Wednesday, April 22, 2015

By Their Fruits

Bear fruit worthy of repentance (Mt. 3:8)

Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees;
every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit 
is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Mt. 3:10)

...for each tree is known by its own fruit. (Luke 6:33)

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord
you are light.  Live as children of light-
for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good
and right and true. (Eph. 5:8-9)

The recent NRA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee was an orchard of bad fruit. You can get sick on bad fruit. In spite of the reality that over 30,000 people die of gun shot wounds each year, that guns in the home double the homicide risk and triple the suicide risk, despite the fact that gun injuries cost about $250 billion a year to treat, even though the United States has the highest rate of gun related deaths among all industrialized countries, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement recommending that pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from homes, and pediatricians are calling for permission to talk with patients about the dangers of having guns in the home, the Nashville Gun Bash triumphantly sold rotten fruit to the 70,000 attendees.

Here are some NRA Convention "fruits"!:

All guns on the convention floor will be nonoperational
with firing pins removed....
The Tennessean (local paper)

Yet the NRA supports guns in schools, businesses, on college campuses, state capitol buildings, and everywhere. But not at their convention. Do they know something that we should know? Hypocrisy reigns!

Lt. Col David Grossman lectured:

[Prepare to kill children] Folks, we've raised a
vicious generation of children...Sandy Hook is just
the beginning...We have a million students who are
criminals, gang members, and its exploded...Our
Founding Fathers knew there would be days like
this....and they created the Second Amendment
for just a time like this....
Lt. Col. David Grossman

David Grossman is the man who lent understanding following Columbine, who spoke of video games as "basic training" for learning how to kill, who implied we need to do something to stop a killing culture, yet is now prepping us to kill youth, and assuring us the Second Amendment will assuage our consciences. After all, killing is a practical necessity for a civilized culture. Grossman has coined the word "killology", a study of the psychological and physiological effects of killing. Some attendees at the convention have said his talk was the best! Then he calls upon people to prepare to become "predators," saying "Only a predator can hunt a predator."

Then there is Mr. Rock 'n Roll, Ted Nugent, NRA Board Member, who in 2010 at the NRA Convention in Houston said:

[The Obama administration is] wiping its ass
with the Constitution....If the coyote is in your
living room pis____ on your couch, it's not the
coyote's fault.  It's your fault for not shooting him.

Ted made similar comments in Nashville.

I think most NRA members are good folks who would support reasonable gun laws in the interest of safety. There is abundant "good fruit" in the NRA. Eat up! But bad fruit contaminates good fruit. The leadership and corporate money folks too often sell rotten fruit which sickens society, ruins peaceable homes, spreads the fruit of terror in schools and public places. 

When listening to the NRA, we need not be intimidated and bow in fealty. Instead, we need to discern what kind of fruit they are selling. The shiny apples are on top, but too often underneath the shine is the worm infested fruit. 



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week: Reformation and/or Revolution?

Holy Week is the Christian Super Bowl! Jesus' mission is revealed in its entirety: life changing, world changing, cosmos changing! Were Jesus' actions reformative and/or revolutionary?

The case for REVOLUTIONARY rests in the degree of violence and respect for human rights. Hence, to what degree did Jesus reject physical and ecological violence during his ministry? To what degree did Jesus promote human rights? These questions are appropriate because God became human to embody the human gift of all of us being created in the Image of God and being good stewards of God's earth. It is the People of God who are the expressions of Jesus in the world.  It is the People of God who are responsible for seeking and doing the Will of God towards people and the earth. We are called to imitate Christ! 

How does Jesus' Holy Week actions reflect REVOLUTIONARY actions? First, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of an ass. The colt is symbolic of humility.  The colt bears the burdens of others labor. The colt is basically a walker rather than a strider. The colt is often guided by others who are walking. The colt is never used on the battlefield. The colt symbolizes nonviolence.

