A Picture Speaks

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I have struggled with what to do about this image. Captured by a friend / fellow counter-protester in Charlottesville, VA, it speaks volumes but it also depicts me. On the one hand, I want the world to know that a minister from Pullen Memorial Baptist Church stood on the right side of history (as usual). Yet, on another hand, I do not want the attention to be drawn to me. This was not about me. It was about something far greater. Also, there seems to be some confusion with the image. Allow me to explain what’s going on.

This image was taken shortly after two cans of smoke bomb (some say tear gas) were thrown into the crowd of counter-protesters by white supremacists gathered at Emancipation Park. A dear friend and I were in the crowd but on the opposite side from where these cans landed. This picture was taken as I was walking away, scanning the crowd who had been behind me. The bandanna and sunglasses, primarily for safety, covered my face from the potential direct contact with chemical sprays being used by white supremacists. The other important use was to protect our identity at certain times. White supremacy groups have people that are given the task of taking pictures of us so that we can later be identified, found, harassed, and/or beaten.

The stole (the red cloth bearing artwork depicting Pentecost – but comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, and images) is worn by clergy around the world. In this context, it is a way for us to communicate to the crowd that we are here for peace and comfort and to be of help to people.

Choosing the Pentecost stole to wear this day was intentional; redrawing the day when the spirit descended on the people and the gospel of love was spoken to all people in their own language. It was a defining role for me. Not to scream or throw things, but to stand in peaceful opposition, to listen to people as they cried out and expressed their feelings, to protect the innocent victims of violence from graphic media coverage, to speak a universal language of the gospel of love.

This image, to me, is powerful and speaks to who we are as people of faith. The image speaks what it means to live fully into the life and message of Jesus; running headstrong into the darkest places in our society to be a peaceful, loving, inclusive resistance to the darkness. We also know that, as a result of that lifestyle, you will be crucified. Heather Heyer literally lost her life in front of me and many other were injured. All of the counter-protesters have been verbally crucified by our president and many others. The ones I know and have seen on social media have been verbally crucified by loved ones. Family. Friends. Neighbors. It is the cost. It is taking up your cross daily. It is losing your life to find it.

But what the resurrection narrative tells us is that the darkness is incapable of winning. That in a world created by love itself, Love Wins. Each and everyday, there is work being done in the world by good people that broadens our inclusiveness. When the day is done for you, love will resurrect itself in another soul and the work will continue to be done.

I could spend the next 3000 words giving an account of what I witnessed that day in Charlottesville. Associated with it is a lot of pain, heartache, loneliness, and trauma. What I would encourage anyone who was not there to do is to spend some time with someone who was there. I know 4 others and they would all love the opportunity to share with you the darkness and the beauty witnessed in that weekend.

Live in the hope that Love Wins but never stop fighting, for the work is never done. And may the message of Pentecost accompany you.

Shalom

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The Journey, not the Destination 

For many, 2016 in our rear view mirror sounds like reason enough to celebrate tonight with a beer…or 12…depending on who you are. For some, the loss of our favorite stars has brought some unresolved grief and other emotions to surface. We’ve faced our childhood icons dying and come to grips with our own mortality or we feel the loss of part of our days gone by. Those things can stir an entire subconscious we didn’t know was there. And, without proper reflection, we have no idea why we are so grieved, angry, or solemn. 

For some of us, we lost loved ones or watched them suffer physically, mentally, or emotionally. The pain of watching a loved one suffer and being incapable of stopping or even easing that pain brings us into a world of our own pain. Some of us have fought the battle ourselves. Disease, depression, and personal loss have shook us to our core. 

For some of us, politics has altered our lives. Between the NC House Bill 2, Gubernatorial races, and the race to the White House, we now live in a different nation than we thought. Some lost jobs. Some were outcast by churches, families, and long standing friendships. We have come to see just how divided we really are. Social media arguments, riots and protests have shown us just how deeply hurt we feel. 

For some…we’ve experienced it all and more. And we’re tired. 

So. Very. Tired. 

So we look to one day. The tick of a clock from 11:59:59 to 12:00:00 to change it all. But guess what? As we arise from our bed in the morning tired from a late night (some hungover) and embark upon a new day, not much will have changed. Just the last number on the end of our year, anno domini. 

