Tuesday, November 06, 2018

This is Hard

This political situation is the hardest one I’ve experienced in my adult life.

There has been a lot of talk about reaching across barriers and the need to break down the divisions that are so damaging in the US right now... I saw a meme the other day that said something to the effect of “I can still talk with you after the election even if you didn’t vote as I did.  That’s what being an adult means.”

Here’s the thing... I’m not sure about that.  It feels to me that the election happening today is not just about opinions or two competing ideas regarding how to work for the common good.  It really does look to me that the actions of the current administration are evil.  I really see no reason to even suspect that they (he) have the common good in mind.  And the GOP is complicit in that.

  • They have abandoned traditional conservative values. I’m not a conservative but I appreciate the place that viewpoint needs to have in our national discourse.  
  • They have allowed Trump to tear down democratic institutions.
  • They have been willing to sacrifice anything and everything for power.
  • Like Trump they have been willing to abandon truth without the slightest hint of discomfort.

If somebody votes for that party, it seems that they are either choosing to close their eyes to the evil or supportive of it.  I don’t see any other option. I really don’t know how to reach out under those circumstances.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Making America Great Again: Fairy Tale? Horror Story? Dream Come True? - a book review

Let me begin this book review with a disclaimer.  David Moore is a friend of mine.  That does not disqualify me from reviewing his book.  All I can say is that if I had not found the book meaningful and helpful, I would have remained silent.  My simple review is that I find the book very, very important.

My second disclaimer is a personal one.  I am a white, older, well-educated, middle class, male.  My life is marked by privilege about which I am aware only when I choose to be.  I grew up in the inner city, have leaned far to the left both culturally and politically almost all of my life.  I am a Christian.  Indeed,  For part of my life I identified with the broader evangelical movement but I do not now and have not for about 30 years.  I consider myself pretty woke... but as soon as I say that, I remind myself that I am a white, older, well educated, middle class male... and that brings with it a certain set of blinders. 

I’ve read the book three times in the course of preparing to write this review.  The first time I approached the book as David's friend.  I found the book a wonderful and intimate sharing.  I learned things about my friend that I suspect he would never have shared under other circumstances.  This was all enhanced by the fact that my first go through was listening to the audio book, read by David himself. The second time, I tried to come at the book more objectively and read a physical copy of the book.  I found a powerful and personal look through a lens that is not the one I have.  It felt a bit more hard hitting than the first read. I think this experience was enhanced by the gravity of a hard back book in my hands... The third time was just to make sure I hadn’t missed something important.  I allowed my earlier perspectives to meld a bit and went back and forth between the audio and the physical copies.

My biggest take-away of this book is the reminder that my experience of the church is not normative for all people...  that my black friends, no matter how easily they seem to move in the same circles as I, always do so with an asterisk beside their name... and a sense of tension that “one of these things is not like the other.”  I have always been aware of the degree to which race colors every experience in our culture including the church, but have not thought as critically as I have needed to about the exact meaning of that awareness in this particular instance.  This book encourages me to do so.  In response I have found myself talking with other black friends about the ways that race has impacted their experience of church.  Had that been the only result of reading this book, it would have been well worth my time.

David’s story is personal.  I suspect that it is also fairly universal for my black friends who move in the broader, white, church.  It does resonate with the experiences of my friends with whom I talked after reading.  The book is courageous and generous.  It is prophetic  and heartbreaking.  David gives a gift to those of us who claim to follow Jesus by sharing his story and calling us to a deeper and more authentic walk of faith and to a community of awareness and caring.

If you know black folk who are part of the Church, this book will help you understand the tensions they likely feel.   If you wonder how and why black evangelicals differ so vehemently from white evangelicals in the cultural debates of the time, this book will open the door a bit for you.  If you assume that Church is one place where racism does not impact our way of living, this book tears away the bandages that hide the wounds.  If you want to hear one honest man share his story and find your life both enriched and challenged by that life, read this book.  If you're white, read this book.  If you are a person of color, read this book.  In every case, allow it to be an inspiration to share your experience of race in the Church and in the broader culture and a doorway to deeper understanding.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Shaming as a political tactic

We’ve all heard that three Trump administration officials have been either shamed into leaving restaurants or refused service over the past few days.

First a couple of observations...

They are not being singled out because of their political views.  They are being singled out because of the reprehensible actions of the administration of which they are integral parts.  That is a huge difference.

