Monday, September 25, 2017

Who is your neighbor?

Are you old enough to remember Mr. Rogers? (That's his photo on the left.) And the opening theme to his children's program:

"Would you be?
Could you be?
Won't you be my neighbor!"

I don't think the President of the US was thinking of Mr. Rogers last week when he addressed the United Nations.

The president took the opportunity to first offer a list of his accomplishments, including (supposedly) record unemployment, companies moving back to the US and record job growth. (Sort of rude when you think about it. Like being invited to someone's house for dinner, and then taking the opportunity to boast about how great you are.)

Most of the president's claims are untrue or exaggerated. The current administration was fortunate to have inherited a trend of lessening unemployment. The previous administration actually did better at job growth. And there is no substantial evidence of a trend of companies moving back to the US.

He went on to say: "We have it within our power; should we choose, to lift millions from poverty."

Yet, the current administration is undercutting the Affordable Care Act's effectiveness by sharply cutting outreach efforts for sign-up. Meanwhile the GOP is touting their version of a health care bill that would slash Medicaid funding, routing limited funds directly to states, and remove mandatory sign-up. All of which will make the marketplace unstable and vastly increase the number of people who can't afford health care. The GOP would like to pass this legislation without proper hearings, by the end of September. Before the bipartisan GAO has a chance to review the possible effects of the bill, and before the simple 51 vote majority rule in the Senate needed for passage ends. 

The president continued: "We have it within our ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred and fear."

But only a few weeks ago the current administration announced its decision to end DACA. Afterwards, giving in to intense pressure, the president met with leaders of the Democratic party, but there has yet to be an alternative solution put into effect. Meaning that, for the time being, the president's decision to kick the ball back to Congress for action remains. He stated a deadline of March, 2018 to end DACA, if Congress cannot agree on a more permanent solution. Meanwhile, with approval from the president and his administration, ICE agents are becoming increasingly belligerent in their immigration control efforts.

The president's budget also includes severe cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, public housing and children of US military veterans.

Which brings us back to Mr. Rogers and the question: Who is our neighbor?

Diane Butler Bass notes in her book, Grounded, "The biggest issue of the twenty-first
century is not necessarily the 'decline' of neighborhood. It may be that we have all moved to a new neighborhood and have not learned how to get along with the new neighbors."

Already in the US, minority babies actually outnumber non-Hispanic whites. It's projected that by 2020 the majority of children in the US will be of former minority groups. And by 2040 this change will be reflected in the general population as a whole.

So, who is living in the neighborhood is changing. 

Bass writes, "Although the ideal of the Golden Rule might be central to human experience, it is also the case that people have often drawn a tight circle around the neighborhood, attempting to exclude those not of their tribe from the practice of compassion."

But that's not what the leaders of most of the world's great religions have taught. Jesus is in good company with Gandhi, Buddha, Mohammad and others. They all said that caring for others, even those who don't think or look like you, is a central tenant to living a good (or holy) life. 

In fact, Jesus went so far as to say that the only action that determines if a person gets to heaven is if they helped their neighbor. The Final Judgment as recorded in Matt. 25:31-46 doesn't have anything to do with dogma or doctrine or evangelizing. But Jesus, as God's son, does focus on how we treat each other as the final test of achieving eternal life.

ccording to what Jesus taught, the president's actions, highlighted by his speech at the UN, don't really pass that test. 

Photo Credit: Mr. Rogers, The Atlantic

Monday, September 18, 2017

EAC, Who's At Your Table?

Johnnie Moore
The backlash over President Trump's inability to condemn the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville was widespread. In response, Johnnie Moore, a member of the 45th's Evangelical Advisory Council (EAC), wrote an opinion piece explaining why he decided to remain on the EAC after the 45th failed to condemn the neo-Nazis.

Among the reasons Moore listed for staying on was that: "You only make a difference if you have a seat at the table."

Beth Watkins has written an outstanding blog post giving her take on this reasoning. She gave several examples of individuals and groups that didn't have a seat at the table, who nonetheless made historically and culturally significant contributions to shaping the world and our own country.

Beth's post was so good that it got me to thinking, that's precisely the point of the current administration in Washington and why we've been so divided, especially since the election in November.

