Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Three Meditations on the Death of a Friend

Tim Bass by Tinidril
Last week, in the middle of the night, my son, my wife and I did our best to save our friend's life and then watched as the paramedics did the same with all they had for forty five minutes. To no avail. Tim was a quiet man of few words, but when he did speak, it was with wisdom and humor and usually with a slight grin through his hairy face. My friends will want to tell me that he's in a better place. And I'll tell others that he's in the rest and peace he so deserves. But for me right now, it's not about that.
Every person we get to know creates a shadow of that person in our minds, connected, as if by an umbilical cord to the real soul we experience. Every time we bump into that person, laugh with that person, work with that person, mourn with him, fight with him, suffer with him, love him-- that shadow of the person grows in our soul and the more often we see or spend time with that person the cord grows stronger, and the connection is deeper.
When a person dies, or leaves us or suddenly disappears that cord is cut, and we are severed from the soul that is an essential part of who we are. And that shadow, that part of ourselves, begins to shrivel, to starve. When we grieve, we aren't so much grieving for our loved one who is now doing better than we will for a while. We cry because a part of us has been carved out of our soul, and he's still there, but we know the memory won't last for long. The feelings of being with him are going to fade. We have lost, are losing, a part of ourselves.

* * *

Each body is a tiny universe
Each soul its own nation.
Complexity, contradiction, conflict
Wrapped within a weakened unity.
Who dare unravel the depths of a person?
What book written completes the hidden?
The death of one is a genocide,
A grave tragedy the angels decry.
Who dismisses such a loss?
Who among the wise dare take it lightly?
Mourn with me this intricate maze,
Not because it is no more,
But because the world lacks the richness
Once taken for granted.

* * *

Beneath the tree
Beside the road
Lay the sign:
       "One coin helps."
No one steals it.
Worthless cardboard
All that remains
       But fading memories.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Short Version of Jesus' Teaching for Agnostics (and others)

Yesterday a person in my church said to me, "I just don't get it.  There's all this stuff that I just can't accept in the Bible and it just doesn't make sense.  I believe that there is whatever that created us and that's God.  But the rest of it doesn't make sense."

He makes a good point.  There are so much nonsense in Christian Theology.  We can get caught up in details that are just silly.  Specifics about eschatology, heaven and hell, the nature of God, Christology, soteriology and worship certainly can easily block people from a simple understanding of the basic truth of Jesus.

So I am going to make an attempt to get Jesus' message down to the very basics.  This isn't the message of the Bible, nor the message of Christian theology.  Rather, these is the most important truths Jesus expressed that agnostics might appreciate.

I understand that if you are a Christian reading this I will have certainly skipped your favorite theological axiom(s).  I'm not really sorry about that.

1. There is a God no one knows
Jesus says that everyone has got their own ideas about God, but the only one who knows God is the one who has been up to heaven, which discounts pretty much everyone we have met.  God is ultimately mysterious, and much of what we understand about God is understood in the negative.  (There is nothing God cannot do, for example.)  The main relationship between a human and the unknowable God, according to Jesus, is active respect to God and following the correct ethical path.

2. Some agnostics are on the right path.
Jesus wasn't opposed to people questioning the truth.  Questions are good.  In fact, the people who seem to have the most mix-ups are those who don't question that which they should question, those who are so caught up in tradition, doctrine and ritual that they can't see the truth when it's right in front of them.  Jesus believes that there will be some agnostics praised by the Creator who didn't even know they were on God's path.  Jesus doesn't separate people by Christian or otherwise.  There are those who do what is right and those who do wrong, whether they are agnostic, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or otherwise.

3. The World is full of injustice
Many people are without clear ethical direction, and this causes deep suffering and oppression in the majority of humans. Almost every human being is both the victim and cause of suffering.  We are in need of direction, a place to escape oppression, and the power to enact change.

4. There are two kinds of human ethics
Jesus calls these two paths Mercy and Judgement.  Mercy is the path that is found through our brain's mirror neurons, in which we see the other as ourselves.  Judgement is the path of anger and enmity, which our mind places certain people so that we see their opinions and ideas as always in antithesis to our own.  Jesus says that the main ethical task of humanity is to always choose the path of Mercy over the path of Judgment.

5. Judgment
There is a place for judgment.  Our brains understand this as karma, or reciprocation.  Every human deserves either good or bad, according to whether they do good or bad.  Jesus affirms that reciprocity exists, but that it is the place of the universe to hand out reciprocity, that our human minds are too limited to property see even one human beings place in the scale of reciprocity.  While we need to recognize and correct the bad, we should not do this by acts of harm or hatred.  To enact our rage upon another is to place us into the "bad" category of karma, and so the universe must act to punish us.

6. Mercy
Jesus says that we should instead focus our efforts to love others, which should be the ethical atmosphere of all of our actions.  To "love" is to benefit those whom we have contact with (directly or indirectly), and this benefit will differ depending on the specific context we are in.  The most basic form of love is to do all one can to meet a person's need, especially if they are harmed or oppressed.  The extent of love is without limit, even enacting mercy to those who do not deserve it, or those whom we do do not wish to give it.  To live a life of mercy is to ultimately be delivered from harm and oppression.

