Saturday, July 4, 2015
I am so very grateful for a fun conversation with Faith and Leadership with Sally Hicks.
Text of Interview
Friday, July 3, 2015
What does this look like? When we make jokes about people it is a way of demeaning them. When we call people names or ascribe a label to people we make them less than who they are. When we prescribe behaviors to others that we do not know they have, for the sake of bringing judgement upon them by others, is a form of dark mob mentality. Shaming people or groups of people is also a form of meanness.
Social media is a form of communication that has helped the Christian Church with evangelism and telling our story. It is blossoming and growing.
Christian social media also has a dark side. The dark side of media is that it allows us to anonymously and not-so-anonymously say and do things which are mean with very little social accountability. It can give voice to a minority which is a good thing. At the same time it can also give an appearance of a higher authority to voices which may be untruthful or mean spirited. It can create what are called "dark mobs." This is when people ban together in groups and shame and harass others online for their opinions and beliefs.
This is a kind of "troll" like behavior at its worst. Liberals and conservative Christians pop onto someone else's page or into someone else's twitter stream and accuse them of all manner of things. In real life, even among other interfaith friendships, we typically monitor our behavior and words. Online we are a culture that has become free to say what we are thinking and it is mean and uncivilized.
When Christians do this it is Christtrolling. It sounds righteous. It sounds biblical. It may even sound justified. Instead, Christtrolling is hurtful to the Gospel.
When we participate by doing these things we are being unrighteous and we are destroying the character of God's creatures. When we listen or "like" these behaviors, when we allow them to hang on our blogs and on our Facebook pages, and say nothing we allow our silent approval to give these statements power. Feeding the Christtrolls isn't any better. Sometimes they simply have to be deleted from the feed and sometimes in extreme cases they have to be unfriended or blocked.
We have to treat our cyber worlds and cyber church communities the same way we treat our real life communities. We must maintain a standard of behavior that is Christ like. If you are a Christian you are called to live a Christ like life all week long in the "real world" not just on Sunday; and in cyberspace.
Some people call this bullying behavior (cyber bullying) when it is on line. We are all against this of course - as we should be. Most people who engage in Christian Meanness would not believe they are being bullies at all - because they think they have the right to say what they want to whom ever they want. Let me be clear, Christian Meanness is an equal opportunity abuser and is a sin - even when it happens online.
Christianity is always at its worst when it is pointing its finger at others instead of individually walking by the faith we have received. I am not here talking about civil discourse or the importance of taking our place at the table to discuss deep issues upon which we are deeply committed. Christtrolling, cyber bullying, and Christian Meanness masquerades as righteousness and it is not. It is not conversation or Christian listening.
I can promise you that over the last ten days in the wake of events in our nation around the Supreme Court ruling and the events at the Episcopal General Convention I have been on the receiving end of Christian Meanness from every side.
Christian Meanness destroys our evangelism efforts. It hurts people. It ascribes to God meanness which is out of sync with our witness to a God of love.
A friend reminded me of a wonderful book by Richard J. Mouw entitled: Uncommon Decency, Christian Civility in a Uncivil World. (You can purchase the book here.) In this book Mouw reminds us that true righteousness comes from modeling outwardly what we experience inwardly of the life of God.
I actually heard a priest tell me once that he did not believe that "kindness" was a Christian virtue. I disagree. I believe, like Mouw, that Christian kindness and courtesy is a revelation of our inner commitment to God to treat one another as neighbor.
Mouw reminds us that this is not some kind of relativism. Instead it is holding our faith, belief, and clear convictions as our own and at the same time being inquisitive and admiring of those of another. Christian Meanness is easy. Christian kindness is hard because it requires us spiritually to admire the other person (gay, lesbian, transgender, heterosexual, conservative, liberal, republican, democrat, muslim, jew, man, woman) as a creation of God. (p22)
When we do this we are actually imitating the divine character of God. God is gentle slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15) Christians are called to imitate God and God's embrace of humanity and creation. We are to reveal in our actions the actions of God in Christ Jesus.
