition of one the functions of a chaplain – we are familiar with the journeys of suffering (or at least ought to be) and can help those that are traveling it as the wilderness guide helps those wandering through the unknowns of grief.

I am often asked about the afterlife. Of course, I only know what everyone knows – it’s a fog – no one really knows, they can just interpret the vague references in the Bible and other sacred literature.

I’ve started reading NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope which looks into the Christian orthodox view and seeks to help others understand.

He makes this observation:

“…the First World War produced not only a great deal of sudden death but also much reflection on its meaning. Some historians have suggested that belief in hell, already under attack from theologians in the nineteenth century, was one the the major casualties of the Great War. There had been so much hell on earth that people couldn’t believe that God would create such a place hereafter as well.”

Fascinating.

What a great example of life impacting theology. As they struggled to make sense of the idea that God would further punish someone who suffered so greatly in life impacted how they then thought about the afterlife.

I wonder if levels of suffering impact a person’s conclusions about things like “eternal conscience suffering.”

It also has me wondering about how Liberation Theology had concepts of Heaven rendered as liberation from the oppressor whereas the general American paradigm sees Heaven as a place to get the opulence denied in life. Streets of gold, mansions on a hillside…

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Kids in Worship.

We’ve got three kids. 5 (going on 12), 4, and just turned 2. It can be tough sometimes finding a church where we fit in. I have a value of my children attending a regular service. There is nothing wrong with kids church, I’m a fan – I just also value our children experiencing the significance of the adult service.
It can be challenging bringing kids to church. I too have not been above appealing to the paint function on an ipad (or that really awkward moment when the theme to “superwhy” that plays whenever the app opens rings out loudly in the middle of the sermon). It’s especially bad in my little church where the historic building has one bathroom that can only be accessed via a door off the main stage. Yeah. That’s right, you have to take your child down the middle aisle, right in front of the pulpit, where I am “breaking sacred bread” in order to let potty-training kiddo use the bathroom. If you listen closely, you can even hear the ancient toilet flush.
Even with all that, I still believe it’s important to bring your kids into the service. I’m a preacher and it does not bother me or phase me, or interrupt my train of though to have kids talking and coloring though the service. I do a kids message before my adult sermon that ties into concepts with the message and (when I remember) I also include a coloring page. None of these will keep a kids still for 20 minutes so if someone cries, they cry. No. Big. Deal.
All that said, I read this article today and thought it had some great ideas for making that transition from kids church to adult church.
Let your child get comfortable in the worship space.

1. Attend a child-friendly church.

A church that invites children to attend worship, that has a children’s time during worship or a service in which children are included, will not mind the noise and commotion that comes with having young children in worship.

2. Bring your child to church on a day other than Sunday morning.

Call the church office and make an appointment with a pastor, Christian education director, or church school teacher. Go on a tour of the church facility, and locate the Sunday school rooms and bathrooms as well as the sanctuary. Let your child explore the sanctuary, see how it feels to sit in the pew, and leaf through the Bibles and hymnbooks. Look behind the pulpit, Communion table, and baptismal font, and explain the use of these.

3. Take home a worship bulletin and go through the service at home.

Show your child that there are times to sit, to stand (and in some places, to kneel), to sing, to pray, and to listen. If the Lord’s Prayer is used, write down the words and let your child practice at home. Prepare offering envelopes and let your child put money in the envelope, and explain why the offering is important.

4. Play “Let’s go to church” at home.

Practicing the worship service at home will help your child feel more comfortable with what happens in worship.

5. Read the Bible and pray at home.

Purchase an age-appropriate Bible for your child and read the stories. Let your child handle the Bible and encourage questions. You can explain that the Bible is where we learn God’s story, and how we are part of that story. If you let prayer be a part of your everyday life, not just something you do at church, your child will understand its importance.

6. Sit near an aisle, near an exit.

If your child needs to go to the bathroom, or is feeling overly stimulated or having a disruptive day, don’t be embarrassed. Walk your child out of the sanctuary until she can work off a little energy, and then come back in. This is much easier if you don’t have to crawl across a row of other people in the pew!

7.  Be prepared with a worship notebook or bag.

Many churches provide materials for children to use during worship, but if not, bring your own supplies. Colored pencils can be used to mark the parts of worship in the bulletin as you go through them one by one. Get to church a few minutes in advance and use a bookmark to mark the hymns that will be sung that day. Have some coloring pages from a Bible coloring book for your child to color, or some blank pages for doodling. This is not disrespectful, and can help your child listen more attentively. Have the words of the Lord’s Prayer printed on a page for the child to follow, if he or she is of reading age. Let your child draw a picture of the anthem or hymns being sung, or the sermon, and give this to the choir director or pastor afterwards.

