Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Credible Fear

I heard a new term this morning--new to me that is.  "Credible fear."  Its used by those who vet potential refugee immigrants when they are trying to enter this country and are claiming they have a legitimate reason to be afraid to return to their own country.  A credible fear.

I got to thinking about that and began to wonder who are the people these days who have credible fears?  After all, we seem to be driven by fear in many of our actions.  Those who support the current administration, those who don't.  Those who protest, those who don't.  Fear seems to be rampant.

Blue collar workers who have lost their jobs due to the exporting of manufacturing to overseas locations and who are concerned about finding new employment.  Do they have a credible fear?

Person who are currently covered under the Affordable Care Act, who have pre-existing conditions and are worried that repealing s-called Obamacare without replacing it will result in a lack of insurance coverage.  Do they have a credible fear?

Parents of young black boys who feel the need to sit them down for "the talk" so that they will not run the risk of provoking arrest or worse.  Do they have a credible fear?

Police officers who deal tentatively with certain people because they are concerned they might be labeled as racist.  Do they have a credible fear?

Trangendered folks who see the whole bathroom controversy as just the beginning of what may become an increasingly hostile atmosphere.  Do they have a credible fear?

Proponents of one man, one woman, who see same-gender marriage as undermining a sacred institution.  Do they have a credible fear?

I suppose how you answer each of these may have something to do with where you stand on the liberal to conservative continuum.  But here's a thought.  What if we simply accepted the fact that a lot of people, on all sides of every issue, are running scared these days?  Wouldn't that make us a bit more compassionate?  A bit more willing to listen, and then find solutions?

On the Christian liturgical calendar, this past weekend we marked Transfiguration Sunday.  I won't go into details here (you can read the Biblical story for yourself in Matthew 17:1-9) but when Peter, James and John experience an overwhelming vision they are paralyzed by fear.  In terror they fall to the ground, not even able to look up.  But Jesus comes over to them and says, "Get up and don't be afraid."  

Maybe that's how we need to approach one another in these challenging times.  maybe we need to remind one another that we are not alone in all of this.  That God is with us, and we are in it together.  And while there are real issues that need real solutions, we can only address them if collectively we let go of fear, look up, get up, and then do what needs to be done to make this a better nation, a better world, for everyone.

(Image:  Edvard Munch, "The Scream")

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Niemoller Was Right

Martin Niemoller was a U-boat commander during World War I and a loyal German citizen.  Following the war after a brief time as a farmer, he attended seminary and was ordained as a Luther pastor. 
When things started falling apart in the Weimer Republic he supported those who opposed the regime in hopes of a revived Germany.  And to that end he supported Hitler and the National Socialists in the early years of their rise to power.  But in time, especially after Hitler issued regulation after regulation, stripping away the rights, and eventually the humanity of Jews, Niemoller began to have second thoughts.  He formed a pastors' organization to fight the discrimination against Christians with Jewish backgrounds.  And then took a step further, joining the Confessing Church, an organization that fought against the Nazi party in a number of ways.
Niemoller's preaching against the party did not go unnoticed, and 1937 he was arrested by the Gestapo.  Initially released, he was rearrested and ended up spending eight years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau. 

While in prison, Niemoller wrote a poem, which is his best known legacy:

            First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out--

            Because I was not a Communist.

            Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--

            Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

            Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--

            Because I was not a Jew.

            Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out.

 For Niemoller, it was a hard learned lesson--the horrors of the holocaust didn't happen overnight.   They happened before, and they can happen again.  And while it may or may not be Jews who are endangered, while it may or may not be homosexuals, or persons with disabilities or political dissidents who are at risk, what matters is that we pay attention, and speak up when anyone is endangered--Muslims, women, young black men, anyone.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."  Certainly that was true for Martin Niemoller.  Despite all that was going on around him, it took some time before her realized the implications of what Hitler and his cronies were engaged in.  But once he did, he spoke up and spoke out.

Might we learn from history as well.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Everything old is new again--or so they say.  And certainly the theology being presented in Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell's book The Divine Dance illustrates that very point.  Which is not to say it is shopworn or boring or simply repetitive.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that their "take" on the Trinity reflects the writings not only of the scriptures themselves, but many early church writers.

To summarize the ideas put forth in the rather slim volume (as theological tomes go) in a sentence or two would be an injustice.  Yet there are core ideas that get reiterated in a variety of ways throughout the book.  Reminding us more than once that "all religious language is metaphor" (47)  Rohr and Morrell see the dance metaphor as a near perfect way to view the Trinity.  For the Trinity, they suggest, is all about "flow" and "relationship"--things that are found in dance.  "God is relationship itself," they write.  (45) 

There is something very appropriate about the fact that this volume is the product (if you will) of the work of two authors--not one.  Two authors in relationship.  Two authors working together.  Two authors engaging in a "word dance"--a phrase coined, I believe, by James Thurber.  Of course every published volume (other than some self-published works) is the result of relationships between authors and editors--but two named authors makes that even more explicit.

For Rohr and Morrell even the traditional names for the persons of the Trinity--Father, Son, Holy Spirit--become, as they put it "placeholders."  "The inner life of the Godhead," they state at one point, "this is a mystery that stretches language to the breaking point. . . . The all important thing is to get the energy and quality of the relationship between these Three--that's the essential mystery that transforms us."  (91)  Ultimately, understanding the Trinity is this fashion, the author posits, makes it possible for us to see how we can and do enter into the divine dance. 

No review can't begin to do justice to this simple, yet complex work.  Yes, that is paradoxical, even oxymoronic--but what relationship isn't?  The practices included at the end of the book can help to facilitate ones participation in the dance, but in the end, it isn't about reading or engaging in spiritual
practices, in the end, it is all about waltzing and twisting and quick stepping and more.  And Rohr and Morrell make great partners for those who wish to participate in the dance.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.   I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part5 255.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Unity Not Uniformity

Mega-church pastor and author Rick Warren and I do not often agree on a number of issues.  But I recently rediscovered something he said in his bestselling self-help book The Purpose Driven Life which I found most helpful.  He writes:  "Christians often have legitimate, honest disagreements and differing opinions, but we can disagree without being disagreeable . . . . God expects unity, not uniformity, and we can walk arm-in-arm without seeing eye-to-eye on every issue."  (The Purpose Driven Life, 158)

I would broaden that out even further.  I would suggest people of faith in general can walk arm-in-arm without always seeing eye-to-eye.  Indeed, there are times when we can do that with people of no faith as well.  It is, whether Warren realizes it or not, a basic premise, so I understand , of community organizing.  We come together around particular issues, and work with those who share the common goal. 

Sometimes, I've discovered over my six plus decades, just walking arm-in-arm with someone helps me better understand their point of view when it comes to those different opinions.  Indeed, sometimes, I have changed my opinion, my understanding, as a result.  And sometimes others have changed their views.  But here's the trick, so to speak.  We walk arm-in-arm not to change others, but rather to live out the mandate to truly love and respect our neighbors.

"This doesn't mean you give up on finding a solution [to your disagreements]," writes Warren, You may need to continue discussing and even debating--but you do it in a spirit of harmony."  (Ibid)
Well said.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Will We Do with the Huddled Masses?

I looked up the text of the Executive Order banning refugees from Syria indefinitely, and others for specified periods of time.  It is titled "Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States of America."  It is a rather long document, with many references to various laws and regulations.  Not all the details are spelled out in the document itself--one has to read the outside materials for a clearer understanding of the order.

Among other things the order bans entry into the United States for all refugees from Syria indefinitely; all refugees in general for 120 days, and all persons from seven predominantly Muslim countries (designated elsewhere as "countries of concern") including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Somalia for 90 days.  

Perhaps if this order was issued free of earlier statements that we need to keep out all Muslims, it could be viewed as a security measure, plain and simple.  But that is not the case.  The larger context includes an increasingly virulent stream of language aimed at undermining the integrity of Islam and the humanity of Muslims.  Such language, and such actions, only add to the explosive atmosphere that resulted in the mass shooting this past weekend at a mosque in Quebec. 

There is little question that terrorism is a real issue in 2017.  But to blame Muslims in general, and Muslim refugees in particular (who are after all those who are most often the victims of terrorism), for terrorism itself, is misguided.  It is more than misguided.  It is un-American.  This is a land of immigrants--all kinds of immigrants and refugees.   

Maybe what we need to do for the next four months (or longer if necessary) is dismantle the Statue of Liberty--or at least cover over the words on the bronze plaque mounted inside the base which has those memorable words written by Ezra Lazarus  about tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free.  They're still yearning, but it looks like they'll just have to wait.