Monday, September 18, 2017

"Privilege"

Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.  

Now, this is the standard definition of privilege that most folks agree upon.  It is the standard to which we adhere to in normal conversation.  When someone says, "You have privilege," we immediately think, "I have an advantage over someone else."

But according to those who like to redefine things, privilege has a different connotation.  



So, privilege is not a special right or advantage, but is instead the idea that you do not have a particular life experience and cannot understand what another is going through.  And, of course, you will "likely" underestimate just how bad the problem really is because, since you haven't gone through it, you really, really just don't get it.

If this is the case, then "privilege" ideology is simply a reiteration of placing one's experience as the highest form of knowledge possible.  Same song.  Another, tiring verse.

There are two problems with this approach that I can see.  

First, every, single, bloody person has different problems.  No one shares every single experience alike.  Therefore, it logically follows, given the proposed definition, that EVERYONE has privilege.  How?  Well, given my particular situation: if you are not a white, male, heterosexual, rural, Lutheran, pastor who is married to a vertically-challenged, Italian, heterosexual female Spanish teacher who, together have two adopted, bi-racial daughters, and then a naturally born son--with all the trials and problems that such dynamics create, then when you address me about things I am going through, then you are a person of privilege.  You can't possibly know share this experience with me.  You can't possibly share the problems that I have.  You don't have that experience.  You have privilege!!!

Taken to its logical conclusions, the definition is quite meaningless!

But that perhaps is not the worst of the problem.  For by essentially limiting authority to personal experience, it is also quite possible that one exaggerates ones problems beyond the scope of reality.  Saying that should get me in a bit of trouble, but frankly, I don't care.   It's simply the truth.  (Caveat: there are obviously some problems that are tremendous.  When you are diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, that is a gigantic problem.)  For instance, as the father of a "tween" daughter, at least once a week, I hear the dreaded words, "You just don't get it!"

Well, in a way, my daughter is right.  I don't fully get the "tween" angst problems of today.  There weren't cell phones and the technology of today during my time.  Athletics wasn't quite the booming business that it is today.  Her school is a bigger school than I went to.  And, of course, she is a she.  I am a he.  And she is bi-racial and I am white.   I don't get it--on one level.  

But taking a step back and looking at a bigger picture, I darn sure do get it.  I darn sure can see what is going on, and I can tell my daughter with conviction that these problems that she is experiencing are minor.  They aren't life-threatening.  They are not a threat to her person and being.  There is a much larger world that she will experience, and the trials and tribulations she is experiencing now will seem like minuscule things in the future.  Learning to cope with these small things will give her confidence to deal with the bigger things later.  Learning to put things in proper perspective now will help her put things in proper perspective later.  Learning to look at the big picture now will help her get away from myopia in the future.  Although she might think that her world is crashing down around her and that all hope is lost, it is my job to remind her that there is a very big world out there and that what is happening to her right now will only have as much bearing on her future as she allows.  Allowing her to dwell in her limited experience will only harm her.

Allowing anyone to dwell in his or her limited experience will only harm him or her.  For experience is not the be all and end all of knowledge.  There is a vast array of knowledge that does not come from experience, and oftentimes that knowledge is much more reliable than our limited experience.  

If you want to talk about privilege, then let's do so under the standard definition.  We can easily talk about how some folks have advantages that others do not.  We can easily talk about ways to improve the lot for those who indeed are disadvantaged.  But let's not go changing definitions to suit our own purposes.  You don't have that privilege.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Amazing (In)Capability of Interpretation

I find myself in the unenviable position of defending someone whose theology I simply cannot stand.

Just down the road from the congregation that I serve stands the United State's largest church: Lakewood Church pastored by Joel Osteen.

Joel is a preacher of the prosperity gospel.  It is not the Gospel--it is a very warped version of what you will find in the Bible and in the New Testament.  In my estimation, this "gospel" does much more harm than good.

But that is a topic for another discussion.  What I would like to speak to at this moment is the response first given by Lakewood Church in regards to the severe flooding experienced in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.

During the heaviest flooding, Lakewood released the following statement, "Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding. We want to help make sure you are safe. Please see the list below for safe shelters around our city, and please share this with those in need!"

The post went on to list numerous for people to gather.

Of course, in the internet, multi-media, instant communication world we live in, someone went to "fact-check" Lakewood's statement.  Pictures were posted showing that the facility itself was accessible.  

Lakewood then took severe heat for failing to open its doors as a shelter.  Intense heat.  In the eyes of many, their reputation is now damaged irreparably.  

However, not all the facts were known.  Here is why Lakewood Church's statement is accurate, although not as clear as it could have been.

