Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mark 10:46-52

I preached at my home congregation this Sunday. The congregation has been incredibly supportive of my seminary journey so far, for which I am immensely grateful. This experience of community is most welcome for a single mother who works full time and attends school.

So, welcoming. The crowd has always been warm and welcoming to me. It was an interesting contrast to the Gospel reading in the morning's lectionary text. In Mark 10:46-52, the crowd is less than accepting of Bartimaeus as he is trying to get Jesus' attention. In essence, they tell him to shut up! A blind man is begging by the side of the road, asks Jesus for mercy, and the crowd tries to silence him.

That Jesus, though - he's a tricky one. He could have walked up to the man. Jesus could have called Bartimaeus to himself. He defies our expectations, though. He makes the crowd do it! The crowd, despite their lack of understanding, their willingness to exclude, has the opportunity to do the gospel. Jesus compels them to invite Bartimaeus to travel in their midst. How's that for grace? And mercy? And justice?

Thanks be to God for those communities which invite us in. May we have the ears to hear, and the vision to see those who are by the side of the road. May God grant us the grace we need to invite them to join us for the journey.

In my community, Bartimaeus, and his sisters and brothers on the margins spend days in the library, and nights by the river that cuts through the middle of our city. I cross that river on my way to church, and on my journey between home and office. Where does your path cross with Bartimaeus'?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fear Itself...

No time to blog extensively right now...working on a sermon for tomorrow. However, there's this great editorial cartoon from Toles that plays off the campaign ad theme...given the impending holiday and all, it made me laugh. Toles is usually on target and is quick to skewer whoever needs skewering, whatever their political persuasion. So, comment, folks, on the politics of fear... I'll try to post some more links later.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

blatant racist propaganda

It seems as issues of racial justice have been garnering more and more of my attention as of late. Usually, my thoughts swirl more around the immigration debate, but I've been pushed by current events into looking at another angle. I would point you to the following links if you are of a mind to join me...

A blatantly racist television ad has been airing in the Tennessee senatorial race. Most have used the term racist, race-baiting and tacky to describe it. But make your own judgment after viewing it. It has been pulled in most markets, in favor of a different ad (this one using what's been characterized as "jungle drums"...not exactly an improvement), but no apology has been forthcoming. Current party leadership didn't see any problem with it. This issue, and the race as a whole, is being actively blogged on DailyKos. And half a million dollars has been sunk into the ad to date. Good heavens, it even ticked off the Canadians!
  • After the building meme on Googlebombing the election, I decided to check something out. Interestingly enough, when you google republican racist, the highest news articles date from 2002-2003. Go to the news page? This senatorial race shoots to the top of the list. I would suspect those results will change very quickly. (I hope. TN is not the only state in which the "good old" Southern strategy has been an issue. Don't even get me started on George Allen.) Also interestingly, an article on googlebombing was briefly linked from MSNBC's home page tonight, but when I went back, the link had disappeared.

In a southern Wisconsin community last weekend, there was a funeral for the "N word". Right around the same time I heard it used elsewhere, unapologetically. I don't think I had heard anyone use that word openly since I lived in rural Louisiana. I'm still too stunned by the incident to reflect. So I offer it to you for your prayers and consideration. Was the funeral premature?

In the face of these news items, I have to believe we can all do something. Simplistic, certainly. Idealistic, without a doubt. Maybe it's drinking new wine. Maybe it's the nudge of the Spirit to examine my own complicity. But, I offer you 10 simple ideas to eliminate racism. And, The Birmingham Pledge. I shared the pledge with the 60 staff members and 15 board members of the nonprofit agency that employs me, and I challenged them all to explore it before signing. I hope you'll consider it, too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

moderated comments

Dear Reader: I have set up this blog with moderated comments in order to keep comments focused on related topics. There may be a slight delay between your comment and its appearance on this site.

  • Please be aware that comments unrelated to the topic may not be approved.
  • Ditto with flaming or abusive/bullying behavior towards others.

Please think before you post, so we can discuss difficult topics and varying viewpoints openly but fairly. Thank you!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

torture near and far

My public theology class discussed the topic of torture this week. We'll be returning to it several times this fall. The discussion ventured into many areas, but a recurring point was the lasting effects of torture - upon the tortured, and upon the torturer. Does one who is tortured stay tortured? How does torture change the torturer? Where is the place of grace in all of this?

