Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

Do Not ‘SHOULD’ on the New Year

What was the year 2017 like for you? Was it filled with joy and peace, or anxiety and stress?

The ritual of setting New Year’s resolutions is a staple in our culture–a time when we examine the past 12 months and set intentions for the coming year, promising ourselves to give up some bad habit or to develop new good habits or make significant changes in our lifestyles. It may be a time for trying harder at something (like losing those last five pounds!), or a time of re-establishing broken relationships. But, it can also bring regret and cynicism as we realize we’ve set the same goals year-after-year with little progress. I have never heard of anyone who was successful in meeting all of their resolutions throughout the year. Still, there seems to be a societal norm for all of us to make resolutions.

The fatal flaw with New Year’s resolutions is that we typically bite off more than we can chew. We do not set realistic goals, and so we end up disappointed and, often, forget resolutions by the time February rolls around.

It is something they say we ‘should’ do! – and we often know full well that we are not going to keep them.

We ‘should’ lose that extra weight, save more money, spend more time with our family, go to church every Sunday, become a volunteer. . . the list goes on and on! And when we fail to meet these expectations, we pile guilt upon ourselves. . . “we ‘should’ have been able to do ‘whatever’”.

Should-ing’ on ourselves is counterproductive – it only makes us feel worse about ourselves, and soon supplants any positive feelings we get when we accomplish something. We cannot learn new things or have new experiences if we are constantly telling ourselves we are ‘not good enough’, are failures. Besides, it wastes a lot of time when we could be accomplishing new and better things.

Driven by our stubborn willfulness, pressure, adrenaline and “never good enough” messages, we fail to allow that which is already unfolding in us, and in the world, to emerge. This year, we must get out of our own way, step aside and trust that the better version of ourselves will awaken, however it is meant to be. . . and when it is meant to be. We cannot ‘should’ it to happen.

In John Maxwell’s book, Developing the Leader Within You, a Middle Eastern mystic said, “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me, just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.’

So, what attitude will we choose to adopt in order to make the most of 2018?

Can we just forget about ’resolutions’ that may end up only making us feel worse about ourselves?

Can we just forego judgment about ourselves and strive to be open to love and acceptance, trying to be our best selves each day, whatever that means?

Remember, above all, one of my favorite pieces of advice is:

“Do Not SHOULD upon yourself today!”

If we do that, 2018 will truly be a wonderful year!

                                                                                  
                                                                                   Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 14 January 2018

,/span>

From NAZARETH!?!?

John 1:43-51

Let us pray:

Helps us to allow your words to work in us, so that we may take it home with us; so that our week may be filled with the gift your grace gives us today. Let us not forget what we have heard but rather build on it; give us the love it takes to build, let this love work in us. Remain the light of our days, become the goal of our love, and bestow on us through this homily a new life in your faith, a life that is both prayer and work in your love. Amen.

Our gospel reading today comes from John – the fourth and most mystical and philosophical of the gospels. The last of the gospels written, John is less a historical narrative of Jesus’ life and works, and more a multi-level commentary about his teachings and their meanings for our lives. John Shelby Spong describes John’s gospel as:

“a book about life, abundant life, and ultimately eternal life. . . a book to be lived as much as a volume to be mastered”.[1]

The first chapter of John completely ignores the birth stories and jumps straight into Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and the beginning of His ministry. In our passage today, Jesus has travelled to Galilee and begun recruiting His followers and disciples. One of those selected is Nathanael, mentioned only three times in the Bible, and introduced to Jesus by Philip of Bethesda.

Let’s take a look at Nathanael for a moment. He was a friend of Philip; he must have been a good friend since Philip wanted to introduce him to the one he loved, this powerful new force in his life – Jesus. We all have close friends, ones that when we discover someone or something extra special, we want to rush out and be sure that that friend meets the new person or experiences that special thing for themselves. We can deduce that Nathanael was such a friend of Philip’s.

