not on my watch

Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So, it may be asked what value is there to human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye . . . I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I think you do not understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worth of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?

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“why do you cry, Father?” he asked me once under the tallis. “Because people are suffering,” I told him. He could not understand. Ah, what it is to be a mind without a soul, what ugliness it is . . . .”why have you stopped answering my questions, Father?” he asked me once. “You are old enough to look into your own soul for answers,” I told him. He laughed once and said, “That man is such an ignoramus, Father.” I was angry. “Look into his soul,” I said. “Stand inside his soul and see the world through his eyes. You will know the pain he feels because of his ignorance, and you will not laugh.” He was bewildered and hurt. The nightmares he began to have. . . .But, he learned to find answers for himself. He suffered and learned to listen to the suffering of others. In the silence between us, he began to hear the world crying.

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Both of the above quotes are from the novel, “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok. I just reread it over the past couple of days. It possibly my favorite novels. I first read it as an assignment for my Judaic Religious Traditions class as an undergrad. In that same class, I read “Night” by Elie Wiesel. “Night” is quite possibly the most important book written in the 20th century. If you haven’t read it, you must. It is a memoir written by a holocaust survivor.

In discussing “Night,” my professor talked about when he learned of the holocaust. He described it as one of those overwhelming things where you feel that you have to do something, but have no idea what you could possibly do. At the very least, he decided, he would make it his mission to make sure people were aware. And, assigning us the book “Night” was one way of doing so.

When I was working for a law firm in Cincinnati, one of the attorneys I worked for was on the board of the local chapter of the Red Cross. And, on the door of his office, he once had a postcard. On it, it listed, starting with the Holocaust, each genocide that has occurred since then. It also said, “never again.”

That was the promise that was made after the Holocaust. We would never let something like that happen again. But, we have. Granted, never to the tune of 6 million people. But, clearly we have yet to learn from our mistakes.

I bring this up because, today, with the above quotes swirling through my head, I went to a restraunt that had some “Save Darfur” information on the counter. Darfur used to be a pet project of mine, for a short time anyway. Somewhere along the way, I quit caring for some reason.

I suppose there are many reasons. One is the same as my professor: what can I do, anyway. One is that over the 3+ years I have been aware of the issue, nothing has happened. Supposedly, the first time Pres. Bush was briefed on this issue, in the margin of his notes he wrote, “Not on my watch.” Years later, it has all happened on his watch. And my watch, and yours.

What bothers me the most is that we don’t care. None of us. Sure, there is a part of us that doesn’t like that it is happening. We all wish it would stop. But we don’t care. People are suffering, but we don’t weep. We all have minds without souls.

I still don’t know what to do. I won’t, until I begin to weep.

oops

In the previous post, I mean to link to this.  It’s an outstanding column about what Jesee Jackson meant in the early days of his career.

friday queue cleaning–the jesees

It seems that over the past week, there have been a lot of Jesees in the news.  First of all, there is news that Jesee Ventura may run against Al Franken and Norm Coleman for the Senate seat in Minnesota.  Franken v Coleman should be, ummmm, entertaining, if nothing else.

But, it’s the other 2 Jesses that I find more interesting over this past week.  I am, of course, talking about Jesee Jackson and Jesee Helms.  They are two parts to a much bigger story, the struggle for civil rights and race relations in this country.  Many consider each to be heroic, while others demonize them for their sins and struggles.  Reality is usually more complex than either side of the story.

I really don’t know a lot about Jesee Helms.  Most of what I know comes from satire.  My earliest awareness of him comes from MAD magazine.  I don’t remember what the article was, but I just remember in the background was a picture of Helms, holding a piece of paper that said, “Helms essay contest:  500 words on the Benefits of Bigotry.”  In another MAD article, this one a bunch of “caps” for various products, had Helms’ face as a cap for a can of compressed air.  And then, there was a Letterman Top 10 list, top 10 ways you know your senator is stupid.  Number 1, “you live in North Carolina.” 

Reading up on Helms over the last week doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of him.  While many lauded him as a pioneer of modern conservatism, what you find is a guy who constantly fought against civil rights, even the most basic ones, and used race baiting as a campaign strategy. 

Yet, I also read something written by an African American woman, who, as a child, visited Helm’s office on a school trip.  She said he was very nice, put his arm around her, and was quite encouraging. 