The Chief Priests, Elders, and Scribes sought ways to kill Jesus. They were tricksters, trying to catch Jesus acting contrary to Roman law, thereby opening the door for Jesus being arrested and imprisoned. To these attempts Jesus responded that people should pay to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. The fig tree is given prominence as a metaphor for what it means to be obedient to God. Furthermore, the religious elite were looking for a Davidic figure who would lead the People of God out of Roman oppression. Violence was on the table and Jesus was not playing their game. At no time did Jesus advocate violent overthrow of Roman rule. Finally, Jesus told the leadership that God would destroy the "tenants" of Israel (religious leadership) because of their denial of God's intention for their mission.

Yet, through his actions, Jesus used the power of speech, of the Word, of the mind and Spirit to teach, preach, and heal nonviolently. Human rights were addressed through his explanation of paying taxes to Caesar and giving generously to God's work.  Both expenditures are necessary for human dignity and life preservation. Jesus taught the Great Commandment: love God, love yourself, love others. Loving each other honors human rights and supports human dignity. Finally, Jesus told the people to expect persecution, NOT to be persecutors. Living nonviolently with a commitment to human rights invites persecution. This is the Cross: Jesus accepting death and suffering for us rather than inflicting it upon others. 

Was Jesus a REVOLUTIONARY? Yes, with a scandalous style, changing the methodology, surprising the world and followers with unconventional acts. 

The case for REFORMER is grounded in how he addressed the religious and cultural Jewishness of God's Chosenness through the People of Israel, unveiling radical new faith practices. 

Consider Jesus' chasing the animals and sellers of sacrifices out of the Temple. The worship life of God's followers was redefined. One does not earn God's grace by paying for a substitute for one's sins. Jesus' sacrifice for us will take care of that. Furthermore, worship is about prayer and nurturing relationship with God and God with us through focused attention on the Word through the Spirit. Relationship instead of paying blood money for God's love was central. 

Jesus taught the resurrection was for all which was contrary to the teaching of the Sadducees. Jesus was inclusive rather than exclusive.  Jesus expanded the definition of "chosenness" and "holiness" to include the world! All are welcome! One's bloodline was not the arbiter of life with God! What one wears, one's level of religious education, ecclesial position, appearance and pomp does not make one holier and closer to God's pleasure. Love makes the difference! Obedience to God's freeing us to love defines our holiness. The widow, not the Sadduccess, nor Scribes, nor Elders is lifted up as the exemplar of the God life. The Temple is redefined as where prayer, the Great Commandment, and generosity towards mission are practiced. Bricks and mortar are helpful, but they do not and cannot wall out all people of the world! Jesus opened the hearts of God's people to ALL!  Jesus went global! 

The Lord's Supper is for ALL!  ALL are welcome! Come!  Receive and meet Jesus! The Cross and Jesus taking upon himself all that would separate us from God's love and from us loving others and the earth is killed on the Cross. The Resurrection is for ALL people in the world, for a renewal of our care for the earth, for being Jesus' hands and voice in God's transforming grace!

Yes, Jesus was a REFORMER!

The Great Week!  Holy Week! A time of REVOLUTION and REFORMATION! Let's do it! Let's be it! It's kick-off time!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Volatile Mix

The mix of inequality and guns is volatile. Gun violence increases as inequality increases.

In their book The Spirit Level, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson reveal the distressing cost of inequality. What I find persuasive is their reliance upon reputable data. They go beyond simple opinionating, and instead allow the numbers do the talking. Some snippets:

Greater inequality equals higher degrees of homicide.

Economic inequality leads to higher rates of homicide.

Inequality widens race/ethnic differences.  

In more unequal societies, people are five times as likely 
to be imprisoned, six times more likely to be clinically obese, 
and murder rates may be many times higher.

What seeds of violence are sown through inequality? What is the poison within inequality? Their analysis reveals: 

In more unequal societies, more people are oriented towards dominance,
self-enhancement and status competition. People need to be self-reliant 
and other people are seen to be rivals.