Who doesn't have a seat at the table?

Well, for openers, native peoples (Native Americans) who were no where near Constitution Hall when the "fathers" of our country set it up to begin with. It's the height of irony that the 45th is scrapping DACA As well as offering to severely cut the number of immigrants allowed into the US. With the exception of Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants and refugees. (You could make a valid case that the Puritans were the first refugees).

Trump's Cabinet (not all members present)
Who is at the table in the 45th's current administration? Well, according to the NYTimes, President Trump has more white males (18) in his first cabinet than any other president since Ronald Reagan (who had 17).  And there seem to be a proliferation of extremely wealthy people on the 45th's advisory panels. Of course not all wealthy people are mean-spirited, but they are influential. Witness the House of Representatives passing the Financial Choice Act in June, which, if passed by the Senate, will effectively erase much of the Dodd-Frank Act's regulations on the banking industry and its subsequent protections to consumers.

When I was growing up, there was a saying that went, "you're known by the company you keep."

Every parent knows that it's important to know who your child's friends are. Because they are influential.

I would argue that who we invite to our table is just as important. Table being the place where we break bread, sit down, have a conversation, get to know and commit to each other.

As Diane Butler Bass noted in her book, Grounded, "The table is the earthly manifestation of God's presence, the 'heavenly feast,' where all are fed and sustained and no one suffers want."

Who isn't being invited to the 45th's table?

The poor

The immigrant
The refugee
The hungry
The powerless

It's the same group of folks that the Statue of Liberty says we should be welcoming. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me."

Most major religions, including Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Christian have a lot to say about this same subject.

Welcome the stranger.
Take them in.
Set a place at your table for them.

Here's a partial list of the type of people Jesus said he came to earth to serve (Luke 4:16-21). 
- the poor
- the captives
- the blind
- the oppressed

These were the very folks Jesus  invited to his table, along with prostitutes and tax collectors. 

Members of the 45th's Evangelical Advisory Council would do well to remember that the religion they profess to believe in is not one of convenience, isolation or exclusivity.

Who do we need to invite to the table?

Those without.
Those who have been left out.
Those who are crying out for justice.

Photo Credit: of 45th's cabinet from Business Outsider

Monday, September 11, 2017

High Fives & Back to School!

Labor Day Weekend seems like a long time ago and most elementary, middle and high school kids are back to school.

In my home town, last Tuesday marked the first day of the 2017-2018 school year.

On that day the non-profit Mothers of Hope organized a welcome back event at the Edison Environmental Science Academy and other elementary schools across the city. That morning at 7:30 I joined a group of about 40 volunteers who formed a wall along the front entrance walkway. We were there to offer high-fives and handshakes to the grade-school kids on their first day back to the classroom.

As you could well imagine, the looks on the kids' faces ran the spectrum - some were bright-eyed and
eagerly offered up their hands to be hit. Some on the shy side hid their faces behind their backpacks. And some, at first looked apprehensive but then gradually, by the time they were half-way down the line, broke out in smiles. From my vantage point, you could easily tell which of the kids were "morning people," and those who weren't.

The kids came in gradually, some walking, some on buses. A few from across the street. Like a
family that began the trek to school by looking out their living room window. Then cautiously watching from the relative safety of their front porch, before deciding to make the walk to school.

Most all the parents, grandparents and other guardians who had brought the kids to school also offered up their hands for high-fives, returning smiles from greeters.

And some kids came to class via busses. The expressions on the kids' faces were priceless as they ran towards the welcoming line.

At the end of the welcoming time, the school principal, teachers and other support staff came out to thank us for being there. We thanked them right back for providing this opportunity to join them, if only for portion of a sunny morning, in educating their charges.

It was fun.

It was high energy.

It was powerful.

So, how about the rest of the school year? How can you make a difference?

If you're a parent, the answer is pretty obvious: stay connected to your child. Ask them about how their day went in school, and listen to what they have to tell you. Communicate with your child's educators. Consider joining your school's PTA or equivalent. (Just lasts week I was chatting with a friend who has been an educator for three decades. He told me one of the most important things in a child's life, in terms of being successful in school, is having a responsible adult they can have a conversation with.)