Philip described Jesus to Nathanael as:

the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:45)

Like many young Jewish men of that time, Philip was obviously a religious man and a student of the Torah. It is clear that Nathanael was also a religious man; we heard that he prayed for the arrival of the Messiah that would save Israel. It was interesting to me to learn that ancient Jewish writers equated ‘gathering figs’ or being ‘under the fig tree’ with a sacred place of prayer, study and meditation on the Torah, a place of longing for the Messiah to show himself as King. Jesus’ vision of Nathanael in this passage as sitting beneath a fig tree, is a clear indication that Jesus knew Nathanael was a serious student of the Torah also.

But Nathanael was not so sure about meeting this man, Jesus. Why not? Because of where He came from – Nazareth! It seems Nathanael, like most of us, tended to judge people by where they came from.

In his response to the invitation from Philip to come meet this marvelous man, it appears that Nathanael said what he thought, without any filters, when he replied:

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?(John 1:45)

He couldn’t get past the fact that, in that time, Nazareth was considered a backwater town, a place of mud houses, low income and populated by what generally would have been considered the ‘red necks’ of the time. He couldn’t get past his prejudice of what he thought Nazareth was.

In fact, in this new year’s list of the ‘top ten best’ and ‘top ten worst’, Nathanael would have listed Nazareth and its people on the ‘top ten worst’, maybe even at the top of that list. Nathanael presupposed that anyone from Nazareth was insignificant, unworthy of attention. . . without having a basis for this prejudice. He came to that conclusion based on his personal perceptions, or as my grandmother used to say, ‘He jumped to convulsions’. He was a prejudiced and judgmental man.

Just what is prejudice? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘prejudice’

  • ‘as a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience;
  • an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge;
  • an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.’

There is a little or a lot of prejudice in all of us. It is so hard to admit we are prejudiced. Prejudices makes us blind to things that could enrich our lives and gladden our hearts. We all have prejudices that prevent us from being our best selves, opening to new people and experiences, and fully following the teachings of Jesus.

I imagine, if we would admit it, every one of us in this sanctuary is prejudiced in some way. We all tend to group people by race, or occupation, or sexual orientation, or politics, or income, or place of origin, and then we pigeonhole individuals and judge them because they belong to one of those groups.

One of my greatest prejudices I recognized when I spent time in Salt Lake City, working for a company that was laying the Alaskan pipeline. I had grown up as an Air Force brat, and had assumed, because of the diversity in the military, that I was not prejudiced. But, was I SO wrong. I discovered that I really disliked the Mormon religion – not because of the individual members, but because of their position on women, and, particularly, unmarried women. I supervised a group of engineers in a manufacturing plant, and constantly heard from the men that I was taking food off a family’s table. I even heard it at the hardware store when I went to buy a pair of dog clippers. I was admonished by the sales clerk that because I was not married, I would not be going to the ‘real’ heaven, but only a place where I would be a handmaid to those gods and goddesses who were favored enough to gain entrance to the ‘celestial’ paradise.

Anyone who knows anything about me can imagine how that sat in my craw. I was furious that my worth would only be measured by marriage and the number of children I could produce! I had to admit to myself that I was

PREJUDICED. . .

BIGOTED . . .

JUDGMENTAL!

Boy, was that a shock to my psyche!

But, eventually, I came to admire many aspects of the Mormon religion, as I saw numerous acts of kindness and generosity lived out by the Mormon people to those not of their faith.

And the good news is that God, through the people we come in contact with, and experiences we may have, can break down our prejudices, . . if we will allow it. Because of Nathanael’s relationship with Philip, despite his conviction that

“nothing good can come from Nazareth” (John 1:45),

Nathanael went with Philip to meet Jesus, a man he had never met. But, Nathanael was not unknown to Jesus – we hear later in the Gospel:

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47)

Even though Nathanael was wary of people from Nazareth, and therefore – Jesus, Jesus recognized the goodness deep within Nathanael. Just as he sees the goodness within each of us! It didn’t take Nathanael long to realize that his prejudice was misplaced; that he had, indeed, found the Messiah.