7. Sacrifice
Even as there are people who seem to only wish to enact harm, bringing oppression and suffering wherever they go, so there must be people who do the opposite, enacting mercy to all, no matter what the cost to themselves.  Most people live harming some and helping others, but if the world is to escape the cycle of suffering and oppression, we must have more and more people willing to give up everything they have, do and are to give mercy to more and more people, especially those who desperately need it.  Without these people, the world cannot escape being a place of suffering.

8. Power
No human is able, on their own, to be a person who always enacts love and refuses to harm.  Jesus claims that the power to escape one's own suffering and to be a person who loves is found in prayer to the Creator and accepting invisible gifts of energy to be applied to a life of love.  In the end, release from suffering is discovered in mysticism.

In summary, this is what Jesus said is "good news".  Do you agree?  How do you see the universe differently?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dear Pope Francis

Hello, this is Steve Kimes, a Mennonite pastor among the homeless in Portland Oregon.

I just want to let you know that I'm a fan.  I'm a fan of anyone representing Jesus by speaking to power about the needs of the poor.  And not only do you speak, but you act.  Visiting the homeless, establishing shelters... you're my kinda guy.  Great that you've got such a megaphone to speak the true word of God.

I'm sure you've noticed, though, that some people are representing you but don't have your same heart, or vision for the needy.  There are churches that I know where the congregation has to hide the homeless from their priests so the priests won't call the police to get the homeless out of their area.  There are bishops who block funds to help the poor to support building and other projects instead.  I know times are financially hard for the church.  But you know that the poor should always be priority, otherwise why should our doors be open?  We should not be dissuading the poor, but giving them respect and hope.   But you know all that.  And from your position, you can't solve all the issues of your church.  I get it.

But today I hear the news that for your visit in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, the city that was named after the persecuted and poor church in the book of Revelation, the mayor is planning on sweeping out the homeless who are sleeping on the site that you are speaking.  In your name, they are going to get rid of the poor from your presence, from the presence of Christ in the mass, because they are unworthy to be there.  They might allow "a few" of the homeless to remain, but be rid of the majority of those who, more than any, belong there.

I wouldn't say anything about this, but they are doing it for you, and this is opposed to everything you have said about the poor.  I am hoping that you won't stand for it.

I also want to point out one other item:  This photo of the mayor of Philly helping his security guard hold down a homeless man.  The homeless man just wanted to talk to the mayor, and to let him know how unfair it is for him to force the homeless out of their sleeping spots for your visit.  And for his boldness, he was abused, and the mayor helped.

This is a symbol of the homeless in America.

In every major city in the US, the homeless are abused, not by the states or by the federal government, but by the cities, by the mayor and the police.  The homeless have their tents and sleeping gear stolen from them on the orders of mayors.  They are forced to move from their location, and given no other place to be, for it is illegal to be homeless in almost every city in the U.S.  And in many cities, it is illegal for the homeless to sit, to lie down to sleep, to ask for money.  Because these women and families and men are poor, they are being abused and harmed.  This picture of the mayor is exactly what is happening to all the homeless of the United States.  We have a secret third world here in one of the wealthiest nations of the world, and for our troubles we are being abused by the local governments.

Dr. Susan Fiske, a highly respected sociologist, explains it this way:  The homeless is the social group that is most put into the category of "disgust."  She says that when the average American sees a homeless person, they see, not a human being, but "a pile of garbage."  And so the cities of the United States treat the homeless as garbage.  As something to be moved, not a human being to be cared for.

I want to ask you this: Please speak to the plight of the homeless.  A Red Cross worker called the homeless situation the constant state of emergency that isn't treated like an emergency.  But if you could take your megaphone and call our cities to justice.  To support us would mean a lot.  I don't expect an overnight turnaround, but if you could speak to the issue, we would all appreciate it, here in the foxholes.

In Philadelphia, could you have a special mass for the homeless?  Could you invite them into your presence, invite them into the presence of the body and blood of Christ?  Could you show the mayor and all the mayors how the homeless should be treated, with dignity and opportunity?

I write this with tears in my eyes because over the last twenty years I have seen the homeless beaten, attacked by dogs, tased multiple times, lit on fire, their corpses abused and left without burial for months, and arrested not only by the local governments but by the community and the church.  All for the "crime" of being poor.  Please, help us in our fight against oppression.

Thanks, Steve Kimes

Monday, July 13, 2015

Low-Hanging Fruit

"Racism is low-hanging fruit"-Henry Rollins.

The evil that occurred by the hand of Dylann Roof could have been avoided. A teacher that took interest in him, a set of friends who got him interested in games (even on the internet), a parent who filled his time with something positive... but instead he was isolated and left on the internet to find evil. A club that he felt he was welcomed in, because racism is welcoming to any young white man. And then he has a group to blame his isolation on.

