Safety Pin

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A friend kindly handed it to me after church last Sunday. It was a simple exchange, completely unnoticed by others. While I agree with what it represents I know what may happen should I choose to wear it. Liberal, too political, unrealistic, gullible, bleeding heart, are just some of the monikers that could be thrown my way. Assumptions could be made about me, maybe none of which would have anything to do with my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Do I really want to bring that upon myself? Over a safety pin?

Attached was a note explaining its significance. It said, I wear a safety pin to show that anyone threatened by hate and fear can know that I care and will do all I can to combat it. That seems to align pretty closely with Jesus, right? Jesus stood with those who were despised and rejected, and spoke often about his vision of God’s kingdom where all would be gathered in to experience the love and grace of a merciful Creator.

And Jesus always seemed to be talking about caring for “the least of these,” meaning the ones who couldn’t fend for themselves, those on the outermost perimeter of society, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the stranger. There were plenty of folks in Jesus’ day who fought ferociously to exclude these groups, all the while propagating a message of fear and hate that had a way of resonating with the general public. But Jesus said that whenever mercy was extended to someone in need it was being done also to him. The reverse was also true. If care was withheld it was also being withheld from Jesus. That’s a strong statement that could have the power to propel one into some pretty deep soul searching.

So a safety pin could be a meaningful metaphor for faithful discipleship. If I wore it on my lapel, or even on my stole (which signifies that I am yoked to Christ in service to others), would you be cool with it? Would you connect it – as it’s intended – to faithful discipleship, and as an outward sign that I am trying to do what Jesus commands even if it might not be the popular thing to do? Would you respect my decision to visibly remind myself and others that I feel called to live out the good news of Jesus Christ by speaking a message of love and hope and acceptance? Would you take it as it’s intended and not attach any other baggage to it?

I mean really, truly, sincerely, would you? Seriously. I hope so.

Blur

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I am often challenged to think about the lines that blur the boundaries between religion and politics. I am a Christian, which means I follow Jesus and in my own flawed, imperfect way try to apply his teachings to my life. I am a citizen, which means I have a vested interest in the direction our government in its variety of forms seeks to lead us. And I am a pastor, specifically of a congregation that not only claims Jesus as Lord and Savior, but also adheres to a broad range of social ideologies and political perspectives. This is quite an interesting, if not unpredictable landscape to navigate.

Perhaps many people think of Jesus as apolitical, creating a clear and consistent line of demarcation between the sacred and secular spheres. The argument goes that Jesus was about all things religious and spiritual, never venturing into the affairs of civic life. But is that really true? Consider…

We are moving ever closer to the Advent season, a time of preparation in the church to receive again the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ. Once we get beyond the nativity story itself we learn that Herod was threatened by the prospect of a “new king,” and thereby ordered the murder of all male children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:16-18) The church calls it “the slaughter of the innocents.” The holy family was forced to become immigrants, taking up residence in Egypt to keep the child safe until word of Herod’s death had been confirmed.

Once Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again… If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36) I’ve often wondered how the generals, economists, law enforcers, charity workers and tax collectors heard these words.

Someone once asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. His reply was to “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:13-17) In other words, you can’t get off the hook for paying taxes just because you call yourself a Christian. Responsible discipleship includes obeying the law of the land and respecting those in authority, even if sometimes you find yourself at odds with the powers that be.

Again, somebody asked Jesus, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” Jesus replied, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:37-40) That sounds an awful lot like social policy.

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. This was precious fuel for the average religious person of the day (though not so much for the elders, chief priests, and the like) who were hoping and praying for a messiah. They were mostly expecting him to enlist an army and overthrow the Roman oppressor, restoring Israel to its glory days of power and independence. All this talk finally caught up to Jesus when the religious leaders dragged him before Pilate and accused him of insurrection. A lot of Christians think Jesus was put to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, but the theological framework around the crucifixion didn’t happen until much later. Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” not “Are you the savior of the world?” Jesus wound up on the cross because he was accused of treason. The Romans took that “we have no king but Caesar” stuff seriously.

Martin Luther had a habit of asking, “So, what does this mean?” I think it means that if we follow Jesus we can’t help but end up in the thick of things. We can’t separate religion and politics; they melt together to form a singularity of identity and purpose. The lines that so many people are persistently attempting to draw really aren’t so blurry after all.

Rocking Chair

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I’ve heard from parishioners that I shouldn’t write about politics. I get it. But maybe my First Church friends can indulge me just this once given the unique circumstances in which we all find ourselves. This is much more of a “feeling” statement than a political one.

