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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why I Love Cleveland

When I tell people that my family and I went to Cleveland for vacation this summer I almost always get this weird reaction: scrunched up nose, quizzical look, and the one word question, “Cleveland?” It reminds me of the line in the film, Good Morning Vietnam, when Robin Williams, who plays a popular DJ in Vietnam in the 60s, is surrounded by several trucks filled with infantrymen and he is asking them where they are from and one responds, “Cleveland,” to which Williams says, “Well, then Vietnam is not that much of a change for you then.”

Such disrespect for Cleveland! But I love Cleveland! The first time I ever went to Cleveland was in the summer of 1995 after my first year of seminary. I had spent the previous year in rural Kentucky (with the four years prior to that in rural Texas as a Youth Pastor) and I was hungry for some urban living. I went to Cleveland to serve as a summer missionary working with African American youth on the East Side through The City Mission.

I arrived in Cleveland with little to no experience living with and serving poor communities. I honestly did not realize how much of a culture shock I was going to experience being a minority race for two and a half months. There were days and even weeks at a time when I would not see another white face. The culture shock though never really hit me until I went back to school in Kentucky for a brief visit just after the summer was over and I was suddenly surrounded by white students. I felt claustrophobic and had a hard time breathing, realizing later that I had a panic attack. It only stopped when I ran back to my car and sat in it for more than an hour.

Being a minority during my time in Cleveland had its’ up and down times. I learned so much from the largely African-American team I served with. I knew nothing about Cleveland and I knew none of the kids The City Mission worked with so I was completely dependent upon the wisdom and knowledge of my team. What was particularly interesting was that I was the sole team member that had any youth ministry experience – I had served as a full-time Youth Pastor in West Texas for four years. The director of the program at The City Mission intimated to me that I might be a leader who could share some of my wisdom with the others on the team, most of whom were one or two years out of high school if that.

I readily assented. The director and I could not have been more wrong. I quickly learned I had very little, if any, wisdom to lend at all. I was entirely dependent on them and so much of the time there I hated it. I remember the first week of summer which was a camp for fourth and fifth graders and I was asked to lead one of the Bible study times for the boys. I can’t remember the exact topic of the study, but it had something to do with Jesus as peacemaker. I started in with my sterling teaching abilities and I remember vividly a small boy, about 10 minutes into the study, raised his hand and asked how was he supposed to be a peacemaker in his neighborhood. As the other kids nodded in agreement, he described the reality – as a fourth grader – that when he walks down the street, if he isn’t ready to fight back, he will at least get beat up, and could maybe get killed. It had happened before to boys his age so he had no reason it could not happen to him.

The question was a serious one – he wasn’t being sarcastic, he really wanted me to answer. I honestly was stunned – I had no idea how to answer him. I had spent my life ministering among youth who knew – as I knew – they could walk down any street they chose at any time they chose and they did not fear a thing. I knew in an instant that my white, suburban, affluent, sheltered gospel was impotent for what these kids lived with every single day of their lives. I knew then that I needed a new gospel, a new message, a new understanding of who Jesus was and how he related with the kids who lived on the East Side of Cleveland. I was face to face with my complete inadequacy to teach these kids about Jesus and it just crushed me. I was helpless.

So, starting that day, and every single day that summer, I learned. I learned from these kids and I loved these kids because they were willing to teach me. I loved them, I listened to them and they taught me what it was to be poor and Black in a city in which they were mostly ignored and in a nation in which they were considered expendable. They feared the streets and they feared especially the police and criminal justice system supposedly charged with keeping the streets safe for them. Almost every day I ran face-first into my preconceptions of life and faith, and every day I discovered my own inabilities and failures, my own prejudices and biases, my own proclivity to lean upon my own understanding rather than to trust God and the people with whom I lived and served among. That summer was more than one luminous moment of transformation for me. I had a hundred epiphanies that summer and most of them revolved around my discovery that my white, suburban, affluent, sheltered gospel was not big enough to love the world, much less to transform it. I needed to see and experience the gospel of the poor, the gospel of a disenfranchised and marginalized African American urban community; in other words, the gospel of the Bible. I was the one in need of transformation.

Driving around Cleveland with my wife and my boys this summer I was filled with memories of that summer in 1995. Man, how I hated feeling so weak and useless. And what I do now to avoid those feelings entirely. But I thank God now for what I learned – it truly changed my life. I also cannot think that in all my work to avoid feeling or looking helpless or useless, have I ever been as effective at loving and serving people as I was the summer of 1995 in Cleveland. But the process of learning often has little enjoyment in the actual moment. I fear to think who I would be without that incredible summer in Cleveland. As a Wesleyan, I believe that salvation is always being worked out within us by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. We call it sanctification. I know, in so many ways, the summer of 1995 in Cleveland, OH, among a group of people who the world will probably never know or care about, I was saved every day. Man, I love Cleveland.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Time to Listen, and a Time to Shout Insanely at the Moon

In response to a call we issued asking for a ban on all assault weapons after the shooting in Aurora, CO I was the subject of an email campaign by a pro-gun organization on the web. Below are portions of some of the emails I received. I will preface this by saying I know not everyone who owns a gun feels this way. But sometimes it is best to amplify the voices of the fringes if we are to know the entrenched interests that are present that are dead-set against responsible gun ownership and public safety. Sometimes these voices are better instruments for change than the dream of a future where swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

After reading these statements, I think we are rightly concerned about the theology that undergirds these beliefs. It means, tragically, that there are a lot of churches not fulfilling their responsibility to equip their members with sound doctrine and a fidelity to Scripture. Lord help us.

