Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ramadan

I visited the local Imam to the Muslim community in Kelowna, today.  Muslim people are observing the month of Ramadan, currently (it began on the 11th of August, and will wind up September 9th, this year).

I learned that the fasting that happens in Ramadan is a time to fast from more than food.  It’s a time to be very intentional about, for example, not speaking poorly about people behind their backs (if one might be prone to such behaviour) – so it’s a fast from habits that may be unhealthy.  Perhaps a good discipline for any of us: intentional time to reflect on what we do with our bodies, minds – our whole beings.

The closest Christians come to an annual period of fasting is our season of Lent.  In my past, I’ve been known to give up sweets for Lent, or beer, and such.  The faith community’s calendar is meant to draw different parts of life into one’s perspective – even more than simply “Valentine’s Day for love,” or “birthday to celebrate me,” or “Summertime to go on holiday.”  Seasons like Lent or Ramadan, or days like Ash Wednesday or Yom Kippur – along with the liturgies they may involve or the passages from scripture they may include – such seasons and days give the gathered community pause to be conscious of life and the world.  These days and seasons invite the community to be conscious of need in the world, and the interconnectedness of life.

Today is the last day of August, and September always feels like a new beginning with programs starting up and the school year getting under way.  I’m looking forward to deepening connections with inter-faith and ecumenical friends in town – it’s an opportunity to invite people into conversation about life and values, as well as build community.

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A call for an end to discrimination

On August 28, 1963, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr made his, now-famous, “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, in the USA.

The message of the life of King is a call for an end to discrimination.  If he were alive today, he would likely take up the civil rights issue that is facing us in this age: rights for people who are of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

As King wrote from jail in April, 1963, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Our task – always – is to seek the welfare of all people.  We must always be aware, and working for justice, for the least among us.  I read an article this week that states that this is the role of religious expression in a day where voices tend to push the role and reason-for-being of religion to the margins.  The faithful hold up lifeInter-Faith Youth Core founder, Eboo Patel, has said wisely, “Show me a religion that doesn’t care about compassion. Show me a religion that doesn’t care about stewardship of the environment. Show me a religion that doesn’t care about hospitality.”  Faith, and hopefully religious expression, is about compassion, hospitality, stewardship – values that are not always easily measured.  …values that have to do with life and being.

We can seek the welfare of all people, like us and not like us.  We can declare that life – in all its expressions found in various cultures and contexts – is to be revered.  When all have a place and feel accepted, there will be true freedom.  And that kind of freedom – which we glimpse occasionally on a grand scale – is always worth celebrating!

“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state [or province] and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children — [black, white, gay, straight, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics] — will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old [African-American] spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

How shall I describe myself? Well, I’m not…

I’ve heard people in Canada describe their sense of identity as “I’m not American.”  (…I haven’t heard that for a few years, which is probably a good thing.)

When asking about religious affiliation or faith, I’ve also heard people say, “I’m not into organized religion,” or “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”

When it comes to political stripes, we tend to polarize ourselves, don’t we?  If you’re not conservative, you’re liberal.  If you’re not capitalist, you’re socialist.  If you’re not Democrat, you’re Republican.  If you’re not left, you’re right.

All of this can make it hard for us to come together.  Whether it’s politics, or religion, or sports fans (!) – how can we gather?

My hunch is that it has to do with how we deal with perceived vulnerability versus apparent strength.  If we fit with the majority, things are fine and we can hold strong positions: “Obama’s dismantling private health care which will hurt the hard-working Americans who have built up their private plans,” or “Catholic priests spread lies and abuse children.”  Whereas, if we happen to be a part of a minority group, there is often more openness to diversity: “my group doesn’t get as many opportunities, so we’re willing to help others who also have limited opportunities.”

What I’m getting at is, how do we join in a collective sense of identity?  How can we feel some level of pride in our individual backgrounds and the things that make us unique, while – at the same time – finding unity so we can journey forward together?  …whether it’s a journey of faith, or a national movement, or a way of understanding political ideology.