This morning I rode the RTA for the first time in ages. I had an errand to run downtown, so I had to get there somehow, and the train seemed like a place I could let my thoughts wander. I did some reading, some listening, some thinking. I tried to expose myself to thoughts from many different perspectives. Some things I read suggested that since the election is over it is now time to move on, and to support the president-elect. That didn’t quite resonate; too soon, not enough time has been given to disbelief and regret. It’s not like a high school football game where, after the final whistle blows, the players make their way through the handshake line and then to the post game parties and, eventually, to their Algebra homework. I read a couple of blog posts from colleagues who wrote eloquent reminders that God continues to be in control and that Christians are still called to live in the way of Jesus, loving our neighbors while being rooted both in our baptism and the promise of the resurrection. I’m with you, okay, and you can count on me doing that, but… there are still some lingering worries that continue to feel very real for me.

I worry that a massive deportation of illegal immigrants could quickly become similar to what our government did to Asians and Germans living in the U.S. during World War II.

I worry that we will become a country that operates from a position of fear, eventually eroding the beautiful tapestry of races, religions, and creeds that has become the United States.

I worry that we will lose respect for one another; that we will stop listening to one another; that dissenting opinions will no longer matter.

I worry that “being different” will lead to exclusion rather than tolerance; that unique and creative expressions of ideas will be squashed.

I worry that civil, human, and reproductive rights that so many people sacrificed in order to achieve could be set back decades by a few simple strokes of the pen.

I worry that the racism that was still simmering just under the surface of our society and was given voice by the uncivil nature of this election cycle will grow stronger and louder, eventually erupting with a ferocity we are not able to control.

I worry that diplomacy will take a back seat to war mongering, and bullying will take the place of listening and learning.

I worry that the protests that have sprung up in major cities across the country will become counterproductive or, worse, violent.

Most of all, I worry that our country will remain divided, that the chasm between political parties, economic classes, and social ideologies will only grow wider.

An English proverb says that worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. I hope none of the things I’m worrying about come to pass, and I know it won’t serve any constructive purpose to stay in the rocking chair. Getting somewhere is my responsibility. And so I pray that I don’t linger too long, rocking back and forth but not making any progress. I may need some help.

Again

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ALCS Indians Fans Baseball

I had a much different post sketched out in my head. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where the Indians… But instead someone turned the clock back to 1997. Another exciting run. Another dramatic game seven. Another opportunity to win it all in the bottom of the ninth. And then… it happened AGAIN. Yet another heartbreak.

This morning I checked my Facebook account and turned on the local news and all I heard and saw were the same old platitudes. Great job Tribe! We still love you! No one expected you to go this far! Thanks for the ride! We’ll be back next year! And, believe me (sorry for the Trumpism), I understand the never say die attitude in this city. I grew up here. And I know that optimism runs deep; we Clevelanders are a gritty bunch. But you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not quite there yet.

All day Wednesday thoughts of the past were running through my mind…

+ The first baseball game I attended with my dad; it’s one of my earliest childhood memories. Sonny Siebert was on the mound and we sat on the first base line in the old Municipal Stadium. I still sit on that side so I can get that same perspective of the game I once had with my father.

+ When I was a kid I spent many warm summer nights listening to Jimmy Dudley call the Indians games on the radio. The games were only televised on the weekends then. Mr. Dudley was my generation’s version of Tom Hamilton. I had the good fortune of meeting him once and thanking him for the memories. He was an old man by then, and needed a cane to support his failing body. His response? “No, thank YOU for listening.” And I could tell he meant it. He was pure class.

+ The first games I took my own kids to, and the joy of explaining the intricacies of the game as they got older.

+ Going to a playoff game with Joe Zajdek. It snowed, but we didn’t care. Joe was a member at First Church, and has since passed away. He reminded me so much of my dad. And so there we were, just a couple of guys sitting on the first base line (where else?) drinking a beer, telling stories, and watching a ballgame. While the Indians won that night, it was the relationship that mattered most. That’s what baseball can do. And, thankfully, sometimes life can be that simple.

So that’s at least some of what I carried with me into game seven. The years of memories, the relationship building, the people – both past and present – with whom I’ve shared the love of the game. And I’m thinking to myself, if the Indians manage to pull this out, everything will have come full circle. Dreams will be fulfilled. But alas. AGAIN.

I know I’m not the only one trying mightily to manage their disappointment. While others are filled with hope, some of us are grieving more than just another World Series disappointment. We would appreciate it if the rest of you could just leave us alone for awhile. We’re not ready to move on yet. The loss is still way too fresh. We’ll get there, but maybe not until next April when hope tends to spring eternal, and we’ll be ready to do all over… AGAIN.