Inequality weakens community life

Francis de Tocqueville, writing about America, observed that
substantial differences in material living standards between people
was a formidable barrier to empathy.

It is not difficult, then, connecting the dots between inequality and gun violence. Guns are expressions of power. Guns put dominance into one's hand. Guns are about me proclaiming superiority. Guns negate empathy. Whether I am hunting, protecting my family, fighting for my nation, stalking my rival, a gun means I will control and conquer you, that your community, your nation, your gang is less valuable than my mine, that you are a threat to my way of life and my community's existence, and you will do my bidding.

Certainly, guns can be legitimately used for hunting, protection, enjoyment, and national defense. But, all too frequently, tossing guns into the inequality mix is like tossing a match into a can of gasoline.

Pickett and Wilkinson open windows of peace. They imply, and I would suggest, if we want to lower gun violence, people need to come together, work together, seek the common good, listen to each other, support each other in difficult times, serve the poor, encourage the vulnerable, focus on loving, work for justice, lobby for political change, provide means for employment with a fair and sustainable wage, socialize, insure that all people have health care, provide resources for families, invest in education for all, allow people to have time together apart from work, and....

Personally, I believe the church is perfectly positioned to open these windows.  I think we know a bit about "things that make for peace." 


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Economic Anathema!
The recently introduced Republican budget is economic anathema to the vast majority of our nation's citizenry! The middle and lower classes, along with the most vulnerable are treated as expendable tripe; whereas the corporate and upper power groups are provided with succulent steak and lobster delicacies, laughing as they sail away on their yachts and drink martinis lounging in their private jets flying to the Cote Azure on the Mediterranean.

I would presume that a majority of these moral pygmies are church going folks, faithfully listening to their pastors and priests babble about living righteously and responsibly in the gracious forgiveness and love of a prosperity god of gold, comfortably convinced they are doing God's work. They have been fooled! This budget is anathema to God and to anything similar to following Jesus! Jesus would puke! Grace and Gospel are snuffed! Profit and pride are worshipped! 

What is this dastardly slight of hand economic patriotism?  I am grateful to Robert Reich for outlining the scandalous low lights:

1) Huge cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and Pell grants to college
students from poor families, decimating programs for the poor
2) Cuts to federal aid to education
3) Turns Medicare into a voucher system which does not keep
up with expected increases in health care costs
4) Repeals Obamacare which is now providing 16.4 million people
with health care which they did not have previously
5) Boosts military spending by nearly $40 billion next year
through off-budget war funding (remember how we funded the Iraq War)
6) Increases military spending in subsequent years while further
cutting domestic discretionary spending
7) Doesn't raise a dime of taxes on the wealthy and doesn't close any
loopholes used by the rich

This budget needs a wrecking ball! In the paraphrased words of Bruce Springsteen: "We [need to] take care of our own." By taking care of ourselves we can take better care of the world.

All of these proposals create more economic inequality. It is economic inequality that weakens our nation because it crushes hope and opportunity for the overwhelming majority of people's lives. In their book, THE SPIRIT LEVEL, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkenson state the "Index of child well-being in rich countries is related to inequality....[Economic inequality] creates more inequality which in turn creates more health care and social problems." Trickle down doesn't trickle down. Luxury for the few is not justice for the many.

This budget continues to feed the maw of a ravishing military machine. Our military budget overly consumes our nation's future quality of life and moral standing. We spend more than almost all other nations in the world "combined!" Yet, we cut out the muscle and soul of our people by stripping resources for personal development. We are becoming a nation of beggars through our own faulty budget priorities. 98% of our people are road kill for the limousine drivers and coiffed ladies and men of luxury.