Church, above all else, is the primary center for practicing this behavior. How can we ever expect to share the love of God with others if we cannot model and reveal it online, and in person, through our words to others within and without our own church. (p35)
Mouw suggests that we model Christian Civility instead of Christian meanness by exhibiting these behaviors: empathy, curiosity, teachability, learning from unbelief/where we disagree, and opening ourselves up to see where the lines are blurred. Here is where we discover not only the other person for who they are but we also discover where God may be speaking to us and seeking to help us find healing. (p58ff)
To do this Mouw says we must zealously stay together, seek peace despite our disagreements, go deep into spiritual prayer, cultivate a spirit of appreciation for others instead of being threatened by them, and make room for others within our family, friendship, and community circles. (p68ff)
It is actually possible to hold deeply held beliefs and be in conflict with our neighbor and at the same time not embody Christian Meanness or to partake in Christtrolling. The two statements by the House of Bishops are wonderful examples of a Christian community holding together despite great difference. You can read the statements here: Minority Statement and Mind of the House Statement.
There may be a lot of things that we are debating in a topsy turvy world. There may be things you are unsure about or wondering about. There may be things you are steadfastly FOR and AGAINST. No matter what any of these things are I am clear that Jesus entered the world in a lowly place. That Jesus was himself humble and embodied God's love.
Jesus was prophetic, yes. He was prophetic against all those who were mean and tried to shut people out of God's house. This is why they killed him. He opened up religion and opened up the heavens by giving away power, love, and himself.
This Jesus has taught me: that there is no room in the Gospel for Christian Meanness or Christtrolling and it is a rule of life we must reject. Christian Civility is a rule of life we must take on for the sake of the kingdom and the God we love.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Monday, June 22, 2015
This week many Episcopalians will make there way to our triennial gathering the General Convention. This is an important and awaited gathering of many leaders from around the church to undertake a portion of the governance we use to support our mission.
People are excited. I am excited. At our best we are a family reunion like no other. We are sharing our difference, we are setting aside deference, we are celebrating our diversity. At our best we are creating a church wide commons where ideas, excitement for the story, dispatches from the missionary front, and our love of God are shared. When we are doing this we are all in the arena. We are there with our tribe. We are dancing and singing together. We are working hard and playing together. We are learning from one another and we are sharing the road together. We hear ideas and we wonder about them together. We are belonging. We are creating. We are loving.
But we should always remember that the General Convention is an arena. If you love it you will enter it with ideas, creativity, and a desire to make something. Hopefully that is always to make our governance and structure work for our mission.
When you do this, when I do this, we are daring greatly. We are trusting one another enough to be vulnerable with our ideas and to share them with the body so that we might discern together what good might we be about on behalf of the God we believe in. When we do this we are the one in the arena. Brené Brown uses the speech often called The Man in the Arena to describe this moment - this space we inhabit when we risk.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."This is taken THE MAN IN THE ARENA is an excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt's speech entitled "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910,
download PDF of complete speech.
Brown reminds us that when we enter the arena it is not about winning or losing it is about showing up and being seen. What we have to know and understand is that the arena - though we would like it to be otherwise - is dangerous. Showing up and being seen means you will as Brené Brown says, "Get your assed kicked." She goes on to say that if "courage is a value that you hold, this is a consequence, you can't avoid it." What you should know is that if the person who is taking you to task is not in the arena with you then you should not be interested in your feedback. Constructive, helpful, supportive, challenging about ideas, looking for common ground, building consensus are some of the many forms that people enter the arena with you to help co-create.
These people are the people in the support section. These are people who have empathy for you. They see and act as though their contributions are given in the spirit of mutual support for the common good. When the Episcopal Church is filled with people like this we are good. We are together and we are moving our mission forward.
There are others though who are not in the support section or not in the arena with us but are really against us. These are the ones not helping, supporting, or moving the creativity forward. These are people who make the arena unsafe.
We are so "hardwired for connection" that when we pretend we don't care we are actually cutting ourselves off. Even though their messages are ones of shame or even anger, we must recognize them as part of our family, part of the arena. We need to understand they are season ticket holders. they are sitting in particular seats.
The people inhabit three kinds of seats: cheap seats, box seats, and the critics section. The Cheap Seats are filled with the anonymous critics who pass judgment on us. They may be named, have a twitter handle, or Facebook Page, you may even know who they are because they are recognized cheap seat ticket holders. The reality is that they are not connected to you or your idea. They want to see you fail and even though they are sitting in your arena they may be naysayers and be working for an opposing team.
