Archive | July 2015

“I Am A Human Trafficking Survivor & Here’s What I Want To Ask Christian Activists”

July 30, 2015 by Benjamin L. Corey

street prostitute(street prostitute crossing legs waiting for client in the night)
 
As perhaps many of you know, human trafficking is one of the issues I am most passionate about, and have had the chance to study it extensively over several years, both in the United States and India as part of my doctoral research. My research has largely been a phenomenology in human trafficking aftercare modalities, which will now be merged into my dissertation tentatively titled: “Is Everything Okay? A Theology Of Shalom In Human Trafficking Aftercare”.

Trafficking, of course, has become a front-page cause in the Evangelical Christian world (what Ruth Graham calls “Christian Cause Célèbre” in this informative piece Christians and Sex Trafficking). This has resulted in both net-positives as well as some negatives, something I hope my dissertation will speak to on both counts.

The largest deficiency of the Christian anti-trafficking movement is an all too basic one: the cause grew so quickly and became so popular, that many individuals and even Christian organizations are now trying to work within an issue they don’t fully understand, and are trying to help people they don’t understand. No mission can succeed if you don’t really listen to, and get to know the people you’re supposedly helping. And that’s what must change in the Christian anti-trafficking world. (Case in point: imagine becoming a missionary to India if you didn’t speak Hindi, never studied Indian culture, never met anyone from India, and the only information you had came from watching a couple PBS episodes on India or from listening to one, single, Indian guest speaker at a conference? That’s not how it works– but sadly is how ground-level missiology is often done by well-meaning but unprepared activists.) Not only is this unhelpful, in many cases I’ve seen it actively harming survivors.

This isn’t to broad-brush everyone. In the course of my research I found some Christian organizations who had a great philosophy and were doing an outstanding job. I also found Christian organizations that had near unlimited funding, yet had a 100% fail rate and couldn’t figure out why. Others were well intentioned, but working within a trafficking narrative derived from stereotypes about trafficking and the sex industry (they are not synonymous- voluntary work in the sex industry and work via force, fraud, or coercion are different), and hyped-up media programs, rather than listening to the real-life voices of workers from within the sex industry and trafficking victims. Too often, in my experience, many Christian anti-trafficking activists haven’t spoken or listened to a single survivor of trafficking beyond those survivors who travel speaking and selling books– and this, I believe, is the Achilles heel of the movement.

In light of that, I have invited a survivor of human trafficking to dialogue here on the blog, so the larger Christian trafficking community can glean from her wisdom– and perhaps begin a new era of listening and learning. Meg Munoz is the founder of Abeni in Orange County, California. Abeni exists to “create a safe, confidential place for those working in the Orange County sex trades, as well as those being domestically sex trafficked.” Meg worked independently in the adult entertainment industry for several years before being trafficked, so her time in the industry encapsulates a wide variety of experiences. She is also a personal friend of mine, and I’m honored that she’d take the time to sit down for some public dialogue together.

Today’s post will be part of a series I will be doing with Meg. Next week I will release a full-length interview where you’ll get to hear more of her inspiring story, and I will do a 3rd post (if there’s reader interest/participation) where I ask her your questions. Just use the contact form in the menu bar, type your subject line “Questions For Meg” and I’ll select a handful of audience questions for the third part of our discussion.

The first question I’ve posed to Meg is below. She has been kind enough to include links for further reference; if you are a Christian trafficking activist, please bookmark this post ) and set aside the time to read the resources she has been kind enough to compile for you.

BLC: “There seem to be a growing number of Christians, and a growing amount of Christian nonprofit organizations, focused on the issue of human trafficking. In my experience, far too many of these activists have never even sat down and had a discussion with a trafficking victim (or someone voluntarily working in the sex industry), which I find very concerning. If you could gather all of them into a single room, what would you tell them?”

Meg: Here’s what I’d like to tell them:

  • Please listen to and get to know sex workers.

 
For further reading, visit here: What Is Sex Work?)

  • Please educate yourself on the spectrum of sex work and why people enter the industry.

 
For further reading, visit here: Christian Response To Sex Workers

  • Please don’t continue to exclude us from conversations about our work, lives, and trafficking. You would never make public policy or other decisions about other groups of people without their input, so “Nothing about us without us” is incredibly reasonable.

