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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

“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

Moving toward the Promised Land: The Reforming Catholic Confession

About 500 years ago, as the legend goes, a small-town German Augustinian[3] friar named Martin Luther nailed his ’95 Theses’ on the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral. This action was the most obvious of many events during the 17th century that marked the rejection of the many of the tenets and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and led to the Protestant Reformation.

Luther believed that Scripture alone was the sole authority (Sola Scriptura) for doctrine, and that Christ’s death fully satisfied the penalty of sin. The Protestant mantra became: justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. This was a sharp divergence from the Roman Catholic doctrine that salvation came from works and faith (Sola Fide).

Luther had no intention of leaving the church he hoped to reform, but his theological fury led to his inevitable excommunication as a heretic and the splintering of Christendom. As a result, with the help of Philip Melanchthon, Luther precepts became known as the Lutheran religion. From this Reformation Movement what developed was the church known today as ‘protestant’.

Now, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, one of the most common charges against the Reformers is that they divided the Church. What’s more, once the division came, inevitably division after division followed, with fragmentation, splintering and dissension; there are now approximately 33,000 different protestant denominations in the world.

On September 10, 2017, over 250 prominent scholars, pastors, and church leaders drawn from every continent and spanning most Protestant theological traditions and Communions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Free Church, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.), released a theological statement affirming the essentials of the Reformation. Its Protestant authors contend that in this 500th anniversary year, the document must be a “catholic” statement in the best sense of the word.

This Reforming Catholic Confession (A “Mere Protestant” Statement of Faith to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) is a document which outlines the main theological commitments held by a large majority of Protestant Christians since the Reformation. The purpose of such a statement is to “demonstrate the remarkable commonality that exists throughout the world among Protestants on the core elements of Christianity”, claims Jerry Walls, an author and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University.[1]

The Reforming Catholic Confession contains 12 articles that outline shared beliefs in such basic Christian tenets as “The Triune God,” “The Atoning Work of Christ,” “The Gospel,” and “The Church”.

The beliefs are followed by 25 “why we say what we say” explanations that capture key cornerstones and dimensions of the Christian faith. The final section of the Confession states the resolve of the authors to honor the distinctions among the variety of Protestant traditions, but to aim for even greater unity in the Body of Christ.

It is much like the creation of the Nicene Creed, developed in 325 CE, as a statement of faith that could be professed by all the faithful. It is a negotiated statement among the leaders of the various factions of the church at that time, and is still used by a majority of Roman Catholic and liturgical churches.

As in 325 CE, no single group of participants gets everything they wanted to express in the document, but they nevertheless arrive at a mutually agreed upon declaration. “The question is not ‘Does this statement say everything you would want it to say, but ‘Can you agree with us thus far?'” Walls said.

It is called a “catholic” confession, to reclaim the word (little ‘c’) “catholic”, meaning the church universal. The document is an attempt to recover the speaking of truth in love between divisions of the church, Too much dissension and negative rhetoric between members of the Protestant churches has come down through the ages. This is an attempt, much like the Nicene Creed, to emphasize what we all share, rather than how we are different.

Phyllis Tickle, a renowned authority on American religion once said:

“Every 500 years, the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered so that renewal and growth may occur. Now is such a time.” [2]

In a PBS interview, Tickle referred to this

 “[e]very 500 years” theory and said, “the church has a giant rummage sale.” She said, “Christianity is in the midst of a new reformation that will radically remake the faith.”

There is still much analysis to be done on The Reforming Catholic Confession by varied denominations of the church universal, but this may well be the beginning of a ‘modern’ reformation, working to bring disparate factions of God’s faithful into closer communion with each other. The statement has already been translated into French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The complete document can be found at http://reformingcatholicconfession.com/.
 
[1]      http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-250-protestant-leaders-sign-reforming-catholic-confession-on-essentials-of-christian-faith-198747/?utm_source=newsletter
[2]      Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Emergent Village Resources for Communities of Faith), Baker Books/Emergent Village-Emersion Books, 2008
 

[3] Thanks to Tunney Lee King, who corrected me: Luther was an Augustinian friar.
 

Written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 October 2017

LESS BUTTER, MORE GUNS – Are these Christian Priorities?

As Christians, we will be judged by how we support the care of God’s creation; Jesus repeatedly taught us to work for peace and to care for the people of the earth.

How we allot and spend our combined resources – our budgets – are moral documents, reflecting our values. The proposed state and federal budgets reflect few of the religious values that our Savior taught, or for which our churches proclaim they stand.

At the federal level, the proposed budget eliminates school lunches and HeadStart programs, funding for programs for the elderly such as ‘Meals on Wheels’, and drastically reduces money for environmental protection a clean-up. Also significantly reduced is funding for foreign aid and diplomacy, and for Medicaid which provides healthcare for some 30% of our neediest poor and elderly.

The billions of dollars removed from Medicaid will be transferred, instead, to a 10% increase in military spending (the U.S. already spend more than any other nation on earth on armaments) to a Pentagon renown for waste and fraud. Some of this money will also go for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens in our nation.