Unless we repent and focus our resources on what is good for ALL, we will fall with our destination the Babylon of indignation! All that is good about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will be memories in the winds of history. Indeed, we have taken giant strides towards that "nether" already. The words of Amos are spot on for America:

"Thus says the Lord: For the three transgressions...and for four,
I will not revoke punishment....So, I will press you down in your place."
Amos 1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1;11, 1:13, 2:1, 2:4, 2:6

"Create in [us] a clean heart, O God, 
and renew a right spirit within us."
Psalm 51:1

Friday, March 13, 2015

Violence Proofing the World-II
Part I of VPW reviewed grace-filled theological foundations to address the call to VPW. Now it is important to focus on the practical, in world actions that appear to run counter to VPW and to those that tend to be consistent with a more faithful, non-causing violence action. Christian witness necessitates engaging the world in manners that resonate with diverse cultures and religious expressions. Hence, there is a practical "secularity" that surfaces and seeks common ground. Christian "holiness" affirms global oneness, uniting knowingly and unknowingly, ALL people.  All people are created in the Image of God.

First, a review of axioms that I find helpful in understanding causes of violence in the world, followed by axioms that tend to prevent violence. 

Fascism: Collusion of corporate wealthy with government control
Doctrine of Discovery: Theological justification for colonialism
Poverty: Revolutions usually begin from the bottom up, from the poor
Economic Inequality
Poverty and Lack of Opportunity
Slavery-Child Exploitation
Gender Oppression
Plutocracy and Oligarchy: Government by the wealthy
Quest for Oil
De-Regulation: Elimination of Glas-Steagal Bill, weakening of Dodd/Frank
Lack of Education and Access to Education
Unwillingness to Engage and Celebrate Diversity
Money Influence Upon Elections
Voter Suppression
Environmental Degradation
Extremist-Fundamentalist Religious Expression
Ideological Intolerance
Unwillingness to Seek Common Ground in our Politics
Lack of Justice for ALL
Lack of Common Sense Gun Regulation
Family Breakdown
Rise of Extreme Nationalism
Unbridled Nationalism at Expense of Patriotism 
Building Walls (Berlin Wall and Israel/Palestine)

Mandatory and Access to Education for all
Fair Financial Arrangements for College, University and Specialized Education 
Democratic form of Government (Democracies do not attack each other)
Economic Equality
Job Creation and Opportunity
Bill of Rights
Equal Access to Voting without Undo Requirements
Public Financing of Elections
Support for and Participation in the United Nations
Leadership Possibilities for ALL
Employment Opportunities for ALL
Fair Regulation of Corporations, Banks, and Wall Street
Balance Between Socialism and Capitalism
Environmental Stewardship
Inclusive and Welcoming of Diversity
Religious Ecumenism
Welcoming of Political Diversity
Less Military Focus
Focus on Human/Public Needs
Appropriate and Common Sense Gun Regulations
Pensions for ALL
Fair Taxation
Global Tax to provide resources for economic justice for ALL
Global Imagination
Transparency and Free Flow of Information

"We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both." 
Justice Louis Brandeis

As people of faith, violence needs to be addressed. The ethic of Jesus was nonviolence. Faithfulness means not only "believing" but also and more profoundly "beloving" the world. 

Let the conversation begin! 


Friday, January 30, 2015

Violence Proofing the World

It all started with a meeting following Sandy Hook. A group from our congregation gathered to talk about gun violence. More meetings followed. We sponsored a "Respectful Conversation" led by a person trained by the Minnesota Council of Churches. Then followed a sign proposal, desiring to put a sign at the church entrance to read something like: GUNS ARE BANNED IN THIS PLACE OF WORSHIP. BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS. A meeting was suggested to talk about it. One person who objected to the sign attended. Another meeting with a couple more people. I lobbied for a session on gun violence prevention. However, apart from me, no one, including the pastors, wanted to deal with GVP, even though gun violence had been the initial reason for the planning session. Instead, the result is a six session series on "Violence Proofing the Person, the Home, the Community, and the World", preceded by a pastor talking about Biblical interpretation and concluded by a conversation about action steps. 

