Monday, August 31, 2015

Must We Suffer? Part 2

I don't believe in a government system based on selfishness, nor a system based on controlling authority. I don't believe in the will of the people nor in social contracts. 
I believe in a system of government that is founded on self sacrifice.

* * *
Jesus suffered for us, and calls us to suffer. That is how suffering ends. Suffering without a purpose is pointless. Suffering to give life is birth. 

Every mother suffers for the birth of her child. It would be deeply unfortunate if no one shared that suffering with her. Sure, there's no real reason for men to share that suffering with women...except to make our whole society more compassionate, more understanding of each other. The less we share in other's suffering, the poorer our world is. The more people involve themselves in other's suffering, the more that weight is shared and so the easier for all to bear.

Birth is a metaphor, but raising children is not. We must suffer to raise our children properly. Some of us must suffer for 18 years or more, if our child has a severe mental or physical illness, but we don't give up on them because we want to give them life. I know a woman (who is probably reading this) who is my hero because she has fibromyalgia and is raising her children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. She loves them with the deepest love through her pain every day.

My strongest memory of my children... Yes the births, but more so the three months of colic of my first child. Sleepless nights, constant high pitched screaming, my wife a zombie and dealing with postpartum depression and we didn't have enough money for food some days. That was the most growing experience of my life. I would have done anything to end those days at the time. Now I know it was what I needed to grow up. I could have let my wife deal with it. (Although that would have been evil) and there were days I wanted to leave the baby alone, it was so extreme. But it was essential to me, I chose it and I'm so glad I did.

Real pain real suffering is usually unexpected. If we choose to turn away from suffering, we are poorer for it.

* * *
For those who are suffering from being outcast, the only way they are going to be delivered-- whether it be slaves, or the homeless or people who are targeted for genocide-- only the greatest sacrifice will deliver them. Yes, thousands can give food and clothes, but that won't help their condition. It won't stop them from being a target. It requires others to sacrifice for them, to be a target with them. It may even require dying for them. And if that's the case, to give and not receive, to be yelled at and even arrested, to even be killed so that some others might obtain freedom or rest, it's worth it. It's necessary. The world cannot improve without some people giving their whole selves over for the sake of those in the greatest of need. It's always been that way.

* * *

We live in a world which causes the poor to be poorer and those who suffer to suffer more. We live in a world in which the outcast cannot be heard.

There are some who are called to give more than they have in order to make it right. They give their whole lives so that some might live. They do labor so that others have the chance to rest.

But there comes a time when there is nothing left to give, even for those whom God called. They cannot give with any love, they suffer pains no one else can see. God will then lead them into a time of rest, like Elijah, completely exhausted from his labors, crying to God to kill him... God gave him a brook and a slight breeze that spoke to him.

There is a time to exhaust oneself, and a time to rest.

When those who sacrifice rest, there is space for others to take up their own sacrifice. 

Must We Suffer? Part 1

Jesus sometimes sought to rest (and failed), and Jesus walked through the crowds untouched. Jesus said "It is not my time.". There is a time to turn away from suffering.
Jesus also said, "My time has come," and handed himself to God's will to suffer. Jesus handed himself over to abuse and torture, when the right word could free him.
When and how we suffer is a personal decision, between us and God. If anyone commands us or forces us to suffer, that is oppression. If any one commands us not to suffer, they are being a busybody.
Suffering should be a choice, a personal option.
* * *
The cross is easy to accept when you take out the part where Jesus says "Now you carry it" and replace it with the lie, "I carried it so you don't have to."
The cross is custom fit for every follower of Jesus. If anyone tells you that hardship isn't for you to bear, just tell them what Jesus did, "Get behind me, Satan."
* * *
Jesus sometimes chose to suffer and sometimes chose to rest. But when he made that choice, it wasn't simply about God's will or about what would be personally best. He made his choice based on love.
Jesus taught us that there are times love requires us to suffer. Requires us to put ourselves last so we can put others first. That we are to take up the cross so that others might live.
But if our suffering does no good to anyone else, if it causes others to suffer, if it makes us full of rage, then we should not choose suffering, or learn to bring better balance in our lives.
Our lives are to be about loving the people we know in greatest need, without being the cause of their pain. Love is always the answer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Big Happy Family

In our society, the place of the upper class is leadership. They are our parents. They don't have to choose leadership, but they are automatically granted it. Some, like politicians and some corporate leaders, work hard to be leaders. But others, like entertainment celebrities, inherited wealth, or sports stars are leaders whether they want to be or not.
In our society, the middle class are the masses. They are the peers, the siblings, those who hold the social position of equality, for whom laws and authority work.
In our society, the lower class are the dependents. They are the children, the pitiful ones, those for whom everything must be given. They are mocked for they never "grow up" and become adults.
But the fact is, the lower class must exist, for we must have people to pity, people to mock. We must have the "dysfunctional" member of the family to blame, or else we must blame the leadership for being inadequate for the job. We may talk about "ending homelessness" or a "war on poverty", but the leadership must create homelessness and poverty as quickly as they create "solutions." It is a social mandate.

* * *
We see certain people as being "one of us." These are people who hold to the same lifestyle as us, who perform the same rituals as us, hold the same general values as us and who generally have the same genetic type as us. We include these as our broader "family" and our brains give these people privileges that complete strangers don't.
We can flex this a bit, but not too far. We can accept some who are genetically different, if we try. We can take on a new lifestyle (but often, especially in stress, we will revert to something closer to what we grew up with).
This is why politicians will help the banks and corporations more than they will help the "everyday" person. This is why politicians look at those on welfare and the homeless with disgust-- because they want to help people who are a part of their "family." They will listen to the people who speak the same language they learned at the same colleges. This is why CEOs insist that they "need" millions of dollars to survive-- because that's the lifestyle they know best, and anything less stresses them too much.
As for the desperately poor, since "normal" people fly on planes and drive luxury cars and have no problems finding a place to live (even when they are bankrupt), they can't imagine being in a place where they would live on the street or really need welfare. They can't understand the poor, because only an extreme amount of laziness and lack of connection could someone in their place get on welfare or be homeless.
This is why the leaders of our society-- congresspersons, judges, bishops, mayors, and police commissioners-- need to live as a poor person. Because they are too secluded in their lives to accept the poor as citizens, as part of their community "family."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Welcome to My World

My food of which you know not is hitpoints.
Eat of my flesh, huddled masses around wifi.
Cannibalize my soul in two minutes or less.
Let the homeless freeze
the black man shot
the female raped
'Less you wrap up both problem and solution
In two minutes or less.
My imagination is horded by Lucas and Lee
I know nothing but entertained by the two Johns
Feed it all to me in two minutes or less.
Let the polar caps melt
The NSA steal porn
The drones bomb weddings
'Less you wrap up both problem and solution
In two minutes or less
Don't touch me, don't talk to me
Bitchat bytes is all I speak
Unless you can be reduced to someone else's code
I just don't wanna know
Snail-living just ain't the scene
I love humanity but hate the human.
I love humanity but hate the human.
I love humanity but hate the human.
I worship them all in two minutes or less.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

THE Question of the Church

I was struck by Ryan Robinson in his blog mentioning as to our response to LGTBQs (I prefer QUILTBAG, as you might know) as being the question for our generation.  That’s one of them.  We also have to still respond property to African Americans, undocumented immigrants and the homeless.   It’s okay, God will wait for us in all of these questions.

But it got me to thinking: is that really THE question?  Any one of these?  In my recent studies, I think that the question has been the same since the Sermon on the Plain:

“Be merciful as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, lest you be judged.
Do not condemn, lest you be condemned.
Forgive as you have been forgiven.”

There are two paths we have been set: one of mercy and forgiveness and one of condemnation and judgment.  Pretty simple.  One is a path of love, the path of spiritual fruit, the path of doing God’s will, the path of obeying the full law of God.  The other is the path of the flesh, the path of human law, the path of anger, the path of hypocrisy, the path of death.

So the only question Jesus ever has for us is:
Which path are you on?

A century ago, the question was whether we would accept our black brothers and sisters as our equal.  For the most part, we chose the wrong option.

A century ago, the question was whether we would accept the Pentecostal movement as our equal.  For the most part, we chose rejection.

A century ago, the question was whether we would accept persecution for refusing to fight in war.  Many did, and supported those who did.

Eighty years ago, the question was whether we would help the destitute in their time of dire need.  Some did, some didn’t.

Sixty years ago, the question was whether we would continue to welcome those who fought in war, in opposition to the wisdom of the elders.  For the most part, we choose rejection.

Fifty years ago, the question came again as to whether we should accept blacks as equals or continue to treat them as inferior.  Some chose love, others chose prejudice.