As we now know, something good DID come out of Nazareth! Jesus came from that little backwater town to teach us the most valuable lesson there is –  everlasting, eternal love!

So, if we put our prejudices aside and follow Philip’s advice to Nathanael to

“come and see” (John 1:46)

we will see who Jesus really is, what following His way can do for us, and we will know that the best is yet to come. How many opportunities for new love, growth, inspiration and joy can be ours if we put our prejudices aside each day and become open to people, ideas and experiences that we may have formerly shunned.

So, let’s take time this week to reflect on what prejudices we each may have – and vow to work hard on changing these thoughts. . . and be ready and willing to

“come and see” (John 1:46)

Let us be ready to meet Jesus anew in the face of every person we encounter and every challenge we face.

Let us pray:

Holy God, ignorant, hurtful, hateful words churn in our hearts; they wound or distract us from your love. We are called to contradict those words and prejudices within us; it’s a lot to ask of us. Remind us, and then remind us again: Your Word is life. Your Word is light. Your Word is full of grace, full of truth. Whatever words we hear, whatever words tumble through our thoughts, let yours be the Word we speak. Let yours be the Word we live. Amen.
 
[1] John Shelby Spong, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, HarperOne, New York, 2014; p 9
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 14 January 2018

Thoughts for a Blue Christmas

blue christmas‘Tis the season . . .

For many people – especially children – the Christmas holidays are a time of joy and even magic! Joyful reunions with families and friends, boisterous laughter, tables groaning with goodies, gifts shared abound for many – all with a sense of gratitude. For those most mindful of the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus, there is a renewed hope for peace on earth and humble thankfulness for God taking human form to show us the way to happy and meaningful lives. It is a time of prayers and promises to love more, give more, serve more, and to work consciously for the well-being of our fellow man.

However, for some people – many more than you may think – the holiday season is anything but joyous, but rather something to ‘get through’ and endure. The days are not merry and bright, and a sense of isolation, sadness, and depression underlie valiant attempts to be festive.

Remember: the holidays are here—and for some – they can hurt!

Loss of loved ones, feelings of failure over families or careers, health problems, financial troubles can fester into gloom under the light of Christmas trees and merry-making. Compelled to feel happy and upbeat, these folks feel even more guilt because they are not.

So, if you are hurting this holiday season …

Let it hurt. Allow pain to come fully without alteration. Life is difficult and you are not OK, and you shouldn’t waste precious time and energy to pretend that it isn’t so. Let grief and sadness be there; be authentic to yourself. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. Tears help to wash away the deep pain of loss.

Don’t hide your pain. Give people close to you the most authentic version of yourself as you are able to give. Allow people who love you to help you through this season. Let them see you, not some sanitized, edited version you think they expect. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events that support your feelings. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. The holidays are just a series of days, even though the trappings may make you feel otherwise. Release yourself from the expectation to have some magical Christmas conversion like George Bailey, in  It’s A Wonderful Life. If this season finds you less than alright, stay true to yourself and your authentic feelings, and realize “this too shall pass”.

Don’t sabotage yourself. Don’t try to convince yourself that you ‘must’ be happy during the holidays. Since you’re the only one who truly knows the depth and scope of your sadness, don’t beat yourself up; don’t be complicit in your own guilt trip. Go easy on yourself. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Give yourself permission to do what you need. Make some time for yourself. There are times and places during the holidays where the hurt is too much to handle; certain gatherings, parties, people, activities. Don’t feel as though you need to do all, or any of it! Balance your need to protect your emotions ; there is nothing wrong with avoiding negative situations. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

Embrace this holiday season as-is. There is still goodness to be welcomed and blessing to be claimed this holiday season, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future when you will feel stronger and lighter; allow yourself to accept whatever gifts this holiday has for you.