In his sermon this past Sunday, Joel Osteen laid out several more facts:

1. The facility had been flooded back in 2001 and had five feet of water in it.  Therefore, the church installed flood gates to prevent such a thing from happening again.

2. During the severe flooding, the water had risen to within a foot of the top of those flood gates.  At the time, no one knew whether or not the water would rise any higher.  (...due to severe flooding.)

3. Rather than take a chance and have people start moving in only to be flooded out by the water breaching the flood gates, the church decided to play it safe rather than sorry.  (Lakewood Church is inaccessible...)

4. As soon as the water began receding, the church opened its doors.

Now, interestingly enough, one must ask--which interpretation is correct?  Those who "fact-checked" by posting photos from outdoors?  The interpretation that I just set forward?

Well, honestly, they both are--depending what you mean by inaccessible.  If you mean getting to the facility, then those photos from the outdoors showing that you could get to the parking lot are correct.  If you mean by inaccessible that the church can't be used as a shelter until safety is ensured, then the church's statement is correct.

There is no doubt that the church's statement regarding inaccessibility could have been more clearly worded.  There is no doubt that more explanation could have been included in that statement that might have prevented the social media backlash that ensued.

However, I also think that there are those who used this as a "gotcha" moment for Lakewood and Joel Osteen.  I think there was some intentional desire to paint Joel and the church in a bad light, and given whatever particular bias you have, you were going to have that bias influence how you viewed the situation.

As more of the facts have been presented, I think how the church handled itself is exactly how I would have handled it.  Given how high the water was rising and the inability to know how high it would rise, I wouldn't have wanted to bring people in unless I knew whether or no the flood gates would be breached.  

But would I have chosen the same words to inform?  Would I have worded things differently?  

I don't know.  Sometimes what looks like an innocuous statement turns friends into enemies, and when we don't agree on the definitions of words, the likelihood of such things happening rises.  When we refuse to give people the benefit of the doubt, firestorms arise.  When our biases creep up, it's easy to fan the flames (do you know how hard it is for me to actually defend Lakewood Church???).  

What I do know is this--sometimes we benefit by waiting.  Sometimes we benefit by listening.  Sometimes we need to see how facts emerge before offering our own critiques or criticisms.  We are limited in that we will never know all the facts, but that is no excuse for jumping in and offering our own interpretations before more information is on the table.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lakewood, Joel Osteen, and Hurricane Harvey

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the social media backlash against Lakewood Community Church and its unwillingness to open its doors to displaced people due to the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.  And, believe it or not, I have no desire to bash Lakewood in the least.  I am well aware of Jesus' statement: take care of the log in your own eye before you try to pluck out the speck in your neighbor's eye.  For all the disagreement I have with Joel Osteen's theology, I want to see no church harmed.

And this is why I want to write this post.

It's because I believe that what happened at Lakewood can teach the church an invaluable lesson, and it's not simply about opening your doors during a disaster.

For you see, Lakewood is a church of nearly 40,000 members.  I would be willing to bet a substantial portion of my paycheck that thousands of those members, even the vast majority of those members were not idle during the events of Harvey.  I would be willing to bet--even though I cannot substantiate it--that thousands of those members were helping neighbors, were donating food, were making sure folks were rescued, and now are giving to relief efforts, joining in clean up crews, and working to care for their flooded neighbors.

But, little of that will matter in the public perception.  Lakewood will be remembered as the giant church that refused to open its doors to its neighbors until it was shamed into doing so.

Why?

Because, a church is not simply judged by what its members do, but a church is also judged by what it does as a whole.

It doesn't matter if you think it's right or wrong; just or unjust--every congregation has its own personality; its own range of actions; its own public perception, and it is judged as a whole by the surrounding society.

Individual members might be the nicest folks in the community, but if someone worships on a Sunday morning and does not feel welcomed, the church will be judged as unfriendly.

Individual members might be involved in all sorts of ministries outside the life of the congregation, but if the church isn't reaching out into its community, it will be seen as uncaring.

Individual members might be giving to all sorts of charities outside the congregation, but if folks aren't giving to the congregation and the congregation is not giving of its monies, the congregation will be seen as stingy.

Individual members might be reading all sorts of devotionals and educational materials outside the congregation, but if very few attend Bible studies within the church, the congregation will be seen as refusing to grow spiritually.

This is the lesson the church must learn from Lakewood.  Not only does it matter what individual members involve themselves in.  It also matters what kind of public witness we offer as a whole.

An internet meme made its way around after this whole fiasco that said, "God didn't ask you what Joel Osteen did.  He asked you what you did."  And that's is most certainly true.  But God isn't the only one watching.  The rest of society is, and they are watching what kind of witness our churches and congregations as a whole are offering.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hatred is an Appropriate Christian Response

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good--Romans 12:9

God is love.  Yes.
Christianity preaches love.  Yes.
Christianity is all about love.  Yes.
Christianity gets rid of hate.  No.