My assignment was to lead the session on VIOLENCE PROOFING THE WORLD. I WILL bring up gun violence! Guns and militarization are an integral part of world violence. The session plan will be: 1) THEOLOGY: First Things First; 2) Violence Proofing Axioms; 3) Step Up, Speak Up, Act Up!-Violence Today. The next three blogs will focus on these areas.

THEOLOGY: First Things First
Christians bring specific menu items to the table conversation about violence proofing the world. The Christian grace is to be the main course of this meal. We need the right energy food to engage violence. What foods are we given?

The WORD. GENESIS speaks of God's original action of creating the world and being pleased, calling everything good.  There was no violence. Shalom and harmony were the design. The Fall follows. Human choice poisons God's design intention. The apple.  Cain's murder of his brother Abel. Choice. Noah is the story of cleansing and starting over.  God's mercy. Never again. The Tower of Babel signifying global arrogance leading to division. Abraham becomes God's person of blessing for the world. Violence was not smiled upon.  Even God cancelled it.

The EXODUS is liberation. The violence of slavery was not God's intention for God's people. God's Ten Commandments were given to guide the faithful to living the God-life. No violence here! Obedience and ethics were woven into one. More Law books followed. Guidance for the faith life. Worship and ethics bound together. 

Books of history followed. Blood. Power. War. Conquering Canaan and murdering everyone not Hebrew. Captivity. Division of the Kingdoms. More war. Supposedly God was on the side of the Chosen People. At least so the writers of history announced. Historians have a knack of interpreting events through prejudiced minds, too frequently using God to justify national intentions. I would suggest this was the Deuteronomic historians plan. Not that God cannot work through war and genocide. But were these wars and slaughters God's will?  I question this conclusion.

Hence the PROPHETS. God working through tragedy, injustice, and war, yes. BUT, God willing this sadness, oppression of the poor and powerless? No. The prophets called for justice, mercy, love, and transformation. And often pointed to Jesus.

JESUS. Union of God and humanity. God choosing to become human to remind us what it means to be a human being created in God's Image. Throughout history and the Biblical narrative we read of a constant departure from God's will. In Jesus, God says to us, "You just don't get it! You forgot my will for you! I will show you again." In Jesus, we are given both a human example of lifestyle and of grace and freedom and call to live within God's Image. Justice, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. Nonviolence reflects God's Image. Jesus is ultimate nonviolence!

ACTS: Preach, teach, and take care of each other according to need.  Where is the call to violence?

PAUL: Paul is the first theologian of nonviolence. Consider the Fruits of the Spirit and the Armor of God, both shrouded in nonviolence. In Romans 12, Paul exhorts the Christ followers to not conform themselves to this world. The passage about being subject to the governing authorities is book ended by the call to love. Furthermore, there were no Christians in Roman authority. Finally, Paul wrote Romans in the midst of Nero's murderous reign, meaning that Paul wanted to protect Christians.

REVELATION: Courage in the midst of the reign of the murderous Diocletian. No call to arms. Only the promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth. Hope. God is in charge of history!

HOLY BAPTISM is God's welcome in, God's choosing us to be part of God's family, forgiving us. Our Affirmation of Baptism calls us to live among God's faithful people, hear the Word of God and share in the Lord's Supper, proclaim the good news of God through word and deed, serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth. We promise to do these actions. 

I am reminded of Dr. Franklin Littell's comment: "We must realize that the Holocaust would never have happened if Protestants and Catholics had not betrayed their baptism."

THE LORD'S SUPPER offers forgiveness and the invitation to come and meet Jesus. We partake with other brothers and sisters in Christ. We are part of a communion, a community, not alone, united with all Christians world wide. Then the invitation of "all are welcome!" Some try to limit the invite to only those who can rightly and doctrinally qualify. The LS means "come and meet Jesus." For some reason, everyone who enters our churches enter because of the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. They may have been out of the church or never been part of the community. BUT THEY WALKED THROUGH THE DOOR! Come and meet Jesus!  Jesus has a a gift of grace for you! The LS is the ultimate answer to division. Diversity is the LS's calling card!