 
For further reading, visit here: Reversing the Power Dynamics of Philanthropy

  • Please stop arresting and criminalizing us. How you treat everyone on the spectrum of sex work directly and indirectly impacts those who are being trafficked.

 
For further reading, visit here: Sex Workers and the City

  • Please stop telling survivors things like “We’re so glad you’re better now” or “You can do better than that’ or ‘You were created for so much more.” It implies judgment about our time in the industry and if we want/need to return, we’ll already know exactly how you feel about us and our work. You’re reinforcing stigma and shame, and confirming to us you aren’t safe.
  • Please stop protesting strip clubs and porn companies. You can’t say ‘I love you, but hate what you do’, then expect people to have all the feels and trust you when things get rough.
  • Please stop telling us we don’t understand our own experiences.
  • Please stop thinking rescue is the answer.

 
READ EVERY WORD OF THIS: Harmful Anti-Trafficking Efforts

  • Please stop blaming survivors for their inability to adapt to and thrive in unhealthy or unbalanced programs or services that don’t meet their holistic needs or support their long term development and success.
  • Please stop focusing on the ‘Is sex work right or wrong?’ narrative and start focusing on people. We are all entitled to rights, respect, dignity and protections. Please stop limiting human rights to those you simply agree with.
  • Please recognize that your legislative reforms, though well-intended, can actually hurt those you’re trying to help.

 
For further reading, visit here: Making Trafficking A Felony Might Hurt Sex Slaves

  • Please stop using shock value campaigns and images.
  • Please stop putting girls dressed as dolls in life-size boxes with bar codes.
  • Please stop showing white females with dark hands over their mouths.
  • Please stop showing girls handcuffed and crying.
  • Please stop sharing the faces and locations of those you’ve ‘rescued.’ You’re capitalizing off of our exploitation, potentially re-traumatizing people, and reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions.

 
For further reading, visit here: Anti-Trafficking Efforts Fail

  • Please stop conflating sex work with trafficking, as there is more than one sex work/trafficking narrative. Not everyone is a victim, not everyone is a pimp.
  • Please stop pushing Jesus at every turn. Some of our greatest hurts or abuses may have come from people in the church or those in spiritual authority. For some, it’s like salt on a wound.
  • Please stop treating mental health issues like spiritual ones.
  • Please stop making Bible Studies, prayer, church attendance, and spiritual exercises a mandatory component of your programs/services. Bible verse may be soothing, but for trauma survivors grappling with many issues, they can be a band aid on a bullet wound.
  • Please stop using the images, stories, and labor of those you’re helping. It often creates a sense of obligation, is exploitive, potentially re-traumatizing, and recreates unbalanced and unhealthy power dynamics similar to that of the pimps they may have just left.
  • Please stop watching exploitive, inaccurate, and misleading reality shows like ‘Slave Hunter”, “Sex Slaves’, and “8 Minutes” – Be a critical-thinking consumer and refuse to consume exploitation framed as education or awareness.

 
For further reading, visit here: Sex Workers Project Asks MSNBC To Pull Show On Sex Slaves

  • Please start questioning numbers, narratives, and policies – There’s always more than one perspective and numbers can not only mislead, but tell many different stories.

 
For further reading, visit here: Is One Of the Most Cited Statistics About Sex Work Wrong?

  • Please care and do more about gender inequality, racism, LGBTQ rights, socio-economic reforms, the prison system, immigrant rights, mental health, and other social justice related realities because that’s where real anti-trafficking work is rooted and starts.
  • Please stop demonizing us and treating us like we’re to blame for trafficking.

 
For further reading, visit here: Alaska’s Prostitution Law Isn’t Working

  • Please stop cheering for Rahab, but chastising those who are currently working in the industry in ANY capacity. Rahab was unapologetic about her work, did amazing things, didn’t leave the industry, AND was part of a pretty kick-ass family tree.
  • Please stop railing against the porn industry while shopping at *fill in the blank*, buying imported seafood, eating $1 lettuce, getting cheap manicures and massages, eating at McDonald’s, refusing to support a higher minimum wage, voting in mandatory minimums for anything, remaining silent on tuition increases, and fighting reproductive rights. If you’re going to have moral biases, please address systemic issues before attacking those trying to survive within a system they didn’t choose, but have to live and try to survive under.

