Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Under the Surface

A week ago, SJCC hosted a gathering of folks committed to helping those who are homeless in our community.  It was an open discussion featuring multiple people who have themselves been homeless, and one who is currently homeless.  Some of what I heard in this meeting shocked me.  Below is a sample.

Warning: some disturbing things are mentioned below.  Any swear words are edited out.

When you're houseless, your whole day is spent in a ---------- line for a haircut, shower, or feeding. You are not able to do anything else that day.

People need to eat seven days a week.  People take the Max (Portland's public transportation) and look twitchy not because they're tweaking, but because they got on illegally to go across town to get some food.

When I'm hungry I get mean and turn into somebody I don't like.  I was hungry one day, and there was a truck with an open door, and I took a sandwich from inside the car and when the guy saw me, I dared him to come take it from me.  I was hungry, and that's how I get when I'm hungry.

I used to put one bullet in the cylinder of my gun, and every night I'd spin the cylinder, put it to my head, and pull the trigger. I left it to fate whether I'd live another day.

There was a prejudiced person at a church that does meals, and he wouldn't give me anything because I took water from the church.  You people are sorry pieces of ----.

As the person was telling this last story about being sent away from a meal, I immediately wanted to speak up.  As a pastor, I'm aware that when a choice is made at a church, there are likely multiple reasons for that choice being made.  I wanted to defend the church and say something like, "I'm sure there was some other reason they sent you away."

Luckily, someone spoke before me and said, "I'm sorry. Maybe we can talk to them."

Often, compassion involves hearing both sides of a disagreement.  I immediately wanted to defend one side.  Obviously this is because I work at a church, and understand the struggles and difficult of running church events.  However, siding so quickly with the church kept me from hearing the experience of the homeless man.

I'm guessing the person at the church is probably not prejudiced, or at least is not as prejudiced as this man claimed.  I definitely do not think of Christians as "sorry pieces of -----."  I can, however, see how someone who was sent away from a church after waiting all day for some food and water would be angry at the people from the church.

Conflict is complicated.  People are complicated.  Stories and experiences have multiple angles.  Sometimes there is a clear answer or conclusion when two people are in conflict.  More often, however, there are multiple things to consider.

I had no idea that a person's whole day is lost if they have to go somewhere to get a meal.  This would definitely be frustrating.

I don't know if there is a great fix for this problem.  People are going to be angry or ungrateful sometimes when they are given food or clothing.  However, it is probably better to exert some patience when dealing with ungrateful people.  While someone's words or actions may seem childish on the surface, there may be more angles that we do not know about.

Beloved


Saturday, November 12, 2016

being faithful in the madness


The following is a sermon scheduled for tomorrow morning, November 13.  At this time, it has been four days since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US president.  There have been protests each night in Portland from Wednesday through last night.  There have been many conversations that I have personally had with angry people from all walks of life, and many more conversations that I've witnessed online and in person.  There is a tremendous amount of tension.  This sermon attempts to speak a word of hope and to give some practical advice for how the church can and should engage the world.




 