Holy Scripture is burgeoning with grace! Freedom! Hope! Love! Given for us that we may be Christ in the world. We can remember Bonhoeffer: "We Lutherans have gathered like eagles around the carcass of cheap grace and thereby killed the life of following Christ."

The Word showers us with grace upon grace, that we can lead the costly life of violence proofing the world. Eliminating violence? Probably not. But giving witness and an intentional try to reflect God's love, a resounding yes! The grace is always present to repent and start over, learn new things, forgive time after time, and lay aside hate.  Let us begin, again!



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

NRA: Opposition Points the Way
The National Rifle Association is the leading opposition force to common sense gun safety laws. Yet, it is in the laws they oppose that we see the way forward to gun violence prevention actions. What the NRA opposes is what we need! 

Furthermore, what the NRA opposes overwhelmingly protects common sense individual right to bear arms. People can still hunt, can still have handguns for home and car protection, and can still target shoot.  All this while protecting the lives of many innocents. What does the NRA oppose?

Assault weapons ban
Ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons
Ban on large ammunition magazines
The Brady Bill which mandates background checks by licensed gun dealers, and a five day 
              waiting period for handgun purchases. The NRA leadership said after its passage: 
              "When Clinton signed the Brady Bill, a drop of blood dripped from the finger of
              that sovereign American citizen."
Universal background checks (Licensed deaslers must do background checks)
Background checks for private sellers (Not required to do background checks)
Background checks for internet and mail order sales (No background checks required)
National gun registration
Ban on cop killer bullets
Smith & Wesson proposed safety measures (handgun trigger locks, no ammo magazines 
               larger than 10 rounds, and a more thorough system of background checks) S&W
               had to back-off support for these measures as their sales had plummeted 40%.
Mandatory trigger locks
Development and sale of smart guns (Guns can operate only by the owner who has a 
               special chip in a bracelet)
Authorizing and funding research on gun violence by the ATF and National Center on
               Injury Prevention
Funding for ATF staff in order to keep in undermanned
               AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, saying: "We have a problem with these
               organizations, too, for not holding their articles to their usual standards."
Keeping guns out of the hands of people on the Terrorist Watch List
Laws that would hold gun manufacturers liable and open to suit if their guns were used in a
               crime if they knowingly sold them to straw buyers
Holding a serial gun seller accountable for not keeping records of sales of selling to people
               with criminal records
Senate proposal that would have made straw purchasing punishable by up to 25 years in prison
Laws that would have allowed health care providers to charge a higher premium to people
               who owned guns
United Nations efforts to control illicit small arms trade, saying "The UN is a lethal threat to
               the 2nd Amendment."
Gun laws in Brazil, Australia, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand. "If gun [control] proponents
               succeed in these countries, America will be next."
Requiring gun dealers to conduct inventory checks to prevent losses or thefts
Criticism of militia movement
Banning of high capacity of high capacity ammunition magazines [after Columbine]
Any regulations or weapons ban after Sandy Hook
LBJ's bill to register all and license firearms and ban imported weapons after JFK's 

The NRA's position is to not give an inch allowing any regulations. Why? Because to the NRA, guns are a symbol of freedom from government control and tyranny. There is a strong belief that "the government wants to take our guns away." No compromise! No common sense gun laws. Fear and paranoia reign! To quote Wayne Lapierre: "Clinton's semi-autocratic ban gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our Constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us."

I believe the above suggestions opposed by the NRA are reasonable accommodations for a safer home and nation. Their opposition points the way forward for a safer society. Their adoption would significantly lower that 30,000+ annual gun violence deaths. It is time to move beyond fear and paranoia and instead concern ourselves with protection of life.