 
For further reading, visit here: From Brothel To Sweatshop

And that’s what Meg would like to ask today’s anti-trafficking activists. Be sure to come back next week when we cover Meg’s personal story, and see how she answers the question, “What can we do to reduce human trafficking?”
 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/i-am-a-human-trafficking-survivor-heres-what-i-want-to-ask-christian-activists/

The Finest Example Of Forgiveness

As weeks have passed since the massacre of nine Americans at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I have been reading and listening to the victims’ funeral services and their families’ comments about their loved ones. The families, amazingly, have all offered repeated statements of forgiveness and love to the alleged murderer . . . something that I find astounding and heart wrenching.

While suffering the greatest sadness and loss, these friends and relatives have offered sincerest forgiveness to the one who brought so much suffering! I am reminded of Jesus’ word on the cross:

    “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Truly people of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church are living the greatest teachings of Jesus.

Nine dead at the Mother Emanuel AME Church. The horror of it – the useless loss of life – of devoutly religious and good people studying the Bible on a Wednesday. . . nine kind and gentle people who invited a young white male in to study and pray with them. A young man, it turned out, who was so deeply troubled and influenced by an environment of ignorance and bigotry, that he felt it was his duty to right some of the ‘wrongs’ of the world. . . to murder a group of people he had been indoctrinated to believe were evil and a threat to America as he felt it should be.

When the relatives of these people slain inside that historic African American church in Charleston, S.C., were able to speak directly to the accused gunman at his first court appearance, one-by-one, they did not turn to anger, but instead they offered him forgiveness and their prays for his soul. And in so doing, they stopped cold any mass demonstrations, violent recriminations, or weeks-long expressions of anger and bitterness that other like murders have produced in other locations.

In the midst of what was probably the most devastating thing that had happened in their lives, the faith and belief in the true teachings of Jesus about forgiveness was so strong with these Christians that they had the love and fortitude to say:

    “I forgive you”.

They witnessed that their lives and families were built on love; they had no room for hating so they had to forgive, and pray for this tormented youth’s soul.

Personally I am still struggling with whether, if I were in their place, I could be so forgiving. I am not sure that I could live out Jesus’ teachings and example if that were my wife or my aunt or my child. And I’ll bet that many of you question whether you could be so forgiving also. Forgiveness is not easy to do; it runs counter to our culture and human nature. When we are hurt or injured or angered, our instinct is to hurt back, to take revenge.

Where do we turn to gain some understanding, some solace, some relief from the grief of the horrific and cruel things that happen to us? We might turn to the words of Mark 11:25,

    if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you

Yet, how can I truly follow these teachings in the face of so much evil and meanness in the world? From the school shooting in Columbine, or the movie theater in Colorado, or the Sandy Hook School shooting, and the senseless killings of so many black young men and women by our police, how can one believe it possible for the Kingdom of God to ever come on this earth?

How can one hope to believe that God’s will can ever be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’?

As we seem surrounded (and are participants in) daily murder, violence, and cruelty throughout the Middle East and in much of Africa, how can one believe it possible for the Kingdom of God to ever come on this earth?

In personal as well as public concerns, I wonder how I can come to learn and live true forgiveness in my heart. It is not easy; we may desire to forgive in our heads, yet forgiveness must come from our hearts.

There are several steps we can take to work toward forgiveness:

  1. We must be able to articulate clearly what happened and why it is wrong. . . to ourselves . . . to  our children . . . to our friends and neighbors
  2. We must find the right perspective in our hearts about what is happening in the world.
  3. We must realize that the act of forgiveness does more for us, than for those we are forgiving; the  act of truly forgiving wipes away the anger, resentment, and soul-destroying hate from us and bring peace where there was chaos.
  4. We must not only forgive but forget. We must truly ‘move on’. Carrying any remainder of the  wrong allows it to continue to fester in our hearts and poison our lives, and the lives of those around us.

It involves letting go in a way that frees both parties from grudges and guilt. True forgiveness involves more than saying the words. The phrase “forgive and forget” is often used because without forgetting, there is no true forgiveness.

Practicing full forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and empathy. Practicing forgiveness also leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health and brings us to an attitude that opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.