8. Teach basic church etiquette.

Speak to people before and after worship, and teach your child how to shake hands and greet others. If your child is shy, don’t force it, but practice at home and let your child see you greeting others. Let the child put the hymnbook and Bible away after use, and be sure to take your bulletin with you, rather than leaving it in the pew. Meeting other people and taking care of the church facility helps a child feel that “This is my church!”

9. Get to know the pastor.

Pastors of child-friendly churches love to get to know the children of the church. Introduce your child to the pastor after worship, and participate in other church activities so that the pastor becomes a friend and not a scary adult.

10. Don’t give up!

It may take awhile for your child to become comfortable in worship, and to learn how to sit quietly. The best way for this to happen is to attend worship on a regular basis. There may be days when it doesn’t go well, but don’t let this stop you from coming the following week. Practice makes perfect!
Inspired by Rufus and Ryan Go to Church! by Kathleen Bostrom, illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (CandyCane Press, an imprint of Ideals Publications).

Thanks to Ministry Matters

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Cracks ‘n guns

This morning I was listening to coverage of the tragedy at the DC Naval Yard. So sad.

Then I heard someone being interviewed say this, “We had a fellow who had some emotional issues. He fell between the cracks, but restricting people and what kind of firearm they can own and things like that, you start getting into a very slippery slope.”

Here’s the problem I have with that statement – it assumes that we have actual cracks in the system to fall through.

There are no cracks.

Because in this country, while you have to take a class and test to demonstrate competence to drive an automobile, nothing impedes a person from going into a gun store and buying a shotgun capable of killing as fast as the shooter can reload.

There is nothing between the gun and the deranged shooter. Nothing.

So, stop saying someone just “fell through the cracks” as though there are actual barriers between someone hearing voices in their heads, calling police about paranoia and a Remington 870.

There are no barriers. There are no cracks.

Maybe there should be.

Just sayin…

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On community. In which, I drop some thoughts on sex offenders…

Edward Hale, a Unitarian Minister  wrote  the short story, “A Man Without a Country” in 1863 at the height of the Civil War. It was a simple story, patriotic, and became one of the most popular short stories in the 19th century. It is a story about a rash young Army Officer who thought he had found a new identity  and hero in Aaron Burr who wanted to set himself as king of the Louisiana territory. He was caught and tried a traitor. In his Court Martial, he lost his head and cursed the United States. He wished he might never hear of the US again.

The Judge who heard the case was a Revolutionary War veteran himself and thought that since young Philip Nolan had such distain for the US, he would oblige the request. Nolan was put to sea, sailing away the rest of his life with the US Navy. Every captain that took him aboard was under strict orders to never mention anything about the US to him. For 50 years, he traveled just off the coast line, far enough to never see or hear of the US in his lifetime. He dies a broken-hearted man.

One of the stories told of Nolan involves him translating for a group of slaves saved off the coast of Africa. The captain of the ship wants to, for their safety, drop them off at a nearby island. They have none of it, “home, take us home!” they cry. Nolan translates their anguish at being close to home but not able to step ashore. The reader shares the narrator’s discomfort as the irony is in full display.

When it’s done, the usually diminutive Nolan is moved and tells a young ensign to think of home, his family, his country. “Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, and without a country. And if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in his mercy to take you that instant home to his own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “and for that flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no more matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to Her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by Her, boy, as you would stand by your mother, if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!”

It’s a beautiful passage that gets to the heart of “country.” Hale does not define what it actually is – there is no “real America” here, just the recognition that whatever your country means for you is what you need to remember about that country. It is the remembering that is important. Distilling everything that is great about one’s country to the one essential element – and then rushing to it. Patriotism to Hale’s Nolan is not letting the people, bureaucracy, government, ideals etc. get in the way of the essence of “the Country herself.”

Beautiful.

Hebrews ends in a similar fashion.  The book is written for a very specific purpose and to a very specific audience. The readers are Hebrews who have chosen to follow Christ. These would be at least second and perhaps even third generation Christians. They have become teachers of the Way, they have a confession, they are thoughtful and educated. They have ritual and engagement in doctrine. The very complexity of the arguments presented demonstrate this! But the readers are a faith community in crisis. Some members have grown lax in attendance at their assemblies, and commitment is waning. If the writer’s urgings are problem specific, then we have in the letter a painfully clear image of their condition. Christ has been dead long enough to pass into legend. He is not discussed as a person – as he is in the Gospels – but as God. Specifically, “so much better” than all gods. “So much better” than all the systems of worship before. This Christ, this deity is worthy of all adoration and worship. This is this point. Hebrews is heavy. It is theological. It is profound.

Until the end.

The end of the book crystallizes Christianity. Here, the author gets to the very heart of community. Like, Hale’s Nolan, it is as if he says to the Church, “look, beyond all this doctrine, beyond the arguments and the evidences, beyond apologetics and esoteric philosophy – there is the Community itself, your community – you belong to it and it belongs to you.”