I’d like to know what people would be open to, in terms of faith journey, so that I could meet with them.  Some say they are spiritual but not religious – and, while I represent religion, I don’t often do what might be called ‘stereotypically religious’ things.  Some say that they are not in to religion – all in all, neither am I.  I do, however, see a lot of good in traditions of the past and am interested to talk with people who are seeking to engage those traditions (eg. baptism, marriage, funerals, and such).

How do you describe yourself?  While you may not be certain things, what are you?

S-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m is the only way…

I don’t know as much about political ideologies as I’d like.

My basic politics has to do with everyone having enough, and everyone being free to live happily.  I think that means that we, as a society, need to be taxed at a level that our infrastructure and basic services (eg. education, health care) are covered.  Does that make me a socialist?  Is that a bad thing?

My impression of a free-market, capitalist economy is that each person is to get ahead as much as possible on their own steam.  That is: you work hard, and you invest wisely and, hopefully, your wealth grows.  The basic premise is that everyone gets what they deserve and creativity is stimulated by a competitive atmosphere.

I disagree with a free-market society (read my previous blog about styles of growth).  I realize that this is what the United States has tried to accomplish in its society.  And, I realize that not all Americans agree with this kind of society.  Those who have argued for this system of societal structure the loudest, in my experience, have been people for whom this system has worked.  They have much wealth, they are healthy, they fit the profile of the majority, their children are healthy, and their children are (sexually oriented) straight.  To me, this says that the system works if life has handed you opportunity and a “normal” appearance.  But what about those who deviate – even slightly – from the norm.  I’m thinking of those who might not have the skin colour of the majority, or speak the language of the majority, or be sexually oriented as the majority, or whose health hasn’t always been good, or whose opportunity for education may have been limited, and so on.  Is it really a “fair competition” in a free-market system?

Some may say that a representative of religion should not engage in politics, or even comment on political issues.  I am of the mind that we are all a part of whatever political system runs our country, and those of us who follow the way of Jesus Christ are called to speak for the vulnerable among us.  …and so I favour – and even speak out for – a system where we work towards opportunity and happiness for all, regardless of status, race, religion, orientation, or any other identifying trait which may keep a person from the mainstream.

And, lest people comment on politicians steering clear of religion, I’d want to make clear that theology enters the realm of politics more often than people might care to admit or notice.  “With God on Our Side” is a documentary that reveals how the Christian Right has had influence in American politics over the past five decades; in his book, American Fascists, Chris Hedges also lays out how restrictive theology has entered politics in an overt and extreme way in an administration like that of President George W Bush.  There’s almost an expectation by the public that a politician will have views on religion, as made clear in an article about President Obama published today.

My hope is that political ideologies might be informed by one’s faith and religion, but that the welfare of all be held ultimately as the most important.

I suppose a follow-up post to this might pursue whether companies and corporations ought to be given the same rights as an individual in a country’s legal system.  And, if so, whether such “individuals” can be corporately held responsible if they tread on the rights of other individuals in the country (or abroad).  I know even less about legal systems, but would welcome your thoughts!

By the way, the title of this blog-post is a quote from a tune by Sam Roberts called “The Canadian Dream” – I recommend it: it’s a great song!

Be on your guard against all kinds of greed

The gospel text for August 1st was Luke 12:13-21.  Here is some of the sermon I preached Sunday morning at Peace Lutheran Church, Vernon.

Our desire to have more has impacts more far-reaching than we may think.  Materials needed to put together computers, cameras, and other electronics that have become “expected” consumer items in our culture end up meaning that people in the Congo are fighting to have access to those resources which are extracted there.  People in Asian countries are expected to work for low wages so we can have our stuff at low prices.