Make no mistake–that doesn’t change the fact that Helm’s political record on such issues is deplorable.  But, it makes me wonder about the man.  What was going through his mind when he was visiting with that girl,  Was he a good guy with messed up political views?  Was he putting on a show for the girl?  I wonder the same thing about him that I wonder about Fred Phelps.  If that name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the “godhatesfags.com” guy (if you haven’t visited that link, don’t).  Anyway, I read that at one time, he was the top civil rights attorney in Kansas.  And now even the most homophobic people think he’s insane.  And while I don’t put Helms in the same category as Phelps, I have to wonder about both:  what happened?

Jesee Jackson, on the other hand, has spent time both being what’s right and what’s wrong in the civil rights movement.  I wasn’t really aware of Jackson until the 1988 Presidential election.  In the time since then, I’ve mostly seen a man trying to hang on to his fame and importance, and to struggle mightily to do so.  He has had some moments, though, particularly his negotiation for the release of hostages on several occasions. 

But, I found this column last night.  The writer talks about the early Jesee Jackson, and what he meant to the civil rights movement.  I’m not going to comment on it much other than to say it was fascinating.  In particular, she talks about seeing this appearance on Sesame Street, and what it meant to her as a child growing up as an immigrant from Haiti.

As she points out, some of Jackson’s increasing irrelevance has been his own doing.  I think that one of Jackson’s biggest struggles is that he’s had trouble adapting what it means to be a civil rights leader over the years as the racial dynamics have changed.  At the same time, some of it is everyone’s fault.  We too easily dismiss what we don’t want to hear. Regardless of how or why though, it’s tragic, because he is clearly a man of great talent and we still have a lot of work left to be done on race relations.

Which brings us to the reason that Jackson was in the news this week–comments made regarding Barack Obama.  Personally, I think we should cut him some slack on this.  We’ve all used hyperbole in expressing our frustration with someone. 

But, I think this column really addresses the underlying issue on Jackson’s comment.  In particular, he talks about how the civil rights movement began as a group fighting from the outside.  One of the struggles Jackson has faced, to his detriment, has been continuing to fight it like that.  Now, there is a good chance that it’s going to be fought from the very top.  Anyway, read the article, it makes a lot more sense than I will.

how not to forgive

I’ve been trying to figure out how to “relaunch” my blog. Specifically, I want the “new and improved” version to be less negative. You know, more rave than rant I guess. And, more in line with with my role as a minister.

In my search for a topic, however, it looks like it’s going to start with a “rant.” But, at least it’s a very important rant, and I think quite in line with my role as a minister. Brandon had linked to this post on Gary Lamb’s blog (and here is Brandon’s reaction). Apparently, Lamb is a very important in the church planter circles (I say apparently not sarcastically, but because I am a bad pastor and don’t keep up with such trends like I am supposed to, and had not heard of Lamb prior). If you read the link, you find that one of Revolution’s (the name of Lamb’s church) trailers was stolen.

Lamb responds by writing an “letter” to the person or persons responsible. He starts by telling them that God loves them. Then, he says that the church forgives them. He points out that they don’t want to, but God says that they should, so they do.

I think that this attitude is valid to an extent. Forgiving is not our natural reaction when we have been wronged. It’s something that we have to learn how to do. We start by doing so out of obedience, even if we don’t want to. And, as we grow, it becomes natural, to the point that we do it because that’s the person that we are, and not so much out of obidence.

But, if you’ve clicked the link, you see what Lamb means by “we forgive you.” And, quite honestly, if this is Lamb’s idea of “forgiving,” then I don’t want to see what he’s like when he’s holding a grudge. He calls them names (scum bag, lowlife), and assumes that they stole it to buy crack. Mostly, he threatens physical violence on them. Not only does he want the people to be beat up, but he wants to be the one to do it. And, he wants it to be slow and painful.

Two things alarm me the most. One is that this blog post, while “addressed” to the culprits, is really addressed to the congregation. In other words, this is his teaching his church about forgiving. Secondly, he takes pride in being “probably the only church you have ever heard of that will honestly break your legs once your are found.”

It’s not often that one takes pride in being a church that ignores the words of Jesus. There is no “turn the other cheek” (or in this case, give them your other trailer) or “vengence is mine says the Lord.” Lamb wants vengence to be his.

