Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

If I was wearing a costume this Halloween...

I would probably be a character from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But since I'm going as "Daddy escorting a toddler dressed as a cat" (pictures to come soon), I'll have to live vicariously through this guy who clearly has a great sense of humor and way too much time on his hands

Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

30 till 30 Challenge Update

One week (slightly less than 1/3 of the way, for you non-math majors out there) into the 30 till 30 Challenge, and we're doing great!

So far we've raised $760 for HEAL Africa!

Quick aside: while we haven't yet reached our goal of $3,000, donors to the 30 till 30 Challenge have already helped One Day's Wages surpass its partnership goal of $25,000 with HEAL Africa. Way to go!

If you have already given, thank you so much! This is the best birthday present I could imagine!

If you haven't please consider, chipping in, even if it's just a few bucks. There are literally thousands of worthy causes out there, and the needs always exceed our ability to give. However, your donation will help provide training and resources to women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help make them economically independent and allow them to escape the horrible cycles of poverty, abuse, and oppression in this war torn region.

Together, we can make a big difference. Thanks for your gift.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Religion on "Community"

"Community" is one of the best shows on TV right now. The ensemble cast doesn't have a weak link, and the writing is so good they even make Chevy Chase funny without reversing time back to 1980.

Last night's episode, "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" tackled the subject of religion with a fantastic mix of irreverence and deep respect (and no, those are not mutually exclusive concepts). I won't even attempt to explain the plot, except to say that it involves viral videos, a messiah complex or two, and a dash of ageism. Watch and see what I mean.

Here are the best religion related quotes from the episode:

"This lack of subject definition goes both ways. If farts are fair game, so is God" (John Oliver, defending the watching of random YouTube videos in Anthropology class)

"Being raised by TV and movies, I always thought Jesus just walked on water and told people not to have abortions, but it's so much cooler than that. He was like ET, Edward Scissorhands, and Marty McFly combined!" (Abed, the Muslim student and budding filmmaker, when considering directing a Christian viral video)

"Jesus, did you really die for our sins? That's dope!" (a line from the really lame Christian "viral" video. Jesus/Troy then proceeds to rap)

"Every minute of our lives is a world premiere, and my Father has already bought the popcorn" (Abed, playing a messianic figure)

"Did you just scripture me, Muslim?" (Shirley, getting mad at Abed proof-texting her)

"Isn't every movie (about Jesus)? Is the Matrix? Robocop? Superman Returns? All stories about death and resurrection." (Abed, talking the Dean out of shutting down his movie on account of separation of church and state, which, according to Christine O'Donnell, is not in the Constitution)

"Dear God, my movie is the worst piece of crap I've ever seen in my entire life. I've got a real 'Snakes on a Plane' brewing. Please take this project away from me." (Abed, out in the courtyard, or 'Gethsemane', if you will)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, word to the meek. The Kingdom of Heaven is open all week." (Troy rapping the Sermon the Mount. Incidentally, Donald Glover, who plays Troy, has a rap project called Childish Gambino, and it's really awesome)

So what did you think? Were there good quotes that I didn't include on the list? What, if anything, are the folks at "Community" trying to say about the place of religion in our world? Discuss!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Announcing the 30 till 30 Challenge

It's October 19. On November 19 I turn 30. Birthdays are, almost by definition, a massively narcissistic phenomenon. This year I'd like to do something a little different.

So I'm officially announcing the 30 till 30 Challenge.

In the next 30 days I want to raise $3,000 for HEAL Africa. $3,000 will provide three Fresh Start Kits, each of which provides basic training and equipment to a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo (be it a sewing machine, start-up capital, livestock, etc.) so that she can be economically independent and escape the endless cycles of poverty and violence in this war-torn region.

$3,000 will change three women's lives. One for each decade I've been on the planet. That kind of beautiful symmetry is the best birthday present you can give.

If you'd be so kind as to make your donation through the One Day's Wages "Birthday for a Cause" page I've set up, we can keep track of how much we've raised. You can donate directly through HEAL Africa's site, of course, but like I said, birthdays are an exercise in narcissism.

