Celebrating Students

I am so incredibly impressed with the Parkland, Florida students’ response to last week’s horrific gun violence at their school.

Check that. It is not the response that is incredibly impressive; it is the students. They are immensely impressive. Their responses to the murders around them are a manifestation — a demonstration — of the impressiveness of their character.

Here’s hoping and praying those students continue to speak, march, organize, and vote until all our schools are safe. Until all assault rifles are banned. Until all politicians who put guns ahead of students — ahead of people — lose their seats. Because hopes and prayers are necessary, but they are also insufficient. Action is needed too.

At the church I serve, our Youth Ministry leaders and I will of course do everything we can to encourage and support the ways our students choose to engage in these actions. Such as the March for Our Lives on March 24th. Or the National School Walkout on March 14th and April 20th.

As our General Board of Church & Society (the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church) reminds us:

The United Methodist Church urges “congregations to advocate at the local and national level for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence.”

However, I don’t want to just lift up our students’ possible future actions. I want to celebrate who our students are right now, today. Recently we asked them to anonymously write down something they are good at. (We then used their responses as part of a game wherein each person had to either act out or draw that written response for the rest of the group to guess. Because of course we did.)

I’m sharing their answers with you because I think it provides yet another glimpse into our students lives. Our congregation claims to highly value our children, and we actively strive to bring that value to life. Knowing our students helps us do that.

More generally, it seems to me that hearing directly from some students could curb the impulse some have to automatically assume middle school and high school students are vapid, phone-obsessed, and dismissible. I beg to differ. Vociferously.

What are you good at?

Science
Watching TV 🙂
Talking to friends
Baking
Drawing
Gaming
Listening
Math [Note: x2]
Playing my flute
Eating food and playing piano [Note: probably not at the same time]
Sports
Doing Yoda impressions
Finding synonyms
Video games
Speaking for a group
Being lazy

 

Finally, let me celebrate student insight. At this week’s youth group gathering, engaging with the Lenten Study book, Embracing the Uncertain, our students offered this understanding of the material:

Faith is to doubt as bravery is to fear. 

Yep, they named their takeaway in the form of a standardized ELA comparisons test.

Translated: Bravery isn’t the absence of fear; bravery is action in the midst of fear, in spite of the fear. Similarly, faith isn’t the absence of doubt; faith is action in the midst of doubt, in spite of all the doubts we feel.

Hey, our kids are pretty great…wouldn’t you say?

 

 

 

 

#StayWokeAdvent

Photo by Colleen Erbach
Photo by Colleen Erbach

That racism exists in our world, in our country, in our community, in our systems – social, economic, and political – is irrefutable. But as a middle-aged, middle-income, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight, white, Christian, male, layers of privilege afford me the possibility – the comfort – of not noticing that racism. Or, if I do notice the racism rampant in our systems, those layers of privilege mean I can keep that knowledge at a distance. I’m protected from the violence in, of and from our systems.

Advent, the season of the church year that calls us to prepare for God’s incarnation in Jesus, began on Sunday with the gospel writer exhorting us to “Keep awake!” Mary’s song reminds us just what we need to keep awake for: the healing and justice Jesus brings for the blind, sick, and oppressed. One of the protest chants in Ferguson, MO this summer was, “Stay Woke!” Remaining alert to injustice is the most faithful way to participate in Advent. That’s why I’m eager to connect us with the #StayWokeAdvent movement.

One of the best uses of privilege is to make room for those who are less often allowed a seat at the table. That is, to share any platforms I have with those much closer to the violence than I. It is time for me and for us to listen to the painful stories of those hurt, crushed and even killed by our cultural systems: people of color.

Start with this introduction to #StayWokeAdvent from Micky ScottBey Jones: #StayWokeAdvent is a project of people interested in exploring the depths of the darkness and interaction with light through the time of Advent. It is an experiment in spiritual honesty during a time of the year that is often covers up the pain and struggle of the world with a giant glittery bow. The night is not silent. We are not asleep. [read the rest]

Jones also has a fantastic interview with world-renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann. Here’s a snippet:

MJ: How do we react to anger being viewed as negative, or wanting to avoid it? We want people to “calm down” or “get over it”.