I’m not out to bring gloom, for we can resolve ourselves each day to live with a newfound vigor and determination. However, expecting a new year to save you from your gloom is like expecting a person to save you from your mental illness. Facing the new day is facing the reality that you have the choice to truly live. 

I walked my children to the playground in Swansboro today, about a 10 minute walk from my in-law’s home. The journey took at least 20 minutes as we stopped to pet the neighbors cat, play in leaves, pick up a stick for mommy (which is a most wonderful gift), jump over cracks in the road, gaze at bugs fearfully searching for the other side of the road, touch the bushes, talk about the Christmas decorations, hold hands and run, brush off and kiss boo boos from falling down because we ran too fast for the shortest legs, point out clouds….. I think you get the point. All the while, they knew where we were headed. The fun playground. But for them, the journey was just as important (read: fun) as the destination. Everything along the way was meaningful and important and contributed to the magic of ‘going to the playground’. 

Believe me, I look forward to seeing a new year upon us and seeing 2017 as a year of possibilities. I’m just like the rest. However, I was reminded today that the journey is beautiful. Every step along the way, every bump and bruise, every twist in the road is simply a part of the beautiful journey. 

Cue Heretical Biblical Insight:

Jesus had a way of making the journey much more important than the destination. His slow pace and ability to live in the moment were just the beginning. Inviting children to interrupt the adults so they could be blessed. Stopping to heal the leper, speak to the Samaritan, and invite himself to the home of a tax collector. Frequently searching for solitude to pray. 

When the rich young man wanted to know how to inherit eternal life, Jesus challenged him to change his lifestyle to be more intentional in the present. 

He challenged conventional thought about the Kingdom by describing it as 

near 

and here 

and now

His proclamation of being the way, truth, and life was more about living than dying. 

After his death, on the road to Damascus, he spent the journey with intention. Damascus wasn’t the end but simply a part of the journey. 
In your pain. In your joy. In your day by day, minute by minute…

May you 

pet the neighbors cat, play in leaves, pick up a stick for mommy, jump over cracks in the road, gaze at bugs fearfully searching for the other side of the road, touch the bushes, talk about the Christmas decorations, hold hands and run, brush off and kiss boo boos from falling down because you ran too fast, point out clouds….. 

May your journey be a journey

Happy New Year
Shalom

Evangelical: The 4 Letter Word

Evangelical…It would seem as though this word has gained quite a bit of attention lately. In the last couple of years, this term has been used to classify a group of people to talk about them, mostly in a negative light. Many have said that we live in a ‘post-evangelical’ world and that evangelicalism is dead.

As my theology has moved toward progressivism, I have heard more and more of this. Most of who I listen to and read today talk about leaving evangelicalism behind. Some describe it as a divorce.

Since the election of our president last month, the frequency in which this has happened has skyrocketed. Apparently, somewhere around 80% of people who have claimed the label ‘evangelical’ voted for Donald Trump. This is horrifying to many of us but let’s put that on hold. The day after the election I read one person on Twitter: “I drafted my divorce papers with evangelicalism years ago, today I served them.”

While there is a rebellious part of me that screams “YES, peace out evangelicalism!”

…my heart still breaks.

…because I believe there is still good news in Christ.

Let’s chat about the root of ‘evangelical’

This word comes from the Greek euaggelion which literally means God’s Good News or Gospel. The word was actually used to talk about Cesar before the birth of Jesus but the Jews spoke of Jesus this way. That Jesus was God’s Good News for mankind. As time has passed the ‘gospel’ has been turned into the story of Jesus and then to the necessary acknowledgement of Jesus as Savior from an angry God because of our sins.

More recently, ‘evangelical’ has become a label for those who ascribe to a handful of Christian denominations that are some of the most conservative. It was 80% of the most conservative, white knuckle Biblical literalists, sinners are bound for eternal conscious torment, Jesus is the only way… people… that elected a seriously dangerous straight white male supremacist to lead the most powerful nation in the world.

That. All of that… does not sound like good news.

Friends, ‘Evangelical’ has been hijacked. It has been turned into a 4 letter word. The message of Jesus, the Christ, was good news. It was full of hope for the oppressed Jewish people. It was full of self-sacrificing love, even for enemies. It spoke truth to those in power and the religious elite. It brought healing, restoration, and redemption.