Still, I have to admit, I am not there yet. I am trying to follow the examples of the families of the saints massacred at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church and offer forgiveness to that misguided young man, and to all who do evil and violence, but I am not completely there yet. My heart still feels grief and a desire for some punishment and revenge. That is not the answer! Just like some of you, I must continue to remember Jesus’ instructions and empty my heart of anger and hatred, and forgive this tortured soul who felt compelled to murder the very people who had offered to him only love and acceptance.

In this world torn apart with racism, violence, hatred and bigotry, we as a people have no other means but forgiveness to change the world. Forgiveness is a concept that takes power away from the those who hate and harm and invites them into right relationship. We have no future except for forgiveness. This is true not only for large public acts of violence and hate, but for all the small, tedious, and spirit crushing acts of cruelty and unkindness that occur in our lives on a daily basis.

We must remember the example of our Lord Jesus, who on the cross, asked forgiveness for those who crucified him:

    “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)

Make no mistake. . . we are called daily to usher in the realm of God through one phrase, “I Forgive You.”
 

Come Rest A While

Mark 6:30-34

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to do something unusual. And, I believe, he often tells us to do the same thing. What we hear in the Gospel was:

    The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:30-31)

In other words, he told them to ‘take a break’, and devote some time to being, rather than doing.

And I believe that He tells us the same thing:

    “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

He tells us to ‘take a break’, be by ourselves and rest.

We live in a world where everything is frantic – we have meetings upon meetings, obligations that we don’t necessarily want to do, but feel compelled to do, a ‘to-do’ list that is longer than our arm. We find ourselves mentally and physically exhausted. Yet we don’t rest. We may even believe that we cannot or should not rest. There is just too much to do. We push ourselves in a way we would never push anybody else. We feel something is wrong, that we don’t know what, and sometimes we even feel cheated. There is no time for ‘us’.

More often than not, we ignore Jesus’ command to rest. We want to follow Jesus and His teachings, but when it comes to Jesus telling us to take a break for a while we simply ignore Him.

To us, ‘doing’ is what following Jesus means.

Jesus has his reasons for telling the disciples to rest. They have just returned from a mission; He had sent them out in pairs and in haste They were not take nothing with them, but simply trust local hospitality to meet their needs. They were not to linger where they were not wanted. They were to be on the move, calling people to repentance, casting out demons, anointing the sick (Mark 6:7-12). It was work they had never done before, and once they returned, they must have been exhausted.

The disciples had returned from their travels and already there were people gathering to be ministered to. They weren’t even going to be able to stop for a minute and eat.

Jesus listened to the disciples as they reported on all they had done and taught on their mission. He did not, however, tell them to get moving and do more work. He didn’t ask them to do something difficult and dangerous, big and brave. Instead, what He asked them to:

    “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Jesus also invites us to rest, yet we treat rest as a four-letter word. If people are resting, we may be suspicious of them; if we are resting, we may think we are slacking off. There’s always more to do, more things we think we ‘should’ do. But Jesus says:

    “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31)

I bet most of you can recite your calendar for what you did last week, and what you have to do in the coming week. I know, for me, last week I

    • Had lunch with girl friends in Granville 
    • Had dinner with friends 
    • Went to a breakfast meeting with community leaders
    • Attended a Staff meeting on the other side of town 
    • Met a friend for happy hour 
    • Attended an all-day training at the Columbus Police Academy 
    • Got my hair cut
    • Oversaw a wedding rehearsal which lasted way too long 
    • Ate too much at the wedding rehearsal dinner
    • Provided pastoral care for a friend whose spouse is in the hospital 
    • Finished this sermon
    • Shopped for a wedding gift
    • Got my nails done 
    • Shopped for In The Garden 
    • Attended an Egyptian Coptic wedding 
    • Went to a pre-party and Shakespeare play in Schiler park 
    • Had drinks with friends flying through Columbus 
    • Served two services in Worthington 
    • And then came down here.

I don’t even want to think about what next week is like!

I wonder why we don’t have routines that ensure we have time for ourselves? Why we don’t feel that we have ‘earned’ that rest?

But we can take steps to establish rest time; build into our lives times of rest and solitude to balance out the other busyness. When we start getting some rest, our life becomes more significant, more meaningful than it was when we were always on the go.