WB: We live in a bourgeois cocoon of niceness and anything that breaks out of that is very threatening and disruptive to people. We have to work towards having honest speech with each other. When we have honest speech we have to speak out about the things that are unjust and unfair. [read the rest]

To get a sense of the historical context of the protests occurring right now in Ferguson, Chicago, New York, and all across the country, read this quick take by Dr. Carol Anderson:

But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble [read the rest]

To get an even fuller picture of the injustice built into our current systems – and the key role Chicago plays – I once again commend to you the extraordinary, incisive, meticulous essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The men who peddled contracts in North Lawndale would sell homes at inflated prices and then evict families who could not pay—taking their down payment and their monthly installments as profit. Then they’d bring in another black family, rinse, and repeat. “He loads them up with payments they can’t meet,” an office secretary told The Chicago Daily News of her boss, the speculator Lou Fushanis, in 1963. “Then he takes the property away from them. He’s sold some of the buildings three or four times.” [read the rest]

Especially for we who are white, I’m convinced we are incapable of having an honest, informed conversation about Ferguson, New York, or Cleveland – that is, a conversation about race in the USA – unless and until we’ve been reminded of (or taught for the first time) our national history.

Jesus announces that his purpose is to heal the sick and release those bound by the chains of injustice. We who would follow him, we who would be his disciples, must have a #StayWokeAdvent.

Honest talk about guns

This may come as a shock to many of you, but sometimes I don’t know what to say.

(Then again considering how infrequently I’ve posted here, perhaps that isn’t so shocking.)

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and I don’t know what to say.  I can say that I’m appalled, sad, furious when thinking about December 14, 2012. Yet even those words seem to barely scratch the surface of my emotions.

photo by UMNS
photo by UMNS

I didn’t grow up with guns. No one in my close family hunts (or at least not that I know of). None of my childhood friends ever went hunting or talked about it. Other than a bb gun at scout camp, I’ve never fired any kind of gun. And I’m not interested in changing that. I don’t understand “gun culture.” And I’m not really interested in changing that, either.

However, I also know that I am a big ol’ walking, talking, writing, breathing contradiction (which comes as no shock whatsoever). I can say that I deplore guns, the destruction they bring, and the culture that promotes them. But an honest look at pretty much every TV show, book, movie, comic book, and video game that I enjoy has some form of violence as part of its story; often involving guns. So I don’t really know what to say.

As cliché and fake as it sounds, today I do have friends that own guns, friends that hunt. I don’t – and wouldn’t – ask them or want them to change that about themselves. It is part of who they are. In addition, I’m convicted by that great exchange from season two, episode four of The West Wing: Ainsley Hayes scolds Sam Seaborn that his gun control position is not about public safety or personal freedom, but it’s about “you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that.” I see that possibility in myself, but I know I must push back against that tendency. Having a good, close friend who owns guns and hunts helps me with that.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre in Newtown. Sunday in worship (for sure at the Evening service, possibly at the morning services) we will remember those victims. But honestly, I don’t know what to say.

I’m convinced that gun deaths are not part of God’s dream for the world. I’m convinced that as a follower of God in the Way of Jesus, I’m called to work to bring God’s dreams for the world to life. I’m convinced that is true of our congregation as well. I know that the UMC’s Resolution on Gun Violence states, “we call upon the church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.”

Honestly though, I don’t know what to say those “vigorous efforts” should be. But I’m tired of doing nothing. So here is what I propose:

  1. Read the whole Resolution on Gun violence.
  2. Read the Board of Church & Society post about remembering Newtown.
  3. Read about 24 other school shootings that have happened since Sandy Hook. Another one happened today in Colorado.
  4. Attend Sunday Evening Worship this week at 5:00pm. Bring your knowledge, your experience, your limitations, your passion and join with others doing the same as we consider together how Woodridge UMC will work vigorously to curb gun violence in 2014.
  5. Begin the conversation by leaving a comment. Just remember to keep it respectful.

Of course we won’t all agree. But looking at scripture, tradition, experience, and reason together is the way forward; the way to more healing, more hope, more life in this, God’s world.

Together we will find the words. Together we will find the way.

 

