Simple stuff for the Sabbath

Having been raised a Southern Baptist and married to a Catholic woman, I have been exposed a great deal to two different types of Christian sects. Further, my best friend growing up was Catholic, another good friend was a member of the Church of Christ, I had a Jewish roommate in college, and I have spoken in front of other church and interfaith groups to advocate for working homeless families. These churches include Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Universalist.

With this context, I offer a plea to ministers, Rabbis and imams, to keep it simple. Too often, the message gets overcomplicated and even taken out of context. Too often, the message has too many herbs and spices thrown in that ruin the mission. Here are a few simple thoughts or stuff for this Sabbath, recognizing my Jewish friends will have to wait a little less than six more days.

  • Treat others like you want to be treated. There are no caveats to the word “others.” Full stop.
  • Take care of those folks that Jesus fellow called the “least of these.” He also noted in so doing, we honor Him, which is a nice “pay it forward” suggestion.
  • Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, which almost every human simply cannot do, but the thought is nice. It goes hand in hand with that Golden rule noted above, but my suggestion is to walk away or diplomatically pushback for yourself or others who get slighted.
  • Always remember, the religious books were primarily written, interpreted and translated by “imperfect men” even if divinely inspired. So, we should remember, these imperfect men wrote in the context of the times, with knowledge of the science of the times.

While this last point may seem out of place, I mention it because it behooves the religious leader to update the references to today’s times. Medical and scientific advancements are truly a miracle in their own right, but compared to when these religious texts were written, would look God-inspired. Plus, while women played a key role in keeping families faithful, the rights of women have advanced to equal footing with men in many societies. To continue to diminish women using religious texts is not only wrong, it is economically suppressive to a community.

That is all I have to say on this Sabbath. These are my opinions, so they are not the gospel truth. I would love to hear yours.

Thursday Threads – freedoms do require accountability

Since I am headed out the door for a day trip to garner fresh produce at a place called The Peach Stand, I thought I would pull out a few threads to twirl around our fingers as we contemplate issues.

The US Supreme Court has just ruled that freedom of speech does give you license to be an asshole (sorry folks, the real word is needed), provided you do not hurt anyone. A person now known as the “profane cheerleader” won her case, but missed the message. Just because you can be an asshole, does not mean you should. We must be accountable to each other and for our actions and words.

If the profane cheerleader never learns that lesson, she will be like a certain former president in his 70s, that remains an enfant terrible, even at his age. I mention him as the other court story is people involved with the January 6 insurrection are starting to get sentenced. Some will get light sentences, as they did not harm people or property, but others will likely receive more. As these sentences start to pile up, they will stand right in front of those Republican elected officials holding white paint brushes trying to paint over the insurrection as if it did not happen.

That accountability stuff is important, especially with folks who feel entitled to do anything they want. In their minds, it is OK to treat airplane attendants with disdain and threaten them. It is OK to show road rage which has been a growing problem even before the pandemic. It is OK to rage at slow service in restaurants, who are understaffed as they build back up their business. But, it is not OK. You can disagree without being disagreeable. You can share disappointment, without being uncivil.

Yes, the freedom of speech gives Americans the right to be assholes. But, there must be accountability along with that. That Jesus guy speaks of treating others like we want to be treated. If someone chooses to be an asshole, the offender needs to know it gives others the right to ignore you and not consider your raged filled or threatening words and actions. We need leaders to lead in this area, being representative of our better angels not or worst demons. Emulating a deceitful and bullying former president is not the example to follow.

There is an old saying that is more true than not. Those folks who are the least tolerant of others tend to elicit more tolerance from others with their own actions and words. What the intolerant ones do not realize, is people will eventually vote with their feet and not want to be around you or lessen their time with you, if that cannot totally avoid you. In other words, people tend not to want to suffer fools. So, at least be accountable for your own sake.

HATE

The following is message I typed in comment to a post which spoke of the hating of Asian-Americans that has been growing over the last year. Further, the BLM movement has also highlighted that hate and demonization has been harmful to African-Americans as long as this country has been in existence. The following are words from an old white man (me) who grew up in the south. They need to be shouted from the roof tops.

IF YOU BELIEVE EVERY GOOD THING THAT HAS OCCURRED IN THE US RESULTED ONLY FROM WHITE MEN, THAT COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. IF YOU BELIEVE HATING OTHER PEOPLE MAKES THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, THAT COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. HATING IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE AND TAKES TOO MUCH ENERGY TO UPHOLD. SO CALLED LEADERS WHO TELL YOU TO HATE THE OTHER OUT OF FEAR, ARE NOT WORTH FOLLOWING. THEY ARE LYING TO YOU AS THEY DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO SAY.

