Posted by: smstrouse | September 19, 2016

It’s the Economy AND the Environment, Stupid

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A Sermon for Week 3 of the Season of Creation
September 18, 2016
Amos 8: 4-12
A Reading from the Mystics from Meditations with Meister Eckhart
Luke 16:1-13

 

It’s definitely crisis time. This Parable of the Dishonest Steward is about a man who’s in big trouble. He’s about to lose his job in an economy that doesn’t provide unemployment benefits or career retraining programs. In all likelihood, “digging ditches” meant slavery. But Jesus, who as we know liked to tell parables about how life is like in the realm of God, uses this imagined crisis to show how reversals are possible in even the most dire situation.

Not that the message is readily apparent. This is one of the more difficult parables of Jesus; it defies easy interpretation. Do we really hear Jesus commending these corrupt people? We want to be careful not to allegorize them and see, for instance, the wealthy landowner as God. That takes us down a convoluted path that leads to a dead end.

Instead, we want to read this as a parable about the economy of 1st century Galilee. You see, in those days, wealthy landlords were loan sharks; they would charge exorbitant interest rates in order to dispossess peasants of their family land and amass more property for themselves. So those who heard this parable would know that the rich man and his steward, his debt collector, were both exploiting the desperate, debt-ridden poor.

Now these practices were in direct violation of biblical law. Torah expressly forbids charging interest on a loan. But then, like now, wealthy landlords found ways around this and other prohibitions. All the way back in Amos’ day (750 BCE), the poor were targets of greed and corruption: Listen to this, you who live off the needy and oppress the poor of the land, you who say, “If only the new moon were over so we could sell our grain,” and “When Sabbath is over, we will sell our wheat charging higher prices for smaller portions, thus tilting the scales in our favor. That way, we can buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals – and even make a profit on the chaff of the wheat.” 

So this parable, like Amos’ prophecy, was an indictment of the economy of the day. When the steward reduced the payments, he may have been simply forgiving his own cut of the interest, which had been rolled into the principal. Or he may have just been doing what Torah commands, namely forgiving all the hidden interest in the contracts, changing the amount they owed to exactly the amount they borrowed. And the landlord, knowing the teaching against interest, maybe suddenly recognized that he needed at least to appear to be observing Torah, and commended his steward for his shrewdness.

The problem is that, no matter how you read it, neither of these characters is commendable. Wrong has been done. So where does Jesus wants us to side?

And now we notice that there are other characters in the story: the debtors. They are not minor players because in any reading of the gospels, we can’t help recognizing the concern Jesus has for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, those burdened by debt. Those who heard this parable would know that debt contracts included exorbitant hidden interest. We can easily find analogies today: high-interest student loans, predatory payday loans, or harsh austerity measures imposed on countries whose citizens had no role in agreeing to a debt. The Lutheran World Federation calls oppressive debt terms imposed on Honduras and other Latin American countries “illegitimate debt” and likens it to “violence,” because of its crushing effects on people’s futures.

So the focus of the parable is not on either of the two main characters. And it’s not even on the debtors. Rather, as a strategist for the first President Clinton’s campaign famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And in this Season of Creation, we would add, “It’s the economy and the environment” because our care for creation is inextricably tied into our economic systems – where it gets very complicated.

In June, the City Council of Oakland voted to ban the storage, handling and export of coal traveling from Utah to Asia through a proposed new marine terminal at the defunct Oakland Army Base. Along with concerns about health and safety, broader environmental concerns about climate change were a large part of the public debate about the issue.

But the decision did not come without cost. The council voted for the ban despite the fact that in doing so they would forfeit 1,000 construction jobs and 120 permanent jobs at the terminal. Backers of the proposal, including some churches, maintained the proposal would bring badly needed jobs to an impoverished area. City leaders had the unenviable task of weighing the environmental dangers of bringing millions of tons of coal through the area with the economic benefits of good-paying jobs.

How would Jesus vote? The poor, who are disproportionately victims of ecological racism, living in areas that are environmentally hazardous, seem to get the short end of the stick either way in this decision. Clean air or jobs? Mayor Libby Schaaf, who backed the ban said that the choice between jobs on the one hand, and health and safety on the other, was a “false choice.” And while the prospect of 1000 jobs is nothing to sneeze at, she’s right in avoiding a choice between care for the unemployed for and all those who would be affected by environmental degradation. “It’s the economy, stupid” – but not built on the backs of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.

There’s a folksinger named Peggy Seeger, half-sister to Pete. And there’s song that I heard her sing years ago at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It’s called “For a Job” and I remember the discomfort it raised in me at the time because it portrays this “false choice” we so often buy into.

He’d give the world for a job
‘Cause the job’s his world
The earth’s his oyster, he’s the pearl
Gives him something to do, money in hand
Without a job a man’s not a man

A man needs a job
Man on a mountain
Tearing that mountain down
Man in a forest, building another town

The world is his wherever he goes
To do what he wants with
‘Cause the world owes every man a job

What would he give for a job?
His heart and his lungs
Mutilate his body; father mutant sons
Silicon and lint, espestis and coal
The world wants life, man wants control
But he’d give up life for a job

Environmental justice or jobs? That can’t be the choice. There has to be an overhaul of our economic system that attends to the truth that you can’t worship God and money. Not that I’m advocating overtly religious economic policies. But subversely – oh, yes. Worshipping God includes care for “the least of these” and care for the Earth. Our advocacy, voting, and civic engagement should come right out of our religious foundation, whether or not we ever call it that.