Their cases are being compared to the cases of a bakery and a florist denying service to gay couples by booth sides of the political spectrum, calling out hypocrisy on the other side because of their stands on the florist and bakery cases.  The issues are not the same.  Political views do not render one a protected class (remember it really isn’t about political views anyway) and businesses do have the right to deny service to patrons for any reason as long as it is not because they are part of a protected class.  Second, The LGBTQ folk denied service are being denied because of who they are while the Trump officials are denied because of something they have done.  Some on the right might argue that in both cases it has to do with the actions of the individuals involved and moral judgements, based on religious understandings are what is at stake.  OK... if we give that, there is still a huge difference.  The actions of the LGBTQ couples are private and have zero impact on the public sphere.  Indeed, we have no idea whether any “actions” are taking place at all.  There is no way to know whether or not the couple is sexually active or not.  Finally making a cake for a couple or a floral arrangement has no real implication that the vendor is participating in actions that may or may not be happening. The actions of the Trump administration officials are very public.  They have public consequences that impact all of us. And, as public employees, their actions are being done in the names of the public - you and me.

So... it is legal.  It is morally understandable.  It is politically understandable.

All that said, I do not know how I feel about these actions and Maxine Waters’ call to continue and increase the public shaming of Trump administration officials.  Clearly, I think they should be ashamed.  The actions of this administration are reprehensible.  They are immoral.  They are unamerican (and not only the immigration issues - they are literally working to destroy almost all of the institutions upon which this nation is built).  Clearly I think they should be called out for their public actions... certainly at the voting booth and in the halls of political decision making but perhaps also publicly.  Do they deserve to have that shaming and calling out intrude into their private lives?  I don’t know.  And how far down the food chain do we go?  I saw a report that some lower level administration employees are even having difficulty getting dates when the potential partner finds out they work for the Trump administration.

The more I wrestle with these questions, the more depressed I become... that we have fallen that far and that we literally have given power to a political party that is actively working to destroy our democracy.  Yes, I do believe that.  I also find myself more and more feeling that the folk who are participating in that strategy deserve to be called out at every opportunity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sermons as Story Telling

Stories work.  They have a way of getting past our intellectual defenses and impacting us on a gut level.  That is why a good sermon almost always has a great story or three.  For years I’ve occasionally preached sermons that are one single story, told from the viewpoint from a character, often in the Biblical narrative.  I like to preach that style.  There was a period when I did it a lot.  The joke at my then congregation was, “Who is Roy going to be today?”

For a number of reasons I have done it less often at my current congregation and hadn’t preached a sermon in that style at all since we began videoing the sermons and putting them up on YouTube over a year ago.  Well, I preached a 1st person sermon this past Sunday - Looking for Jesus.  Here it is.  Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I’m Angry...

Yesterday the US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem.  That is another post.  What I’m really angry about today is that two “Christian” clergy were invited to pray at the dedication - Robert Jeffress and John Hagee.  Not only are they fundamentalists but they represent a certain strain of fundamentalism that is actively hopping for and hoping to help institigate Armageddon.  They believe that a war which will basically destroy the world is slated to begin in Israel and they want to see it happen.  Of course, it also means that any Jews who do not convert to their brand of Christianity will go directly to Hell and not pass go along with everyone else who does not fit their definition of Christian.

Let me say this as clearly as I can.  They want war to begin in Israel and they believe this step will help that to begin.  They believe it is God’s plan for the horrors of war to come to that land and that people and they are excited to be part of making it happen.  They have no political reason for wanting the embassy moved.  They have no vision for how to get to peace, indeed, they do not want peace.  Their desire is for a religious war.  It is that simple.  They are no better and no different than ISIS except they wear suits and ties and wield the power of the US state rather than small arms and suicide bombs.

Now, I don’t think Trump believes their twisted and radically unchristian theology.  I doubt he even understands it.  I don’t believe he even sees how playing into their hands may indeed be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  I think he is just continuing his “I want to undo anything Obama did regardless of the cost” and a big part of that is playing to this sick, twisted, heretical sect who claim to be following the Bible.  It is the worst blending of religion and state that I can think of in the history of this nation and we, along with millions around the world, will pay for it.  Israel will pay dearly as it will help to bring war to their doorsteps and will help continue their path to a nation that either will no longer be a Jewish state or it will not be democratic because as Ehud Barack has said, this path leads to a place where Israel cannot be both.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


I've been thinking about the train wreck this current administration is...

in no particular order and by no means a complete list...