Seriously, though. This blog has enough readers that if everyone kicks in a few bucks, we can easily raise $3,000 by November 19. We can make a world of difference for some people we'll probably never meet. That would be way better than anything I could ever unwrap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Starts Early

The Mis-Informant: Part 2 with Jack Black as Nathan Spewman from Jack Black

You start playing fast and loose with facts just for fun, and before you know it, you're the lead anchor on the Fox News Kids Channel!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Whose House Would Jesus Watch Burn?

I was saddened by the news the other day that a local fire department in Tennessee had to watch a mobile home be destroyed by a fire because the owner didn't pay an annual $75 fee for fire protection. What really brakes my heart is the quote from the firefighter who said they all wanted to do something, but knew they would be in trouble if they did. So they just stood there and made sure the fire didn't harm the homes of others who had paid the fee.

Unlike a lot of news that saddens me, I was actually surprised to hear this. I didn't realize that local municipalities were so hard up for money that they had to charge extra fees for what most of us consider essential services. And even if that's the case, the firefighters must have been really afraid for their jobs to be able to fight against what basic human decency would otherwise compel them to do. It's the system, not the firefighters, that are at fault here.

As if the story wasn't sad enough to begin with, some right wing commentator felt the need to add insult to injury by claiming that letting the man's home burn was the "Christian thing to do":

In this case, critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability.
(quote courtesy of Right Wing Watch, via Tea Party Jesus)

Fischer's justification of allowing your fellow human beings to suffer right in front of you just confirms Brian McLaren's contention that there is not just one Christianity out there, but many different kinds that all demand our allegiance (check out A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith for more on this concept). I talk a lot about all followers of Jesus being one and us having to learn to live together, and I still believe that, but things like this make me wonder if people like Fischer and I really worship the same Jesus.

Maybe I'm just too "liberal", or I've been co-opted by "feminized Christianity" (only women stood by Jesus at the cross, while all the guys ran and hid, so maybe a feminine touch isn't such a bad thing?), but when I read Matthew 25, I can't find Jesus saying to the sheep (the ones who get into heaven),

Blessed are you, for when you saw me hungry, you told me to get a job. When you saw me in prison you advocated for longer sentences and the death penalty. When you saw me sick you said I didn't deserve health care. When you saw my house burning you stood there and watched it burn because I didn't have the money to pay a fee. You guys really taught me a great lesson!

I've read lots of different translations, and I can even read a little Greek. Trust me, it's not in there!

Incidents like this are part of the larger problem of the disgusting state of public discourse in our country. People see that they will get lots of attention if they say the meanest, most hateful, most divisive things they can think of, regardless of whether they actually believe these things or not.

One of the young ladies in my congregation posted a very insightful poem that sums up what many of us in the "Reasonable Majority" feel about the current state of political dialogue in our country. Take a minute and read "Politics, Ugh" by Melissa Smith.

I continue to hope that this moment in history will be a brief, ugly chapter in a story that ultimately climaxes with the triumph of God's reign in the world. But living in this moment is really hard, so the sooner we start the next chapter, the better.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

It's Time for the Bullying to Stop

The news has been filled with reports lately about teenagers who have committed suicide because they were bullied for being gay. Let's be clear: this isn't a new problem. It's just finally getting the attention it deserves. We've also seen news that an Assistant Attorney General in Michigan is being prosecuted for cyber bullying a courageous University of Michigan student, bullying that he tries to hide behind the veil of free speech.

I hope that our society is finally starting to see that we have a serious problem that has gone ignored for far too long.

I am a Christian who does not believe that being gay or having a same sex relationship is a sin. I respect my brothers and sisters who disagree with me, but I believe we can respectfully disagree while still affirming the sacred worth of the persons in question. All persons are of sacred worth and bear God's image, and thus do not deserved to be degraded and bullied simply because they are different.

This is bigger than liberal v. conservative, Republican v. Democrat, or any other of the constructs we use to divide ourselves. This is a choice of love or hate, and we've been turning a blind eye to hate for far too long.

I preached about similar issues last year when the sexual orientation issue was, sadly, successfully used as a smoke screen to get people to vote against a number of proposed amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church.