That Jesus fellow said something about treating people like you wanted to be treated. He did not have any caveats about treating people whose skin was darker or whose heritage was different any worse or better. In fact, Jesus tended to hang out with those who were disenfranchised and needed Him the most. He said helping someone in need was akin to helping Him. So, Jesus led by example. Remember this when a so-called leader tells you to hate someone.

A Christmas wish – do our part to break down barriers

The following is an edited version of an earlier post that remains relevant today. In the spirit of the Christmas season, it is worth a revisit.

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small sleights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, faces more restrictions and risk;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color, ethnicity, religion or politics who are indicting others who are different just because they don’t look, think or worship as you do;

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. Walk the talk. Words are easy. The person who gets up out of his or her chair to help people is admirable.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. So, welcome, include and help.

The power of forgiveness and inclusion, even a killer

We have come far, but it troubles me that we have stepped back a little. Racial injustice has lessened since the terrible days of Jim Crow, but we are not where we need to be. Some folks feel emboldened to react to Black Lives Matter protests, with All Lives Matter retorts. Yet, there is a percentage of Americans, whether it is 5% or 10%, that do not feel All Lives includes Black Lives. We should not cater to that ugly voice, but understand it is present in a limited few.

Five years ago, one of those limited few was invited into a church in Charleston, South Carolina. After listening to the prayers for a period of time, this person stood up and killed nine of the people present. The killer was a self-professed white supremacist, while those dead were African-American. The killer said he wanted to start a race war.

An article called “Five years after Charleston church massacre: How ‘Emanuel’ reveals the power of forgiveness” by Rashi Ali appeared in the USA Today last month on the fifth anniversary of the mass murder. The story highlighted a movie called “Emanuel” which was released the year before. Here are a few excerpts from the article, which can be linked to below.

“Five years ago today, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, opened fire and murdered nine people. Roof, a self-admitted white supremacist, was found guilty on all 33 counts lodged against him and sentenced to death.

Through this tragedy, many of the people affected by the hate crime were able to forgive Roof. ‘Emanuel,’ a documentary released last year on the fourth anniversary of the shooting finds a beacon of light in the tragedy and puts the spotlight on the power of forgiveness. The film was directed by Brian Ivie and produced by Stephen Curry, Viola Davis and Mariska Hargitay.

‘I never thought I would be able to forgive somebody for murdering my mom,’ Chris Singleton tells USA TODAY about choosing to forgive Dylann Roof for gunning down his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and eight others at church.”

Watching footage of the families of the murder victims forgive Roof is one of the most powerful acts of faith I have ever witnessed. I am in awe that they could look the killer in the eye and forgive him. Yet, we should not lose sight that the people who were killed by Roof and the ones who survived invited the killer into the church to worship with them. They included him. Think about that as well.

I am reading a difficult book which looks into the mind of a white supremacist. I will share more on that at a future time. To say it is troubling to read what this character believes is an understatement. But, I would want to read this character the above paragraph and ask what is his reaction. These people that Roof and this character think are so inferior and bad, forgave their killer and invited him in to worship with them. When Christians ask that question which appears on bracelets and bumper stickers as WWJD? – What would Jesus do? – the answer is what these African-Americans did.

The God I worship is color blind. The children’s song we sang so proudly, – red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world – still resonates. If you know people who are in that limited few, tell them this story and ask them what they think. If they claim God favors WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), you might want to add that Jesus would likely have looked like people in the Middle East as that is where he was from. He was a Jewish rabbi and a carpenter, and would have likely had sun worn skin.

Jesus preached inclusion and forgiveness. He spent a lot of time with those who have been excluded and disenfranchised. We should not forget those lessons in the bible. Inclusion. Forgiveness. Treat others like you want to be treated (with no caveats).

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2019/06/17/emanuel-explores-power-forgiveness-after-charleston-church-massacre/1478473001/

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

A revisit to words of Martin Luther King on violence

This is a reprise of an earlier post. It still resonates, especially after the recent shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. Too many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend and missionary George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. We must teach our children those Jesus words. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/
** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

Paraphrasing the words can make them resonate

I love quotes, but sometimes the quote has been paraphrased somewhat and it takes a slightly new shape. Quoting religious text is like that as the text has been translated and retranslated many times. In fact, the books of the bible were not all written in the same language. So, we should look for the gist of the point.

Regardless of religion, there are very meaningful guides that can be pulled from Jesus’ words.

– Treat others like you want to be treated, tops any list and can be found in other religious texts
– Take care of people in need as when you do you are honoring me
– Treat your neighbors well.

But, let’s not stop there. Mother Teresa said:

– Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,is a much greater hunger than the person who has nothing to eat
– When she had doubts, she asked God to give her the strength to carry on.

Gandhi also spoke of helping people:

– a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its unfortunate ones

Martin Luther King said of hate:

– Hate is far more debilitating to keep up than love. When you hate, you are being destructive to yourself.