The box seats are filled with people who built or maintain the arena and give us the messages about the expectations we must meet. They are the ones who pass out power and take away power based on loyalty. They are the ones who are deeply invested in the arena staying exactly where it is. They will criticize all ideas, have none to add to the arena, and won't tolerate any thing challenging to shifting or changing who sits where.
The last of these is special seats are held by the critics. The critics are the people who give us the messages of shame, comparison and scarcity. These are the ones who demean people because of their difference, they offer shame messages in order to quite you, they compare you to others who "get it right", and they believe there is no possible way for your creativity to work or have any merit.
Thanks to social media these seats won't only be inhabited by people at Convention but there will be a ton of people all over shouting from the seats at those who this week walk into the arena. I am always aware that the General Convention is a wonderful thing and that it has its shadow side which can be ugly and mean.
What we do a lot of the time is we armor up. We move away from the creative idea, the opportunity for change, and either exit the arena and go quietly into the night - we move away. Or we move against and channel all our energy into defeating the people in those seats! This also saps energy from the work at hand. Or we try to placate the critics, cheap, and box seats.
Brené Brown reminds us that when we walk into the arena we are also in the same spot where we discover love, belonging, joy, empathy, creativity, and innovation
So we what do we do? We allow them to sit in their seats. But we chose to walk into the arena for the sake of these things.
Clarity of values - remember what you believe in. For instance, remember not the church and its structures but remember and hold close to you the image of the family of God that Jesus offers and into which Jesus invites us. Have your someone who will tell you the truth, who will dust you off, clean you up, and help you go back into the arena. Finally, remember that the biggest critic in the arena is you - its me. "We are so self critical. We have an ideal about ourselves. We orphan all the parts that don't fit for us. And, all that is left is the critic." Brené Brown says. But put in that seat you - the person who is your journey, your life, your story, and is excited and supporting you.
I leave tomorrow morning for General Convention. If I am honest I have sat in all of those seats in the past. This year as I step into the arena I want to enter it in a different way. I want to share what I have, listen to others. I want to help heal the past. I want to experience our difference and diversity. I want to create a peaceful commons. I want to be about the work of reconciliation and I want to help us be a better church that is a good steward of its resources and finally is focused on its mission. I am looking for others who want to do these things. I am hopeful we will be at our best.
When we are not and we get into the critics, the box, and cheap seats I hope we will hold each other accountable. When we use shame and other demeaning tactics to quiet people or to deal with our own fear and anxiety I hope we will hold one another accountable.
So I am at first prayerful. Prayerful for safe travel. Prayerful for our gathered family. Prayerful for all those who are going to serve, feed, and clean up after us for 10+ days. Prayerful and grateful for the privilege of serving at this church and being able to afford the time and resources to attend this meeting. And, finally prayerful that we will be at our best.
I am hopeful. I believe we have an opportunity to become the church that God beckons us to become. I believe we have at Salt Lake City the moment to take our next step into the future of a church whose mission is amplified for the future.
Here is a quote from Aeschylus' play "Prometheus Bound." After they have bound Prometheus to the rock...Cratus:[to Prometheus] "Go play rebel now, go plunder the god's treasure and give it to your creatures of a day. What portion of your pain can mortals spare you? The gods who named you the Forethinker were mistaken. You'll need forethought beyond your reckoning to wriggle your way out of this device."
[You can watch the Brené Brown video from the 99 conference where she talks about this here.]
Sunday, June 21, 2015
This is a sermon preached at Good Shepherd, Kingwood, Tx, following the Mother Emmanuel AME church shootings by Dylan Roof (aaaaaahttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/us/dylann-storm-roof-photos-website-charleston-church-shooting.html?_r=0).
It is based upon Mark 4 beginning at the 35 verse.
And, in some way tries to make sense about why we have a difficult time seeing this as an act of racism (despite Dylan's own clarity that it was an attempt to begin a "race war"). Why we want to make this about Christians. And, what we Christians might be able to do to open our eyes to the work that is before us.
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- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball