Finding our Moral Grounding in a Clash of Values

The religious minister has the obligation to defend values; what happens is that the political world can become overly scrupulous: it listens to a pastor and they say that he is preaching against so and so. We do not preach against anyone; we refer to the value that is in danger and that must be safeguarded. — Pope Francis “On Heaven and Earth”

There is an underlying narrative that we seem to be glossing over as we try to make sense of what happened in Charlottesville. It is the movement from modernism to post-modernism, from truth to post-truth, from purpose to nihilism, from traditional party politics to identity politics, from freedom to equality.

Our nation was founded upon Enlightenment principles, which are reflected in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these Truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This was the modern era in which moral truths were self-evident and scientific truths were verifiable. It was a time when freedom of religion, speech and the right to bear arms were a reflection of these self-evident truths. As our country matured and our life conditions changed, we began to see that all Americans did not share these freedoms.

The counter-culture of the 1960’s called the country to move beyond freedom to equality with the feminist movement, civil rights and, finally, LGBTQ rights. As our world has become smaller through the rise of globalism and the advent of social media, we have begun to question our self-evident truths and, in recent years, even scientific truths–to the point where truth itself has become relative and personal, and objective news reporting is portrayed as “fake.”

One consequence of this post-truth world is that many are left either capitalizing on this with creating our own narcissistic social media world and/or falling into a nihilistic fatalism where nothing matters and there is no purpose in life.

Angela Nagle in her book, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, says that she sees the alt-right as a product of this cynical age and defined by alienation and skepticism with no inspiring vision of the future. She goes on to say that many of these folks are young men who began as social media anti-political-correctness trolls and free-speech enthusiasts. They did this as performance art until Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign for President catalyzed them into a political movement.

Nagle states in a Vox News article, “I see a rightward drift because the people who think it’s all funny and transgressive and ironic are bringing people in but then they have no ideas to keep them there because they don’t know what they believe in. But the extreme groups led by people like Richard Spencer, do know what they believe in and they do have solutions for the problems they identify.”

She says the Alt-Right does not believe that problems in society are socially constructed. They reject the idea that America is founded on self-evident truths but rather is a product of Anglo-Saxon Protestants. “It’s basically a belief that the various societal norms and taboos around race or culture or gender are bullshit and that they’re poking holes in all of it. It’s a kind of postmodern questioning of everything.”

If you listen closely to David Duke, the supreme Wizard of the KKK, he couches his racism with free speech language harkening back to the preservation of the First Amendment. According to Duke, the Alt-Right demonstration in Charlottesville was centered on free speech and freedom of assembly. They had a permit and a right to be there, and the statue of Robert E Lee has a right to stay there as well. For many white, traditional Americans the only thing they can hear is that this is a “free speech” issue. While for progressives and people of color they hear, bigotry, hatred, fascism and white supremacy. Consequently the Antifa (Anti-facists) were there to arm and defend the left against a violent fascist extremism and progressive Christians and Black Lives Matter were there  peacefully defending self-evident truths of all being created equal.

The Left, post-modernists, say that unless you honor equality we won’t allow your free speech, and the Alt-Right pre-modern/modernists say that unless you honor freedom of speech we will destroy you. The result is that people are talking past one another and missing the underlying clash of values between modernism and post-modernism. We are also seeing this culture clash played out on college campuses with efforts to prevent certain conservative and Alt-right lectures when the real issue is one of equality versus free speech. “We will not allow you to speak if you do not value us as equals.” The alt-right sees this as a political-correctness overstep. Trump echoes these sentiments when he asks, “Will we now have to take down the statues of Washington and Jefferson, as well?”

Alongside these developments, we have also seen a notable decline in church attendance and, conversely, a growing number of people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious”. Christianity has, for many reasons, lost its position as a moral arbiter of our post-modern, nihilistic, post-truth times. As a result, we have either gone down the path of fundamental “Biblical Truth” or adopted a watering-down of the Gospel to a do-gooder social club lacking foundational truth. However, neither approach offers any relevance in an increasingly complex and multicultural world. As a result, fringe movements such as the Alt right, the Neo Nazis and the Antifa are growing.

Some in the church say that our role is to simply keep preaching the Gospel and stay out of politics. Others say the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be isolated from politics. Granted the values of the Church are not necessarily the values of our country, but when we shape and form people around the ways of Jesus, the ways of love and peace, we become agents of justice for our country. A healthy democracy needs the Church. As Pope Francis says, “We are all Political animals with a capital P. We are all called to constructive political activity among our people.”

I believe that this is the progressive church’s time to claim its moral authority especially in the absence of our President claiming it for our country. But, in order to do that, we need to look at the ways in which we maybe fanning the flames of misunderstanding and ultimately violence by not listening for the underlying values at stake. This is an invitation to look past identity politics toward the lost people who are searching for deeper meaning and purpose but finding it in all the wrong places. It is no longer enough for us to protest and proclaim, we need to courageously cross the barriers that divide us. This is not for the faint of heart. It is the way of Jesus on the Cross, arms spread wide, taking in all the pain of the world and healing us through grace: “Bless them Father for they know not what they do.”

