Paris is no longer burning…response?

The fire at Notre Dame is out and we are beginning to see pictures of the damage…which, while horrific, is not as severe as everyone feared. Some of the significant works of art and relics were saved, and the main organ appears to have survived. The smaller organ may not have been as fortunate, but that is yet to be determined. And it appears that what is left of the cathedral is structurally sound.

Praise God for the firefighters who battled for hours, sometimes risking their lives, to save as much as possible of the cultural, artistic, and spiritual symbol.

And I am grateful for the many people who have stepped up to donate for the rebuilding of Notre Dame.

But it also makes me wonder.

What is it about this building that has caused such an outpouring of financial support?

What about the many other needs? These are just a few:

  • The black churches in Georgia that were burned because of white nationalism?
  • The people of Puerto Rico who are still struggling to recover from their last hurricane?
  • The people of Flint, many of whom still do not have clean water?
  • The immigrants who are trying to find a better life for their families, but who instead have often found their families torn apart and still have not been reunited?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help Notre Dame. But if Notre Dame calls us to worship Christ, then that call is to

  • feed the hungry.
  • visit the sick and those in prison.
  • clothe the naked.
  • take in the stranger.

Buildings are important symbols…but they are just that. If their meaning is of value, then we need to live out what they call us to.

Too many parallels…

As I have been looking back through history recently, I am struck by what seem to be parallels between the US today and Germany in the 1930s. They’re not complete parallels, but there are enough similarities that I find myself wondering…

Many Germans in the 1930s were struggling financially. They wanted a strong leader who would make things right again, and so many voted for Adolf Hitler, a man who promised that he would restore Germany to its pre-WWI greatness. It didn’t matter to his supporters that there were followers who were willing to resort to violence to help Hitler enforce his policies.

As is often the case when things are not going well, humans need to find a scapegoat. The situation must be the fault of someone else…that takes any responsibility away decisions from we might have made. And the easiest scapegoats to find are those who are somehow “other.” In Germany it became the Jews. They were described as criminals, parasites, vermin who needed to be exterminated.

Today I see similar language being used towards those who are “other” in the US. Immigrants are being described as invaders, animals, criminals—who need to be exterminated lest they somehow infect the “white race.” How can we not see the similarities?

I find myself wondering as well about the role of the church in all of this. There are some differences between Christianity in the 1930s Germany and Christianity in the US today, but there are also striking similarities.

Germany had a strong Christian background, although it was also laced with a strain of anti-Semitism that has unfortunately been a part of Christian history for centuries. It was easy for Hitler and his party to tap into that strain while at the same time claiming to be in support of Christian values. And also unfortunately, many Christian pastors fell in line, giving Hitler a cover of legitimacy by their support.

There were some—both members and pastors—who saw this relationship between government and the church to be problematic. They felt that rather than following Jesus, too many were following Hitler. Eventually some joined together to try to draw the church back to its foundation where the worship of Jesus was paramount, creating what became known as “the Confessing church.”

I realize this is a simplified portrayal, but the parallels continue to haunt me. Is Christianity in America at the same crossroads Christianity was in Germany in the 1930s? Are those of us who understand Jesus’ call to be ministers to the vulnerable facing the challenges of (1) standing in opposition to the language that negates the humanity of the “other” and (2) needing to band together across denominational lines to try to draw Christianity back to its foundation of worshiping Christ instead of binding the ties tightly between church and government?

I struggle with these questions because I have people whom I like who would say that I am wrong in these feelings. And yet I also cannot ignore the call I feel to stand and speak in support of the vulnerable. I realize that may mean losing friends, and I regret that. But again, the Jesus I worship worked with and ministered to the vulnerable and marginalized—can I do less?

 

Doing God’s work…?

The last couple of years I’ve heard a number of people say that they believe that Donald Trump won the presidency because that’s where God placed him…that he has been anointed by God…that he is indeed a follower of Jesus.

So I have a couple of questions for those of you who believe this. I’m serious in asking these questions.

  • How does his life show that he is a follower of Jesus?
  • What exactly is he doing that is God’s work?

Here’s the problem I have. I know that God uses flawed human beings–I’ve heard this statement a lot when questions have been raised about Trump. But Jesus said that “by their fruits you will know whether people are my followers” (my paraphrase)–and the “fruits” I see don’t correlate with how I see followers of Jesus.