If you're not a parent, you can volunteer. Offer to be a reader. Offer to be an extra set of hands in the classroom. Check in with the neighborhood school's principal and simply ask them: "How can I help?"

Photo Credit: All photos taken by Malachi Barrett, Kalamazoo Gazette, MLive

Monday, September 4, 2017

Katherine Scott Jones & Her Memory of Music

Katherine Scott Jones grew up in cities on every U.S. coast and overseas as her family moved with her father’s Navy career. Seattle became home when she married her husband twenty-seven years ago. After graduating from Whitworth University with a degree in communications, she established herself as a freelance writer before turning her hand to fiction. She blogs about the broken and the beautiful at Katherine and her husband have two teenage children. Her Memory of Music is her debut novel.

Can you tell us a little about the motivation for writing HER MEMORY OF MUSIC?

Toni Morrison famously said, "If there is a book that you want to read but it hasn't been written, yet, then you must write it." When I began writing HER MEMORY OF MUSIC, there wasn't an abundance of inspirational (Christian) novels that compellingly addressed real-life issues, where answers weren't easy and problems were complex - maybe even scandalous. Fortunately, in the years since then,  more of these have arrived on the scene. I hope readers will find my book to be one of these. 

I strove to have my characters mirror real life, where people grapple with eternal issues: of fear, and faith, and forgiveness. I also aimed to broaden the typical reader's awareness of the plight of so many girls and women around the world who are objects of oppression. I sought to bring together two very different lifestyles - that of the woman in the developed world living in relative comfort but with significant questions of faith and purpose; and that of the woman in the developing world whose basic needs are great but whose voice has so little chance of being heard.

I wanted to show the connection between these different women, bringing their two worlds together and showing them as one. I also wanted to show how living in fear is no way to live (a lesson I'm still learning). To show that God is a very big God who sees and cares, who orchestrates events and fights on our behalf. And to celebrate the empowering of women by God's daily grace. 

I also hoped to use my voice to provide a voice for women who have none of their own. TO show other who are like me that we may play a role in helping others who, through no fault of their own, find themselves helpless and voiceless. My hope is that readers will be encouraged to find their own empowered voice - and in doing so, to give a hand up to other women who need one. 

Among the characters in HER MEMORY OF MUSIC are a human trafficking investigator and a single mom who is haunted by an abusive relationship from her past. To what extent did your faith inform how you developed these characters?

Fabulous question. I wanted to explore how a real-life, growing faith might play out in each of these two scenarios. Though they look very different, both characters provide gritty examples of faith in action; the first in a “hands and feet of Jesus” kind of way; the second in “seeking God in the midst of our pain.” The latter is one I expect more of my female readers might identify with—not, I hope, as victims of abuse, but as human beings who must daily learn to let God step into the space created by life’s inevitable wounds in order to heal them.

Most of HER MEMORY OF MUSIC takes place on Whidbey Island (in Washington state). Can you tell us why you picked this location?

Soon after I moved to Washington, when my husband and I were newly married, we frequently visited this Puget Sound island, often staying in the real-life town of Langley. From the start, I was struck by the island’s natural beauty and Langley’s small-town, seaside appeal. The island is a bit removed from well-trodden paths, and unique in that it’s accessible by both ferry and a rather stunning bridge. It struck me as the kind of place that someone who needed to hide might choose. Readers can glimpse Whidbey Island by visiting my HER MEMORY OF MUSIC Pinterest board, here.

What was the most challenging aspect to writing HER MEMORY OF MUSIC? The most fulfilling?

Most challenging was digging beneath the characters exteriors, especially their self-protective facades, to get at the whys of their choices and behaviors—and to make these relatable and believable. Most fulfilling was being able to use my voice in storytelling to speak up for oppressed women who don’t have a voice. It was also very satisfying to see the way the three main story threads braided together in the end. When I started, I had some little inkling as to how they might all tie up, but I couldn’t fully envision it until I got there.

Can you describe your writing process for HER MEMORY OF MUSIC? (How long did it take to write? Where did you do most of the writing?) What’s your writing process, in general?

