A Charge for the New Tasks & New Year at Hand

Yesterday I had the privilege of offering the benediction at the conclusion of the Council of the District of Columbia swearing in ceremony. I offered these words as a charge for the new tasks & new year at hand:

 

Mayor Bowser, Council Members, Commissioners, honored guests, & all of you here:

 

If you are able, I invite you to take the hand of the person next to you or touch their shoulder.

 

-May the human bond between us guide you as you make decisions that will impact DC residents & beyond.

-May the Inner Light guide you as you seek to better the world by bettering DC.

-May the Inner Light empower you to lead faithfully & make wise decisions based on justice, mercy, & love above personal convenience.

-May you promote an agenda of peacebuilding & cooperation, especially with people you don’t like.

-May you tend to your holistic wellness- mind, body, & spirit- as intently as you tend to your civic & professional responsibilities.

-May we the people, all people, come together in harmony to form a more perfect union.

-May God bless you & keep you. May God’s face shine upon you. May God be gracious to you & give you peace.

 

Shalom, Salaam, Peace to all.

 

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Unity & God’s Will

I cringe a little every time I hear someone say, “God’s will”. The will of God is about more deeply discerning call. What is God calling me or us to do? How does God desire life in the world to be?

 

“God’s will” is often said with shrugged shoulders as a way to avoid deeper reasoning. A child dies. I guess it was God’s will. A house burns down. I guess it was God’s will. A violence inciting rapist rises to arguably the most powerful office in the world through Democratic vote. I guess it was God’s will. God’s will is often invoked when there is a sense of lost control.

 

The current political climate is not God’s will.

 

The Bible tells us that God desires: all people to live in harmony (Romans 12:18), justice and humility (Micah 6:8), peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), nothing to separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39), to love one another (Mark 12:30-31), the Church to remove us and them attitudes (Galatians 3:28), and all people to follow the way of Truth and Life (John 14:6).

 

The current political climate is not the result of God’s will because fear-based dominance is not of God.

 

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

 

The current political climate is not the result of mysterious Divine workings. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are the fuel of this domestic terror machine.

 

In the past 8 years, Americans and the world have watched a Black man be elected as president while simultaneously being reminded of the daily micro aggressions and full-scale violent assault of more African-Americans than most can bear to count. We have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. While there were 60,467,601 cracks in the glass ceiling, it was not enough to overcome the blatant sexism that denied the most qualified and capable presidential candidate in American history the Office of President.

 

In the past 8 years, there have been significant strides and setbacks for the LGBTQ community. Most notably: marriage equality, non-discrimination executive order, adoption rights, and school bathroom inclusion. We have also seen states discriminate in the name of religion while others have fought for marriage equality in the name of religion. Hate crimes against transgender and gender nonconforming people are on the rise, disproportionately impacting trans women of color.

 

In the past 8 years there has been a harsh revival of global xenophobia, especially against Latinos, Muslims, and Arabs. “Outsiders” are scapegoated as smoke and mirror in order to avoid introspection and responding to the brewing internal divide. American rejection of immigrants is the inheritance of the iron rule of entitlement and false ownership since 1492.

 

What is a Christian to do in the midst of the stench pile of complexly layered violent mistrust?

 

  • Pray for enemies and those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
  • Accurately identify if you are being persecuted or if you are troubled by a shift in power as white straight evangelicals are decentralized
  • Ask yourself why you are troubled by someone who is a minority receiving similar opportunities and benefits as white straight evangelicals
  • Remember you are God’s favorite and you were made in Gods image (Genesis 1:27)
  • Remember the other is God’s favorite and made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)

 

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” –Anne Lamott

 

If all people are God’s favorite and made in the image of God, imago dei, then we are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Please for unity during this tumultuous political season ring hollow as many people making this request have actively rejected, undermined, and lamented the recent gains of minorities rights’ progress. “Unity” is passive aggressive code for “shut up”. If there was sincere desire for unity, then fruits of active inclusion and support for minority rights would already be seen. We are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Unity is not a concept and term to be wielded when convenient. Until white evangelicals see their rights as intertwined with the rights and sufferings of minorities, then there will be no unity.

 

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

 

“When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

 

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

 

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.” -Martin Niemöller

 

The question worth pondering is if God is in control, then who’s God is it?

 

Is your God in control through demands and requirements? Is your God a warrior who destroys your enemies? Is your God a guide who cultivates compassion and charity?