This ‘rest’ doesn’t have to be going away from everyone; we can create a mental space where we ignore all outside interruptions. . . we can go sit on a bench at a park, or in a corner of a library, whatever removes us from the bustle of the mad world we live in. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive or solitary. We just need to get our spirit, our soul, into a place of calm, quiet and rest. We need to clear our minds of all the disturbance to peace.

We need to remember that Jesus tells us to ‘take a break’, have a rest so we are re-energized. After all, you can’t ‘smell the roses’ if you never stop long enough to see them and get near them.

Amen.

 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 19 July 2015

What Are We Thankful For?

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. One day in which we like those early Pilgrims set aside time in our busy schedules to give thanks to God.

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen – once.

This story doesn’t have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won’t ever be repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank God for all your blessings, think about those people who only wanted to live their lives and raise their families. They, also took time out to say “thank you” to Creator for all their blessings.

Religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load in 1620, after hearing about the riches in the northeast. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young natives for slaves and killing the rest.

In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their “victory”, the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with as many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.

Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained on display for 24 years.

The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre.

George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre.

Later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday, a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

The Puritans (Pilgrims) were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. Puritans and the Pilgrims saw themselves as the “Chosen Elect” mentioned in the book of Revelation. They believed in the imminent occurrence of Armageddon and hoped to establish here in the new world the “Kingdom of God” foretold in the book of Revelation.

So they came to America not just in one ship (the Mayflower) but in a hundred others as well, with every intention of taking the land away from its native people to build their prophesied “Holy Kingdom.”*

Not at all like the stories we have been told for as long as we can remember.

But regardless of the reason for the celebration of ‘Thanksgiving Day’, through the years we have continued the tradition of gathering with family and loved ones, celebrated with a big meal, and remembered that all this bounty comes from the Creator.

Here at In The Garden we have many things to be grateful for:

    • This space where we gather each week 
    • The community that we have established in the last 7 years
    • Those members of the Core Team who donate their Sundays to be a part of the community 
    • Those volunteers who provide the hot, nutritious meals for us each week
    • The Ohio State University Muslim Student Association who fasts for one day in order to provide  sack lunches 
    • The love and concern for each other we feel as a part of the community
    • The diversity of faith communities who feel called to do this much needed ministry.

If we think about our own lives, we have many things to be thankful for, starting with our family and friends.

What are you thankful for?

(Pause of members of community to tell what they are thankful for)

You will find the words to the hymn We Gather Together at your tables. Let’s sing this together.

    We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
    He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
    The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
    Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
    Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
    Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
    So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
    Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!
    We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
    And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
    Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
    Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Let us pray:

Our Father in Heaven, We give thanks for the pleasure of gathering together for this occasion. We give thanks for this food prepared by loving hands. We give thanks for life, the freedom to enjoy it all, and all the other blessings in our lives. As we partake of this food, we pray for health and strength to carry on and try to live as You would have us live. Amen.

 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH

*Blitzer, Charles, “Age of Kings,” Great Ages of Man series, references to Puritanism, pp. 141, 144 & 145-46. Also see Jennings, Francis, The Invasion of America, references to Puritan human motives, pp. 4-6, 43- 44 and 53.

Do I Have To Love “THOSE” People!?!?

Matthew 22:35-40

Last week we heard about the Pharisees, officials of the Temple, and the Herodians, supporters of the Roman emperor, trying to catch Jesus in a trap about whether the Jewish people should pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus did a mighty fine job of turning the tables on them by saying

    “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21)

This week the Sadducees, Jewish people who only believed in the law and not religion, joined the Pharisees to try to trap Jesus once again so that he would be removed from the picture. Like the Herodians and Pharisees, this is another strange alliance between people on the opposite sides of religion and law, but with a common purpose. Conspiracy makes strange bedfellows!

Once again , these two groups confronted Jesus with a question that they hoped would seal is fate:

    One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:35-40)

Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s question has been called “The Great Commandment”.

Simply put, The Great Commandment states that we are to love God and to love people.

That’s it!

Jewish scholars had determined that there were 613 commandments in the Law; there were 248 commandments which defined what you should do, and 365 defining what you should not do. Let’s face it, almost NO ONE could keep track of all of these, let alone make sure they did what they were supposed to and didn’t do what they were not to do.

And then there were the Ten Commandment.