This requires us to move beyond the rallies and into living rooms. It requires us to step down from our pulpits and transcend the bounds of political correctness so that we can touch upon our own humanity and that of others. “Tell me about your fears and I will tell you mine.” This is messy, uncomfortable, and time consuming. It requires us to dig deep within so that we can transcend and include all of our collective histories. It requires us to create containers of safety and security so that all stories can be shared, even the ones we don’t want to hear. It requires us to risk relationships and social standing knowing that we will make mistakes and unintentionally offend people.

We have great saints to emulate such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as Nelson Mandela, who transformed cultures through non-violence and deep listening. We have the Apostle Paul who moved beyond his righteousness into Grace, as well as Saint Peter who moved beyond his religious customs and tribalism into the Gentile world. The Country needs us. We have a story to tell and a vision of the beloved community that calls us into the future. Let us claim that purpose and offer that future to all of God’s children.

River Time Yoga Retreat

I came to the practice of yoga 23 years ago when I was expecting my first child. The class was for pregnant women who wanted to do natural childbirth. What surprised me even then was how calm and centered I felt after the classes. Two healthy births, a stressful job and a move across the country brought me back to yoga 17 years ago — at first once a week and then twice a week. Now the practice of yoga has become a rich metaphor for my life.

Of course yoga has given me greater flexibility and stronger muscles, better posture and balance, reduced emotional and physical stress, and increased self-awareness. But more importantly, I have grown in my capacities to take life as it comes to me, exactly as it unfolds, warts and all. The practice of yoga has helped me to grow in compassion for myself and others. Simply put, yoga has helped me to open my heart.

Which leads me to the river and another metaphor… Continue reading River Time Yoga Retreat

Buen Camino

Nothing quite prepares you for a pilgrimage.

Christian PilgrimSure, there is the research on the pilgrimage route, choosing the proper walking gear, exercise preparation, and the strategic packing of just a few clothes and essentials, but the pilgrimage itself calls into question any illusion of control we think we have in life.

Camino Frances is a 500 mile walk across the northern part of Spain that begins in the Pyrenees Mountains along the border with France and leads to Santiago de Compostela where it is said that the bones of the first martyred Apostle, St. James, are buried in a Crypt in the Cathedral. It is one of three major pilgrimage sites for Christianity. The other 2 are Jerusalem and Rome.

My husband, Jeff, 21-year-old daughter, Hannah, and two dear friends, Jane and Rob, began our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Sarria, Spain approximately 116 km from Santiago. This is typically a 5-6 day walk into the old city where close to 2,000 pilgrims arrive everyday after walking up to 500 or more miles.Camino with friends

The first day was overcast and cool with the forecast of rain but that didn’t dampen our high spirits and energetic pace as we calculated the hours it would take to walk our first day goal of 14 miles. Like a typical North American my focus was on the destination and my race to get there. At one point I caught myself trying to pass other pilgrims much like my experience in Oregon at the Portland to Coast Relay race in which those passes are called “road kill”. This is fairly easy to do given the fact that we had started this journey after others had been walking for over 400 miles carrying everything they needed on their backs. We, on the other hand, were walking the last 73 miles of this pilgrimage – quite an advantage in the competitive scheme of things!

It took me a day of walking with increasingly achy plantar fasciitis feet in the rain to begin to realize that this was not a race; this was a pilgrimage experience. I went to bed that first evening exhausted with throbbing feet worried that I would not be able to walk in the morning. Surprisingly, I woke up buoyant with rested feet ready to head out for the next destination, but Hannah awoke to pain shooting up the back of her knees – tendonitis.

Seeing other pilgrims head out for the new day, I started walking fast, leaving my daughter behind. Then I remembered part of the Camino blessing that I had just read that morning, Blessed are you pilgrim if what concerns you most is not arriving, but arriving with others. Blessed are you pilgrim if you discover that a step backwards to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without awareness of those at your side. Ah, yes… I determined then that this day I would walk with my daughter at her pace.

Step by step I found a new rhythm of being present to the moment and the people that I encountered, as well as the sights, the smells, the sounds, the touch of the wind on my body, the feel of my feet touching earth, and the new tastes of Spanish food and drink.

As I slowed down I realized that everyone walks the Camino in their own way — like Gary, an 80 year old man from Oregon who walks about 5 miles a day at a very slow pace, his two walking sticks echoing a steady beat as they hit the ground or Bill, a humble Gen Ex vagabond from Michigan, who instructed Hannah how to walk with tendonitis — short, slow steps, flat footed up hill, or Chris, a recently retired teacher from England, who walks at a fast clip because she has lots of energy.

The greeting on the path is Buen Camino, meaning “Have a good journey”, but it can also be a gracious reminder that all ways of walking are good ways.

