Without Exception

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Another week of violence in our country has made me think more deeply about the Black/Blue/All Lives Matter movements, and I have come to the realization that each contains implicit exceptions which result in limited effectiveness.  Lives are certainly qualified and given value, but nobody is playing on a level field.  For example, it’s implied (maybe even openly stated) that the lives of criminals don’t matter as much, if at all, as the lives of police officers.  And though I’ve heard supporters of Black Lives Matter say that all lives do indeed matter, what is implied is that right now black lives should receive more attention.  If you talk to those who believe All Lives Matter, and you drill down far enough, you will discover that “all lives” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it’s really not that inclusive at all.  Of course all lives matter… with the following EXCEPTIONS that I’m sure you’ll understand.

No one I’ve heard or read so far has had the courage to throw Jesus into the equation, so what would happen if we asked whose lives mattered to Jesus?  Well, the gospels bear a very clear witness.  Lives that mattered to Jesus include, but are not limited to, the following:  sinners, whores, adulterers, cheaters, unclean people, beggars, losers, widows, orphans, soldiers, criminals, crooks, street urchins, lepers, the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, and the broken.  These lives mattered to Jesus because he saw each and every one as a child of God, created in God’s image, valuable in God’s sight, and never beyond redemption.

But we don’t talk much (if at all) about these lives mattering.  Maybe some of us do in our own little circle of friends, but certainly not in public because there’s too much to lose (like our friends, family members, and co-workers; not to mention our credibility as intelligent human beings capable of clear thought).  If they don’t already, people would think we Christians were a bunch of religious fanatics, undeserving of a place in any serious discussion.

It’s scary to think about what Jesus would say about whose lives mattered today.  Illegal immigrants?  Refugees?  Rioters, looters, and rock throwers?  Police officers who have shot other human beings in the line of duty?  Dangerous criminals?  Muslims?  Radical Islamists?  Gangsters?  Heroin users?  Kneelers or fist raisers during the National Anthem?  Flag burners?  Cop killers?  It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?  I could envision Jesus breaking bread with any or all of the above because that’s pretty much what he did 2,000 years ago, but are any of US ready to say that any of THESE lives truly matter?  Jesus commanded us to love our enemies.  How can we even begin to TRY to do that if we don’t believe their lives matter in the first place?  So what are we to do?  Just sweep away into some dark corner all that stuff Jesus says about loving the unlovable, and then carry on hoping our self-proclaimed exceptions will go unnoticed?  We can, if we don’t want to take our faith seriously, which is just fine for some people.

I may be crazy or naive or idealistic (and I don’t care if that’s what anyone thinks), but it seems to me that until we embrace and employ the radical love of Jesus WITHOUT EXCEPTION, we will continue indefinitely to be stuck in a very disturbing cycle of violence.

 

 

Stand Up!

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Colin Kaepernik has chosen not to stand for the National Anthem. Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe has said she will take a knee. Perhaps other athletes will follow suit. This is really nothing new. Some of us are old enough to remember when John Carlos and Tommie Smith climbed onto the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics and gave the black power salute during the anthem. Since then, many other athletes – both collegiate and professional – appear distracted as the anthem is played. And hardly ever do we see any of them place their hands over their hearts. If you attend a sporting event at any level it’s not uncommon to see spectators doing the same. While waiting in the ticket line at a recent Indians game the anthem began and several of us stopped what we were doing or saying to face the flag. But numerous others just went on about their business like it was no big deal.

Personally, that bothers me. I don’t like everything that’s going on in our country, but I believe it’s still important to honor the flag and everything it SHOULD (but doesn’t always) represent. And there’s the rub no one is talking about. Can we, should we, pledge our allegiance to, or honor, a flag that represents a country that doesn’t live up to everyone’s expectations, especially our own? Remember, we live in a country that has a history scarred by racial division, poverty, police brutality, corrupt politicians, homelessness, civil war, Jim Crow, glass ceilings, sexual impropriety, gun violence (500 murders alone in Chicago during the month of August), school shootings, home grown terrorism, unemployment, unfair wages, and so on and so on and so on. (Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire comes to mind.) Do we continue to stand to honor a flag that represents the worst of America?

Of course we do! Mr. Kaepernik and Ms. Rapinoe, so should you! Not because the problems you cite don’t exist (they do), but because America has never been, is not now, and never will be, perfect. There will always be something to protest. Someone will always be treated unfairly. Someone will always be a victim. But you see, for all of the things that need to be fixed now, and will need to be repaired or changed in the future, there will always be a much longer list of things for which we all should be thankful. If you took some time to think about that maybe you would realize how fortunate you are. Because you get to enjoy all of those blessings while still exercising your right to free speech and peaceful protest, you should stand during the anthem. And so should everyone else.

To the Colin Kaeperniks and Megan Rapinoes of the world: I don’t care if you put your hand over your heart. I don’t care if you choose not to sing. But you should get off your entitlement seeking asses and, during the anthem, reflect on the distinct advantages you receive by being a citizen of the United States of America. Remember that a whole lot of brave men and women fought, died, and are still fighting to preserve what you think are rights but are probably just privileges many of us have learned (unfortunately) to take for granted. And then think about ways you could work toward becoming more productive participants in the issues you think need to be addressed. You might actually accomplish something rather than just drawing negative attention to yourself.