But Jesus changed all that – he boiled all those laws down into two commandments:

    ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)

And the second is like it:

    ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)

That was Jesus’ message to the religious authorities. He said “Sometimes you have to forget the 613 commandments and do the right thing.” “Sometimes you have to forget your principles and do what is right: LOVE.”

Jesus’ final word was and will always be LOVE.

    At his arrest

    At his trial.

    At his crucifixion.

    At his resurrection.

    At his ascension.

His final words were always about loving God and extending God’s love to others, especially those hard to love.

Do you love God . . . Do you really love Him? If you do . . . SAY IT, MEAN IT, SHOW IT.

Say it with your words, mean it in your heart and show it with your actions. After all, that’s what God did for us when He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross.”*

How do we show our love for God? Let me count the ways. At least three ways:

    • Treat with respect the things of God, including His name;
    • Spend time in His presence in prayer and worship; and
    • Live the way God wants us to live.

But God’s love is not passive; we don’t just sit around and bask in the love of God. We have to do  something with that love. We must love others for the love that we have received.

That means we have to love:

    • That horrible uncle you have in your family who hates church and those Christian do-gooders…
    • That irritating old aunt you have in your family who is always sticking her nose where it does not  belong…
    • That Christian who always finds wrong in ANYTHING and everything that is going on in the  church…
    • That lady in the church who never has anything good to say & constantly tries to stir up gossip  and trouble…
    • That person on your block who drinks too much… who curses too much… who may be obnoxious  and hard to deal with…
    • That ‘floppy-Bible’ preacher who assures you that you are a horrible sinner and condemned to Hell.

Jesus is calling us to love ALL these people!

This is NOT easy, in fact it is nearly impossible, but if we focus on our loving God, He will help us to love those who are hard to love!*

God had called us to love Him.

God has called us to love one another!

This is how we know what love is : Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…..

    Dear Children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:16-18).

Quite a challenge isn’t it?

Unless we have a true, faithful love for God, and an earnest love for our fellow human beings… our words of faith are worthless… our witness for Christ is worthless…

LOVE is what makes it all work!

Amen

 
Delivered to In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH

* From http://www.inhis.com/. Cited by Brian Johnson, 1briguy@usa.net.

Our Tongues Can Be Lethal Weapons

In the book of James, we hear:

    People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)

We hear that the tongue can never be tamed, but I don’t believe that.

Our tongues can be used for many things: some good and some bad, some nourishing and some detrimental. Let’s look at some of the ways we use our tongue.

Too often our tongues are used for gossip.

Just exactly what is gossip?

    Gossip is second or third hand information that someone dumps on you without you asking for it, or without the person being gossiped about knowing about. Gossip can be true, but is usually partially true, or completely false. It is always negative personal information about another that puts them in a bad light, even if the gossiper has good intentions.

Then there is slander.

What is slander?

    The Bible defines slander as ‘speech that is harmful to a person’s name and reputation’. It’s essentially character assassination . . . the act of smearing someone. Gossip and slander color people’s perceptions of an individual unfairly and unjustly without their knowledge or consent.

One major component in gossip and slander is that the person being torn down is out of the loop.

Gossipers and slanders do not speak directly to the one they are demeaning – because they know their motives are destructive.

Think about sometime that you have heard gossip about someone and their hurt when it finally got back to them. Did you ever think how deeply a person and their family could be hurt when someone attacks their character without their knowledge or consent.

Why do people gossip about others?

    • They may be suspicious of the motives of others 
    • They could be easily offended (thin-skinned) 
    • They may be envious and jealousy 
    • They may continue to believe the worst about others 
    • They often judge others for misbehaviors they are prone to 
    • Becoming the Holy Spirit for others 
    • They may use others as a scapegoats to get out of sticky situations 
    • Often they tear down others so that they look better*

It seems that most people who spread gossip never think about this. Nor do they realize that what they’re doing is gossiping. (Some people, who intend to smear another person, in fact do know exactly what they’re doing. Others, naively spread gossip without realizing what sort of destruction it brings in the lives of others.)

Here’s a tip: always evaluate people based on your own first-hand experience with them, not on what someone else tells you about them. And remember:

    Treat others the way you want to be treated. (Luke 6:31)

No one wishes to be the subject of gossip. If you hear someone gossiping about another, never pass along anything that will hurt them.

