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.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The pure is the enemy of the real

I run in leftist circles (surprise, surprise).  Before the last election there was a lot of talk in those circles that HRC was a terrible candidate.  They pointed at her economic policies as representing the same neo-conservative track begun with Carter, enhanced by Reagan, then Bill, and continued by every president since.  True enough.  Then they pointed to a list of personal failings straight out of the right wing smear machine that had been targeting her since Bill was first elected.  Not true.  And we won’t even mention they way that they, along with many of Trump’s true believers, swallowed the Russian propaganda hook line and sinker. They looked at Trump and said as inept as he was, he still wasn’t much worse than HRC... besides, he would never beat her so they were going to “vote their conscience” and give their vote to a third party candidate who truly represented their pure visions for the US.  After all, why should they compromise?

Well... we have seen why.  Trump did win.  Indeed, there were many on the left who were predicting he would win (Michael Moore immediately comes to mind).  He has decimated every agency of government.  He has established a kleptocracy more brazen than we American’s could even imagine. He has nominated judges who will literally change the direction of US law, perhaps forever.  He has engineered a new zeitgeist where moral values don’t count and truth and facts no longer hold sway. And this morning, the Republicans voted in lock step to dismantle our economy, shifting everything to their wealthy overloads.

I almost can’t blame Trump.  He is simply stupid.  I truly believe that he does not realize the consequences of his actions... and because of who he is, when he does realize them, he doesn’t care.  Nothing more could be expected from him.  Ditto the Trump heads - low information voters filled with fear and hate - nothing better could be expected.  The Republican elected officials?  Them I can blame.  They knew what they were doing.  Some had been telling us this was their plan all along and we can’t be surprised at them, but there were a few who seemed to be thoughtful, principaled people.  They still voted to rape the poor, the elderly, the middle class, children, the disabled, and just about every other category other than the top .01%.  Yes, I blame them and I hope that the electorate will get smart enough and motivated enough to vote enough of them out in ‘18 to turn the tables and begin to rebuild America.

The one’s I am most disappointed in and are worried about as we move forward are those on the far left.  If you voted third party, I blame you.  I don’t care where you live, just by arguing for your moral purity you motivated people to stay home or to vote for third party candidates.  It didn’t take very many staying home, complaining that there was no good choice, the give the election to Trump.  You helped elect him and the minions below who are enabling his dystopian vision.  I only hope that moving forward you will be able to see that elections have consequences... that pure choices do not exist... that sometimes we have to hold our noses and vote for a candidate who will not destroy the very ideals that have made us who we are/were.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The face of evil

Charles Manson died Sunday.  For decades he was the face of evil.  He was evil.  That much is clear.  I could write more about that but that isn’t the issue that caught my attention.  When he was arrested everybody knew his name.  Everybody knew the crimes of which he was accused.  Many of us even knew the names of his little band of followers.  Some argued that he was mentally ill but nobody disagreed that he was evil.  There was discussion regarding whether or not he should have been executed but there was no discussion that he might ever be rehabilitated and able to find his way back into society.  Charlie Manson was the stuff nightmares are made of.

Jeffrey Dahmer likewise was evil.  We know his name too.

Here’s the bit that caught my attention today.  We don’t recognize evil today.  On October 1 a guy killed 57 people in Las Vegas and injured 546 more and I don’t even know his name.  It can be argued that reporting his name would lead to copycats but the reason I don’t know his name is not because it was not reported... it was reported.  I looked it up.  Steven Paddock.  No, the reason I didn’t know his name is because within a few days all of us who were not directly impacted by the violence moved on and essentially forgot what had happened.  Seven days ago another gunman killed four at an elementary school and again, I don’t know his name either.  We have grown numb to the violence and even an act as horrendous as the Las Vegas Massacre doesn’t frighten us as much as Charles Manson.

I don’t know what else to say about this beyond the fact that it frightens me and saddens me...