Writers like to say there are two kinds of writers: outliners and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). I fall somewhere in between. I must begin with at least some form of an outline because I need a target at which to aim my arrow. But then I’m very much about letting the story evolve organically on its own. Maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but there’s no way I can anticipate at the outset every plot twist—nor, really, would I want to! I enjoy the experience of being surprised. The guard rails (that keep me on track plot-wise) become my characters and what I know about them. Their choices and behaviors have to be consistent from beginning to end (although of course as they grow through the story, their choices at the beginning can and should differ from those they make toward the end), but it must still follow a credible trajectory. 

From initial concept to published book, I probably spent about three years at the keyboard working on HER MEMORY OF MUSIC. The bulk of it was accomplished in my writing chair, a burgundy leather armchair with ottoman in our cozy study, with occasional batches done standing at the kitchen island or in the car or waiting rooms as I waited for my kids to finish one activity or another. None of which offers terrific ergonomics, but it’s what works for me.

You’ve taught memoir writing.  Would you care to offer some tips about this specific genre/writing in general?

Just write. Everyone has a life story to tell, but if you’re waiting for the perfect time to begin writing it, you’ll never find it. There will never, ever be the perfect time. You have to create time for yourself, carve it out of your day, and then make it a consistent priority. Allow your first draft to be worthy of nothing but the trash can—but purpose nonetheless to get your words on paper. You cannot edit an empty page. Even 10 or 20 or 30 minutes a day will at the end of six months amount to a surprisingly substantial body of work. Once you have your first very rough draft, you can begin molding it into a cohesive story. I recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life for inspiration (fair warning: occasional salty language). It’s a book I read and reread with great pleasure, and it never fails to motivate me.

How about your involvement with the Northwest Christian Writers Association?

The NCWA played an instrumental role in my early years as a writer, providing invaluable support, networking, and critique. I would highly recommend membership to this or a similar local association to any new writer. I learned so much, especially during the time I had the privilege of serving on their leadership team.

Can you tell us a bit about your own faith journey?

I had good fortune to grow up in a home that provided me a foundation of Christian faith. I consider that my own spiritual journey really took off—that is, I began engaging with Jesus in a personal, relational way—when I was in my mid-twenties. To that point, my faith had informed my choices and provided a moral compass, but it lacked an experiential, personal relationship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Once I made that shift, I began to mine Scripture for how it revealed God for who He is and to discover how my life fit into His redemptive story. I continue on that path today and every day.

How about your involvement with World Vision?

Ah, World Vision. I am so fortunate that this world-class, Christian humanitarian organization headquarters in practically my own backyard. My husband and I have long supported our church’s mission work and many other exceptional organizations, but after writing HER MEMORY OF MUSIC, I knew I personally wanted to do something more. Something tangible to help real girls like my fictional Jayashri avoid oppression. I am deeply passionate about World Vision’s child sponsorship program because it is proven to work, to provide not just a handout but to transform lives, families, communities. I began by sponsoring a little girl named Kajal, who lives in India like Jayashri. It satisfies me greatly to know that because of the monthly support we provide, her family will never need to make the difficult choice of selling her into sex trafficking or slavery (tragically, a very common practice). I then trained as a Child Ambassador so that I could help to connect other sponsors to children in need.

You’re also part of the Open Door Sisterhood. Would you share what the group’s purpose is and how you became involved?

The Open Door Sisterhood is a gathering of Christian women compelled to walk through open doors.  We are committed to linking arms to support each other as we step out individually in faith to fulfill our callings. We value unity, growth, humility, generosity and encouragement, and we strive to be characterized by these as both a group and individually.

I became involved in the Sisterhood when I was invited to attend one of their mastermind retreats, a pivotal point in my ministry and writing career. My “sisters” have helped me transition to the next level of my calling, and they continue to support me in my journey, as I do them. I now serve as the editor for the Open Door Sisterhood blog.

In 2016 you and your family traveled to Thailand. What was the motivation for the trip and what impressed you the most?

