Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Nationally, the mid-term elections are just around the corner. Please vote, people. If you can't get to the polls, reach out to the many organizations that will give you a ride, provided you haven't already made provisions to file an absentee ballot. Anyone who declares themselves a patriotic American, and who doesn't vote in every election is lying to her or himself. The one thing that keeps the American "experiment" going is that its people vote. Did you ever stop to think that the myriad problems we face as a people may be directly linked to the increasing decline in the voting ranks? In this past presidential election, about half of eligible voters actually voted. Only half of this democratic republic have raised a voice. Vote! Vote! Vote! I'll make you a deal: if you promise to vote, I'll promise to not rag on you for how you voted. Even if "my" candidates don't win, I'd still feel better--we should all feel better--if at least a majority of voters in the country actually voted. If you know someone who doesn't vote, hound them--nicely, but hound them. Better yet, bribe them. Offer to take them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner after they have voted. Something's got to wake this nation up. Maybe it'll be a stop at Bob Evans or a Big Mac, or something.

Speaking of election, did you know that some famous theologians in the history of the Christian faith believed in it? John Calvin is often labeled as the "father" of the doctrine of election, but many others down through the centuries, including more contemporary writers such as R.C. Sproul, believed in it and promoted it. In its simplest form, it is the idea--mostly gleaned from the Apostle Paul, with some padding from Hebrew Bible poets--that because God is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), God already knows who will be "saved" (redeemed from the ash-heap of condemnation) and who will be "lost" (dispatched to the ash-heap of condemnation). Hence, if God already fore-knows, then God must necessarily fore-ordain this reality. The end result is that some will be of God's "elect" and some will lose the "election" without the privilege of a consolation speech. I could never get my head around this. I'm guessing it goes to one's idea of the nature of God. If you are one who believes God's justice means the "good" get rewarded and the "bad" get punished, then you could be attracted to this theological model. Of course most of the proponents of this theology don't believe that our actions can have this effect, only God's "choice" of who's good, and who's bad. They also tend to believe that God's "choice" in the matter is affected by "salvation by faith." It seems this means for them, though, that "salvation by faith" is what happens when God chooses you; it's not something you can choose to receive. Those who really push this "election" model would say that "evangelism" is just calling out the elect. Again, as a life-long Methodist, this gets weird for me.

That's because Methodists--adherents to the theology of John Wesley--are "free will" folk (again, an oversimplification). Generally, we believe that God puts before humanity the option to make choices as to how one will live (either "good" or "bad") and whether one chooses to respond to the grace of God, which we believe God offers to all persons. Our view is that just because God may be omniscient (all-knowing), it doesn't mean God is therefore fore-ordaining. The prophets of Israel most often highlighted two potential pathways for God's people, one of which would lead them to ruin, or at least some really bad real estate, and other to prosperity and full bellies. The prophets preached a choice of these paths as being up to the community as to which they would take. The better path, of course, required keeping God's commandments and being nice to each other and the "strangers" in their midst. The undesired path was the "default," if the people only cared about their OWN real estate or how full their OWN bellies were. I guess I find it hard to see any "election" in the Hebrew Bible, which becomes the basis for the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus.

Why am I putting these two "elections" together? Maybe you should ask my therapist. Seriously, though, here is my "thought for the day" thesis: If we tend to believe in "fate" (a type of election) or that nothing we do makes much of a difference, we probably lean toward not voting in elections, and toward just trying to carve out a decent life for ourselves and our own family. If we believe that we are charged with making choices that will seriously impact the course of our lives and possibly even the broader course of our community, our nation--or even our church--then we will probably vote in elections, volunteer in community-building or benevolent organizations bent on improving everyone's quality of life, and advocate for equality, inclusion, and justice.

Thankfully, in the world of theology, hardly anyone goes to either of the extremes of "election" (which some call predestination) or "free will." The Calvins knew and wrote that we do have important choices, although none of them can trump the sovereignty of God, and the Wesley's agreed that "free will" still functions within a big, divinely-crafted picture that moves toward redemption and wholeness for the creation. Of course we grassroots theologians (pastors) can argue these points--and do--just as a kind members of spiritual fantasy league.

Unfortunately, our national voting record has, most recently, belied a brand of American fatalism that is far more dangerous than the Wesley/Calvin theological chess match. To reiterate: the American "experiment" is based on the people having a voice and a vote. When the "journalist" in me spars with "friends" on Facebook, I often wonder if the people taking the other side of the political argument are actual voters. I suppose I could start asking that of them: "Do you vote?" And, if the answer is one of these fatalistic cop outs, "No, because what difference does it make?" I should immediately abandon the repartee.

So, what am I really saying here? Come November 6, drop the theological clap, lose the "que sera sera" fatalism and!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Kavanaugh Fallout...

