The Secret

There are two books I have disliked and distrusted since they first burst onto the scene: The Prayer of Jabez and The Secret. Both of them play far too much into the “prosperity gospel” for me–and I see them as feeding the “me-first” mentality that causes too many of us to be less-than-wise stewards.

I recently watched a program on ABC’s Nightline about one of those individuals who is a passionate advocate of The SecretJames Arthur Ray. Not only do I think that what he preaches is spiritually dangerous, it is also physically dangerous.

Part of the philosophy of The Secret that I can agree with. If we carry a positive attitude, we are more likely to attract positive people–and find the positives in situations. That does have an impact on how we interact with others and makes it possible that we will succeed in our goals more than those whose attitudes are always negative. But to focus on living in ways to attract what we want to the exclusion of caring about others–and paying thousands of dollars to constantly chase that goal–is unhealthy…and dangerous.

The Nightline show discussed a workshop that went horribly wrong last year, one I remember hearing about in the news where three people died in a “sweat lodge” experience. They interviewed several people who had attended the workshop as well as a former employee and a woman who had volunteered to help with the sweat lodge. That event–the culminating one of the six-day workshop in which the attendees would be pushed to (and past) their limits–sounded like a challenging but safe experience, but it was not. By that time, the attendees had already been pushed beyond what was healthy, and the way this event was run was incredibly dangerous even to people who were in good shape.

Several of the things that were shared just sounded almost too bizarre to be believable. And yet…while one of the people who had attended the event said she would never attend another event held by Ray, she was still willing to follow another self-help guru. Another individual, even while acknowledging that things went horribly wrong at that event, was very willing to go to another of Ray’s events. Why? Because he personally found value in them.

But why?

Is focusing so much on trying to find ways to get what I want worth the creation of events that are so physically dangerous? Is the me-first mentality worth ignoring our connections with each other? Because that’s what seems to be happening.

I am in full support of retreats and receiving guidance / help from individuals who have something to offer. I believe spirituality is an important component of who we are. I also think it’s important that we reconsider the messages of the prosperity gospel–and remember Jesus’ challenge to each of us in terms of our relationships with each other (Matthew 25:34-45):

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

   I was hungry and you fed me,
   I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
   I was homeless and you gave me a room,
   I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
   I was sick and you stopped to visit,
   I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

   I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
   I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
   I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
   I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
   Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

What do we want to attract? “Me-first”? Or our connectedness with each other?

Who’s in–or out–of the closet?

I’ve just been reading a book titled The Other Side of the Closet. It’s a discussion of what often happens when a gay / bisexual spouse comes out of the closet–and the straight spouse (and children) may find themselves pushed in!

Let me say right at the beginning that I am very supportive of equal rights for members of the GLBT community. I have heard too many stories from people who knew they were “different” from a very early age (5 or 6) to believe that homosexuality is a choice…and I wonder who would “choose” to live in such a way as to be constantly demeaned, attacked, denigrated…

Having said that, though, I’ve come to a new realization and understanding that there’s a hidden challenge..a part of the process that sometimes makes victims of others innocently involved. I believe that those tensions and challenges can be worked through–but not without difficulty and heartache. The largest percentages of marriages with mixed sexual orientation partners seem to end in divorce, but I did find some hope in this book that it may be possible to work through the challenges faced when one partner comes out.

When GLBT individuals come out, there’s often a sense of relief and freedom–an acknowledgement that they are no longer living a lie. But for the straight spouse, there can be a new sense of imprisonment and concern. Who knows about the change? Who needs to know? What will the ramifications be?

So much of society seems to be non-supportive just at a time when the entire family needs to be upheld–the GLBT partner in dealing with what it means to be authentically themselves…and the straight spouse  at figuring out who they are and–with their children, what this means to the relationship. To find that someone you thought you knew intimately has hidden a significant part of themselves from you can raise many questions that need to be carefully worked through.

Faith communities can help or hinder this process. My hope and prayer would be that they help, but far too often we tend to draw rigid lines that reflect our own personal understandings and that create more hurt than healing. If only we could live by what one author refers to as the “Rule of Love.”

The Rule of Love goes back at least as far as the fourth century and probably before then. It is essentially this: if a passage in Scripture appears to contradict the essence of Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength or to love our neighbor as ourselves, then the passage, or our interpretation of it, must be held suspect. (Eric Elnes, Phoenix Affirmations, p. 20)

That doesn’t mean that we’re all going to suddenly agree with each other or all have the same understanding. But living by that Rule could, I believe, help bring healing to fractured relationships, help individuals see their own worth, help us learn to value (not just tolerate) the diversity in our creation as beings created in God’s image.

While we celebrate–rightfully–the new possibilities of authenticity that coming out of the closet brings for members of the GLBT community, I would simply suggest that we be careful in our words and actions that we not force straight spouses into the closet. Both need to be free to discover who they are and how they relate…

Stewards…or masters?