You can listen to the audio of this sermon on our podcast, or read the text here.

Or you can just listen to Ellen Degeneres, who says it way better than I ever could

Ellen Degeneres/ Important Message from Ryan Glorioso on Vimeo.

or, for that matter, Sarah Silverman (just be aware she drops an F-bomb here)

Life is hard enough as it is when you're a teenager. Let's take a stand and help our young people learn how their actions can have unintended consequences.

Would Jesus bully the gay kids, or would he step between them and the insecure bully who's probably secretly struggling with his own sexuality?

Answer that question and you'll know where to stand.

Monday, October 04, 2010

At the Table with the "Other"

I generally don't post sermons online, because I think you don't fully experience proclamation unless you're part of the community being addressed. But I think what I preached yesterday for World Communion Sunday addresses some crucial issues in our society, not just our congregation.

The texts are Leviticus 19:33-34 and Luke 10:25-37.

Imagine a hypothetical situation with me. Imagine if I told you that there was a religious group here in Clarksville, and this religious group gave us some reasons to be concerned. This religion claims to be peaceful and loving, but their holy book is filled with violent acts done by their god and by people at the express command of this god. There’s even a passage in that book where it talks about being joyful when you take your enemies’ babies and smash them against the rocks!

Imagine that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their holy book is only the beginning of the troubling things about this group. Throughout the centuries people of this group have raped and pillaged and murdered on a scale unrivaled in human history. Again, they claim to be a peaceful religion, but in the last decade a member of this very sect became the leader of a country with a huge military, and he used his power to invade other countries, and he frequently invoked the name of their god to justify doing it!

Now at this point, you might be thinking that this group sounds sketchy, but they’re probably no threat to me. But remember, I told you they’re here in Clarksville. What if I told you, this group is about to build a new center here in town, close to where many of us live, that they’re going to hold their meetings there, they’re going to study their holy book there, and they’re going to try to recruit more members? What if I said that they’re especially interested in bringing in your children and indoctrinating them? Now we’re probably saying, “wait a second! I don’t like this at all! Someone needs to stop this scary religious group!”

Now imagine I told you that this group’s name was Bethlehem United Methodist Church.

Wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense, does it? That’s not fair! How could anyone possibly come to the conclusion that Bethlehem United Methodist Church is a shadowy, possibly violent religious group? What on earth just happened here?

Well, first I cherry picked a few things that are essentially true and I took them drastically out of context. The part about the holy book being filled with violent acts? Check out the book of Joshua and see how the Israelites conquered the Promised Land. Some of that stuff will make your blood curdle. The part about being joyful while dashing infants’ heads against the rocks? Psalm 137, verse 9. Yikes. The long history of violence? Those are the crusades and the centuries of Protestant/Catholic wars in Europe. The modern leader of a country who invaded other countries? That’s George W. Bush, who is a Methodist. But I took it out of context, not saying anything about 9/11 or fears about weapons of mass destruction.

Selectively picking certain things and taking them out of context makes it very easy to paint a scary picture. That is, until I put a name to the group I’m talking about. Then it falls apart because no one in our community would accept the premise that a United Methodist congregation is dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed to build a new worship center. Not only would people not accept it, they would say that such an argument is intentionally misleading and unfair.

And yet that is exactly what we in our society to do all kind of other religious and ethnic groups, but we don’t protest and say, “that’s intentionally misleading. That’s not fair!” We don’t speak up, not because we’re hateful or prejudiced ourselves, but because we generally don’t know any of the people in these minority groups, so we don’t have any kind of knowledge or experience to refute these arguments. The manufactured controversies over Islamic centers in New York and Murfreesboro are a perfect example. Muslims have been part of those communities for years, but because they’re a minority, most people don’t know them, so when someone comes along wanting to stir people up by painting a scary picture of Muslims, most of us don’t really know what to think. We can be lured into believing misleading and hateful speech because we have very little else to inform our opinion.

My hypothetical example fell apart because people know Methodists, but it works in other cases, because most of us don’t really know any Muslims.