 

Who your God is determines what type of leader you will choose and how you view authority.

 

God help us.

 

May God’s will of harmony, justice, humility, peacemaking, inclusion, love, truth, and life, be our unifying guide and standard as we respond to our own and our neighbors’ pain.

 

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” –Galatians 5:22-23a

 

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Go For the Gold!

The 2016 Olympics are upon us. Opening ceremonies begin Friday evening. The usual nationalist fanfare and moving stories of determination are already circulating. Socio-political tensions are high in Brazil and questions about the environmental impact of hosting the Olympics linger.
 
This Olympics includes a refugee team of 10 dedicated athletes from nations in conflict including Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. As their life stories are shared, I am increasingly inspired by their resiliency. For example, Yusra Mardini began swimming at 3 years old in her home country of Syria. When she and her sister fled Syria in 2015, their small dinghy with 20 people on board began taking on water between Turkey and Lesbos. Mardini and a few others swam while pushing the dinghy to shore. Now, she is swimming in the Olympics.
 
I am also increasingly convicted to respond to the ongoing global refugee crisis, especially as a result of incessant warfare. How can we love our neighbors on micro-next-door levels and on macro-global levels?
 
I invite you to watch the Olympics and read the stories of as many Olympians as possible. Learn the experiences of real people around the world. When possible, watch the Olympics and discuss the athletes’ and their families’ stories with other people around you. Knowing each other’s stories is an important step toward recognizing the imago dei, Divine Image, in all people.
  
“‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone.” [Deuteronomy 1:16b-17a]

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On Baptism & Peace

Published through Associated Baptist Press: http://www.abpnews.com/blog/theology/on-baptism-and-peace-2014-05-07/#.U2wkqIFdUxE 

 

 

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Jordan River, Israel

State of the Union

There have been 2 viral or semi-viral articles posted by friends of mine this week that can be found here and here. Please read these articles before continuing with this blog. I’ll wait. [insert Jeopardy theme song here]

 

One reason for why both the Moore and Venker articles have taken off is shock. Those of us who exist in egalitarian, even feminist, worlds feel a social and political whiplash when we are reminded that a sizeable number of people have a different perspective. I am concerned about balancing charitable and indignant responses. Don’t forget- Jesus calls all people neighbors.

 

While these are different articles with different points and perspectives, both raise concerning questions about role and social understandings of women. Though I could write volumes in response, allow me to focus in & offer both broad and detailed responses:

 

Both the Moore and Venker articles point toward social brokenness. It is too easy to consider gender role issues as a battle of the sexes. In reality, gender issues are more about ideological differences than anything else.

 

Inequality and unhealthy competition exist because of a fallen world. The often quoted verse from Galatians 3:28 says, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul desires and describes perfect Christian unity in the passage. Temporary [on a cosmic timeline] distinctions unfortunately and often times lead to limitations for political kingdoms as mistrust and discrimination reign, but temporary distinctions such as social standing or gender do not determine one’s standing in God’s Kingdom. Passages There is radical, unimaginable, gracious, inclusion and equality for all in God’s Kingdom! This is Good News. I challenge Russell Moore to describe God’s Kingdom without a vision of equality and inclusion.

 

An article I was interviewed for was published in a local newspaper this week. The article was fine, but the finished product was a different angle and a different emphasis than I intended. My most charitable self wonders if a similar process happened with Moore, as the article is based on a “wide-ranging interview”. Overall, many quotes point to Moore’s “us” and “them” mindset [on gender, SBC, conservatives, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vs. the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty., etc.] that is ultimately antithetical to Christian community.

 

Moore and most other complementarians that I am familiar with depend heavily on natural theology. Natural theology was also relied upon for Nazism and for beautiful ways of connecting with Creator God through nature. Natural theology is a powerful tool to be used very carefully. Moore says, “God designed us in such a way where we learn about him through family relationships… We learn about the nature of reality in family relationships, and in terms of what it means to image God, by being faithful fathers and husbands and mothers and wives.” Moore inadvertently opens the door to understanding God in feminine terms. If God is understood in family relationships, then God could be understood as both feminine and masculine. Mothers and fathers, males and females, both “image God”.

 

This brings me to Venker article. From what I can tell, Suzanne Venker is a social commentator- not a theologian or a sociologist. Also, her article is not inherently religious, though many who read her article on Fox News are conservative Christians and conservatives of other faiths who will interpret her comments with a particular religious lens.