Forty years ago, the question was whether we would accept the young who embraced pacifism, but had questions about other doctrines.  For the most part, we did.
The question hasn’t changed, just the groups we focus on have.

Are we welcoming our LGBTQ friends, or rejecting them?  Do we forgive them or judge them?  There is no third option.
Are we merciful to the homeless, do we give to the poorest among you or do you reject Jesus as unworthy of your church?  There is no third option.

Are we loving and listening to our black and native brothers and sisters, accepting their sorrow as our own, or are we closing your ears and rejecting their pleas of deliverance from racism?  There is no third option.

Are we hospitable to our Arab and Hispanic immigrants, strangers to our land, or do we judge and reject them for being unworthy of the blessings we have received?  There is no third option.

Will we have generous hearts, or be tight-fisted?  Will we love ourselves more than our neighbors or the other way around?  There never was a different question.

Interesting Conversation

Yesterday, a policeman in his car drove onto the park behind our church, where we serve the homeless.  He spoke to a number of homeless people, and then spoke for 45 minutes to our co-pastor, Jeff.  The policeman was dissatisfied, so he asked to talk to "someone with greater authority," so he told him to go to the church and talk to me.  I was going to open in about ten minutes and was very busy, but it was polite to give him a bit of my time.  This was our conversation:
PD: You are letting people stay in the park.

Me: No, the park is public and they can stay there.

PD: You should tell them to move.

Me: I will absolutely tell them to move. As soon as there is a legal option for them to sleep somewhere else.

PD: They could go to Dignity Villiage (a local, legal tent city).

Me: DV has a year-long waiting list.

PD: Why are we getting so many complaints about them stealing, breaking into cars?

Me: I'm not sure. Do you know the neighborhood stats for stealing?

PD: I don't know them offhand, but I could get them...

Me: That's okay, I know them because I look at them every month. Our neighborhood with all the homeless people has pretty average theft. But two neighborhoods down, the theft rate is much higher. So the homeless aren't causing the thefts.

PD: Why do the citizens keep complaining about...

Me: (Interrupting) The homeless are citizens.

PD: Why are the hard-working...

Me: The homeless work hard to survive.

PD: Why do the residents...

Me: The homeless are residents.

PD: They don't have an address...

Me: Yes they do. Here. This church.  The homeless are also tax payers. The homeless are our neighbors.

PD: You can play with semantics...

Me: I'm not playing withe semantics. You are trying to separate the homeless from the rest of the community and I'm telling you that there is no difference from the homeless and the rest of our community. The homeless are people.

PD: Then why do I get so many complaints? What about the trash?

Me: Our homeless make the trash and they also clean up the trash. The reason you get so many complaints is because the neighbors in houses don't like them camping in their neighborhood. But until they have a legal place to sleep this won't stop. This isn't our ministry's problem, it is ALL of our problem, the whole community. A group of us are getting together in Gresham trying to do something about it. We would love to have you or a representative of the police department meet with us to try to come up with solutions so we could get places for people to sleep in our community. Would you like to come?

PD: We are very busy doing our jobs....

Me: (Yeah, like spending an hour berating us for helping the homeless) I know what you mean. I spend 60 hours a week doing mine.  Well, we need to open.  I'd love to talk to you more if you set an appointment.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jesus the Master Ninja and the Secret of the Universe

When the Son of Man comes, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne and divide the gentiles before him, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He shall say to those on his right, “Blessed are you, chosen of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you!  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.  I was sick and you came to me.  I was in prison and you visited me.  Enter into my rest.”  And they shall reply, “Lord, when were you hungry and thirsty and we gave something to you?  When were you naked and we clothed you?  When were you a stranger and we welcomed you?  When were you sick or in prison and we visited you?”  The King will say, “In as much as you did it to one of these, my brothers, so you did it to me.”

This is a pretty familiar passage.  And we are pretty sure we know what to do with it—give food and clothes and shelter and healing to people.  To visit people in prison.  The church has been doing these things for centuries, millennia, so we don’t need to learn these lessons, right?

Well, if that’s all we get out if the passage, we still have something to learn.  We need to learn that Jesus is a ninja master.

1.       Jesus is among us, now.
No, don’t bother looking around the auditorium.  You wouldn’t recognize him.  But he is here, possibly right next to us.  Not just in spirit, either.  He is a person whom you recognize, a person you have met.  It’s just that he doesn’t have the classic Jesus look.  He might be an old man, a little girl, a smelly street person, a beautiful woman, a black pastor, a Hispanic immigrant, a single mom.  All we know is that Jesus is in need.  That’s the only clue we have.   And he is looking at our response to him.

2.       Jesus is in disguise
Jesus is not going to be who we think.  We may look at him and think he’s a drug addict, a lazy bum, a person who takes advantage of the system.  We may think he is a false teacher, a liar, an alcoholic, a party animal, a sexual deviant—because that’s what some people thought he was the first time he came, so that’s still what some people think.  Some will listen to the rumors and think he is a thief, a secret wealthy person, a con man, or the face of Satan himself.  All these rumors and speculations are part of his disguise to make you think that you need to keep your distance from him.  The fact is, he is helpless.  He makes himself helpless.  For your sake.

3.       Jesus is the master trainer
Jesus lives in disguise among us in order to train us to be people of mercy.  The weapons of our battle is free food, clothing and water.  Free rooms to host those who can’t pay.  Our time given to those in the most desperate circumstances.   And these weapons must be given to the most unlikely people—desperate drug dealers, prostituting paupers,  illegal immigrants,  travelling preachers with no shoes and a bad speaking voice,  woodsmen.   People who can’t budget, whose money runs through their fingers like water, who couldn’t make ends meet even if they had twenty feet to spare, people whom even Oprah would have a hard time liking.  Why are we helping these people?  Because they might be Jesus.  Just maybe.  Probably not, but you never know.   Because Jesus has shown up in more surprising places than these, and we can’t be too careful.  In this way, because of his disguise and his demand to help him in whatever disguise he’s in, we learn to live generously to whomever comes in need.  We learn to be merciful to the undeserving, to be less judgmental, to be open-hearted people.

4.       Jesus is a master plotter.
The odd thing, is that Jesus isn’t doing all this for the sake of the needy, although that doesn’t hurt.  He isn’t training us for our own sake, even, although he loves us and wants to see us be the best we can be.  In the end, Jesus is doing this for his kingdom.  The stunning point of Jesus’ mission is not that he is creating a whole nation of open hearted, generous people.   He separates people based on their ability to be generous to those unlikely to deserve it.  Open your mind, for a bit, and consider the imagination of Jesus. 
He has in mind a huge nation full only of the most giving, merciful, compassionate and thoughtful people.  A whole nation full of people ready to give their own plate of food at the first sign of a person in hunger.  A kingdom where every individual is open to give a space in their house, if they have it.  Can you imagine what a population like that would be? 
  • A nation without hunger, because everyone is ready to help the hungry, without selfishness. 
  • A nation without nakedness, because everyone is willing to give or to make what other’s need. 
  • A nation without homelessness because every home is open and the owners welcoming to anyone in need. 
  • A nation without sickness, because all are willing to set their own time and knowledge and power to those who are sick. 
  • A nation without prisons, because the selfish are banished and the needy have all their needs met—even people to spend time with them.

5.       It is easy to mistake Jesus’ purpose
Jesus’ ultimate purpose is to establish a kingdom of generosity and mercy and love.  We can so easily lose the game, because we never understood the ultimate goal of the game.

Suppose that Monopoly had a special rule, that anyone who went broke during the game would instantly receive all the money from the current winner.  Those who played Monopoly normally would end up losing the game, because they would think the purpose was to get more money, when really they’d progress better if they had less money.

That’s how most people play Christianity—a game only roughly based on Jesus, but with a different purpose in mind.  Some people play the game Christianity as if those who believe the right things win.  Some people play the game as if those who go to the right church win.  Some people play as if they can obey the right laws, then they win.  Some actually play as if they could be successful in this life, they will win the game.  Others as if they have enough faith, they will win.

But Jesus… and the rest of the Bible, interestingly enough… say that God judges only on deeds, not on religious ritual or even faith. And the kind of deeds he judges on aren’t this or that law, but actions of mercy and generosity, especially to those in need.  The final rule of the game of Jesus is those who display the quality of mercy, compassion and generosity to the needy are those who win.  No one else does.