Remember, Jesus was born for you. Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness and salvation is yours, even if you cannot fully feel it this holiday! His message reminds us every day that loss, grief, estrangement and guilt are all part of the human experience. When you can, reach out to others, forgive, let go, and know that the birth of the child we celebrate is also the birth of understanding, acceptance, and eternal life – and in your deepest sorrow, perhaps this can be, for you, a light of joy and peace.

And above all, friend, know that it’s OK to be blue this holiday season.

It really is.
 
 
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 12 December 2017

A Terrorist is a Terrorist – No Matter WHO It Is!

We are all reeling from yet another atrocity – the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas. The fact that someone chose to mow down people worshipping on a Sunday is an anathema of all this country professes to be. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is sadly marked by increasing violence and terrorism. It seems like very few days go by, if any at all, without some horrible act of terror or random violence. It has become such a ‘normal’ occurrence that some in the country hardly react any longer. There is surely something wrong in our society when the solution to a problem or reaction to anger is to not only kill the offender, but also massacre innocence people in the process.

But equally disturbing to me is that whenever there is a terror attack, the natural impulse is to blame a Muslim or ISIS. Are we so influenced by the national attitude that we can’t wait to immediately attach the nomer ‘Islam’ or ‘ISIS’ to the word ‘terrorist’? Perhaps it is easier to accept that a foreign element is responsible for our mounting atrocities than to accept the perpetrator may be the person next door, but clearly that is not so.

It is human nature to seek scapegoats for the causes of evil – it is far easier to look upon the things that come from without than the things from within. That chosen scapegoat suffices only until another deadly attack happens; then we repeat the blaming (mental health, access to guns, foreign agents).

If you look at the last six massacres, each one was perpetrated by a home-grown, All-American citizen – not some foreign boogey man. They may have had mental health issues, but they grew up and lived as a citizen of the United States. We are reluctant to admit that ‘we’ have spawned this monster.

We do not call their actions ‘terrorism’ . . . but terrorism is terrorism. . . – no matter who the person is. Whether they have a mental problem or are seeking revenge for a perceived slight, when one kills and maims dozens of innocent people, they are still ‘terrorists’. And until we accept that their actions are not solely, ‘mental health issues’, or ‘gun control issues’, but ‘acts of terror’, it will be nearly impossible to address these actions.

Living among us as law-abiding and patriotic Americans are thousands of Muslims. In a knee-jerk reaction, to continually label them as a group as being the cause each time we have an incidence of terror in our midst, is unfair, unjust, and weakens our ability to address the real causes behind the terrorist’s act.

We, as Christians, need to begin to address the causes of terrorism. We need to provide services for those who feel they have been a victim of injustice. And we need to be a strident, but loving voice against those who spout hatred against those who are not ‘like us’, whether ethnic, racial, gender, or religious. If we begin to ‘love one another as we love ourselves’, maybe we can begin to change the world.

We can pray this will be so – and put our prayers into action.
 

written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, OH; 12 November 2017

The Tragedy . . . and Hope Of ‘#MeTOO’

I have been horrified by the thousands of women (and men) who have posted ‘#MeTOO’ on Facebook recently in response to the egregious sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Every status I have read has filled me with both thankfulness and grief. I am thankful for the courage and the bravery of those who have shared their stories. I am grieved that the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment is still so widespread and still so unacknowledged, and that it has taken thousands of voices on social media revealing their personal pain publicly to convince the world of the extent of this problem. Bolstered by centuries of patriarchal dominance over women, powerful and thoughtless men have heaped sexual harassment and abuse on women because they could. In more recent decades, as women have gained success in career fields previously closed to them, they have been accosted by sexual predators at every turn. Now, sad and horrifying stories abound on Facebook and elsewhere – told by women of all ages and walks of life –  about assault and abuse, not only in the entertainment field, but in business, government, academia, and the church as well. Male authority have taken tawdry advantage of women in exchange for using their influence or workplace position to assist those women in ‘breaking the glass ceiling’. “Locker room talk” has been accepted with a wink and a nudge, and predatory behavior against women has been a young man’s ‘rite of passage’ for far too long. We can only wonder how many more women are carrying these terrible stories around, afraid to tell them. We hear stories from friends and strangers, stories of pain, abuse, assault and harassment; we can no longer say that we did not know or ‘that is just the way things are’. “#MeTOO’ demands a response from all of us.