So what should we do if we hear gossip about someone else?

First, we should consider these questions:

    • Would I want someone talking about me like this?
    • How would my family feel about this?
    • Would I want someone talking about my spouse, my mother, my father, my children, my best friends?

Most people don’t think about this when they hear or spread gossip about another individual.

If someone begins to say things that put another in a bad light, we have a responsibility to interrupt such speech and tell them we want no part of the gossip. If an email containing gossip is sent to us, we should disregard the content (that’s what the delete button is for!).

Plus we should go to the person being targeted and make them aware of it. Think about it: If someone was spreading something negative about you, would you not want to be made aware of it?

Have you ever noticed that gossip that tears others down travels like a brush fire, but news of good things about a person seems to move along at a snail’s pace? Why is it that we often immediately believe and embrace negative assessments of people, but good things about a person are not believed?

Gossip is like poison that once someone drinks, they cannot get out of their system. And it always separates people. Even close friends and loved ones. Gossip not only damages the person being gossiped about, but it also damages the person hearing the gossip and the person passing along the gossip, for it causes them to judge the other unfairly.

But our tongues can also be used to praise people.

How many times have you said something nice about someone?

How many times have you told a person they looked nice?

How many times have you acknowledged to the person that they did something to make the world a better place?

How many times have you told someone that you really liked them and wanted to be their friend?

How many times have you said ‘thank you’ when someone did something for you, no matter how small?

This is what we should be doing with our tongues – praising people and raising up the goodness in the world. We can bring peace rather than contention – just by what words come out of our mouths!

In Ephesians 4:29, we are reminded:

    Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.

How are you going to use your tongue for today? Tomorrow? This week?

Are you going to build up people or tear them down?

What would you like to hear about yourself?

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, Your Words only reflect wonders; help us respect others, that we may never gossip against anyone. Let us remember that we are all beloved children of God and worthy in your eyes. Help us to use our tongues only for good, not bad. Amen.

 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 7
September 2014

*Marsha Fisher, “Accusation,” Be In Health Conference, April 29, 2008, Thomaston GA

What If Things Don’t Change?

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Last week I preached about this being an opportunity to make a fresh start in this new year. About how we can choose to put the past behind us and look forward to a ‘fresh start’ in this new year. That we can control how we see and approach things with new eyes and a positive attitude.

But, as we know, much of our world is in a constant state of change. And, there are some things that never change:

    • Sometimes the treatment for an illness does not work and the patient does not get better.
    • Sometimes the prodigal son or daughter does not come home.
    • Sometimes our working conditions do not improve.
    • Sometimes the attitude of others stays the same.
    • Sometimes our marriage or relationship still falls apart.
    • Sometimes our finances do not improve.
    • Sometimes the division within a family cannot be mended.
    • Sometimes our broken hearts cannot be healed.
    • Sometimes the grief does not end.
    • Sometimes our loneliness does not stop.
    • Sometimes the disappointment is too great.
    • Sometimes the person does not forgive you.
    • Sometimes children continue to be neglected, abused, kidnapped, ignored, aborted and
      discarded.
    • Sometimes crime continues to rise: robberies, home invasions, abductions, murders, and rapes.
    • Sometimes no matter how hard or how much you pray things do not change.

When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane before he was handed over to Pilate, He

    fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me’ (Matthew 26:39).

Paul struggled with Satan whom he called a ‘thorn in his flesh’. He wrote in Second Corinthians,

    Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

So, what do we do when things don’t change?

So, what do we do when things don’t change?

When Jesus realized that nothing was going to change he said,

    Yet not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39).

When Paul realized nothing was going to change he wrote:

    Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

When things do not change:

    • Hang on to God.
    • Surrender to His will.
    • Rely on His strength to get you through.

God’s love for his children NEVER changes. He will always love us. We can always rest in his arms and in the power of Jesus.

Think about that poster with the little kitten hanging onto a branch for dear life. . . God’s message is the same.

So when things look darkest and we are discouraged and hanging on by a thread – Hang on to God!

Let us pray:

Dear Father, If you limit me, inflict pain on me, cause me to struggle and cry out for relief, let me come back to trusting you. Your grace is sufficient for me. Your power is made perfect in weakness. In the name of him who is my strength, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 
Delivered at In the Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church, 16 Jan