So I would say, instead of dropping the label, we reclaim it.

Because I would dare say, in our time of unrest, as we teeter on the brink of social justice or  social oppression… the brink terror or hope… Environmental consciousness or degradation…There is euaggelion in the message of Christ.

Shalom

Thanksgiving Reflection

As I have celebrated like most of you over this weekend (food, family, friends, tryptophan coma, sports, Macy’s parade) I cannot help but be heartbroken. I enjoy the spirit of Thankfulness and the time we spend to reflect on our year and the positive things that have come from it. I enjoy family and friends and laughter. But shall we step backwards a few hundred years.

White Europeans embarked on a government funded exploration and landed here, where they encountered the natives…savages…Indians…

After some altercations (to put it mildly) these natives embrace these undocumented illegal aliens and teach them how to live and survive in this strange land. They taught them hunting and fishing techniques, farming, weather, and a myriad of survival lessons. Then, as historically told, Pilgrims and Natives came together for a feast to celebrate the harvest. To shorten a very long story, this is how we have this day, Thanksgiving.

Now, we’ll skip the non-Christian tradition this was steeped in and how other traditions and cultures have similar practices. Our focus is on the fact that these Native Americans, as we call them today, opened their arms to embrace the other. And we know from our history lessons, even if we choose to ignore it, that it did not take long for these European white men to take over, push out, and even  initiate the genocide of Native Americans in order to expand territory and continue to import more white Europeans. This land was “flowing with milk and honey” and they would stop at nothing to take the land they believed was theirs for the taking. Like it was a God-given right to oppress another people for the gain of your own. Relationships and treaties were broken by the greed of the white man. Native Americans were pushed further and into smaller areas. Eventually, the land that was theirs, had been reduced to reservations for them to live within. Treaties once again made, boundary lines made by the white man. And the narrative we are taught in school is that everyone is ok now. They have their sovereign nations, we have our limits.

But as we see going on right now, these Native Americans are being screwed once again in North Dakota by greedy white men. If you haven’t heard, the Dakota Access Pipeline is being built to carry crude oil from North Dakota oil fields to an Illinois shipping site. The original path of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline was set to pass through a predominately white “American” area. After considering the dangers of the pipeline leaking into the water supply, the path was pushed further south where it would pass under The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s only water supply AND cause irreparable damage to sacred Sioux burial grounds and other sites. Peaceful protests have been reduced to militaristic oppressive violence and the courts have merely glossed over the claims made by our Native brothers and sisters. Please. Take the time to research this from legitimate sources such at the NY Times, LA Times, Time Magazine,  CNN, and CBS. Hear the Native American stories at the Standing Rock website. Then, join in protest with our brothers and sisters. Find out how to help HERE

After 300 years, have we not given any more dignity to the people who lived and thrived off of this land long before it was “discovered”. #NoDAPL

Mr. Trump, I feel ya

No, sir, I did not vote for you. Yes, I have been vocally in opposition to you and your rhetoric. However, thanks to some complications from a minor procedure, I was laying on the couch the day you met President Obama and Paul Ryan. As I wrote an article about why people were protesting, the news broke into whatever was on television at the time and I saw your face.

I stopped.

I’ve seen that face before. Exhausted. A bit overwhelmed. Like you had just taken a drink of information from a firehose. You’re learning a new job and you have to work fast. No mater how much you thought you knew, you now realize it’s much bigger than you thought. You see, I’ve seen that face in the mirror everyday for about 6 months. But this isn’t about me, it’s about you.

For a moment, I connected. Regardless of how I feel about you, your rhetoric, your extremist followers that misrepresent the others, I vow to pray for you because I know how it feels to be in those shoes. Yours just happen to be leading our nation. Yes, I will continue to voice my oppositions because every leader needs to be held to high standards but please do not mistake opposition for hate. For we were all created in the image of the Divine and to disrespect one is to disrespect us all.

Good luck Mr. Trump. You have a long couple of months ahead getting ready for this.

Shalom

Why are they Protesting?

Let me begin by saying that I vehemently disagree with violence in protests. However, protests are a great thing. In a world of social media and instant connection, people actually coming together and voicing their opposition to something is fabulous. Not to mention that it’s been a part of our heritage as a nation and has pushed us forward. So, why are they protesting all over the country right now about this election?