Unfortunately, for Christians and many other faith groups, their respective holy books are ready sources for the misguided belief that women are possessions, and do not deserve a place in society equal to men. From the beginning of recorded history, women (and female children) have generally been counted in the tribes as part of the chattel. Their purpose was to keep the home, procreate, care for children and, primarily, be in the background, much like a slave or indentured servant. What we now consider inappropriate and even abusive sexual behavior was sanctioned within the culture and tribal system.

For too long, men have participated in and benefited from a culture that allows, profits from, and ultimately, rewards abusing women. And, more to the point, men HAVE and ARE doing this. Even words spoken lightly with the intent of a compliment have frequently had the effect of placing women in compromising positions. Male silence when they have seen a woman objectified… their failure to use their dominant power to create safe spaces with clear expectations about consent in touch, conversation and action … is inexcusable. Although women assuming more and more positions in society will help to eradicate their sexual abuse and assault, there is an important role that men must assume in correcting this long-standing problem.

It is the responsibility of women everywhere to stand up, no matter difficult that may be, and say ‘enough!’ A problem cannot be rectified if there is not a clear definition of the root cause. Announcing ‘#MeTOO’ on social media does not solve the problem – but it is having a significant purpose:

  1. to raise the awareness of the general population that their mothers and sisters and daughters and even grandmothers have been subjected to demeaning misogyny;
  2. to affirm and strengthen those who have suffered in silence because of fear of reprisal, or guilt, or a feeling that ‘they were the only ones’.

Many harassed women who felt alone have now found the strength to add their voice to the ‘#MeTOO’ campaign.  And there also are many men who have realized their actions were inappropriately demeaning and have posted their objection to such words and actions, along with heartfelt support for their female friends and family.

However, raising awareness is NOT going to eradicate the problem. It is the responsibility of both men and women, mothers and fathers, all citizens of our country, to take action. Women and girls should be taught, reminded, and urged to call up short any who harass or abuse them; parents, families, and society MUST make a strong statement that this is no longer permissible or acceptable behavior.

Sexual harassment is not about sex – it is about POWER. . .  the power men hold over women and children in this society. It is time for women to speak up and demand respect and equal power in the workplace and society. It is time for little boys and girls to be taught to respect one another as equals. Just as we teach children about inappropriate touching, we need to teach them not to accept inappropriate words.

We like to think of the church as a refuge from the brokenness and sinfulness of the world. We like to think that, within the Christian community, we are kinder to each other, that we are better at “doing unto others.” But the truth is: we are not immune. The sound of ‘#MeTOO’ echoes within the walls of the church. Every female clergy I know has experienced at least one incidence of sexual harassment. Victims are sitting in our pews, our classrooms, and our church offices. Too often, neither a Christian community, gender, age, marital status, nor pastoral authority has protected us.

The church must take responsibility for their culpability in the acceptance of this behavior as a social norm. It is time for faith communities to oppose every form of sexism toward women. We must create an environment where there is zero tolerance for harassment, abuse and violence. We must remind our communities that Jesus preached we are to ‘love each other as brothers and sisters’. Our churches should be seen as safe havens, where we treat one another with compassion and respect. These should be places where no one has to worry about being harassed, demeaned, assaulted.

We should all feel sick and sad over the continuing stories of women suffering verbal and physical assaults. Today it’s in the spotlight, and that’s important. But as fast as news comes to our attention, it becomes ‘old news’, and we move on to the next thing. My fear is that ‘#MeTOO’ will fade away as another topic takes its place – that all the discussion and identification of the types of harassment and its impact will become a shadow in the mind, and we will go back to the ‘same old, same old’. Men and women must continue to speak out; and the church must lead the way in creating new norms of social behavior.