And a grateful nation might salute you.
Postscript in the interest of transparency: Colin Kaepernik’s jersey is currently the top seller according to the NFL. Kaepernik claims he will donate all of the profits to “the communities.” (His words.) The Washington Spirit, Megan Rapinoe’s professional soccer team, has chosen to play the National Anthem prior to players leaving the locker room.

Burdens

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When we were in a period of intense conflict in our congregation I remember thinking that if we could somehow know the pain that each person was experiencing we would be more gentle with each other.  Conflict in any setting polarizes people, causing us to focus on our differences rather than on what might bring us together.  Lines are drawn, sides are taken, weapons are loaded and fired.  We hold on tightly to our own perceptions and beliefs.  We dig in our heels to defend our territory.

But what if we realized that what we had in common was our pain?  How would that change the way we chose to relate to one another?  In a thought provoking article entitled “The Things We Carry to Church” Chad Bird suggests that we all carry burdens to church (and presumably elsewhere), and that if we recognized this the church would become the kind of empathetic, caring community Jesus originally had in mind.  Here’s a quote:

“Church is for the lost and losers, the hurting and bleeding, the walking or crawling or carried-on-a-stretcher wounded.  The church is not a mirror-covered Gold’s gym to flex our spiritual pecs but a temple where the defiled are cleansed and made holy.  The church is where poor, stinking fools are bathed and robed as sons and daughters of the King.”

You can find the rest of Chad’s article here:

http://www.chadbird.com/search?q=the%20things%20we%20carry%20to%20church

It’s a powerful concept, that what unites us as God’s people is our anguish, the burdens we carry, the sins that drag us down and make us feel “less than.”  What we also have in common is the grace God chooses to bestow on each one of us, the forgiveness that flows freely from the cross, and the new life that is waiting because of the resurrection.  When we choose to look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters and see there a child of God who carries burdens such as our own, and who is freed from sin and death by the same God who liberates us, then whatever divides us may quickly melt away and we may truly become the ONE body of Christ in the world.

If you would like to discuss this idea in more depth I invite you to come to Pub Church next Tuesday, September 6, 6:30 p.m. at Friday’s in Strongsville.  You don’t have to be a member of First Church to attend.  If you’re in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by and break bread with folks who are just as burdened as you are, and just as hopeful for redemption.

Childish

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There are a couple of things I typically don’t do.  Post two blogs in a single week, and make political statements.  Well, both of those rules are being thrown out the window because I just can’t take it anymore. So…

To BOTH of the major party presidential candidates:  STOP IT!  I’m guessing that America is sick and tired of the childish name calling and bullying that have become the unfortunate hallmarks of both of your campaigns.  All you talk about at your rallies is how the other is unqualified for service.  Liar!  Bigot!  Cheater!  Crooked!  Racist!  Sexist!  I’m sure I left something out.  One political commentator was asked if she thought we have seen the bottom.  Her reply was that we were looking up at the bottom.  LOOKING UP AT THE *&$%&#! BOTTOM!  SHAME!  You are both better individuals than that and, for sure, America deserves more than what either of you, individually or even combined, are currently offering.  The political process, already tarnished, has sunk to new lows because of (both of) you.  I wouldn’t doubt that other countries are looking at us and laughing.

Allow me to make a simple suggestion.  Start to focus on the real issues that affect the people of this country.  You can each claim the other is not physically fit to serve as our nation’s leader, but how about a few words on the rising cost of health care?  Are you even aware that the price of an EpiPen rose 400% last week?  Did you know that North Korea launched a missile into Japanese air space?  Care to weigh in on foreign policy?  One of you is a former Secretary of State for Pete’s sake!  A devastating earthquake in Italy has leveled an entire town and claimed the lives of nearly 300 people. Would you like to share your condolences or show us how you might support our allies in a time of crisis?  Many of our nation’s children went back to school this week, not that you would have noticed.  Start talking about how you will improve public education, and what you might do about the rising cost of college tuition.  Maybe your kids don’t have to worry about the excruciating weight of college debt, but at least you could show us that you care that many young adults can’t contribute to the economy because they’re too busy paying off school loans.  Today alone, thousands of people will die from cancer, heart disease, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease and the like.  How much of the national budget are you willing to devote to medical research?  The welfare system is broken.  What will you do to fix it?  I plan to retire at some point, as do a bunch of other Baby Boomers.  What’s your plan for Social Security?  There’s a critical vacancy on the Supreme Court.  The person you would potentially appoint could tip the scales on many important constitutional issues.  Care to discuss?  There’s a push in some states to increase the minimum wage to $15.  Would it be too much to ask either of you rich people take a few minutes to let us know what you think about that?  And then there’s always terrorism, but when’s the last time you had anything to say about it (that wasn’t critical of how someone else chose to address it)?

Until either one, or both of you get back on point, I’m not going to listen.  If I wanted to hear what you’re spewing these days I take a trip to my local school playground.  Get over yourselves and start acting like adults.