Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hey Guys, Can We Talk?

This one's for all the guys out there. 

You know how everyone's losing their minds about the conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush? You know how Republicans are falling over themselves to un-endorse Trump, and the GOP is trying to figure out the best way to lose this election? You know how Hillary supporters are pointing and shouting, while also being really happy to see Donald self-destruct? 

I don't want to talk about any of that. 

I want to talk to you about the fact that this conversation is one we have all heard, if not also participated in. I want to talk about the fact that you and I both know guys who talk about women this way, who have done it shamelessly, while being considered the coolest guys in the room. We know that the objectification of women's bodies is something we brag about, something we laugh at, and something we use to make ourselves feel like men. We've heard this conversation in the locker room, in college dorms and frat houses, and you know we've heard it in board rooms. 

You and I know that the problem will not go away if Trump goes away. We know this because the one thing Trump may be telling the truth about is when he said Bill Clinton said similar, or worse, on the golf course. This doesn't surprise us at all. 

What's worse, you know that guys who tried to stop it, who stood up and said, "could you please stop talking about women like they're objects?" You know these are the guys who got laughed at, beat up, ostracized, questioned for their manhood or sexuality. 

Guys - we know this problem is so much worse than Donald Trump. And as Rachel Held Evans said on Facebook yesterday, "Misogyny is not a 'tone' problem, it's a sin problem." It's a sin problem because we are treating our sisters, wives, daughters, and mothers as if they are not human, not beautiful, holy beings, made in God's image. 

Before we send Trump out into the wilderness to take our sins on his back as a scapegoat, let's spend a little time in front of a mirror, a little time in confession, and a lot of time apologizing for creating the world in which a man like Donald Trump can even get to where he is. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Faith is Political

Last week, I was at my fall Bethany Fellows retreat, with 30-odd other young clergy, and we got to meet Sr. Simone Campbell (the nun who started the “Nuns on the Bus” tour). Sr. Simone has been involved in social justice advocacy for nearly 40 years, fighting on behalf of the poor, lobbying in Washington, D.C.. She talked about Paul’s metaphor for the church being the Body of Christ, and how, after some discernment, she has come to see her role in the Body, as the stomach acid. She didn’t go into great depth about this, but one might imagine the Body of Christ (again, we're talking about the Church) needing a little indigestion every now and then as motivation to live a healthier lifestyle. 

The main thing Sr. Simone told us, and what I’ll always remember her saying, was, “faith has political consequences.” 

Wait, what? 

Faith is supposed to be private in our culture, something we keep to ourselves and don’t talk about. 

Political consequences? That would mean we might have to be more open about our faith, to come out of the closet even, as a person of faith. 

Are you sure about that Sister?

Every four years we have, “the most important election in our lifetime”. But this time—this is certainly the most consequential election that I think we’ve seen in a very long time. The consequences of our voting (or not voting as it were) could be significant. But I don’t think Sr. Simone was just talking about elections. I think the idea of faith having political consequences is that all of us need to realize that what we say we believe has an impact on the life we live as citizens in an interdependent world. 

If your faith calls you to be compassionate to refugees, your faith isn’t just depending on you to vote, it’s calling you to pick refugees up at the airport, help them learn English, and help them to get a job. If your faith calls you to be compassionate toward the poor, your faith isn’t just calling on you to vote, it’s calling upon you to look at the economic structures of society that depend upon poor people to stay in debt, or, the systems that deny hardworking people a living wage and affordable housing. If your faith calls you to dismantle white supremacy in our society, your faith isn’t just depending on you to vote, your faith is calling on you to talk to your police departments and demand that they treat all citizens with decency and humanity. It’s calling on you to contact your school districts to make sure that discipline and academic standards are applied with justice, and not favoring white students over black students. 

Faith has political consequences. This does mean you need to vote. But if you believe what you say you believe, about how God’s children are treated in this world, then you can’t stop there. 

What are the political consequences of your faith?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sitting Out the National Anthem

Since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a seat for the National Anthem a few weeks ago, the internet has been losing its mind. This Sunday, my team, the Seattle Seahawks, are supposedly all sitting or kneeling, or something other than standing reverently, for the National Anthem.  

Throughout our history, liberals and conservatives have occasionally been able to unify and celebrate our nation in spite of our differences of opinion. One way we do this is by honoring our national symbols - the flag, the national anthem, and of course, our military. We may have political disagreements about the conflicts in which our military women and men find themselves engaged, however, what they experience in those engagements is worthy of our honor and respect. We should save our criticisms for the politicians who choose the conflicts, not take out our anger on those who pay the highest prices for them. 