  • They've been installing judges who will impact the courts in horrific ways perhaps for decades.
  • They are destroying environmental protections that, in spite of not being perfect, have made a significant impact on the state of our air, water, and wildlife.
  • They have changed the tone of our public discourse and emboldened hate groups.
  • They are shredding safety nets upon which scores of people depend.
  • They have turned our federal government into a kleptocracy.
  • They have damaged, perhaps beyond repair, the reputation of people who claim to follow Jesus.
  • They have made the United States the laughingstock of the world.
  • They have destroyed our reputation as a dependable partner.
  • They have worked against every positive institution in our society including law enforcement, education, religion, healthcare, etc.
  • Today, they decided to tear up the Iran agreement which could lead to yet another war, causing millions of needless deaths and untold suffering... and the only reason seems to be spite.  

Now, anybody who has read anything I wrote knows that I place at least some of the blame for this at the feet of third party candidates and the folk who voted for them, especially those who said that HRC was a terrible choice and so voted for someone with zero chance of winning or who stayed home and didn't vote at all, helping this current administration to win in states that were assumed to be "safe."  I'm not going there today... except to say...

Votes count.  Decisions have consequences.  We can make a difference going forward.  We must make a difference going forward.  This administration is bent on destroying our nation, selling whatever they can, and running off with the profits, whatever the cost to the world. As we come up to the mid-term elections, THINK.  Think about the possible consequences of not throwing every single one of these Republicans out of office.  If you live in a place where they seem safe. VOTE AGAINST THEM ANYWAY.  Who knows, maybe enough folk will vote to get them out of office.  At the very least, they'll hear that somebody is watching.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sermons - Here's to Preaching at You

this is a thumbnail from one of my sermons
on Youtube... not flattering is it? but maybe fun?
I read recently that people still place preaching at the top of their criteria for choosing a church.   I'm not sure that I believe that... At least I'm not sure that people actually want to listen to preaching that challenges them or really calls them to live their faith in their daily lives.  I'm just not sure.  Of course, even if I'm correct, that doesn't mean it isn't at the top of the list of criteria... just that different folk may be looking for very something different from me in a sermon.

I've heard some bad sermons... and some really bad ones.  Some were just poorly constructed.  More reflected bad theology.  More than once, I've looked around a congregation at smiling faces and nodding heads and thought to myself, "they don't really believe that."  I've heard some good ones too... sermons that touched my heart and called me to deeper faith and better personhood.  I've heard a few that I remember years later.  I still carry with me a sermon that I heard Jim Forbes preach at an American Baptist Churches of New York State meeting over 20 years ago and remember bits of other ones I heard him preach at various settings. (He is one of my favorite preachers).

I take my preaching seriously.  I think I do it fairly well.  I had a good prof in seminary who provided a model that I think works well at taking the scripture and the human condition and bringing them together...  I try to do that each Sunday.  I try to construct a sermon that takes the scriptures seriously in their context but also takes seriously our context and our experiences.  I spend a good deal of time and energy trying to write sermons that are both faithful to the text and relevant to the lives of the hearers... and I try to be honest.  I'm not sure any of that matters.  But I stick with it. At the very least I need to be faithful to the folk who choose each Sunday to sit at Cambridge Drive Community Church and spend a little more than an hour there and do my best for them.

In January 2017 we began to put my sermons preached at Cambridge Drive Community Church up on YouTube and the church has a channel where you can watch them.  We've struggled at time getting the technology where it should be, but they are there.  Somebody has taken a look.  A few have over 100 hits.  A few others have zero.  I have no idea why one gets watched and another not.  If you have any interest in listening to preaching, I invite you to take a listen.  If you do though, actually listen.  Ask questions of yourself (or me) regarding how that passage applies to your life? about whether or not my handling of it is faithful to it? and about the underlying theology?  Does it reflect your understanding of who God is and how God works in the world?  Does it call you to be a better and more faithful person?

In the end, if I'm preaching at you, then I think I've failed.  On the other hand, if a sermon has become a catalyst for interaction with the Holy, a starting point for wrestling with real issues of life, then we're onto something.