Please note, I did not change any spelling or grammatical errors – I left them all intact as I received them.

I stopped going to church because of UMC"s postion on firearms.

I am deeply offended by the stand this body is taking against gun control. For some reason we don’t seem to read the same Bible.
Luke 22:36 “Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one”.
I’ll not say anymore, Jesus said it all.

It would be a rare occasion for me to enter my church and not be discretly carrying a handgun, as I do everywhere. Funny, but I have never found myself feeling the need to shoot anyone while there. However, if the occasion ever arose that someone entered the church with murder on his mind, I might be able to stop it, just as a legally armed citizen might have stopped the Aurora shootings.
I think it’s high time you folks in your ivory tower come out here and meet with some of us common folk. The Washington air has polluted your minds and robbed you of reality. Guns are not the problem – criminals are the problem.

I'm disappointed that you missed this opportunity to teach what the scriptures say about such things. I'm just as disappointed that you took this opportunity to make a shameless stab at an organization which is not in conflict with scripture. The NRA in particular. The NRA fights for freedom and liberty. That is exactly what Christ admonishes leaders to afford to those under their charge. I realize that the laws which you seem to be calling for will actually stifle liberty and freedom. I hope that you have thought about where human nature will cause our future leaders to take liberties away once the public cannot defend themselves from the government.

From an email entitled, “God loves Guns”
I recently attended my father in law's church (he is a Methodist pastor). I was confronted by members of the congregation for wearing a hat, even though I removed it during worship and prayer. Now you idiots are telling me that my God doesn't want us to own guns. You people are what's wrong with religion in this country. God bless America. Stay strapped.

From an email entitled, “Gun Ban and Queers”
How dumb and stupid can the United Methodists get? I have to listen about a UM minister that is in a lesbian relationship and performs lesbian marriages with no way to unlicense her. Someone sends me photos of a 'gay pride' parade and there is a United Methodist Church van in it supporting 'gay pride' and children are in this parade. Now people get killed in a theatre because they can't fight back because of gun control and the UM church wants to bring on 'gun control' so more innocent people can die in the hands of criminals.

A homosexual relationship is banned by the Bible so the United Methodist Church is anti-Biblical. A gun ban is anti-Constitutional so the UMC is anti-Constitutional. A gun ban is anti-Bill of Rights so the UMC is anti-Bill of Rights. You have attacked my Bible and my country's laws and you are unfit to be a religious organisation. I can no longer hold my head up and be proud to be a United Methodist; in fact I will try to keep it a secret and seek membership elsewhere.
I consider the UMC to be on the 'fast track to Hell' and I no longer will be a part of it, I will be moving my membership to another denomination as soon as possible.

The heirarchy of our church is firmly in the camp of the Democratic party and it's socialist, humanist and God defying policies. I trust that you will be held accountable for church statements supporting the murder of the unborn and ordination and marriage of sexual deviants.
I promise that I will do all I can to rid our church of you and others like you who do not reflect the beliefs of the membership and who oppose traditional and Biblical Christian doctrine.

I have read the Methodist Church’s position on gun control. I totally disagree. I’ll have to support new leadership in the Methodist Church that also apposes your anti-gun bias. I suppose you blame easy access to nails and lumber for the crucifixions. Put the blame where it belongs.

I can't believe you people are so naiv about guns. Read your history about disarmed people. How did it work out for the Jews during World War II after Hitler disarmed them? Not so well. Read Luke 22:36: "He said to them, '... And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.'"
Stay out of U. S. Constitutional, & Bill of Rights issues. And, don't interfere with my right to defend myself - with a gun!!!!

If it had been in Texas we would have shown what good gun control looks like while at least 10 of us in the audiance would have returned fire and killed that coward. Gun control means only the bad guy had a gun…If you want protection from a shooter then get a gun and learn how to use it. You can't profile what next idiot will start shooting…AND by the way the commandment is not " Thou shall not kill" its " Thou shall not murder". The Bible doesn't have a problem with protect yourself and your family,someone else' family, or our Country.

We have become a nation without a moral compass - help restore that compass - look at what our Constitutional writers had to say about moral values. It is time to do away with political correctness and entitlements for those who will not work for what the government will give away. Where are our Christian values: a work ethic? talk about that.

It is obvious you are elitists with little or no personal knowledge of guns, who would gladly subject innocent people to defenselessness. I will say that your bigoted hatred of guns, gun owners, gun-rights advocates, & gun-rights associations, has a striking similarity and direct parallels with the racial bigotry of the civil rights efforts since the 1960's.

This was directed to me and my boss:
Both you gentlemen and the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church & Society have stepped up on the bodies of the dead and wounded in Colorado to call for a range of gun-control measures -- including banning handguns -- as a result of the Aurora shooting. SHAME ON YOU! The First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law. The vast majority of Americans do not agree with your bigoted anti-gun political-action document.
The United Methodist Church's anti-gun owner dogma is a clear partisan play. The real threat to religious liberty comes from the effort to impose one church’s doctrine on everyone. Also, if you two in particular and the United Methodist Church in general continue to be prejudiced against gun owners, don’t be surprise if more people repudiate the Methodist Church.

Thomas Jefferson put it plainly in several letters/quotes. In the end we may be called upon to defend our country against all enemies—foreign and domestic. You cannot do this with a 22 and a shotgun. Our government knows this and wants to eventually eliminate all citizens owning the means to protect themselves---thereby making us subjects/slaves.


From an email entitled, “Socialism”
Teaching the bible and religous freedom need to be the focus. The path to socialism the Church is on will cause the loss of the right to practice our religion openly. The church should take a hard look at the current direction being followed. It is time to rethink the current path and bring Crist to the forefront, not politics.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hate Really Does Hurt: A Final Word on Chik Fil A

I haven't posted anything on the Chik-Fil-A controversy because I thought everything was already being said and I am not sure I could have added anything. But here is a letter from a friend of mine who is gay. I always believe that the voices of those directly impacted should be heard above all others. I appreciate his willingness for me to share this.


I haven't engaged in Facebook or Twitter discussions about CFA. I wasn't silent on the issue because I wasn't bothered by the events yesterday, I just felt they were more personal than 140 characters could express.

Seeing the lines at Chic Fil A yesterday, I felt I saw hatred. The people in that line weren't there to defend the right of the CFA CEO to have free speech, many of them were there to say, "queers go home." They were there to display open hate toward a group of people they haven't tried to understand.

This isn't about free speech, this is about hate. Yes, CFA has a right to support, and "speak", with their charitable dollars, any cause they want. Their speech is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of morality. They have given dollars to a group founded by the CEO which is supporting an effort in Virginia to pass a law specifically saying gays are not part of a protected class -- effectively giving permission to fire someone for being gay, or not rent an apartment to a gay couple, etc.

This group, funded by CFA dollars, has also supported an organization in Uganda that has supported beating homosexuals.

CFA is free to have their opinion and their voice. To me, that voice is one of hate. It is one that says Jimmy, me and people I love are less than human. It is a voice that says we need to roll back the clock, to the time where homosexuality was defined as a mental illness and a criminal act. It is a voice that says gays are deviants and a threat to society.

I equate CFA's views, and those they support, similar to Hitler and the KKK. They are using their voice and dollars to suppress the rights of a group of people. That is wrong.

Worse than CFA is the reaction of the Religious Right community. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, called for yesterday's CFA Appreciation Day. Several times yesterday, I heard him on the radio, along with other "religious" leaders like Rick Warren, celebrating the hundreds of thousands who were standing up for CFA and the Biblical definition of marriage.

It was neither. It was a mob of people supporting hatred. It was people feeling it was ok to hate gays yesterday by having a sandwich. It was a lynch mob sending a message to the fags: stay in line.

As for a Biblical definition of marriage, I guess I have missed the part where it says marriage is between one man and one woman. The Old Testament speaks of one man and many wives, and as many concubines as one can afford.

When Jesus was asked which law was most important, he said, "to love the Lord with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself." Obviously, Rick Warren and Mike Huckabee overlooked that lesson.

Yesterday, I observed CFA Appreciation Day in my own way. I joined the Episcopal Church. While I haven't regularly attended a Baptist Church in over 20 years, I have been a member of a Baptist Church since 1983. So yesterday, I made a decision to leave the denomination of Mike Huckabee, to leave the denomination where I first heard a Youth Minister say "gays are not worthy of salvation and are bound for hell." No more of the denomination that adopts the ridiculous saying, "love the sin, hate the sinner." (is it really up to humans to judge and categorize sin? Aren't we all just sinners?)

Yep, I choose CFA Appreciation Day to move to a church where I feel people have more open hearts and open minds, a place where I feel the emphasis is on love and not on hate.

I also left CFA. No more worrying about whether they will put a pickle on my delicious chicken sandwich. Their speech is protected. But I will no more support speech that pursues objectives which will deny me rights than I would support speech from the KKK which denies rights to people of color. Free speech is guaranteed, even if that speech is hate.

It isn't about chicken, it isn't about disagreement with his right to say whatever he wants. It is about hate.

Shame on Rick Warren, Mike Huckabee and other religious leaders. They are pushing people away from faith. The hate they support, directly or indirectly, leads to fear and nothing good comes of fear.

Shame on CFA for their support of causes which seek to suppress the rights of a group of people and seek to minimize that group.

Hate really does hurt.