Folks who say this do not understand Christianity.  Neither do they understand love.   Hatred is an absolute part of Christianity, and it is vitally necessary in living an active, public, Christian life.

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia bring this to light.  There were several hundred neo-Nazi, white supremacists marching.  They had come from all over the country.  Residents from Charlottesville didn't want them there.  They didn't desire their town to be making headlines, but social media gives us a platform to organize and bring together people from all over--a platform which was non-existent only a couple of decades ago.  So, in the big picture of things several hundred white supremacists in a nation of over 300 million is a minuscule, minuscule percentage of the population.

Yet, what they stand for...

Is deserving of hate.

Yes, a Christian is to hate what these people stand for.  A Christian is to hate their ideology.  A Christian is to burn with hatred toward it--because a Christian is full of love.

That might sound like an oxymoron.  But it isn't.

If you have genuine love...
If you have been claimed by the good news of Jesus Christ...
If you no longer live for yourself but live your life for God...

You love what God loves.
You hate what God hates.

Yes.  God hates.  If you don't believe it, you need to read and re-read your Bible and stop having your own presuppositions regarding God.  You need to allow God to reveal Himself to you and stop making God into your own image.  If you allow God's revelation of Himself to the world to stand, you will see that God unequivocally hates, abhors, is horrified by our failure to live in a right relationship with Him and with one another.  In short, God hates sin.  Absolutely hates it.  His wrath burns hot against it.

--For I the Lord love justice,  I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  (Isaiah 61:8)

--Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘I beg you not to do this abominable thing that I hate!’  (Jeremiah 44:4)

--I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. (Amos 5:21)

--...do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.  (Zechariah 8:17)

--For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Malachi 2:16)

--For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

--Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:6)

And it must.  It must.  If God does not become outraged at murder, what kind of God is that?  If God does not erupt at injustice, what kind of God is that?  If God smells roses when people are allowed to die of famine, what kind of God is that?  An uncaring God.  An unloving God.  And God is not unloving.  God's great love leads God to hate.

But God does not hate individuals.  God does not hate people.  He has great love for them.  He wants them all to turn to Him.  He will give them every opportunity to come to Him; to renounce sin, the devil, and all his empty promises.  It breaks God's heart each and every time a man or woman made in God's image walks away from Him.  But God loves them enough to let them go.  And He also hates it.  He wants to see no one walk that dark path.

And neither do we.
We love what God loves.
We hate what God hates.

We love those who are created in the image of God.  We desire them to come to God.  Even those neo-Nazi/white supremacists.  Yes.  Even them.  We want those neo-Nazi/white supremacists to come to God for the sake of their repentance, forgiveness, and new life in the Gospel.

But we hate what they stand for.  We hate their ideology.  We hate their sin.  For the idea of racial superiority is not supported by the Gospel.  The idea of racial intolerance is not supported by the Gospel.  The idea of domination by one particular group over another is not supported by the Gospel.  God has made it clear in Jesus that there is neither Jew nor Greek (no ethnicity); there is neither slave nor free (no social status); no male or female (no gender) for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  All have been clothed with Christ.  Such distinctions have disappeared for those called and claimed in the Gospel.  (Galatians 3)  We cling to this because it is good.

And we hate anything that is contrary to this.

Because in order for Christians to love what is from God, we must also hate what is not.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Correcting the Wrong to Do the Right

I have never worn contact lenses.  Never.  Ever.  There is something about sticking a foreign object into my eye that I find completely objectionable and revolting.

So, I have absolutely no experience what-so-ever when it comes to popping those things in and taking them out.

This background is important given that my oldest daughter has now started trying to wear contact lenses.  She wants to play volleyball, and it's easier to have her in contacts than to buy a pair of sports glasses.

This morning, I walked in on her trying to put those things in.  And she was crying.  She was having great difficulty getting the lenses to stick to her eye.  I could see the frustration on her face.  She had been trying for about half an hour.

I hugged her and told her to walk away for a few minutes.  She got up and sat on the couch and watched television.  I sat down beside her and said, "Sometimes, when you are getting too frustrated, you've got to walk away and come back in a little bit."  She calmed down.

I looked up on my phone "contact lenses not sticking" and discovered that your finger needs to be dry because those things stick to wet surfaces and not dry ones.  I informed my daughter of this, and we went back to try again.

I thought we were in for a quick success story because she got the first one in in only three attempts.

But then came the second one.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Eight tries.  All unsuccessful.  She was working on the eye opposite of me, so I moved around to watch what was going on.  Immediately, I saw the problem.  She was blinking just before getting the lens to her eyeball.