They’re angry. They’re scared. And as we have learned already, they have right to be. Trump empowered people are already threatening and acting out against people. At the school my wife works in, students taunted hispanics about being deported and muslim employees and college students across America have had their hijab snatched off their head. Written and verbal threats, spray painted swastikas, all emblazoned with “Make America Great Again” or “Make America White Again”.

They do not want to be remembered as the country, the people, that elected such a hateful person to be our leader. They believe that voicing their opinion and showing their disagreement is their right (and it is). They believe it will help change things. That it will show the world that we are not this. They are doing what citizens have been doing for almost 250 years.

Offering religious platitudes doesn’t help.

“Get over it” doesn’t help.

“We need to unite” doesn’t help.

“The election is over, you lost” doesn’t help.

What will help?

“I hear you, I am sorry you feel this way. I am sorry people are treating you this way. I will stand with you on ______.” will help.

Protestors – I know you are angry and fearful for the state of our country. I know you want your voice heard because straight white privilege has been heard for way too long. Please do not be violent. Do not lower yourself to the level of the man you are protesting. Stand. Protest. Shout. March. Make your voice heard in mass. I stand with you.

Right wingers – Get off your high horse. Yes you protested when a black man won the election 8 years ago. The petitions and threats to secede from the union. Remember that? The confederate flag parties and “south will rise again” rhetoric. Remember that? Threats of assassination and “white people are being oppressed” rhetoric. Remember that?

Not all protestors are protesting violently. Not all right wingers signed a secession petition.

Listen to your neighbor and love them. Disagree with them peacefully. Fight for what you believe. Make it known that a loud minority will not be tolerated. Offer hope to one another.

Shalom

Thank you, Mr. President, for proving me wrong.

For those of you who who have wondered why the podcasts stopped as soon as I announced I would begin a weekly podcast; my computer has given up on the ability to record and edit audio. After almost 6 long years of abuse and hard love, it simply does not have the will to go on. When I can afford another computer, or to have this one tuned up, we’ll pick back up. Until then, I will return to my roots and write.

I went to bed in disbelief. I knew I would not be happy, no matter the outcome. But the emotions that I awoke with today and have tried to process (and will spend many days to come processing) have been extremely difficult.

I did not vote for President Obama. Either time. The first time I felt that he had too few credentials for the office and would not serve us well. The second time, I felt that he had not done enough to prove himself. Both times, I ignored the deep seeded racism within me because “I have black friends”. Both times I had the wrong idea of what progress looked like for our country. Luckily, the majority of the American population saw things a bit better than myself. In the face of hate, extreme racism, uncooperative congress, and an inherited mess from his predecessor, President Obama has made great strides for our nation and the world. Do I wish some things would have been done differently? Yes. But, he has done well…very well. All while remaining scandal free and above reproach.

Thank you, Mr. President, for proving me wrong.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. I feel that he is a menace to society and, according to what he has proclaimed during his campaign, would cause this nation and the world much harm. I feel that in no way whatsoever is he fit to hold that office. I sincerely hope that the majority of those who voted Trump are not racist, bigots, sexist, fear mongers. We are better than that. I realize many of you voted to end the establishment and put an end to the status quo. However, I urge you to take a long look at our country and put yourself in the shoes of one of the many groups Donald has belittled and promised to oppress even more. Realize how they must feel today, knowing that the future leader of this country has them on a hit list.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong again. I will cling to his words during his victory speech that he will strive to be a president for all people. I will watch closely and I will respect the office of the President, just as I did with Barack Obama.

Thank you, Mr. President, for proving me wrong.

However, I have learned a great deal in the last 6 months. As a result of voicing my own opinion and standing for the right of human beings to be heard, I lost a job. I was violently silenced by a loud minority and I let that dictate my life for several months. I have held my tongue in fear. I have not been a voice for the voiceless. I have licked my wounds. It is imperative that we who have been scared to voice our opinions go to work and stop allowing a loud minority to dictate our lives. If fear mongering and hate should be the cornerstone of this presidency, we must work harder than we ever have before to be the voice of hope, inspiration, truth, and love. Love must continue to trump hate because we have come too far, opened our arms too wide to allow a loud minority to dictate our future. May the Christ in each of us love the Christ in the other. And may “the other” fade away to become “we”.

Shalom