At the state level, the proposed budget only has a 1.9% increase over the current budget. Funding for education (early education, primary, vocational and college) programs has not been increased to meet the 2.7% rate of inflation. School districts will be penalized for a decrease in enrollment, although classroom costs will not change. Severe decreases in funding for vocational training for those students who are not college-bound practically eliminates the possibility that students graduating can obtain training to become productive citizens.

In the Ohio budget, tax cuts proposals include benefits for the upper socio-economic class, while significantly increasing sales tax and local income taxes, which negatively impact those with lower incomes.

The Ohio Department of Aging, which provides services to the elderly, receives no additional monies, although the percentage of elderly Ohioans living on fixed incomes and in need of these services is rapidly increasing. With the decrease in or elimination of Medicaid funding at the federal level, essential preventive healthcare measures and addressing the critical opioid addiction problem in Ohio will go unfunded. No additional funding for non-physical healthcare, will lead to more and more crises for the homeless and those suffering from addiction and mental illness.

As stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28), elimination of major portions of the Environmental Protection Agency should cause great concern. As the effects of global warming becomes more apparent, we need to take additional measures to ensure the quality of our air and water and earth, rather than ignore this growing world crisis.

Yet money for border walls to separate us from one another and for life-killing weaponry is being proposed!

Is this really what we as a nation stand for?

    when I was hungry, you canceled my food stamps;
    when I was thirsty, you diverted lead & coal into my water;
    when I was sick, you tripled my insurance rates;
    when I was in prison, you enslaved me to corporations;
    when I was a stranger with brown skin you deported me;
    from the lonely you took away social programs;
    from the elderly, you took away meals & medicine;
    from the workers, you took away legal protections;
    from the young, you took away school funding;
    from the victims, you took away shelter;
    instead of diversity, you encourage intolerance;
    instead of caring, you encourage isolation;
    instead of equity, you encourage military excess.

It is our obligation, as people of faith, to do everything within our power to call our senators and representatives to account for their votes on these budget decisions. There are many things individuals can do: make telephone calls, visit legislative offices, write letters and send emails to elected officials, and write letters to the editors of your local papers.

Yet, is this enough?

Perhaps more importantly, what are we- the members of Saint John'<uls – going to do to provide leadership to our city and state reflecting our priorities? Jesus’ voice must be our voice. We, as a church, can have an important influence. What are we going to do?

We should hold the clergy responsible for talking and preaching about these issues, reminding us that we are responsible for the world we live in, and we need to be vigilant to see that no one is left behind.

This is not politics! – it is caring for our world and the people in it.

 
 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 19 March 2017

Why We Should Be Active In Our Community

You have often heard me preach about our need to go out into the world and try to restore justice. We are commanded by Jesus to correct the wrongs perpetuated against the ‘least of these’. But there are other reasons to get active in our community.

Right now our nation is not only deeply divided, but inundated with nasty rhetoric and a general mood of selfishness and greed. Probably, in no other period of history, have the people of this country-at-large been so alienated from one another and unwilling to work together for the common good. Many are depressed, feeling totally hopeless and helpless to find a way to change their attitudes or the country.

Activism is the answer! Some would say that individuals cannot make a difference; we can only change ourselves. Yet, a change in individual attitudes becomes, in time, a ”global mind change” or a change in the entire world.

Being an activist often is stressful, and is plain hard work; burnout is a real problem. But, in the end, activism makes us feel good; it is exhilarating to gather with like-minded people to work for a common goal. Moving chairs, passing out flyers, and lobbying elected representatives is not so dreary when you do it with other people.

If, people who have never been active before, see you enjoying your activism, they may be encouraged to get out also. Who could resist all those women in pink ‘pussy’ hats at Women’s March; they were making a serious statement, but were having fun doing it. . . and all who went described the march as an experience of a lifetime!

When you get out and work with others in your community, it strengthens the bonds of that community; you have a common purpose and goal. Each person encourages the other to make their own little piece of the world a little better place. People are sharing love and energy.

Today’s events have left a lot of people depressed, fearful of where the country is going. Some would like to dig a hole and come back out in four years. Each new revelation makes them become more depressed and fearful. If they will get out and become active, their lives will have a rewarding purpose; it is really hard to be depressed when you feel you are contributing to our own community.

And, believe it or not, activism can be very effective. Sometimes you feel that you will not make any difference – the issues or problems are insurmountable. But that is not true. Just remember Ohio Senate Bill 5 (Collective Bargaining Limit of 2011); that law that was overturned because thousands and thousands of people in Ohio felt it was unjust and successfully campaigned to have it overturned. Each and every one of those people and their vote at the ballot box made a difference!

True, activism is not all fun and games. Each person must believe in the cause and dedicate themselves to the work that it takes to effect a change. It is hard work, but if the belief is strongly held, it is not a burden to go out and campaign.

And remember, activism does not have to be political; it can be cooking for the homeless, reading to the blind, being a school ‘grandparent’, teaching English as a Second Language. It may be driving senior citizens to the doctor or the grocery store, or just having coffee with someone who is shut-in.