I will say this: I don’t know Gary Lamb. So, I’m trying to be careful not to judge him personally. We all have shortcomings, including pastors (even me, I know, it’s hard to believe). And, I know firsthand what it’s like to have a blog post come back and bite you because it’s taken out of context, and I know firsthand what it’s like to have a blog post come back and bite you because it was stupidly written regardless of it’s context. All that to say, I don’t think Lamb is a bad guy for writing this, nor do I think he is a bad pastor. My guess is that it comes from one of two places. One is that it’s just an area he needs to grow in. If so, that’s for his church leadership team to handle with him (which is actually a weakness in church planting, but that’s another post). If not that, then it’s an attempt at being real by being totally “honest.” If that’s the case, then he’s failed. The idea in such a post would read, “I want to do all this to you, but I won’t, because I forgive you.” The “real” emotion is addressed, but then the correct reaction is then given. As it is written, Lamb’s post says, “I say I forgive you, but really, I don’t and if I had the chance, I would get revenge.”

old blog classics #2– the politics of harry potter

I have a lot I want to write about, but it’s a busy day, so instead, I give you this post from October 9, 2006.

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I feel like writing again.  Hoperfully, the feeling will stick for a while.

Anyway, I’m walking through Clifton during the early afternoon hours, and I notice a car that has the license plate number “GRFNDR.”  Of course, any Harry Potter geek such as myself knows that this means Gryffindor, the school house that the protagonists in the Harry Potter series hail from.  Despite my enthusiasm for the books, I felt that this vanity plate takes the geekery a bit over the top.  Regardless, I noticed that the car also had may bumper stickers, which of course is the sign of a hippie.  Curious, I read some of the stickers.  2 of them were Harry Potter themed.

“George Bush is a muggle.”
“Voldemort votes Republican.”

Now, regardless of the implied political ramifications of these stickers, I found them to be amusing.  But, given what the implied implications of the stickers are, they are also inaccurate to the message they are trying to imply (at least when taken together, and given the overall market for Harry Potter political stickers, I’m guessing that these were made by the same manufacturer).

The Harry Potter books are not about magic.  They are about many things, and magic is used to create a world in which to explore these topics. One of the greatest themes in the book is that of racism.  Only, the racial lines in the book are not drawn by skin color, but by ability to do magic.  Thus, some of the pure-blood wizards are racist toward both half blood wizards and non-magic people, who are called muggles.

So, by calling George Bush a muggle, the Mr or Mrs GRFNDR is accusing Bush of not being a wizard, which of course, is accurate.  However, given the sticker about Voldemort voting Republican, it can be assumed that GRFNDR is not supportive of President Bush, and this calling him a Muggle is intended to be an insult.  Thus leading to the inconsitency.  The people in the HP series who consider Muggle to be an insult are, of course, the bad guys. Thus, GRFNDR is aligning him/herself with the racist characters in the book.  Which is odd, considering that they chose GRFNDR as their license plate instead of SLTHRN, since the Gryffindors tend to be the most friendly to Muggles and it is the Slytherins who consider muggle to be an insult.

Which takes us to the second sticker, Voldemort votes Republican.  Not if George Bush is a Muggle, he doesn’t.  Voldemort is the leader of all of the racists, the most racist of the bunch.  This sticker would be the equivalent of saying that, “David Duke voted for Jessee Jackson.”  It’s just not plausible.

Of course, if any of our Harry Potter politicians had any sense, they could keep the Voldemort votes Republican sticker, and then change the other one to “George Bush is a Death Eater.”  Then, GRFNDOR can remain a Gryffindor, Voldemort can still vote Republican, and Bush can be the bad guy that they indended him to be.

So, why did I just go through all of that?  Because, I like busting up hippie arguments!

frc–one track mind

I’ve picked on the Family Research Council a bit on this space.  Before I get back to criticizing them, I want to say that they aren’t always bad.  On many of the “alerts” that they continue to send me, I find myself nodding in agreement more often than I expected when they first started appearing in my inbox.

That being said, yesterday’s alert really summed up a lot of my issue with the right wing christian/right wing political component of our society.  Mr. Perkins was discussing the “Compassion Forum” on CNN Sunday night, something that I did not get the chance to watch.  Perkins was unhappy with the way the forum went, and concluded the following:

The bulk of last night’s program was taken directly from the playbook of the Religious Left, focusing not on the issues closest to Christians’ hearts but on climate change, AIDS, and global poverty. Although I have argued that those are important issues that demand the church’s attention (in fact, in concert with Bishop Harry Jackson I’ve written an entire book on the subject), our priority as Christians should be as those of the Founding Fathers; protect the sanctity of human life, preserve marriage, and defend religious liberty. Unfortunately, with the help of some of our friends, the Religious Left is trying to realign, and thereby dilute, the values voter message.