Do we want to stop evil from taking over? Then we need to make sure our young people are connected with positive people, doing positive things. I'm not saying it comes easy, but ignoring them doesn't work.

Give or Teach or...

The proverb "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" is, like most proverbs, inadequate because it sets up a false dichotomy.

First, we need to remember that the "fish" is simply any person's need, whether it be food or a skill, or an occupation, or health.

The two options in helping someone in need aren't just giving or teaching. In both those options, someone knows how to live life and other doesn't. But we might also: 

Give people who already know how to fish the opportunity to. 

Fish with someone who is too afraid to fish because of past experiences.

Give someone a fishing hole, because they've been kicked out of all the other ones.

Give them an opportunity to help you give fish to the community as a partner.

If all you want to do is give or to teach, then you are assuming the person in need is less than a person than you.  Because somehow, you think they can only be fulfilled if you do are over them in some way. The best way to help a needy person is to come alongside them and support them to do better as an equal, not as a philanthropist or a mentor.  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jesus Goes to the Denominational Meeting

Jesus decided to visit the denominational conference.  Of course, the leaders invited him to speak, especially on the issue of inclusion of QUILTBAGs (LGBTQ) as members.  They knew he would straighten this whole mess out.

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like a business that needed a number of day laborers for some temporary work.  The day manager went out at 6am and noticed some workers getting up early, ready for work, dressed in appropriate clothes.  The manager hired them and they worked all day.  At 12pm the manager found that although those he hired were hard workers, he still needed more help.  So he wandered out to the corner and found more workers, who had arrived late.  He hired them as well.  At 4pm, he found that if he had another set of day laborers for the last hour, he could get the project finished.  So he rolled up to the corner and found some kids skateboarding, barefoot and without shirts.  He called out to them, "Do you want some money?  Just an hours' worth of work."  They agreed and they worked for the final hour, although the other workers were irritated that they weren't dressed property, weren't a part of the union, and thought they could just get paid for coming in so late, when the others had put in extra time.

"At the end of the day, the project finished, the day manager that he had run under budget.  So he paid all the workers the same amount-- a full day plus overtime-- no matter what time they arrived, no matter how hard they worked.

"The union workers were furious.  'If OSHA showed up, you'd be shut down!  How can you even hire such lazy bums who showed up so late?  And how can you put them on the same level as we?'

"The manager said, 'You have no right to complain if I am generous and welcomed them and honored them more than they were worth.  How do you know their worth, anyway?  I would recommend that you just shut your mouth and take the money.'

"The skateboarders were furious at the words of the union workers.  They complained to the manager, 'We wouldn't work for you if this is the kind of people you are hiring.  We didn't come here to be disrespected.  We won't come back.'

"The day manager then spoke to everyone, 'Look, I have called you all here to work together.  You don't have to agree with each other, you don't have to like each other's opinions.  All you have to do is work and you get the reward.  If you leave, you won't get paid-- it's as simple as that.  If you want to get paid, just keep your disrespectful opinions to yourself.  Because I have called all of you to do this work.  So work together.  And you will learn to respect and love each other. That's how the project will get done.' "

And Jesus walked off the stage.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Declaration

In the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another.  We hold these truths to be self evident: That every human being has been given a grace by God to live, to obtain their means of survival, to be free from unnecessary restraint and the ability to pursue love.  To secure these rights, government has been instituted among men, deriving their powers by the consent of those governed.  But when a government denies the life, freedom or ability to pursue love, then the government surrenders their right to govern.

The history of the present government of the United States of America is filled with crimes against their own founding documents and the grace of God to all people.
-They are imprisoning a large population of young black men for non-violent crimes.
-They are breaking the treaties made with other nations, not least the Native Americans of the land which the United States stole.
-They are mistreating and abusing their own poor citizens, denying their own ability to survive.
-They are punishing those who wish to love the homeless, the immigrant and the poor.
-They take away the homes of the vulnerable, forcing them to move away from the land they were raised in.
-They kill people of color throughout the world, both guilty and innocent without a fair trial, or even seeing the inside of a courtroom.

For these crimes and others, we the people have turned to the Supreme Judge and ask to be free from the oppression of this nation.

The God of love has therefore guided us to the Kingdom of God, ruled by the Christ Jesus.  If we would but immigrate to His kingdom, then we are promised the following government:
-To be completely forgiven of all punishments for the crimes of our former life under a government that caused us to act in prejudice and apathy;
-To be guided by a leader without guile or favoritism, but gives health and life and our basic needs to all;
-To be led by a law of love, and no other beside it;
-To give preference to the poor and oppressed, granting them favor;
-To live freely, as long as our freedom does not harm another.

We, therefore, deny our citizenship in any and all earthy nations, who have all pursued prejudice and oppression of the innocent, and pledge our allegiance to Christ Jesus and to the kingdom which he has established through his death and resurrection, in the hope of a world of peace and joy.