Some things others have said on the topic. Catching up from a hotel room (attending a conference on human trafficking this weekend), I ran across the following links which seemed particularly relevant:

Chilean President Bachelet visits site of her own torture. In her comments, she reads as a witness to survival. How does President Bachelet's story speak to you? What other witnesses to survival would you lift up?

Russian journalist's unfinished torture article published (posthumously). Speaking of witnesses...Anna Politkovskaya’s work on exposing kidnapping and torture in Chechnya likely got her killed. More background here. Among her many awards was the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. I've been looking for a link to Ms. Politkovskaya's article itself, but have been unsuccessful. If anyone finds it, please pass it along.

Once Upon A Time In Guantanamo. A searing meditation on what is being done in our name. This piece has a power that reaches between the lines of the news stories and grabs you by the throat. We are systematically stripping away so much...from those held in these places, from those who are the immediate agents of pain, from ourselves...

Closing thoughts. In a post-class comment, a classmate brought up the idea of grace. Grace and torture - they seem like strange bedfellows. But it is grace that allows us to see Anna Politkovskaya and the disappeared as our neighbor. It is certainly grace that helps us entertain the thought of torturers as persons who are themselves in torment, who are neighbors in need of our love. In 'Letters and Papers from Prison', Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

There remains an experience of incomparable value . . . to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled ---- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer . . . to look with new eyes on matters great and small.

...What will happen when this sorry period in our history comes to a close? Will these torturers be reviled and outcast? Pariahs? Do they - will they - suffer? Can we look with new eyes, and see both the tortured and the torturer as our neighbor? And how can we hold them both in our prayers?

In separateness lies the world's great misery; in compassion lies the world's true strength.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

breaking bread together

Oh, why is it we invest so much energy in holding each other at arm's length? How much of it is on purpose, and how much by accident?

We are in the midst of a major loss in social capital. I am no economist, nor am I a sociologist - but I would assert from my limited understandings that in this framework, we are in the midst of a kind of recession. In my own community, I see declining involvement in service clubs. A decrease in volunteerism overall. Certainly, this is not news. Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone is more than 5 years old now, but still provides a useful overview of the phenomenon. For a more searing view on the issue, watch the movie Crash. The first lines of the movie say it all:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

I may not be in L.A., but I can identify with that sentiment. We over-rely on the idea of self-reliance. Now, I'm divorced, and my ex and I share placement of our daughter 50/50. I also work full time as an executive director, in addition to being a part time commuting graduate student. My life moves fast, and I'm seldom in one geographic space for very long. I'm certainly guilty of a "go it alone" mentality, as much as I believe otherwise.

I work in a nonprofit agency that helps survivors of domestic violence move towards healing. For years, we have used the watchwords of "independence" and "self-sufficiency." Certainly, these are important for someone whose days and nights have been focused around decoding the whims of another. In the face of fragmented relationships that are the result of domestic violence, perhaps we should also consider how healthy networks of interdependence can be just as important. Check out this post on StreetProphets that picks up a theological conversation about relational power and dominion theology.

(By the way, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Wear a purple ribbon. Do you know how to contact your local domestic violence agency? What about its 24-hour crisis line? Do you know any of the signs of domestic violence? It's worth thinking about.)

This insidious trend of separation sneaks up everywhere. It even came up in one of my classes recently. In the course of his presentation, a classmate asked his audience to reflect upon the most recent table around which they shared a meal. More detail: a meal that involved people not in their immediate family. I had to search my mind for a while to remember when that shared meal might have been. So when the time for comment came up, that was my first thought. In the course of trying to connect with his audience, my fellow student may have distanced a significant percentage of people who couldn't identify with the phenomenon of a shared meal. Prove me wrong! Comment, and tell me about your most recent shared meal.

I look at the ways our political discourse and civic life cooperate to separate us from each other, and realize that this is truly not a course that we should pursue. I believe that the life of faith requires that we build community rather than focus on categories and divisions. A first step? Sitting at table together, and sharing your stories. Whom will you invite to dinner?

PS, on a related note: Kudos to one of my CTS classmates on this recent post addressing compassion and "wedge issues". It's not about the issues, it's about the people! If you're interested in thoughtful progressive takes on politics and economics, visit Fragmentary Theology often. It's well worth the read.