Our trip to Thailand last year was part of our family’s tour of Southeast Asia, which was motivated by our desire to visit some dear friends who work and minister in Malaysia. On a broader level, my husband and I purpose to make world travel a family value. (I
wrote on the topic for The Lookout magazine,
here.) We are an ordinary, middle-class American family that makes world travel a budgeting priority. We have now set foot as a family on 15 countries on 4 continents. One of the chief reasons we appreciate travel is for the way it expands us. Travel enlarges our thinking and allows us to value and appreciate the beauty of other countries and cultures as well as our own. Traveling teaches us that there is much to be valued everywhere—abroad and at home.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you for your interest in HER MEMORY OF MUSIC and these thoughtful questions! It’s been a pleasure.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

ALL SAINTS & Immigrants

When Rev. Michael Spurlock came to All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, his job was to shutter it.

At the time, All Saints was struggling, with 25 members.

The film ALL SAINTS, based on a true story, shows us what happened when 70 ethnic Karen show up one Sunday to worship.

All Saints Church was on the brink of closing. Then in 2007 Ye Win, a refugee from Burma, showed up at the church asking if he and other refugees who had settled near Smyrna, could join them for worship.

Ye Win and about 70 refugees (who are ethnic Karen) had lived in Burma and had been run out of their village by the Burmese military.

Historically, during WWII the Karen, who were in the minority, had aligned themselves with the British. The ethnic Burmese, in the majority, had aligned with the Japanese. So after the war was over there was intense animosity between the two groups.

In fact a civil war has been happening since the early 1950s, making it one of the world's longest-running civil wars.

Ye Win
Currently there are about 140,000 Karen refugees living in about a dozen refugee camps along the Thailand border. Mae La, the largest camp, has 43,000 residents living in it.

People living in the camps are not allowed to leave. In order to be resettled, they need to register with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). It's estimated that over a third of all refugees in the camps are not registered, and therefore ineligible for resettlement. The vast majority of individuals living in the camps are ethnically Karen.

According to a story in the Washington Post, Ye Win was 16 years old when his mother was threatened at gunpoint by the Burmese military, being accused of treason (because of helping Karen families). She was taken away and Ye Win didn't see his mother again for 10 years.

ALL SAINTS picks up Ye Win's story after his arrival near Smyrna with a group of other Karen households, numbering around 70 in all.

They begin to worship at All Saints Episcopal Church. Rev. Spurlock (played by John Corbett) explains that the church is in financially bad shape - in fact he'd been sent to shutter it so the land could be sold to pay off the mortgage.

Ye Win makes a counter offer. Let the Karen, who are excellent farmers, work the church's 16 acres of prime bottomland. They'll use the vegetables to feed their families and sell the rest to help pay off the building's debt.

ALL SAINTS documents the resulting trials, featuring lack of rain, a gift of a truck and a water pump that breaks down.

Rev. Spurlock's wife, Aimee (played by Cora Buono), worked alongside her husband as they met the various trials head on. Meanwhile, the film shows us Ye Win's own struggle to serve as the Karen group's interpreter/social worker/advocate/pseudo-pastor.

All Saints Church, Smyrna, TN
In real time, All Saints Episcopal Church remains open, paying off its mortgage. (Rev. Spurlock and his family are currently serving at a church in New York City.)

In a Washington Post interview the real Rev. Spurlock noted that he hoped the ALL SAINTS film would inspire other groups to open their doors to refugees.

During a time when the immigration and refugee debate has become increasingly heated, the example of ALL SAINTS and the faith-community of All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna stands as a testimony of how love overcomes fear. To the mutual benefit of everyone

Here's the trailer to ALL SAINTS.

Here's a link to the book upon which the film is based.

John Corbett does a fine job of portraying Rev. Spurlock, but it's Cora Buono who offers the more compelling performance as his wife, Aimee. Nelson Lee (who is actually from Taiwan) is simply riveting as Ye Win. Barry Corbin does a great job as Forrest, a grizzled farmer and original member of the All Saints congregation, initially reluctant to help, but with a heart of pure gold.

Several members of the real All Saints congregation - including ethnic Karen - played themselves in the film. The producers and director of ALL SAINTS are to be commended for this casting decision which lends authenticity.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Is Politics Moral?

Heather Heyer
In all of the reporting coming out of Charlottesville, one point really struck home.

Political left and right is one thing. Moral right and wrong is another.

I came to this conclusion after reading a social media post where someone had shared an article (from a non-news source) making a supposed point that the person who killed Heather Heyer and injured another 19 demonstrators had been, at one time, a democrat. As if this somehow excused their actions. (Heather, by the way, was a remarkable young woman who had a very clear sense of social justice and morality.)