Mourning, and yet…

It has been rough week. It’s been a week of mourning. It has been a week of mourning with Miriam, all the Cabanas family and friends, and our congregation over Ernie’s sudden death. Just a few days ago Miriam and Ernie hugged me on their way out of church after our worship service, all smiles and energy. They are one of the sweetest, most affectionate couples I’ve ever known. I can’t help but be lifted up and encouraged by the love they share and the manner in which they share it. I will greatly miss Ernie’s hopeful smile and jubilant approach toward life. It has been a week of mourning with the nation over yet another mass shooting, this time at the Washington Navy Yard in D.C. Mourning our society’s lack of good understanding of – and care for – those who suffer from mental illness. Mourning our inability – as a nation, as a congregation, even as individuals – to even so much as have a conversation about the role guns play in our society and in these deaths that keep mounting up. It has been a week of mourning with the region over yet another shooting in a Chicago park. No deaths reported, but 13 people were injured, including a 3 year old boy shot in the jaw who is in critical condition. Enough! How will we as individuals, as families, as a congregation respond to this scourge in our streets? When will enough people, enough children, be shot to make us stand up and say, Enough! Our fascination with guns is literally killing us! It has been a week of mourning for the continued and continuing assassination of the character of those in our midst who need help. Who, despite all their efforts, can’t feed their children or themselves. They are not “lazy” or “greedy” or “desiring dependency”. They are people. People like me. People like you. They just happen to be people who need a little help putting food on their table. The honest truth is we all need help sometimes and we all need each other. We’re all dependent upon the work, the blood, the sweat of others. Yet we demonize hungry and poor people for being hungry and poor. Even more baffling, yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives, voted 217-210 to cut SNAP by $39 billion over the next ten years, thereby declaring they want even more people – nearly 4 million more people – to be hungry and they want 210,000 children to be without school lunches. As Rev. David Beckmann says, picking on the poorest among us is unacceptable, especially for a country that prides itself on a strong moral grounding. It has been a rough week. It has been a week of mourning. I am angry and I am sad. And yet… And yet, I love and strive to serve the God who declares that spite and hate and violence and despair and even death do not have the last word in the world. Rather that last word belongs to God as revealed in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and that word is grace. That word is love. That word is life. And it is offered to all. And yet, I serve a congregation at which this past Sunday our Lead Pastor, the Rev. Dr. James Galbreath, declared from the pulpit as the sermon that Woodridge UMC’s altar is for all. All three of our congregation’s clergy are united in this: Pastor Jim, Deacon Beth, and me. All three of us have signed the Altar for All statement “committing to fulfill our vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression.” And this gives me hope in the midst of my sadness and anger. Further, we presented our position in what I believe was an honest and faithful way – from a pastoral standpoint rather than a dogmatic one and acknowledging that not every member of our church agrees with us. We are open for conversation.  And that gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. You can sign the Altar for All statement too. There is provision for clergy and laity. Or you can continue to be in conversation with us about this.  And this gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. I am convinced that God as revealed in Jesus is the God of “and yet…” So that’s where I want to be too; in the midst of the “and yet…”

 

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

As I wrote on Thursday afternoon, word broke of yet another shooting at a school. This time a 14-year-old was shot at a middle school in Atlanta, Georgia. According to police, the suspect is in custody and the wounded student is “alert.” Both suspect and victim are students at the middle school.

This shooting occurred:

  • 7 weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT which left 28 dead.
  • 3 weeks after a 16-year-old shot two students with a shotgun at Taft High School, Taft, CA.
  • 16 days after a student shot an administrator and himself at Stevens Institute of Business and Arts in downtown St. Louis.
  • 9 days after three people were shot at Lone Star Community College near Houston, TX.
  • 2 days after King Prep High School student, Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death in a park in Chicago.
  • 1 day after a gunman shot and killed a school bus driver and abducted a Kindergarten student in Midland City, Alabama.

And those are just the school-related shootings.

To say that all this breaks my heart sounds far too trite, and yet other, better words fail to present themselves. I am sad and I am angry. It seems clear this is not how God intends for us to treat one another. It seems clear that our culture is addicted to violence and in love with guns. It seems clear that I am part of the problem. From the shows I watch to the movies I enjoy to the books I read to the comics I buy, violence is too often a common denominator.

Yet what can we do? After all, Deacon Beth sharply reminded us earlier this month as she considered King Herod’s actions after the birth of Jesus, the slaughtering of innocents is not a new phenomenon. What can we do? Are we resigned to this fate? Beth concluded her post with a brilliant response: “May we choose, as followers of Christ, not to buy guns for an illusory feeling of ‘protection.’ And may we fight, fight, fight for sanity in our gun laws.”

Now a new way to enter that fight for sanity presents itself.

We – as individuals, as families, as a congregation – can emulate The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women by joining our voices with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Over 40 denominations and faith-based organizations have joined, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

This coalition wrote a letter to President Obama and Congress, which reads in part:

Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have perished, we must also support our prayers with action.We support immediate legislative action to accomplish the following:

  1. Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check;

  2. High capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians; and

  3. Gun trafficking should be a federal crime.

Adding our voice to this movement will not, by itself, stop all gun violence. A diversity of other actions are needed too. Actions born of our faith that the one we call Lord and Savior is also Prince of Peace. But this is a good step in the right direction. It is something we can do. Join the Faiths United coalition here.

Photo: Reuters
Participants from Newtown, Connecticut, wearing the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, walk in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall. [Photo: Reuters]
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