We in The Episcopal Church and Saint John’s can exercise leadership in our communities to increase fair treatment, respect, and love in all aspects of our communal life.

How can we do this?

  • By shifting from masculine-only and patriarchal language in conversations and services to non-gender inclusive language;
  • By making our young people aware of their important role in creating new and kinder social norms of behavior between genders in all phases of their lives;
  • By ensuring that our worship, formation, and activities do nothing to reinforce disrespect of any person or group;
  • By supporting gender parity and mutual respect of all persons in our civic life (government, schools, organizations, entertainment);
  • By raising awareness of problems of misogyny wherever they are found;
  • By confirming and affirming those who speak out.

That is my hope – that true and lasting good may come from this ‘#MeTOO’ campaign. That following the courage of younger generations, we can stand up, speak out, and make the church and our world a better place for ALL of us.
 
 

Written in response to the ‘#MeTOO’ campaign after disclosure of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men, 1 November 2017

“Fake News” and Real Citizenship

We are all aware that our national public life has become a chaotic swirl of arguments and controversy, fed by Tweets, incessantly repeated ‘soundbytes’, 24-hour news channels, and social media. What’s more, we are now cautioned to beware of ‘fake news’.

In Wikipedia, we find ‘fake news’ defined as:

“… a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention.”

In the middle of the din of information – and mis-information – it is difficult to separate fact from opinion, truth from lies, and reality from concocted propaganda.

On top of all this, we are learning that forces seeking to weaken the United States government and sow discord in our national life are using demographic studies and profiles to target us with propaganda and lies meant to mislead people about the integrity and motives of our leaders and agencies in government, religion, academia, and charities.

This sort of ‘fake news’ and unsupported  opinion, not based on fact or reality can have real-life consequences. We are seeing shootings, riots, and other violent and hostile actions that are caused by some angry or disturbed people responding to that ‘fake news’. Those so inclined then latch onto this information and promulgate it to thousands of other people of the same ilk, further fueling the anger and propaganda.

The more exaggerated or inflammatory the headlines are, the more likely they are ‘fake news’. Headlines or social media subjects are meant to get the reader’s attention, but they’re also supposed to accurately reflect what the story is about. Now headlines use exaggerated language to intentionally mislead or are blatantly untrue.

How Do We Determine What Is Real?

  1. It is not only the responsibility of the platforms to determine the existence of fake news and issue a retraction or take the offenders down (as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have recently learned), but we as subscribers also have a responsibility to monitor what we pass on as ‘real’. It is disheartening that we can no longer trust all we read, but as responsible citizens, we must be more vigilant than ever about checking facts and not passing along lies and propaganda. How can we do this? The most recognized authority for getting at the truth is:

The International Fact-Checking Network (http://www.poynter.org/category/fact-checking/) is the recognized authority for fact checking. Every statement checked goes through a rigorous process for verification of validity.

Other sources for fact-checking are:

Snopes (www.snopes.com) or

Hoax-Slayer (www.hoax-slayer.net)

FactCheck (www.factcheck.org).

USE THEM!

  1. Another safeguard is to pay attention to the domain name and the URL; many websites can be ‘ghosted’, looking like a legitimate source. If the URL has an entry after the “.com”, the website is suspect, particularly if it contains inflammatory information.
  1. On Facebook, check the ‘About Us’ section; it should be straightforward without melodramatic or incendiary claims. Check the language usage; often the fake news sites use broken English, have misspellings, or poor syntax.
  1. Legitimate news sources will contain quotes attributed to experts in their fields; if an item attacks a person and contains text with no quotes, but rather attributes to ‘an informed source’, these are suspect. If an unfamiliar name is cited, Google the person; often that person does not exist.