In response to that post ,another person felt compelled to share a similar non-news source story claiming that one of the organizers of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville had at one time been a liberal. As if to justify people joining together to shout things like: "Blood and Soil,"  (a Nazi slogan), "You will not replace us," and "Jews will not replace us."

What does it say about America when we seek to excuse blatantly immoral behavior by claiming a person's prior political affiliation has anything to do with present action?

It's the same kind of thinking that claims that, since "God is a republican," as long as a candidate tepidly alludes they are pro-life, the rest of their behavior (i.e. lying, cheating and pandering to racist ideology) is somehow ok.

Using this kind of damaged logic, a person could almost understand the point that the 45th made on the campaign trail boasting: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters."

The inability to discern moral behavior results in the 45th's Counselor saying that his (then) Press Secretary offered "alternative facts," while grossly over-estimating the size of the inauguration crowd. (The counselor makes the statement about 1:52 minutes into the video link above.)

You could argue that deliberately over-inflating the size of a crowd is no huge moral issue. But on the other hand, it does stand as a significant marker to the beginning of a slippery slope that the 45th's administration has been headed down ever since.

One that led to the 45th refusing to denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists after the Charlottesville demonstration. Then, after mounting pressure, correcting his initial statement two days later. Then a day after that, going back to his original remarks.

his type of moral ambiguity is resulting in a president who cannot lead us because he seems to be unable to lead himself.

Witness the number of individuals in the 45th's administration who have resigned, been fired, or left since January. They include:

Steve Bannon, Chief Strategist

Anthony Scaramucci, WH Director of Communications
Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff
Michael Flynn, Dir. National Security Council
Sean Spicer, WH Director of Communications
Walter Shaub, Director of Gov't Ethics
Mike Dubke, Dir. of Communications
James Comey, Director, FBI
Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to 45th

And in the wake of the 45th's response to Charlottesville, several members of the White House Manufacturing Council resigned. In fact, Richard Trumka, one of those members, offered to pray for the president. Ultimately the 45th made the decision to disband the group because of the number of members leaving it. The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racism also weighed in, calling the president's response after Charlottesville "the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn" racist violence. 

Meanwhile the Trump International Hotel (located 5 blocks away from the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue), has earned the Trump Organization over $2 million during the first four months of the 45th's administration. A lawsuit was filed against the Trump Organization in January claiming it has violated the Constitution by allowing its hotels and other businesses to accept payments from foreign governments. Recall that rather than divest himself from the Trump family businesses, the 45th merely handed over leadership of the businesses to his sons. One of whom is under suspicion of trying to collude with the Russians to rig the most recent presidential election. 

Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi, the 45th seized the moment to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona. The infamous "Sheriff Joe" was convicted of routinely profiling and harassing Latinos as part of efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants. Arpaio was also a strong supporter of the 45th's leadership in the "birther" movement, claiming former President Obama was not born in the US. In his pardon, the 45th thanked Arpaio for "years of admirable service to our nation," albeit illegal

It all goes back to being guided by the moral thing to do - not what's politically expedient.

Neo-Nazi Demonstrators in Charlottesville
As you would expect, the Bible is very clear about morality. Numerous times there's mention of not using "false" or rigged scales in conducting transactions. (See Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13 for examples.)

Practically all faith traditions, including Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian, have a high regard for honesty. For instance, in Jewish faith, honesty is equated with truth which is equated with righteousness (meaning actively pursuing the qualities of God's character, like truth, humility, mercy and grace.)

As if to underscore this fact, four rabbinical groups , representing 4,000 rabbis and their congregations across the US, recently joined together to announce they will not be participating in a traditional conference call with the White House in advance of the high holy days. In part, their statement reads: "We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year."

It turns out, God isn't really interested in "alt facts."

Honesty matters.

Truth matters.

And it's not dependent upon a political viewpoint.


If you're looking for an excellent, comprehensive historical perspective of the white evangelical church's response to racism, please see Dr. Timothy Gombis article via the Cornerstone University website.

Photo Credits:
Top - New York Times
Middle - Intellectual takeout
Lower - Cyprus Weekly

Monday, August 14, 2017

How Did We Get To Charlottesville?

How did we get to Charlottesville?

The most recent symptom of a deep racial and social justice divide in the US.

It might be helpful to begin by looking back eight months ago at the results of the presidential election.

Shortly after the election, Christianity Today, reported that 81% of voters who identified themselves as white Evangelicals/Born Again voted for the current president.

CT reported that "the only demographics that broke for Trump more than white Evangelicals were Republican men (90%), Republican women (89%) and Conservatives (81%).

While the lopsided support the 45th received from non-religious groups would seem understandable, it isn't among those declaring their religious affiliation.

The Pew Research Center also reported back on an exit poll, showing that only 8% of those identifying themselves as black and 29% of voters who identified themselves as Hispanic voted for the 45th. This is significant because our nation is rapidly changing to a "minority" majority. Simply put, the percentage of people of color in our country is growing. According to the US Census Bureau, as of July, 2016, whites made up 61% of the population, Hispanics/Latinos made up 18%, Blacks made up 13% and Asians made up 8%. Already minority children outnumber white children and by 2044 that reality will be mirrored in the population, as a whole. A president who isn't particularly sensitive to this trend is going to have difficulty leading our nation.

In a different report, citing a Gallup poll, the Pew Research Center stated that in January, 2017, the 45th came into office with a 39% approval rating - a historic low. (In fact the next lowest approval rating was gotten by George W. Bush - 50% - in January of 2001). The Center stated the 45th's approval rating was "the worst favorability rating in history."

The 45th's approval rating has been going down ever since. Gallup reported it at 34% as of August 13th.

So, we have a president who isn't especially approved of. Which wouldn't be all that significant, except a leader who doesn't elicit trust can't govern effectively.

And coming into office having lost the general election by about 3 million votes doesn't help. In fact, it can really hamper a president in responding to a situation like Charlottesville that calls for a clear, resounding message that unifies. Something the 45th can't seem to do. (Witness that the strongest and clearest message against racism that initially came from the White House in the wave of Charlottesville was from the 45th's daughter, not the 45th. Two days later the 45th expanded his statement to say that "racism is evil. And those who cause violence are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups." It was only after intense pressure, including the resignation of Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck, from the president's American Manufacturing Council, that the 45th used much more pointed language. But a day later the 45th defended his initial statement, saying "there are bad people on both sides.")

But there's more to the equation of what happened in Charlottesville than an unpopular president. (I am in no way condoning the 45th, or his administration. But the cause of what happened over the weekend does not stop at politics. It's a symptom of something deeper.)

Meanwhile, there seems to have been reluctance on the part of a large segment of the Christian Church, as well as other institutions, to come to grips with the most recent forms of racism. As well as our own fears and insecurities that can easily lead to misguided beliefs.

We can continue to point fingers. Or we can take a hint from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

In Chapter 58 of Isaiah, God's people ask why God hasn't heard them. They've even fasted to get his attention. God replies he's calling them to a different kind of fast.

"Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked you cover them?"

God goes on to say if this kind of "fast" is done, then:

"Your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall break forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you..."

And in the same chapter (vs. 9) God, through Isaiah, really gets to the point of it all:

"If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday." (NKJ)

Jonathan Tremaine Thomas
Back in February my home town hosted a Civil Righteousness Conference. The main message of the weekend was taken right from Isaiah 58:9. I wrote about it afterwards.

Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, the keynote speaker, made a point that we need to respond to the spiritual and moral dimensions of racism with Civil Righteousness. Thomas defined the term as "the pursuit of moral excellence in the face of injustice."

He offered three components to Civil Righteousness:
1. Prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally and mentally to run into the fight. Thomas emphasized the importance of non-violence resistance, pursued by Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement;
2. Be a bridge culturally by cultivating friendships of mutual understanding;
3. Dream with God - lead the change by helping to institute comprehensive solutions and strategies that foster sustainable, spiritual, cultural and economic reformation.

It was an interesting concept then. Even more so after Charlottesville.

Photo Credit. top photo; middle photo, Southern Poverty Law Center
All scriptures quoted are from the New Kings James version.