Having the national anthem at sporting events however, has become more than a symbol of unity, it's become a ritual for us, a kind of national ritual, taking the place of a religious ritual. It is nice to be able to transcend religious difference, to have something upon which Christian, Jew, Muslim, non-believer can all come together to celebrate. But when someone choosing not to participate is treated as if they're some kind of secular infidel, this ought to be a wake-up call to us that what is supposed to be a secular experience of national pride has become instead a religious expression with an "orthodox" and "heretical" way of expressing it.

So let's get this straight. First, how one feels about their country is not the same feeling as how they feel about it's military members. Second, loving one's country is not required for citizenship. Thoughts and feelings are not compulsory in this country. We get to disagree with each other. We get to be upset about things our government is doing, and we get to show our disagreement through speech, protest, assemblies, and by sitting down when everyone else is standing up. 

To exercise this freedom is not a heretical denial of patriotism, it is rather, a faithful expression of it. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dear Hollywood: Please Leave Your Sunglasses at Home

I don't usually cry that often. Rarely for people I've never met. Last night, and again this morning, I cried for Robin Williams. 

Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, The Birdcage, Awakenings, even Happy Feet - his ability to tell stories is unmatched. 

But his character in Dead Poets Society, John Keating, changed my life. He spoke to me in ways for which words are insufficient. Into my small town world of conformity and limited possibility as a teenager, came this remarkable teacher who taught his students that their passions mattered, that their dreams mattered, that they had the ability to love and be loved. Keating had courage, he had a joie de vivre that inspired a bunch of 1950s teenage boys to sneak out of their dorms in the middle of the night to read poetry, of all things. 

He's probably at least 60% of the reason I was an English major. 

Keating told his students, "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering - these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for." 

In the end, like the powers of conformity beat John Keating down, and got him fired from his job as a teacher, so too did the powers of depression beat down an incredible man, an incredible story teller, a man who knew the full expanse - height and depth, breadth and width - of the human soul. 

And so I cry. 

I have a suggestion to make for his friends in Hollywood. Usually they wear sunglasses to a funeral to hide their tears, to hide their puffy, red eyes, so that their image can remain unscathed. But for Robin, in recognition of his depression, I think the world should see sadness. I think we should see what crying looks like. I think we should see what pain looks like. I don't think we should hide it. I think we should feel it, and know how sad we are to lose such a man in this way. 

I know there's a difference between clinical depression and sadness. But part of the stigma around depression is that we have some kind of fake understanding of reality, that sadness is something to avoid. But sadness, grief, loss, it's all part of the human experience. It's not something to fear, and it's not something to hide. If we try to avoid it, that only makes the stigma of depression worse.  

So Hollywood - leave the sunglasses at home. Let the world see you cry. Don't be ashamed of your humanity. Embrace it. For Robin. 

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. For your incredible life - your passion, your humor, your sensitivity, your wisdom - thank you. You will always be my Captain. 

I'm going to get a Kleenex now. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What if Israelis and Palestinians Followed the Golden Rule?

When you were a child, did anyone tell you to, “treat others the way you want to be treated”? I heard it. Of course, I interpreted this by thinking that if someone is treating me the way they want to be treated and they’re being mean, they must want me to be mean back to them. Right? It took me a while to get over myself about that. 

What is it about adulthood that we forget the most basic things we learned in our earliest years? 

I’ll never forget that on the night of the Columbine tragedy, President Clinton came on TV and told us that we’ve got to teach out children how to solve problems with other means than through violence. At the exact same time, American planes were dropping bombs on Kosovo. 

Now as adults, we can rationalize this, and talk about whether or not the use of force in that instance actually helped protect life. There are all kinds of complicating factors and exceptions, and it could be argued that that act of violence did prevent a greater evil. But the bottom line is that our nation was using violence to solve a problem. How can we expect kids to see that and conclude that they should never use violence to solve their problems? 

From Afghanistan to Iraq, there is sufficient evidence to at least raise the question - was it worth it? Was the fighting we did there worth the cost? Did the violence we inflicted, or the violence we suffered, actually solve anything or bring about more justice and mercy? With the rise of Isis and the return of the Taliban, I think there’s at least something to talk about. 

My heart breaks for what’s happening in Israel/Palestine right now. It’s very difficult to know what’s really going on with a lack of objective information available in our media, but whether your sympathies lie with the Israelis or Palestinians, everyone is losing right now. From the Israeli Defense Force invading Gaza, killing civilians, even children, to the Hamas rockets - no one is winning anything here. No one is gaining security. No one is gaining stability. No one is gaining freedom. Everyone is suffering. The extreme violence unleashed there is making everyone suffer. It’s not fair and it’s not going to solve anything. Neither side is treating the other the way they want to be treated. 

Paraphrasing President Jimmy Carter, we will never resolve our differences by killing each other’s children. He’s right. We’ve got to put down the guns. We’ve got to be more courageous. We’ve got to be more compassionate. We’ve got to remember the lessons of our childhood innocence, and maybe then, we can reach an adult maturity.