There are several satirical websites that are ‘real lies’, but the sites will always state that they are satirical. Some of these include The Onion, Babylon Bee, Burrard Street Journal. A list of the top 50 satirical websites can be found at https:/blog.feedspot.com/satire_blogs.

  1. We must also guide our teenagers and children in deciphering truth from fiction on social media. Parents, grandparents and families should take time to explain the concepts of ‘fake news’ to children. If something is incendiary with pictures, younger children will be inclined to believe it. And fake news can cause unnecessary fear in children (thinking September 23, 2017 is the end of the world, for instance).

Each of us has a responsibility to stop the proliferation of this ‘fake news’. For the companies operating the sites, it is a fine line between restricting the ‘fake news’ sites and still allowing freedom of speech for its users. We can help in this effort by checking anything that we share with others. If you see someone in your circle who is passing along ‘fake news’, let them know and ask that they take the entry down. This may not be comfortable, and some may ‘unfriend’ you, but everyone has to correct ‘fake news’.

It is now more important than ever that we stand up for, and honor the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”

Within this Amendment lies the keys to much of our freedom as a people. Yet, also, herein lies the danger if forces are free to promulgate lies in the name of ‘free speech’, we must all be ever vigilant in finding those lies and correcting them!

Two-thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by people who believed ‘fake news’, gossip and lies, and were afraid to stand up for the truth. Lies travel faster now, and can be sown more quickly. But the urgent need for each person to stand for honesty and integrity in the face of lies is as great now as ever.

Remember, passing along one ‘fake news’ entry may reach millions of people with one click of the button.

Be responsible!
 
 
(Graphic provided by The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 October 2017

We Are ALL Invited!

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. ” But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

We just heard about a king who held a wedding reception for his son where none of the invited guests showed up.

Can you imagine that? Would you ever skip a wedding reception if invited by your king?

And if you remember, there were some pretty lame excuses why people couldn’t be bothered to attend!

So the king, having found out who TRULY were his friends, sent his servants out to invite anyone they found in the street. These people invited were commoners, slaves, servants and merchants. They were honest and hardworking people, but also, according to the Scripture, bad people, criminals and thieves. Anyone who happened to be on the street was invited to come to this sumptuous feast.

Now, this parable from Jesus is not really about a wedding feast, but a story about the salvation that is available if you follow Jesus. The king represents God, who asks each and every one of us to come into his Kingdom. . . no matter what our station in life, what we have done in the past. The Kingdom of Heaven is not limited to only the ‘good’ people or the Jewish people.

Heaven is open to all of us.

But there are some conditions for entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. The scripture says that there was one man who did not have a wedding robe. But this doesn’t refer to a piece of clothing – that just doesn’t make sense since the king’s servants went out onto the street and hauled in everyone they could find. Obviously, no one was dressed for the wedding.

This ‘robe’ is the ROBE OF SALVATION, which we all get when we give our lives to Jesus. . . when all our sins are forgiven and we are clean and spotless.

In Isaiah 6:10, we are told that when accept Christ, we are

clothed me with the garments of salvation, and He has wrapped with a robe of righteousness.

It is God who clothes us. Nothing that we do can possibly be enough to earn us salvation or righteousness. Only God can cleanse us from iniquity and cause us to be truly blameless, or righteous.

But we have a choice – we can choose to accept Christ and wear the ‘wedding robe’ or we can choose not to. It is solely up to each one of us.

The last line of the scripture (Matthew 22:14) says:

For many are called, but few are chosen.

We all receive the invitation, but not everyone will be chosen. Are you going to be one of the ‘chosen’ ones or will you be thrown into darkness?

It is your choice. . .  what are you going to choose?

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, open our eyes and hearts to the wonders of your salvation through Jesus Christ. Please help us to see that we can throw off the rags of our current life and put on shiny white robe through your salvation. May we live our lives on the path to your Kingdom. Amen.

 
 
Delivered to In the Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 15 October 2017