 

Even though she broadly quotes a Pew study, this article should not be interpreted as a serious sociological piece. She writes, “over the past several decades”. Translation- lacking detailed, particular, concrete study of changes between this year and that year. Venker also depends on loaded and emotional words and phrases such as “profound change”, “independent”, “most women”, and “research shows” without enough mention of statistically significant findings or operational definitions. Ambiguity benefits her argument.

 

I would also appreciate more discussion about why women began working outside of the home. Firstly, blue collar women have a long history of working outside the home out of necessity [I’m thinking of my grandmother], but many American middle class women joined the workforce during WWII. Blue collar or working class families and women probably think [and thought] of the “opportunity” to work outside the home as survival rather than liberation. Venker’s lack of mention of class differences in her discussion about women’s work in and outside the home signals ignorance of her own presumed financial privilege. Work outside of the home is not always a choice.

 

Feminists must be careful not to be misguided in their enthusiasm. Some women [and men!] enjoy working in the home and find fulfillment there. This should be supported. I recall reading an academic article on a study in a Women’s Studies course that concluded that women do not report higher life satisfaction working inside the home or outside of the home. Women report highest life satisfaction when they have a choice.

 

If anyone can secure Venker’s mailing address, I will cheerfully mail her a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which discusses growing dissatisfaction of many women who worked inside the home during the 1950s and 60s.

 

From a Christian perspective, yes, I agree with Venker that overemphasis on independence can be problematic, but this is also antithetical to Christian living. Leaning on one’s husband, partner, relatives, church, friends, is an entirely appropriate and acceptable approach to managing the many demands of life- whatever one’s main work happens to be.

 

Venker spends a bit of ink on women living “balanced lives”. Balance is incredibly subjective and cannot be prescribed with blanket statements. More important than balance are sustainability and stability. What in my life is sustainable? What in my life needs change in order to be sustainable?

 

Moore and Venker both point to broken society. Maybe working mothers “are more concerned with having a flexible work schedule”, “women prefer part-time work”, and “men see it as their duty to support their families” as a result of social conditioning rather than inherently created order. The current state of American society cannot simply be blamed on women or a few factors. A complex and intricate series of events and factors contribute to how contemporary American society functions, and the state of the union. Growing education and recognition of the complexities of gender, theology, sociology, and psychology would do Moore, Venker, and all social commentators [including me] a lot of good!

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” -2 Corinthians 13:11

 

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50 Years Later

50 years later

Dream unrealized

Unrealized equality

 

50 years later

Discrete discrimination

Sustained segregation

 

50 years later

Exiled reality

Internalized priority

 

50 years later

Impressive weapons

Disparate violence

 

50 years later

Bankrupt justice

Insufficient funds

 

50 years later

Wrongful convictions

Wrong-full executions

 

50 years later

Rich culture

Offering squandered

 

50 years later

God’s children

In? Out?

 

50 years later

Unrecognized love

Loved un-recognition

 

 

50 years later

Fear-full ignorance

Ignored fear

 

50 years later

Life, liberty?

Pursued happiness

 

50 years later

Unmet expectation

Unmet satisfaction

 

50 years later

Urgent now

Finite now

 

50 years later

Dark valley

Sunlit path

 

50 years later

Bright day

Still emerging

 

50 years later

Transforming injustice

Becoming oasis

 

50 years later

Joining hands

Work together

 

50 years later

Pray together

Hope together

 

 

50 years later

Struggle together

Freedom together

 

50 years later

Unfinished business

Pending dream

 

50 years later

Promised Land

En route

 

50 years later

Piecemeal peace

Rent quilt

 

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Biblical Manhood: Warrior Theology

Find part 1 of this series on “Biblical Woman/Man-hood” here.

This post is in response to Simeon Snow’s blog, Brave Warriors, found here:

 

Warrior imagery is often used by those who wish to affirm masculine strength. Unfortunately, there is more than 1 type of warrior, such as: 1) men who thoughtlessly & often times violently demolish everything in their path, conquering whoever & whatever gets in their way [think Huns in ancient China] or 2) men who rescue damsels in distress & thereby indirectly validate their masculinity by showing their strength vis á vis conquering the damsel’s situation [think Arthur & Lancelot]. An important difference between these 2 is collateral damage. Both conquer, but the first muscling through without restraint & the second restraining himself at times in order to be gentle or chivalrous with the damsel, but tough on the shared enemy[ies]. The first is more offensive while the second is more defensive.

 

God is described as a warrior in the Old Testament & God fills both of these types of warriors at different times as God destroys the Israelites’ enemies on some occasions [such as the Egyptians in Exodus 14] & other times rescues the Israelites [such as Gideon & the Midianites in Judges 6]. Sometimes these 2 actions of God are 1 & the same. The Biblical Manhood movement [a sometimes ugly brother of The Biblical Womanhood movement] uses a warrior metaphor to describe “Godly Masculinity”.

 

Simeon writes that there is an emphasis on “righteous confrontation, strength, and courage”. Interestingly, these qualities remind me of many honorable & respectable men, but also remind me of incredible women, too. Such as Esther and Rosa Parks, both women of faith. Simeon also points out a goal of the Biblical Manhood movement- to restore the church. I have heard firsthand some leaders in this movement attempt to blame the decline of Christianity around the globe because men are not “stepping up”. To say nothing of the guilt and/or shame tactic, this is unfair. However, there is truth to this- too many men sit on the sidelines & do not take their so-called faith personally & deeply enough.

 

The flaw- this lack of engagement is a human problem for men and women! The Great Commission [Matthew 28:19], Paul’s exhortation not to forsake the assembly [Hebrews 10:25] & pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17], & other commands in the Bible pushing believers to take their faith seriously are not gender specific. God expects everyone who is in The Church to participate in The Church as each is gifted. [1 Corinthians 7; 12] All hands, feet, eyes, & hearts on deck- male, female, or otherwise.

 

Unfortunately, in its attempts to ‘encourage’ [read- shame/guilt trip] men toward deepening their faith & sense of spiritual responsibility in relationships & daily living among a variety of people in the world, femininity is devalued & made shameful. Simeon writes that the Biblical Manhood movement’s desire to “counter the problem of men only maturing in ways that are feminine”. This implies there is only 1 type of feminine & that 1 narrow feminine definition is inadequate. Just as only femininity is unbalanced, so is only masculinity. Narrow definitions of masculinity, femininity, and gender do not benefit anyone. Rather, this leads to exclusion, confusion, & shame.

 

Simeon makes an excellent point that many times machismo snippets of men’s stories in the Bible are taken to validate a call to macho masculinity- such as David, Samson, or Benaiah- but overly considering external actions such as physical strength or warrior imagery without adequate conversation surrounding their spiritual and interior lives. While David is called a man after God’s own heart, he should not be a masculine ideal. David was adulterous [Bathsheba- 2 Samuel 11], needed a bold word of correction from Nathan [2 Samuel 12], dishonored his wife [Michal- 2 Samuel 6], & so on. David also wrote many Psalms & there is plenty of evidence to suggest he had an active relationship with God. Still, parts of David’s story in the Bible can be interpreted as a warning for what not to do.

 

I had to control myself from giving a slow clap standing ovation when I read Simeon’s comment on Pauline masculinity- “it would be putting words in Paul’s mouth to say that true Masculinity is Godliness”. I must add that if true masculinity is indeed Godliness, then true Godliness is masculine & that leaves women up a creek & inherently devalues femininity- a big no no against valuing God’s Creation! Genesis 1:27 says male & female God created them. However, masculine & feminine- society created them.

   

Overall, just as the Biblical Womanhood movement makes some good points & I trust has positive faith-affirming motives, so does the Biblical Manhood movement. However, both are crucially flawed. There is more than 1 “Biblical” definition of femininity and masculinity. Both the Biblical Manhood & Biblical Womanhood movements have an Anglo-Western perspective as evidenced by its narrow ‘definitions’ of femininity & masculinity that are as culturally relative as food & music. As Rachel Held Evans writes in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, “Biblical cannot be used as a cheap adjective” For more on her book, read my review here.

 

As a moderately progressive Christian, I continually remind myself that the enemy [if there must be enemies] is not faith-seeking Christians who believe differently than me. Rather, the enemy, in this case of gender issues, is anyone who does not uphold the dignity, value, & equal worth of every person- male, female, or otherwise. The enemy is anyone who makes cheap blows & insults that only reveal their ignorance & lack of motivation to education themselves. The enemy is anyone who is incapable of having a civilized conversation. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. While I may passionately disagree with Christians that have a more conservative or more strongly gendered perspective than me, I still call them my brothers and sisters, not an enemy, as we all desire to understand what it means to be who we are- carefully balancing gender, sexuality, & faith. A little grace goes a long way. Give & receive. 

 

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