As I allowed the Camino to have its way with me I began to enjoy the simplicity of the journey. Walk, Eat, Sleep is the 3-fold practice of the pilgrimage. That easy rhythm allowed me to begin to let go of the stressful baggage that I constantly and unconsciously carry with me – the to-do lists, performance anxieties and fears born out of scarcity, not enoughness, and shame. It opened me to see that every pilgrim suffers with both physical and existential pain and yet we walk, we endure, we find joy in the simplest pleasures like taking off our shoes and rubbing our feet at a roadside café while drinking a cold beer or smelling the eucalyptus trees as we walk under their forested canopy. With each step my heart opened wider to a sense of abundance – that this is enough and I am enough and this day is a sacrament unfolding in time and space.

Soy El CaminoThen like manna from heaven I came across a sign posted along the path that said, Yo Soy El Camino, y La Verdad y La Vida. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Yes, El Camino, the way… this camino, this way. The pilgrim journey is a metaphor for life. Everyone walks it in their own way and it is all good.

Our call is simply to take that next faithful step, find our rhythm in unhurried calm, acknowledge our pain and in so doing find our common humanity — our deep connection to the fullness of life that we thankfully have no control over. This is the deep truth of life – that it is sheer unmerited grace, love incarnated in community.

Several days later during the Pilgrim Mass at the Cathedral in Santiago tears of awe and wonder flowed down my cheeks as I hugged and shook hands with my fellow pilgrims from around the world sharing the peace in our own native tongues.

All these people, all this pain, all this joy, all this good will, all this common journey is a glimpse of the kingdom. El Camino of Jesus is the “Buen Camino” of life.

 

And They Had All things Together

We live in complex and polarizing times. Our institutions are declining and our sense of job security and family safety is on heighten alert. Our neighborhoods are growing in diversity with a multiplicity of cultural expressions that challenge our assumptions and codes of conduct. And we are beginning to question lots of things – truth, gender identities, race relations, the economy, politics, education, and global warming — which leads us to a generalized fear and anxiety with just about everything. This has become our new norm — the background noise of life in the 21st century.

My particular dance with all of this is in the church. Often I have heard, “The church is just not relevant anymore, even for many of those who still make it a habit of going to worship and engaging in church activities. We have lost our sense of purpose.” As I travel around the country as a church consultant it has now become the norm for me to hear stories of people and pastors who are on the verge of being done with the entire church enterprise. Not because they don’t care, but precisely because they do. Continue reading And They Had All things Together

Reports from the Spiritual Frontier

artworks_mediumMy friend Ben Yosua-Davis has launched a new podcast called “Reports from the Spiritual Frontier” His vision is to have conversations with people working on the spiritual margins of our country.  Even though he is just beginning to live out this dream, I love his concept and the interviews that he has already posted. (Okay, one of those was with me!)

I have listened to all of them and have learned so much from others who are innovating fresh expressions of faith community formation – the good, the bad and the funny. Now I have a podcast that I can refer people to so that they can have a realistic snapshot of the journey of co-creating the new that longs to spring forth.

Ben is effectively curating and preserving stories that are like the Books of Acts — 21st Century Edition! So find his podcast, add it to your phone, and the next time you are stuck in traffic or on the treadmill have a listen and be inspired!

The Naked Bike Ride to General Conference

Naked Bike Ride

In May 2016 the world is coming to my home – Portland, Oregon — a place where we proudly claim our weirdness and laugh along with episodes of “Portlandia” in an endearing way. We are into communal and laid back living, farm to table eating, free swaps and DIY on just about everything including our spirituality. We are concerned about the environment and recycle our food scraps. We love our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and even advocate for bike safety with our annual Naked Bike Ride through the streets of Portland. The coffee, beer and wine are always flowing and people who visit feel genuinely welcomed. Tolerance, understanding, diversity, natural fibers, life/work balance, communing with nature, good books, funky flavored ice cream and authentic conversations are important to us.

But frankly, we are having difficulty preparing for the General Conference delegates from all over the world who will be coming to our city for the quadrennial legislation of the United Methodist Church next May. You see, WE will tolerate differences as long as YOU tolerate differences.   We will welcome your expression of diversity as long as you welcome our expressions of diversity.

Here is our issue: We know you don’t want to welcome such diversity. Continue reading The Naked Bike Ride to General Conference

Progressive Fundamentalism?


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I was recently visiting a church that is known as the progressive voice in their city. The majority of members are highly engaged in social justice issues and serve their larger communities in multiple ways. They are proud of their open and affirming welcome of the LGBTQ community, but also with how they have been in ministry with the local elementary school providing a free after school program for families with low incomes. The school principal, teachers, and parents love the partnership and the program has a waiting list of people wanting to be a part of it.

As I toured the church a key volunteer with the after school program turned to me and said, “We have this great program but our church is dying. Most of us are in our upper 60’s and 70’s and we won’t be able to do all of this good work forever.”

In further conversation I found out that, even though this after school program has provided love and care for children and their parents, no one has ever invited these families to be a part of the life of the church.

Why? Continue reading Progressive Fundamentalism?