Activism makes a difference in your world and makes a difference in your life. Get out of the house and do whatever you can to make this community and world we live in a better place.

But to do something positive for your community and world, joining with your friends and neighbors can possibly change the world, and surely change you!

Don’t rage -ENGAGE!

 
 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 20 February 2017

It is over. . . But it has just begun

The campaigning and election is finally over – and there are people rejoicing and people fearing for their lives as they know them. Every election always has a winner and a loser, people who are happy and those who are depressed. But this election has splintered the fabric of America, torn it asunder in a way that no foreign enemy has ever been able to do.

The President-Elect, if he follows through with the campaign rhetoric, will further divide the country into those who have, those who want what others have, and those who could lose everything. In his acceptance speech, he said he wanted to unite us and ‘Make America Great Again’. Only time will tell whether he really intends to unite or further divide.

But one thing is sure: there were a lot of people out there hurting economically and socially and they have spoken. Now we all must deal with this. We could riot (as was suggested by some factions of the reigning party), we can cry and moan, or we can do something; something that will further the values that were established when the country was founded – an inclusive, accepting country that welcomes all, nourishes them and gives them an opportunity for ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

This election must cause us to look at these problems as “our” problems, not the “government’s” problems or “someone else’s” problems. We can no longer passively sit on our hands, read about the problems, become somewhat concerned, and then NOT DO anything about them. If we do not act, what we are part of the problem; we must be part of the solution.

We need to love more –  more radically, more intensely – and especially love everyone we currently view as our enemy. We must pray for radical changes of heart, in their hearts and in our hearts. We must be that light that darkness cannot overcome.

No matter the results of the election, remember, regardless of who wins,

there will still be poverty to meet with generosity.

there will still be hunger to meet with food.

there will still be violence to meet with peace.

there will still be hatred to meet with love.

there will still be sorrow to meet with empathy….

there will still be pain to meet with compassion.

there will still be fear to meet with understanding.

there will still be frustration to meet with patience.

there will still be hurt to meet with forgiveness.

there will still be sin to meet with reconciliation.

there will still be joy to meet with celebration.

there will still be Good News to meet with a willingness to share.

there will still be signs of God’s presence to meet with open hearts.

there will still be a world to meet with the light of Christ shining from within.

there will still be God’s Mission to meet with the grace to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus.

“Regardless of who wins, we still need a plan to be the light of Jesus. We need a plan to

love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

We need a plan to offer hope to the hurting and peace to the suffering.”[1]

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
 
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 10 November 2016

[1]      Relevant Magazine

We ARE all the same!

Something pretty miraculous happened to me about a month ago, and I am still trying to process what it meant and its impact on me.

As many of you know, for the last almost nine years, I have been the Deacon-in-Charge of the In The Garden Ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square. This is part of the reason that I leave immediately after the second service to get downtown in time to coordinate the meals and worship service.

Over the years I have experienced the deep faith that some of these people have, in spite of their mental illnesses and rejection from the majority of society. They may not be educated in theology but they embrace and really try to live their daily lives following Jesus’ commandment:

Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31)

No matter the situation and the alienation from the ‘normal’ or mainstream, they still are a closely-knit community that takes care of its own.

At the end of July, In the Garden hold their own version of Mass in the Grass, or as we call it “Mass in the Garden”. All the volunteers work together to provide a picnic in the garden space between Trinity and the Glimscher Building. This year we had over 160 people come and celebrate with us. And celebrate we did; for the fourth time in nine years, we celebrated Eucharist on the steps of Trinity Church. And the majority of the people lined up and received. Seeing the line for communion going from the church steps to almost State Street was a marvelous witness to God’s love for all his people.

But it was during the clean-up after the picnic that the biggest miracle happened. We always have a group of men and women who help us clean up after each of the meals. This allows all of us to get home a little earlier on Sunday afternoon.

Because we were outside, there were a lot of tables to be taken down and transported back to the undercroft. Some of the tables would be loaded into a Core Team member’s trunk. I was resting, leaning on a stack of tables, with two ‘regulars’ who had done a yeoman’s job of breaking down and stacking tables. These gentlemen were older than I, and had probably spend their entire lives in day labor or menial jobs. We were all resting, leaning on the tables with our hands in near proximity.

Suddenly, one of the men reached out and gently touched my hand. The other one started to pull his hand away and said ‘you can’t touch a white woman’s hands’. This took me back, but I did not move my hand. I told him it was okay, I didn’t mind. With all the tenderness one would use to caress a baby, he gently rubbed my hand and fingers with amazement in his eyes. In all my life, I don’t ever remember anyone touching and stroking my hands with this much respect. As he stroked my hand, he said

‘you feel just like me’, ‘we really ARE the same’.

I don’t know what kind of impact this small act had on the two men, but I know for me, until the end of my life, I will never forget that experience: someone who was so bound by social convention, that he had NEVER touched the skin (or person) of a ‘white woman’. And who, by this experience, discovered the universal truth, that

Diversity_and_UnityThere is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, black or white (Galatians 3:28)

WE ARE ALL THE SAME

Not only under the skin, but also in God’s eyes.
 
 

Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, August 2016