All of this is relational – and I think that was what Jesus was getting at.  If you expect your inheritance in advance, or if you expect to have it all and have it now, you and I are also expecting the death of someone else so we can have the life of several now.  You’ve probably heard the statistic where, if everyone in the world lived like us North Americans, we’d need several worlds over to accommodate all we take for granted and what we have come to expect to live on.  (If you haven’t heard that before, take a look at the free video online – storyofstuff.com)

As Christians, it goes without saying that we must show generosity and hospitality.  We have coffee after every service; we have potluck meals – we know how it feels to have life in this way.  No one goes away hungry.  No one thirsts.  And that is how we’re called to live always.

The opposite of greed is – I think it’s fair to say – sharing.  Do we always share?  Are we selective about who we share with?

What if we were asked to share with those not like us?  What if life together called us to give of ourselves to those who didn’t fit the norm we’ve come to know?

Charity is one form of sharing, but it should never become a substitute for involvement in life – that is, giving to a person or organization so that one’s sense of guilt is abated.  I wonder about how we involve ourselves in church, and whether that becomes a concern with some.  If we give offering in a token way, or begrudgingly, or “because we should,” we lose sight of why we do it.  Same goes for involvement – whether it’s the amount of time committed to church on Sunday mornings or on committees. A satirical cartoon portrays a well-dressed and obese person chomping in to planet earth while throwing a few crumbs to a tiny, emaciated person wearing only a loin-cloth.  That is charity at its worst. In effect, it’s not charity because there isn’t love.

The point is: we’re called into relationship with others. If we have abundant resources – which (I think I can safely say) we all do – and we are constantly turning towards our own wants and pursuits and missing the need of our neighbour, we are participating in greed.

The good news is found in that the parable is not the real story.  The parable is the story within the story, today.

The person who asks Jesus to play judge and arbitrator is given a new opportunity.  All he could see was his own desires and agenda – he wanted to have his chunk of money, even as it would likely mean the severing of any relationship with his family (father or brother).

But Jesus gives this person a different choice: choose life!  Choose wealth that does not necessarily manifest itself in the accumulation of things!  Be rich toward God!

Live well!

A saying attributed to Martin Luther goes something like this: if I were to die tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.  The message is: live always as if life could end anytime.  In effect, that’s the case for any of us – life is unpredictable.  But in life, God is.  And God is even when life, as we know it, is no more.  …so be rich toward God always!  And we experience God through others, and through creation – animals, plants – all people, like us and not like us.

When greed consumes us, we can not be rich toward God – and then even our wealth loses its meaning.

We know from the prayer that Jesus taught – which we heard last Sunday – that God provides “us our daily bread.”  It’s not bread for years from now, or even bread for tomorrow; it’s bread for today.  Enough to sustain us on the journey.

Our system of money and interest, and then our expectations for acquiring wealth, has so skewed our expectations as well as a natural balance in creation that we can’t imagine actually living our faith where we believe God will provide for us daily!  …and so we fear those not like us to the point where we hole up with our own things and dare not share.

As far as our Lutheran church goes, I think we could do well to give ourselves away. Offerings support the community around, and work being done elsewhere in the world – such as our companion synod, Peru, and our Lutheran pastor there, Fran Schmidt.

Even children know the rule: “you have to share,” but while we expect that to happen on the play-ground, we certainly don’t expect that to happen later in life.  Get what you can!  There may not be a pension for you later in life!

Friends, as Christians, we must model a new way of being.  This must change how we do things in a drastic way.  We can’t continue to directly or indirectly support companies that rape and pillage the earth by extracting resources while poisoning watersheds; we can not frequent low-price stores that treat their employees poorly; we can not drive our cars to places where we can as easily bike or walk; we can not vote for candidates who won’t put people and environment first. As Christians, we must model a new way of being!

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!

We’re being called to alternative living.  The life Christ invites us into is not to support oppressive, detrimental systems.  The life we’re called in to always turns us outward – toward others and need around.  It’s what we’re baptized into.  It’s what we remember as we share in the loaf and cup.

Be rich toward God.