A Chinese proverb is used as the title to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky:”

– Women hold up half the sky (the proverb speaks volumes as does the book).

Finally, let me close with quoting lines from Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the wind.”

“Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry

Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

Peace be with you all.

Build bridges not chasms – a revisit

I wrote this seven years ago, but it seems to resonate even more today. The title is a quote I heard from a hero of mine, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was being interviewed on PBS Newshour about her book “My Beloved World.” She said we should “build bridges not chasms” which is a tremendous life lesson. This one resonates with me and echoes my admiration for the “dot connectors” in the world. It is also the serum for the toxic fever of tribal-like chasm building we seem to be infected with.

Well, how do we go about living this lesson? How do we build bridges and not chasms?

– First, we should look for ways we are similar. While we remain diverse, as humans there our similarities that cross all faiths, ethnic groups and countries. We want a safe and secure future for ourselves, but especially for our children. When I look at various religions, I am not surprised by the common thread of the Golden Rule which permeates them.

– Second, find these common threads. When I walk into someone’s office or home, I search for common experiences. I look at pictures of children, diplomas displaying education, trophies or pictures of sports or activities, etc. What can I talk about that will connect us better? Also, I take delight in finding out a similar passion or story. The other day I learned of a similar passion to help the homeless people among us from an unexpected source. We are now sharing information, books, etc.

– Third, an old boss said, “you have two ears and one mouth” use them in that proportion. We cannot listen if we don’t hear. We need to know what people’s concerns are before we can begin to help them. We have far too many people who like to hear themselves talk. My wife is the best of listeners. As a result, people flock to her as she will listen to their issues, interests, aspirations and problems.

– Fourth, look for the opportunity to compliment someone or reinforce an action. I am not advocating false praise, but I am advocating a supportive word or gesture. When you step up to the counter to be served by the exhausted clerk who is doing the best he or she can when the boss understaffed a shift, you can make a world of difference by some acknowledgement of their tribulations.

– Fifth, along this same line, you can never thank people enough. We tell our kids “people don’t have to do anything for you.” So, when they do, you should thank them for it. And, mean it. Even in this Twitter, text, Facebook and email world, a call or handwritten note speaks volumes. Yet, use whatever media you prefer to say thanks.

– Sixth, an old colleague used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Remember that and reach out. It is a low-key investment of time as it is not as intrusive as a meal. And, conversation will occur.

– Seventh, never hesitate to include others in meals or outings. Especially meals. If a friend of your child is over, ask them to stay. My wife and I made a conscious decision to have a house the kids like to come over to. Our kids love this. Their friends do as well as we make them feel welcome. Trust me on this. There is no greater sound on earth than hearing your children laughing.

– Eighth, laugh at yourself. Let me say this loud and clear, “you are not perfect.” Neither am I. So, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes and don’t be afraid to tell the stories. It will truly endear you. I found that my kids like me telling about the times I screwed up. We sometimes are in stitches. Why? Because they see it is OK to screw up. The world will not end. And, the old line is true, “laugh and the world laughs with you.”

– Ninth, LTFU. This is a pre-Twitter acronym. It stands for “Lighten the Eff Up.” We take ourselves too seriously. We make mountains out of very small mole hills. Many of the things we fret over are not that important. Trust me. Those folks that are reading texts and emails at stop lights (and God forbid in traffic), I can tell you right now, that text is not that important, even without reading it. I told a colleague one day, “I am going to take your I-Phone and throw it in the ocean.” He was constantly reacting to the messenger and not the message. So, issues got blown out of proportion.

– Tenth, help people in need. You both benefit from the transaction. Those in need benefit if you are helping them climb a ladder. You benefit from the psychic income of helping someone. It is a powerful elixir.

– Eleventh and last, getting back to the Golden Rule, treat others like you want to be treated. That is by far the best lesson in the bible and the ones some religious leaders tend to forget. If we do only this, the world will be a better place.

These are a few thoughts on how to build bridges. I am sure I have left off several good ones, so please feel free to share. We are a planet of fixer uppers. We should give each other a break as we need a break from them. Justice Sotomayor has it right – let’s build bridges.

Former pastor on concerns over Trump for Christianity

A concern that evangelicals should have is casting a person who does not exhibit their ideals as a Godsend. For too many evangelicals, the ends justify the means. Yet, when the means pervert your religious doctrine, the ends are not realized. They are bastardized.

The attached link is from a former pastor who lost his faith because of this. As a Christian, the overarching message in the bible is called the Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. It is pretty basic.

So, when the Godsend does not act or speak this way, it damages credibility. When the Godsend is not living up to those ten other rules, it makes it worse.

In short, the ends do not justify the means. How we act is important. How we treat people is paramount.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/ex-evangelical-pastor-says-supporting-trump-has-been-damaging-to-church/ar-AAJP9v0?ocid=spartandhp