Like many, I have been horrified by the pictures I’ve seen of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Watching the oil spewing constantly–the black, oily “stuff”–just makes me sick.

And then, to see the innocent animals caught up in it and struggle to survive…

Not to mention the people whose livelihoods have been ruined–perhaps forever…and the wetlands that are being destroyed…

It’s easy to point fingers at British Petroleum…to blame them. And there are legitimate reasons to call them to accountability, reasons that indicate that at times they cut corners to improve profits, that they ignored some industry standards.

But they are not the only ones to blame.

We have to look at ourselves. And those of us who call ourselves Christians cannot escape our own culpability. Far too often–and for far too many years–we have (I believe) misinterpreted the statement in Genesis at the end of the creation story:

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 NRSV)

We have definitely multiplied! Past wisdom… For many years we refused (and in some cases still do refuse) to see birth control as an acceptable human responsibility. And the result of that is that we have overcrowded the earth past what it can adequately bear.

Our greed, our insistence on having our living standard remain high when much of the rest of the world struggles for daily survival, has helped create this disaster.

And we have seen the instruction to “have dominion” as ruling…in many ways, doing what we want to with the animals God created. If that meant hunting them to extinction, so be it. If it meant taking over their habitat, so be it. If it meant not worrying about the consequences of our actions on them, so be it.

But having dominion doesn’t mean that. Yes, it may in today’s language lexicon, but language constantly changes–and a more appropriate translation for our day is to “take responsibility”…to be stewards, rather than masters. That we have not done…not really.

And now we are all paying the cost.

In his address to the United States, President Obama said that he would do whatever it takes to make certain that something like this never happens again. He cannot do it by himself. It will take all of us…and it will take a renewed understanding of our human responsibility to be responsible for the world God created and in which we live.

Would I…can I…be this persistent?

A couple of nights ago, we decided that we didn’t really want to do all the “stuff” that needed doing…that we wanted to watch a movie. So we sat down and watched (again) Amazing Grace, the story of Wilbur Wilberforce, the force behind the eventual decision of the English House of Parliament to abolish the slave trade.

I had watched it before–but this time I was watching it from a somewhat different perspective.

Wilburforce and his good friend William Pitt–one of England’s best prime ministers–were, in many ways, just kids when they set out to change the world. They were in their early 20’s–as one line in the movie states…”too young to know that some things are impossible, so we just go ahead and do it” (my rough paraphrase).

Struggling between his sense of calling as a minister and his knowledge that a political career lay beckoning before him, Wilburforce finally responded to Pitt’s suggestion that in fact he could do both through his work in Parliament.

And so he did.

His passion was to help others–lords and commoners alike–see all as human beings, and to that end he brought his first bill to abolish the slave trade. It was rejected. He brought it again…and again it was rejected. He continued to bring it–even during the war between England and France, when those sentiments were seen as seditious and his friend Pitt (acting in his role as prime minister) discouraged him. He continued to bring it after the war–when Pitt (again, acting as prime minister) rather discouraged it…but acting as friend, strongly encouraged it.

Ultimately it passed.

But only after long years of frustration and disappointment…twenty-six years!

And I wondered. If I had seen the same kind of moral issue as he did then, would I have been as willing as he to continue fighting for justice? It’s not just a rhetorical question…not for me in this time. While the issue of injustice I see is not slavery–although I know that slavery does continue to be a problem, not just in far-away countries but also in my own–but the issue of treatment of members of the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) community. It’s an issue I was tangentially aware of for a number of years, but it has become much more personal as I have come to know family members who belong to that community.

So what’s my response? To silently support them? Or to do something else?

I see injustice both in my political community and in my church community…and to be quite honest, I’m not really sure how to respond. Politically I can vote and support those who choose inclusion over exclusion. But the challenge in my church community is more difficult in many ways. We are a world church, and that means there are different understandings, laws, and culture surrounding those I call brother and sister. Some face death if this issue of injustice is even mentioned.

And yet… There are those in my own country who face death because this issue of injustice is quietly pushed under the rug. Sometimes physical death–but often emotional and spiritual death. How can I let that go unchallenged?

Part of it comes through education–as Wilburforce and Pitt found. Their fight was not just a political one–it involved education…and it involved personalizing the issue, in one case bringing a load of MPs on a boat trip through the docks–and ending up by a slave ship with all its stink…and the knowledge that it had left Africa with over 600 people on board, but arrived with just over 200.

I’m not a loud, pushy activist…but I have come to realize that I must find ways to help us–all of us–learn to accept each other as we have been created…not just tolerate, but accept. I can no longer sit quietly in my chair, feeling sorry for those who are marginalized, but I must do my part in educating, encouraging, persisting….until (as the spiritual says) “All God’s children are free.”