Bashing religious and ethnic minority groups is nothing new, of course. It’s as old as humanity itself. The passage we just read from Luke is one of the most beloved stories today, but in Jesus’ time it was a shocking and offensive story, because the wrong person was the good guy. The Samaritans are a different ethnicity, and they worship in a different place. If a Jewish person was traveling north from Jerusalem up to Galilee, they would take an extra day and go around Samaria because they were afraid of Samaritan gangs that would assault people along the roadside, kind of like what happened to the traveler in Jesus’ story.

But in Jesus’ parable, instead of the Samaritan being the bad guy, he’s the hero! The priest and the Levite aren’t bad guys. They actually had good reasons for not stopping. The Samaritan takes a huge risk by stopping along a dangerous road, picking up a wounded person who would slow him down, and spending a lot of money to take care of a Jewish man who probably hates him, who if he were conscious would think that the Samaritan were there to finish him off. The one who truly fulfills the Law and experiences eternal life is not the one who is a part of the right group and worships in the right ways, but the outsider who actually does what the Law says.

Jesus is telling this story in response to a question from an expert in the Law. This guy is very well versed in the minutia of the Torah, and he’s got another agenda in asking the question. Luke says that the guy “wanted to justify himself”. He’d already made up his mind about who his neighbor is, or more specifically, who is neighbor isn’t, and he’s looking to Jesus to affirm his prejudices. But Jesus won’t give him a free pass to love some people and hate others. Jesus proclaims the true spirit of the Law that commands us to treat everyone as our neighbor, regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not. That’s a message that is as relevant to our time as it was to people in first century Judea.

Today is World Communion Sunday. It’s a day when we affirm our fundamental connection with not only all Christians all over the world, but also with all of God’s children. This day is the perfect time for us to come to the table as a sign of unity with all human beings, to confront all the prejudice and hatred in our world and say “no more”.

The first thing we have to do is repent. Our Communion liturgy includes a prayer of repentance asking God to forgive all the things we have done, and the things we have left undone. Maybe we as individuals haven’t actively participated in the hatred against our neighbors, but how many of us have actively spoken against it? If we hear our friends engaging in bigoted speech, do we speak up and say, “please don’t do that. That’s hateful. That’s wrong.”? I know that far too often I just stay silent because I don’t want to get into an argument, and unfortunately my silence implies my consent with what’s going on.

So not being part of the problem is a good start, but our repentance and our resolve to do better have to go farther than that. We can begin with speaking up when we hear people being put down just because they’re different. If we’re ready to go one step further, we can take a step outside of our comfort zone and go intentionally get to know these others that we know so little about. We don’t have to go far to do this. They’re right here in our own community.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple weeks, and I decided to put my money where my mouth is. On the day before the anniversary of 9/11, I went to the Islamic Center of Clarksville for Friday prayers, which is the main weekly worship service for Muslims. I’ll be honest, I was super uncomfortable. I’m an introvert, so going somewhere were I don’t know anybody, where I’m the only white guy and where I’m completely unfamiliar with what is going on is not my idea of a good time.

But I went anyway, and it turned out that the Islamic community in Clarksville could not be more welcoming. They were happy to welcome a Christian to pray with them. They showed me what to do and they didn’t laugh or give me strange looks when it was obvious that I was totally clueless. Even though we pray to the same God, their way of worshiping and praying in different physical positions is unfamiliar to most American Christians. It turns out that this group where I thought I didn’t know anyone isn’t so scary after all. One guy there named Mohammed works at the Kroger down the street. I met lots of others who shared my concerns about all the hateful rhetoric out there and didn’t want more violence between our people.

Going to pray with the local Islamic community for one hour on a Friday didn’t solve all of the issues between our two faiths, but it was one small way to begin building bridges between us. Now when I see Mohammed at Kroger I stop and take a few minutes to talk about how our families are doing, and that brief conversation makes my day a little brighter. I’d like to think that we are beginning to emulate St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer “let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

If we can step outside our comfortable circles where we only hang out with others who are like us, we will begin to see that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. As we come together to the table of fellowship today, let us remember that in doing so we are united with all of our brothers and sisters in this great human family God has created, whether we like it or not. Come to the table with those who are like us, and with those who are “other”, because in doing so we will truly begin to see the face of God.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.