"You are blinking right before you get the lens in," I said.  "You've got to concentrate on holding your eye open."

"YOU'RE NOT HELPING!!"  She retorted.

"You've got to know what you are doing wrong so that you can correct it," I replied.  "Concentrate on keeping your eye open.  Stop crying.  Settle down.  You can do it."

First try.  Unsuccessful.

"You can do it.  Just concentrate."

Second try.  Bingo!

"I told you you could do it."

"Thank you, Daddy."

Several things occurred to me as I thought about this little event in my life this morning.

First, you have to know what you are doing wrong, and sometimes you cannot see it.  Blinking is like breathing.  It's involuntary, and you don't even think about it when you are doing it.  My daughter couldn't see it when she was blinking right before that lens hit her eye.  She needed to be told what she was doing wrong.

Second, no one really likes being told what they are doing wrong.  My daughter's reaction was typical.  It's the way I react as well.  I don't like being told that I am doing something wrong.  Most of the time I think the same thing my daughter said, "You're not being helpful."

Third, if you take the response personally, you will make the situation worse.  Yelling at my daughter after her response would have been counter-productive.  There would have been no movement forward.  She would have been more tense.  I would have been more tense.  It would have taken forever to get those lenses in.  Calmness but firmness was required.   "You've got to know what you are doing wrong so that you can do it right."  Explanation.  Compassion.  Deep breath.  Move forward. 

Fourth, if you are going to get someone to change, you can't just tell someone they are wrong.  You've got to be supportive and encourage them as they try to do right.  I could have kept telling my daughter to keep her eye open.  Don't blink.  That would have made her even more tense.  It would have made her more anxious and upset.  I did tell her to do that, but at the very same moment, I offered her words of encouragement.  Love.  Relaxation.  She knew what she needed to do, but having me continue to point the finger without giving her space would not have been helpful.  In theological terms, she needed Law and Gospel.

Fifth, thankfulness comes.  You are not going to get any thanks right away for trying to correct the wrong.  You will most likely get push back to begin with.  But sticking to your position; offering support and encouragement even in the face of initial reaction; just staying until there is success; and then offering congratulations, will bring about joyful thanksgiving.

I think there is a theological lesson here somewhere about God's work to correct our wrong by showing us firmness, compassion, and love.  And I think there is a lesson about our response as well.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Lasting Legacy

I just had a wonderful meeting with a representative of the Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest.  We talked about the future.  Not the future of me and my family, mind you, but the future of the congregation at which I serve.

She wanted to talk about endowment planning.

I'm all for it.

I've seen how positive such endowments can be as congregations think about what they will be like years into the future.

How can a camp ministry be funded?
How can local ministries receive extra benevolence?
How can technology improvements be made?
How can scholarships be funded?
How can a congregation make sure such things be taken care of well into the future?

Endowment funds can help us look to the future to ensure a lasting legacy.

Perhaps one day we will see one here.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saving a Life

Yesterday, I saved a little girl's life.  Literally.

We were at a birthday swim party, and one of the little girls headed into the pool.  She had permission to swim, but didn't think about getting her swim vest on.  Without any hesitation, she jumped into the pool, and unfortunately, she didn't jump straight into the shallowest part.

Fortunately, I was watching the kids swimming, and I saw her go in.  She yelled, "I can't swim on my own."
I was out of my chair almost immediately.

I saw this little girl trying to tread water.  I watched her go under several times as I headed toward the pool.  I stopped and hesitated at poolside for just a moment thinking about shoes and cell phone, but seeing her continue to sink under, I simply jumped in.

It was only in waist deep water for me, but I am sure that for this little girl, it seemed like the inky depths.  I grabbed her and lifted her out of the water.  I put her on the steps, and she ran out to those around her.

I was shaken.

Those around were shaken.

The kids recovered much faster than the adults, and in minutes, this little girl was swimming once again--this time with her swim vest on.

I was pretty much shot for the rest of the time there.  The adrenaline surge followed by the worry over cell phone (It still works, by the way.  Thank you, Otter box.)  wiped me out emotionally and physically.

As we left the party, the girls' mom said, "Thank you for saving my little girl's life."

And I didn't know how to respond.

I mean, I wasn't gloating at all.  But the words, "It was nothing.  Anyone would have done it," sounded so trite and cheap as well.  It wasn't nothing.  It was definitely something.  Something big.  But it also was something I would do again--even if it did destroy my phone, shoes, or whatever--something anyone should do if they see someone in trouble like that.

I don't know how I feel about the entire situation just yet.  I've never actually saved anyone before.   It's exhilarating and humbling at the same time.  A weird mixture that I'm not exactly sure how to reconcile.