Here’s what I’ve never quite grasped from the right wing–why does being pro-life mean you have to ignore the AIDS crisis, global poverty, and global warming?  I tend to label myself as a “moderate,” but that’s not really accurate.  It’s more that I don’t see how the issues on each side of the spectrum really fit neatly together. 

Of coure, for a group like Focus on the Family and the FRC, the reason is obvious:  to call Christians to say, push for cleaner air might ultimately get them to vote Democrat.  Which of course would be getting them to vote for a pro-choicer.  So, rather than use their influence to get the pro-lifer to say, clean up the air, they just dismiss the issue as unimportant.

The irony is that poverty is one of the big reasons abortions even happen.  There is a reason that taking care of the poor was on of the moral instructions that Jesus gave us.  But, somehow, we remove that from “moral” and place it into “social” and then dismiss it. 

I understand that it ultimately is a comprimise made for pragmatic reasons.  But, I’ve never seen pragmatisim as one of the fruits of the spirit.

friday queue cleaning–april 11, 2008

The queue is kinda boring this week.  A lot of the same old stuff going on.  Obama and Clinton still don’t get along.  Clinton’s husband seems to still be losing it.  Howard Dean doesn’t seem to like John McCain very much.  A general and an ambassador said that we still have work to do in Iraq.  The Republicans were happy about that, and the Democrats didn’t seem to like it.  The 3 candidates seemed to think that going on American Idol was a good idea.  And the earth continues to simultaneously get warmer and cooler. 

So, I’m bored with the news this week.  Part of it was that I’ve had a particularly busy week, so I haven’t paid much attention.  But, there is one story that has caught my eye; the pope’s US visit.  In particular, his plans to seek reconciliation for the clergy sex abuse scandal.

I hope he seriously pursues this, though many beleive he’s just going to play lip service to the issue.  Frankly, even that would be a start.  The whole issue angers me deeply, in part because I am a “clergy member (not a Catholic)” and take the role very seriously.  I’m quite forgiving when clergy members make mistakes, as I have done quite often.  I am not so forgiving when they abuse their influence.  Which is the case here.

I’m not upset with the church over the sexual abuses themselves.  I think that anger should be directed at the indivdual offenders.  I am angry at the church’s handling of the situation.  Had they dealt properly with each incident when it happened, it would have helped with the victim’s healing (which is the primary role of the church), would have prevented a majority of the subsequent attacks, and ultimately would have prevented the scandal from being as big as it was.  It still would have been a tragic situation.  Certainly, one occurence, even handled correctly, is too many.

But, to the scale at whch it happened is ridiculous.  And the problem is that the church, acting out of it’s percived “infalliablity” became an enabler.  Offenders were simply moved to a new parish when they could find new victims.  They were placed in a situation where they didn’t have accountablity for their actions.  Most people, if they were found to be guilty of this crime, would go to jail, unable to continue.  Guilty priests were kept in positions of authority.

One idea that gets kicked around is that the vow of celibacy is to blame.  That the sexual tension just builds up to the point where they can’t contol themselves and they take it out on kids.  This, of course, is a complete lack of understanding of the roots of pedophilia.  Celibacy does not lead to pedophilia.  Neither does homosexuality, which is another attempt at explaining why this happened.  The idea is that religious homosexuals became priests since they couldn’t morally have sex anyway, but again, it all built up until they took it out on some kids.  Again, celibacy does not lead to homosexuality.

The problem is simply this: pedophiles became priests.  Pedophiles go into all lines of work.  However, when they are found to be pedophiles, they continued to be priests.  They do not continue in other lines of work when found out.  They go to jail.  So, with the priests, they were able to accumulate a large number of victims.  Thus, the scandal was huge.

Even I, as a single, non-catholic pastor, feel the effects of this stigma.  Many people distrust me, believing me to be a ticking time bomb waiting to go off at some moment. 

But, that’s not what upsets me about all of this.  Rather, it’s the betrayal of the very essence of what ministry is supposed to be about.  The trust was betrayed when the abuses occured.  But, it continued when the issue was covered up and healing was not pursued.  It continued even further when, finally when it all came to light, the church took it quite lightly, even accusing the American media of “persecution.” 

So, even if the pope only pays “lip service” to the issue, it will be a start if that “lip service” includes a confession that the church really dropped the ball on this.  While that’s not enough, no progress can ever be made until that step is taken.

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