This is just a partial list of the issues I have with the claim that Trump is God’s anointed, placed in the presidency to do God’s work:

  • His life shows a lack of the basic morality followers of Jesus show (i.e., multiple affairs, cheating on each of his wives with the woman who became his next wife).
  • Through the years he has “stiffed” those who have done work at many of his properties–refusing to pay bills and leaving many of those who have worked for him struggling to pay their debts.
  • He has refused to listen to the advice and counsel of those with training and experience in scientific, political and military affairs, often overriding their counsel with negative results.
  • He has insulted our allies and cozied up to and with dictators, expressing appreciation for how they run their countries.
  • He has demonized specific ethnic and religious groups, calling immigrants “invaders, thugs, rapists.”
  • Even though he promised to support members of the LGBT!+ communities, his policies are removing protections for them and leaving them vulnerable.
  • At his rallies, he accuses those who don’t agree with him as being “enemies of the people.”
  • He constantly accuses the mainstream news of being “fake news.”
  • When someone disagrees with him at a rally, he encourages calls of “throw them out” or “lock them up.”
  • He has surrounded himself with individuals who have been charged–and in some cases, already found guilty–of corruption in various forms.
  • His cabinet appointees, in many cases, are individuals whose stated purpose is to do away with the very departments they are tasked with running.
  • He created a policy that separated children from their families without keeping track of them or plans to reunite them…families that were already vulnerable because they were fleeing violence.
  • His priorities–as shown in his proposed budget–cut programs that aid the most vulnerable among us.
  • One of his big focuses is on building a wall of separation, when Jesus worked to tear down walls.

So how does any of this correlate with Jesus’ call to take care of the vulnerable? to live a moral life? to love others and to treat the stranger in our midst as we would want to be treated?

How does this correlate with God’s work? I just don’t get it.

 

Our words have consequences

There’s a children’s song that includes these lyrics: “be careful, little eyes, what you see…be careful, little feet, where you go…be careful, little mouth, what you say.”

I thought of that when I heard the news of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand–and the fact that one of those arrested had a social media account linked to an 85-page anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim manifesto.

Our words have consequences!

When we demonize entire groups of people–whether because of their religion, their sexual or gender identity, their politics, or any other way we choose to divide into us versus them–we should not be surprised when someone then finds it acceptable to attack those same groups.

We then hear words of condolence and condemnation–often from the same individuals/organizations/entities that demonized them in the first place.

Such hypocrisy!

We may not always agree with each other. In fact, I’m sure we won’t. But it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

When we are willing to learn about each other–why we worship the way we do…why we have chosen the political path we are on…what it means to have a gender or sexual identity different from what is considered the norm–then we will see that those we call “them” often have the same challenges, concerns, cares, and hopes that we do.

They want better lives for their children–just as we do. They want a place to live and enough to eat–just as we do. They want a world where war isn’t the norm–just as we do.

Finding the solutions to the problems in the world is not going to be easy. But our words can help us find ways toward peace–or create more violence.

Which kind of world do we want? Our words do have consequences.

Talking with–or at?–each other

As I’ve listened to–and read–what passes for conversation today on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering if we’re trying to talk with each other or if we’re simply content to talk at each other.

What do I mean?

We may use the same words with each other–but it’s becoming more and more obvious that we often attach different meanings to them. It’s like a humorous saying I’ve heard about America and Britain–that we are two countries separated by a common language!

Part of the difficulty comes because we often approach our conversations from completely different foundations. Several years ago, the Smithsonian published an article from the relatively new field of political neuroscience suggesting that our political differences may have some biological basis. A key takeaway (at least for me) from the article is this:

Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher who has written about political neuroscience, would rather put a positive spin on what it could mean for politics. She says this kind of knowledge could help open up communication, or at least ease hostility between the country’s two major political parties.

“Each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things…With the state our country is in right now, I don’t think we have any choice but to cowboy up and do whatever needs to be done in order to reach some common ground.”

A current article from Yahoo! News shows how difficult these conversations are going to be. What do we hear when we listen to each other? Or are we really listening? or just figuring out how we’re going to respond to what we think we hear?

Common ground seems to be really hard to find right now. But unless we are willing to do the hard work to try to find it, we are going to continue to become more and more divided–and instead of conversations that can help us find solutions, we will end up talking at (and past) each other!