  • So anyone who is generous only to those who are not in need, they didn't give to Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who judge those in need, for whatever reason, they judged Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who ignore the needy because they have better things to do, they ignored Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who spend days studying the scriptures, teaching them, but fails to help the poor, they failed Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who praise God day in and day out, but can’t find time for the needy, they didn't have time for Jesus so they lose.
  • Those who give everything to a church who somehow fails to give to the poor, they failed to give to Jesus, so they lose.
  • Those who have suffered all their lives and kept everything they had to themselves so they could survive, they kept everything from Jesus so they lose.
  • Those who used their smarts and energy to build up a kingdom for themselves and those who were smart and strong enough to work with him, and never needed anything—they lose.
The only ones who win are the generous.
No matter what religion, if they used their religion to learn to be more giving to those in need, they win.
No matter what theology, if they use their theology to be more generous to the poor, they win.
No matter whether rich or poor, if they surrendered all they had to those who had less than they, they win.

Be a winner.  Use what you have been given to help those in need.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Discovering the Delicate Deception of Mammon

Jesus commands all his disciples to sell their possessions and give to the poor. He said we cannot serve our master, God and the god, Mammon. Certainly there are more 'gods' than just Mammon. But Mammon is the chosen god of America, and we find it hard to see our way outside of it. It is more often than not that we are deceived as to the level our love of wealth has corrupted us. We feel wrong in our heart unless we serve Mammon, even though the Scriptures teach us to do otherwise. This is why it is good to have some standards by which to compare ourselves to and to really do some heart-searching before God. Because the love of wealth destroys us. Every day. And we don’t even see it. We don’t know how much we serve Mammon, because we always have, as our parents and grandparents did before us. Mammon-worship is so common to the American way of life, that we don’t even know we are doing it.

If we have two coats (or the means to buy another), see a person with none and do not give it, then our god is probably Mammon.

If a poor person comes to the door and we do not even offer some food to them, then our god is probably Mammon.

If we use the local non-profit as a place to dump our garbage, then we are our god is probably Mammon.

If we have an extra room, but do not have a homeless person living with us, then our god is probably Mammon.

If we walk by poor beggars daily and make excuses for not giving to them, then our god is certainly Mammon.

If we celebrate with our family, have our Christmas and Thanksgiving parties with those whom we love, but we do not invite the poor or helpless, then we are disobeying the word of Jesus and serving the god of Mammon. If we have no relationship with the poor, but only see them from a distance, afraid and disgusted by their state, so we are separated from Christ, and so we are servants of Mammon.

If the profit of our business is more important than the survival of the poor, hungry, homeless, and outcast, then our god is Mammon. If the policy of your company is to turn away people looking for water, to evict the poor when their rent is a week overdue, to pour bleach on food when it is being thrown away, to refuse to allow someone to use the bathroom because they can’t afford to pay for your wares, then you are serving Mammon.

If there are hungry on our streets that have never known our kindness or the move of the love of Jesus from us to them, then our god is probably Mammon. If the only food we give are old cans of green beans or beets, or food that we are allergic to, then our god is probably Mammon.

If the annual amount we spend on clothes or our car exceeds that which we spend on the poor, then we probably serve Mammon.

If our tithe goes to a church that spends large amounts on Christmas pageants and a large, gorgeous building, but has a “benevolence ministry” that is only open once a month, with a pittance for the poor, then we are serving Mammon. If our church is left empty in the winter when there are poor people sleeping in the freezing cold, then we are serving Mammon. If our church’s retreat or youth budget is larger than our benevolence budget, then we are serving Mammon.

If we support with our vote or our finances or our volunteer time the politics of Mammon, which takes from the poor and uses their power to kill the poor of both the nation in which we live and nations far away, we are certainly serving Mammon. If our candidate demonizes the poor, calling them “lazy” or “a burden on society”, then we are a servant of Mammon. If our candidate demands that the wealth of our country not go to the poorest of the world, whether in our country of origin or outside, but to be fed to the god of the Military, or the god of Government Bureaucracy, then we are serving Mammon.

And if we, the Christian poor, are ungrateful to those who sacrifice to give us what they can, but we demand more than they can give, more than our fellow poor people receive, then we too are looking to greed rather than the God who gives us abundantly more than we need, we too are serving Mammon.

The only answer to any of us is the word of Jesus—let us take what little or much wealth we have and give it freely to those who have greater need than we. Let us be people who are characterized by generosity, not bitterness, nor stinginess. May we not seek for our own first and the needy second. Rather, let us truly do as Jesus said, and love our needy neighbor as ourselves, no less than we love ourselves.