This deeply theological book ends with a discussion of faith heroes and then, an appeal to simple community living. The community is everything. I wonder what Christianity has if it does not have community?

I often point out that Wicca has a solitary path. Buddhism has a solitary path. Druidism has a solitary path. Christianity does not. Christianity is at is best when functioning as a healthy community. It is described by Christ as a “body” after all.

Hebrews 13 begins simply – Let mutual love continue. Love that cares for one another. It’s present in the community. It is the basis for mutual respect and affection. Think of it – the old apostle, who has seen it all, traveled, planted churches, mediated fights and helped to shape what this Christian thing is going to look like – says to the young, driven, maturing church, “if you want this thing to thrive: love one another.”

Love the body AND love the Stranger.

Hospitality matters. Bring the Stranger to the table. Do not reject those who are different. They too, are the Body or could become part of the Body. The strangers in mind here are most likely the itinerant Christians who depended on local Christian communities for hospitality. It is understandable, however, why some house churches, either living in an atmosphere of suspicion due to opposition and persecution from society or facing the upheavals created by traveling heretics, would become reticent about extending hospitality. Some even used certain criteria for testing strangers before welcoming them. It makes sense that this would happen – being a Christian was not the most popular thing! However, caring for the Stranger came from the best part of the Hebrew tradition and mattered to the healthy functioning of the Community.

Remember those in prison and those being mistreated. Tortured. Suffering.

All is not well in the Community. Every gathering highlighted who was not there. Who was missing. Community does not end when separation begins. The Body cannot lose a member to suffering and not feel the pain of that loss. The language is so strong here – remember them, as though you, yourself, are with them in prison/suffering. As you are to join those in prison, so you are to be in the body of those being made to suffer. To do so requires more than a sympathetic ache; it means refusing to distance oneself from those suffering out of fear of becoming the target of the same mistreatment, providing for the needs of prisoners (prisoners depended on those outside for food, clothing, and all other needs), even though this meant exposing oneself as a fellow Christian, and being present with the sufferers in every way that might encourage and give relief.

What might this look like today? Clearly, no one is going to prison for being a Christian and, at least in America, prisons (while not pleasant places), provide sustenance. What does it mean for us to “remember the prisoner?” For starters, I believe that we need to recognize that prisoners are often there not because they are inherently evil, but in bondage. Their choices have not come out of nothing! There are reasons they have done what they did and, quite frankly, none of us are far from that.

If I have learned anything from my time in prison, it is that anyone is capable of anything. I cannot think of an exception to this off the top of my head though I’m sure there is – put anyone, put me or you, in a certain set of circumstances; add a healthy dose of pleasure and escape from pain; take away proper oversight or inherent inhibitions; add a dash of unhealthy coping  – anyone reading this is capable of just about anything to include myself.

I don’t judge. What’s the point?

I also don’t equate – I don’t say, “well, there but the for the grace of God go I.” That’s a silly comment – as though you got some special grace that the Other did not. No, I made choices based out of what I had available. There is a reason that I am not a prisoner. However, I also do not hold to any notion that I am a better or worse person for not having gone to prison. I certainly am capable of it. And so are you.

So what? Are we to pretend that we are sex offenders so that we can identify with those in prison?

Lets at least start with seeking to understand. Seek to understand why a person is now labeled a “sex offender.” Seek to understand why a person made the choices they made. Seek to understand so that we can help rebuild and repair. Do we really believe in restoration?

I read an article by a chaplain in the Minnesota State Penal System. He compared how we view sex offenders to how this ancient culture would have viewed lepers. Outcast. Scorned. Unclean. Horrible people needing to be cleansed from clean society. God forgive me for ever using my fear to vote for laws that only help drive predators further under ground and set up a world where no one can get help. Just like there is a safe way to integrate an alcoholic or addict into the Body, there is a way to integrate a sex offender. Jesus was not afraid of lepers because he had the means to cure them, cleanse them, help them become clean again. So. Do. We.

The Apostle goes on – be sexually pure. How can the community thrive if people are afraid that their homes are not safe? That the impurity that so defines how the World interacts will bring itself into the Church.

Finally, he warns against loving money. The destroyer of so many communities. Introduce money to something that just watch the community struggle. Greed that knows no limits. It has even become theologized in the church. As though capitalism is the way of God. Saints, it’s just an economic theory. If we love money more than each other, the Stranger, the prisoner, the suffering, our families – all that has been said in Hebrews about Christ being “so much greater” than all the angels… it’s just so many words. We make it true. We put action to it. It’s just hot air. Fancy arguments. Lovely debates – until it becomes action

What the Apostle is talking about here is action.

Doing.

Living.

This is the Kingdom of God.

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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September 1, 2013 · 2:16 am