I don't know how many churches are standing for women and their general opinion that, in confirming Brett Kavanaugh, and even celebrating this "victory," the Senate has thumbed its nose at them and the whole issue of sexual assault. Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., led by their lead pastor and staff, read in worship and released the following statement:

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
- Psalm 201:1-2a
Over these past days, we have witnessed what many have called one of the ugliest and most painful moments of political theater in memory. Through the confirmation hearings for the most recent addition to the Supreme Court, not only has our brutal and near absolute tribalism been on display—both within the government and in response to it—but, through the courageous testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, we as a nation have been forced to confront yet another unacknowledged epidemic in our society: sexual harassment and assault.
As the former president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops and resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, Bruce Ough wrote,
"It felt as if the very soul of our country was being laid bare. Thousands, more likely millions (statistical studies indicate that one of every three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime) of women and girls relived the pain of their own sexual harassment, assault, abuse or rape. It was a powerful, indelible teaching moment for millions of people and, indeed, a nation too long in denial of our epidemic of sexual assault and abuse. No matter what one's political position is regarding Judge Kavanaugh's [confirmation as] a Supreme Court justice, we, as followers of Jesus, can no longer remain silent about the sin of sexual assault and abuse or tolerate 'boys will be boys' excuses."
Not only women and girls but also many men have been re-traumatized through this process. Today, we as your pastors want to say to all of you: We see you. We believe you. We honor you as a beloved child of God. We are here to be present with you and to listen, to connect you with supportive resources, and to pray with you.
We give thanks for Dr. Ford and for all who dare to break the silence about what they've experienced. We stand in solidarity with all those who risk so much by speaking up and sharing their story.
Today we reaffirm the dignity and worth of every person and recommit to working for the common good, for the values of love, mercy, and justice embodied by Jesus, and for the health, agency, and safety of all God's beloved children—God's female and male children, God's transgender children, God's black and brown children, God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer children, God's children of all abilities and ages and nationalities and religions.
We call on the highest court in our land to do the same.
We call upon all people of faith and conscience to practice compassionate listening and measured speech in this age of bruising political divide, to pray without ceasing, and to be guided through your prayer into action.
"For the sake of our daughters and sons we will exercise every means available to us to help make for them a better world: through prayer and spiritual support; education and community engagement; witness and protest when necessary; legal action and advocacy; and exercising our most basic civic duty of voting in every election. For those of us who follow the Way of Jesus, this is not merely a civic imperative, but a calling to bring this world closer to what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, where 'mourning and crying and pain will be no more' (Revelation 21:4), and where love will triumph over hate."
Your pastors and co-laborers in Sacred Resistance, 
Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, Senior Pastor 
Malcolm Frazier, Associate Pastor, Director Hospitality and Care
Will Green, Associate Pastor, Director of Discipleship Ministries
Julie Hansen, Director of Finance
Ben Roberts, Associate Pastor, Director of Social Justice Ministries
Lani Willbanks, Business Administrator

It would have been one thing for the Senate to have allowed a full FBI investigation of the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, which, had it cleared Mr. Kavanaugh, could have confirmed him AND released a statement that they took such charges very seriously. They then could have said that this full investigation resulted in no corroborating testimony or evidence for the accusations, while still acknowledging that a terrible thing had happened to Dr. Ford, but that there just wasn't clear evidence that Mr. Kavanaugh was the perpetrator. But that's not what happened.

A greatly truncated "investigation," apparently limited by the White House, and rushed to allow for a quick confirmation by the Senate well before mid-term elections, "vindicated" Judge Kavanaugh, and a gloating Judiciary Committee--and then the full Senate by the narrowest of margins--voted to confirm him and verbally "slam dunk" this travesty as a "great victory." There was no victory. Women lost again. There was no compassion shown to Dr. Ford, nor any of the other women who made accusations. And, due to the reigned-in investigation, the reputation of the FBI was again besmirched.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham went full "old white guy" postal against Blasey-Ford, the process, and of course, the Democrats. There is evidence that Kavanaugh, himself, had crafted a better legal rebuttal for his response to Blasey-Ford the day of that hearing, but that he was "coached" by the White House to tear it up and come out swinging. He made a fool of himself, and demonstrated the kind of "attack dog" demeanor that would lead a sane person to believe he was capable of a violent assault against a vulnerable, female minor. His display caused a majority of Americans polled to believe he would be unfit to mount the bench of the Supreme Court of the land.

This one was a tough call for yours truly. I strive to keep "politics" out of the pulpit, but certainly HAVE tackled justice issues in accordance with the biblical witness and the teachings of Jesus and the prophets. Pastor Gaines-Cirelli and her team spoke out boldly, not really caring whether this strong statement crossed "political" lines, but standing courageously with women. I applaud them.

I have shared this statement because I think it is important. I agree with its context and content. I just can't state with integrity, and without several more conversations, if it represents the wider body of the church I serve. I do believe it would most likely be affirmed by a majority of our people. Still, I thought you should read it, and know where I stand, since you have obviously been reading my blogs.

I would like to believe that this horrible experience has quickened our nation to the realities and scope of sexual assault and the violence committed against children of God based on sexuality, gender, and/or sexual orientation. I fear that the present state of human evolution does not have us there yet, but maybe the needle has moved a little? Meanwhile, those who rushed Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation onto the fast track before the elections (incidentally, the same ones who refused to give Merrick Garland a hearing "until the people had a voice in the next election") celebrated the event like a Super Bowl touchdown. Even the President turned Justice Kavanaugh's swearing-in into a media circus, claiming his full exoneration.

I pray our new Supreme Court Justice takes the pain this event has caused so many to heart. I pray it makes him a better jurist on the high bench. I guess we'll see. I do know that the women I have talked to come out of this with greater fear, more doubt, and a stronger feeling that they are not being listened to. How sad. How very sad.

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...