 
I’m tired.  Is anybody else tired?
This has been an exhausting week.
Most of us were stunned Tuesday night or woke up stunned on Wednesday morning.  I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative sense.  But it was stunning.  All polls had Clinton leading, often by a lot.  Polls were wrong.  Experts were wrong.  And we went to sleep or awoke (depending on when bedtime is) with the knowledge that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.
Since Wednesday morning, some things have occurred.  Much of it was good, much more of it, it seems, was less good, or bad, or even reprehensible.  Feelings have been hurt, relationships have been broken, offenses have been committed.
People in this room have been hurt.  For much of this week, I have fielded calls from people who are worried about friends or family.  I have listened to people who are either angry or sympathetic toward the protests that have occurred in Portland and other cities.  I have heard from people who do not feel strongly one way or another but love our great city and our great country and hate that it seems to be tearing itself apart.
I’ve heard from people who are hurt because of how people perceive them because of who they voted for.
I had one person threaten to not attend service today because of a dispute with another person this week.
It has been a week of name-calling, of attacks, in some cases, of assaults.  The transfer of political power is never a joyous occasion for everybody (at best, probably a bit above half), but we would like to think that it can be done peacefully.
Not so, it seems.
It has been an exhausting week for me personally, because I know that we can be better than this.  I know that we should be better than this.  And I know that Christians should lead the way in showing how to live for peace and justice in turbulent times.  Unfortunately, people seem to be going nuts, and the church doesn’t seem to be able to do anything about this.
It’s wrong, and it’s time to fix things.
In the next 20 minutes, we’re going to fix America.
Not really.
But we’ll get the ball rolling.
If you’re like me, and you genuinely want to see a more peaceful America, and you want to know what the church can do to help move us to a better Portland and a better America, I’d encourage you to walk with me for the next 20 minutes.  I’ll warn you, some of what I say is going to seem unfair to you. I’m going to attempt to speak to everybody’s experience, and unfortunately, we’re divided enough that I’m probably going to say some things that will bother you, no matter who you are or what you believe.  It’s going to be difficult, but here’s what I’ll promise: At the end of this service, we will pray together.  At the end of this service, we will strive to walk together and love each other despite our differences.  At the end of this service, we will have a message of hope and love for one another, and hope for the future of our city and country.
I’ve heard many calls on Facebook, Twitter, and in actual conversations (I still have those) from people who are calling all people in America to get past the election; to let all of their frustration and anger go, and to unify.  Ultimately, yes, I think unity is what we’re after.  So why isn’t it happening?
I’ve heard the theory that “those people are upset about the election and can’t accept reality and are taking losing the election in a bad way.”  People who say this often point to the recent protests as evidence that “these people” are simply reactionary and march in the streets because they didn’t get their way.  “Whiny” or “entitled” are terms I’ve heard repeatedly.
I don’t believe it.
Certainly a select few feel this way, and yes, in the world exist bad losers.  In the world exist bad winners as well.  And there are definitely bad losers and bad winners right now.
What I’ve read and experienced this week, however, causes me to very strongly believe that there is more to these demonstrations than simply entitlement or whining.
There is fear.
There is genuine fear from people today. I’ve read it. I’ve heard it. And I’m not talking about fear of a Trump-led government, necessarily.  Sure, that’s true for some people, but it’s more than this.  People are afraid for their lives, and the lives and livelihoods of those whom they love.
There have been many stories reported of Latino and Indian and African-American students in schools who are being harassed, or told that “deportation’s coming.” A school counselor said that she’s been counseling students who are being told that they’ll be “sent back.” I have heard stories from multiple friends of mine who are female who have been sexually assaulted in the past. Due to the video that was leaked about a month ago, this trauma has come screaming back.
Three days ago, I went downtown.  There was an interfaith service that came together within about 24 hours (which is incredible), and it was focused on helping people know that they are loved, and that there are people from all walks of life who will stand with them if need be.  I went to this gathering as a Christian to show that because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I am compelled to stand with those who don’t have someone to stand with them.  To support those who don’t have support.  Much as Jesus stood up for the woman caught in adultery, I stand for those who have nobody to stand with them. Just as the prophets called people to protect and support the fatherless and the widows and the strangers and the orphans, due to my Christian convictions I will protect and support those who need someone.  One of my favorite people on this spinning blue planet recently said, “With any transfer of power the church should ask who is now vulnerable? Then we should get to know them and stand with them.”  That’s why I was downtown.
The fears were on full display.
A Muslim young man said that he was afraid to attend because he had known of Muslim women this week who had been harassed and had their hijab’s ripped off of their heads.  This young man feared for his safety.
An LGBT ally talked about people who are married and have children and aren’t sure if they will have their children taken away from them or will be forced to divorce their spouses.
People are afraid.
So to say, “people are entitled and are bad losers” seems terribly unfair to those who live in this kind of crippling fear, or have friends and family who do.
I also have friends who have come to me and said, “I voted for Donald Trump, because I truly believe that he is the best leader for this country, and people are telling me and everyone else who voted for Trump that we’re racists because of our vote.”
Again, I don’t believe it.
Yes, there are absolutely racists who voted for Donald Trump.  The KKK endorsed him.  There are also despicable people who voted for Hillary or Gary or Jill.  And yes, Trump has said some things that have been, by many, considered to be racist.  However, painting with a broad brush is almost never a good idea.  Most Trump voters, and all of the Trump voters that I’ve known, are people who found him to be the best choice to lead this country.  They saw him as a strong leader, and liked his direction for the United States.  They liked the people he surrounded himself with.  Full stop.
To paint a group of voters with a broad brush is unhelpful. People are not all the same, and there are thousands of reasons to prefer one candidate over another.
So back to “moving on” and “unifying.” Why can’t we do it, and how do can the church help to move us to a place of unity?  The short answer that I’d offer is that people are angry, scared, hurting, wondering, questioning, and feeling vulnerable.  When a person is in this frame of mind, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move past these feelings.  Those who are peacefully protesting; why are they protesting?  Many are protesting because they want their voices heard.  They want to be listened to.  So many of us this week have offered heated words, calling people to “stop being stupid” or “listen to reason.”  But people are unlikely to listen or engage if they feel that they aren’t themselves being listened to.
So the first thing that we can do is offer safety.  Offer an ear.  Offer support.  Let people around us know that they are heard, and that they are loved.  A person doesn’t have to scream from the rooftops if they’re already being listened to.  A victim of assault or someone who is afraid of friends being deported are unlikely to listen to someone unless they feel safe and heard.
Second, respond in love.  Always respond in love.  Repay hate with love.  Repay divisiveness with love.  I have intervened in too many situations just here at this church this past week of people who have problems with one another.  Hate begets hate, divisiveness begets divisiveness.  What is the only way to stop hate? Love. What was the way in which Jesus conquered sin and death? With love, humility, and sacrifice. If somebody hurts you, don’t respond in hate. 1 John tells us that “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 Jn 4:11-12). When we respond to perceived attacks with a line-in-the-sand, we only continue what we’re trying to end.
So how do we love?  That’s so obtuse.  What does it look like? The Apostle Paul described the love that should be expressed between Christians in a way that has come alive to me in brand new ways after this week.
<Read 1 Cor 13>
Faith and hope are what we’ve been hanging our hats on. But Paul calls us to see love as greater than even faith and hope.
So if you are feeling vulnerable or scared right now, I love you. I will stand with you and support you. I will listen intently as you express all of your many emotions.
If you are someone who is afraid for the health and well-being of your family or friends, I love you. I will stand with you and support you as you comfort and possibly defend your loved ones.
If you are someone who is tired of all of the hate and simply wants people to come together, I love you. I would encourage you to support those who are fearful and help us take steps to get rid of the hate. And always remember where the anger is coming from. There is much fear and hurt. These things will take time to heal.
If you are someone who has caused rifts or divisions in your family or friendships recently, I love you. Once things are said, they have been said. But those words don’t have to be your last words. We can work to heal damaged relationships. And I will walk with you as you do it.
If you are someone who voted for Donald Trump and are feeling personally attacked right now, I love you. Understand that most perceived attacks are coming from a place of hurt. Do your best to understand what a person is feeling when they lash out or paint with too broad of a brush. And I will be here to support you when you feel like the attacks have gotten too personal.
I would invite you all at SJCC to join with me as we work to bring peace to the madness.