Pope Francis gets it. In Laudato Si he wrote: “. . . it should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces.”  We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of eco-systems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.”

Neither money nor the economy is not the root of all evil; making an idol of either one is. As the parable illustrates, you can use money (filthy lucre) for good, even within a corrupt system. Even those two disreputable characters did good in spite of themselves. And so can we. We can work within politics, the economy, the social structures of our day – with all their imperfections – and work for good. In the confusing, conflicting claims put upon us, we have these teachings of Jesus that we can look to for our priorities. And then we do the best we can under the circumstances.

Finally, we look again to the mystics for good news in our environmental crisis. People in the 13th century didn’t face the same ecological issues that we do, but Meister Eckhart’s words are still relevant. As we take with us the admonitions of Amos and Jesus, may we also take his advice to “apprehend God in all things.”

May we take his message that “every single creature is full of God and is a book about God and every creature is a word of God” as a literal spiritual directive. This week, can you find a creature on which to meditate – a caterpillar, a puppy, a kitty, a fish, a bird, a flower (dahlia garden) – and allow it to teach you the ways of God?

Such a simple-sounding practice. Yet it may be just what Mother Earth needs us to do in order to care for her and all her creatures.

Amen

 

Amos 8: 4-12
Listen to this, you who live off the needy and oppress the poor of the land, you who say, “If only the new moon were over so we could sell our grain,” and “When Sabbath is over, we will sell our wheat charging higher prices for smaller portions, thus tilting the scales in our favor. That way, we can buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals – and even make a profit on the chaff of the wheat.”

YHWH swears by the pride of Jacob: “I will never forget a single thing you have done.” Will not the land tremble because of this and all who dwell in it mourn? Will the land not rise up like the Nile, rising and sinking like the river of Egypt?

“That day – it is the Sovereign YHWH who speaks – I will make the sun set at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation. I will have your loins in sackcloth, your heads all shaved. I will make the land mourn as one would mourn for a dead child – all of this on that bitter day!

“The time is coming – it is the Sovereign YHWH who speaks – when I will send famine on the land: not a famine of bread or thirst for water, but a famine of not hearing the words of YHWH. People will stagger from sea to sea, and wander from north to east seeking revelation from YHWH, but will not find it.”

A Reading from the Mystics
From: Meditations with Meister Eckhart
Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature –
even a caterpillar –
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.
Luke 16:1-13
Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a wealthy landowner who, having received reports of a steward mismanaging the property, summoned the steward and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Give me an account of your service, for it’s about to come to an end.’

The steward thought, ‘What will I do next? My employer is going to fire me. I can’t dig ditches. I’m ashamed to go begging. I have it! Here’s a way to make sure that people will take me into their homes when I’m let go.’“

So the steward called in each of the landowner’s debtors. The steward said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my employer?’
The debtor replied, ‘A hundred jars of oil.’
The steward said, ‘Take your invoice, sit down quickly and make it fifty.’
To another the steward said, ‘How much do you owe?’
The answer came, ‘ A hundred measures of wheat,’ and the steward said, ‘Take your invoice and make it eighty.’“

Upon hearing this, the owner gave this devious worker credit for being enterprising! Why? Because the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light. So I tell you: make friends for yourselves through your use of this world’s goods, so that when they fail you, you’ll be welcomed into an eternal home. If you can trust others in little things, you can also trust them in greater, and anyone unjust in a slight matter will also be unjust in a greater. If you can’t be trusted with filthy lucre, who will trust you with true riches? And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s money, who will give you your own?

“Subordinates can’t have two superiors. Either they’ll hate the one and love the other, or be attentive to the one and despise the other. You can’t worship both God and money.”

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Posted by: smstrouse | September 17, 2016

Can We Talk About the Real Issues, Please?!

4772158-144080583718121-pngCNN admits “We got played.”

Reporters showed up at the opening of a new hotel owned by the candidate who shall not be named. Said candidate had promised that he would also make a statement about the birthplace of President Obama. If they expected that he’d apologize or admit he’d been wrong to make such a big non-issue of the president’s citizenship, they were quickly disabused of that fantasy.

Instead of making a genuine (or even true) statement, he declared: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

The good news in this ridiculous story is that the media is finally beginning to push back . CNN panelists called out the claims of statement for what they were: outrageous lies.

Well, good. Mainstream media is getting tired of being played. I hope CNN and other news sources also get that we’re tired of getting played, too. Inside of hearing candidates’ in-depth answers to the crucially important questions of the day, we’re subjected to endless speculation about Hillary – from her pantsuits to her pneumonia. And we’re fed a continuous diet of bombastic rhetoric that goes unchallenged by most news outlets.

Until now. Maybe. We’ll see. Will we begin to pay attention to the real issues of the day? As climate change continues to affect our planet, will we hear debate moderators ask about that? As the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, will we see in-depth coverage of that? As racism and sexism continue to permeate national politics, will we get insightful thoughts about that?

C’mon CNN. Lead the way.

Posted by: smstrouse | September 10, 2016

Is Trans-Partisanship Possible in Politics Today?”

51lRMs9372L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Mark Gerzon gets it right. For at least three-quarters of the book, he tells it like it is. And I don’t think “it” is anything we don’t already know. We are a polarized nation, living in our silos of left, right, democrat, republican, conservative, progressive, etc., etc.

We bemoan this situation, which has caused troubles from governmental gridlock to hostilities within families and broken friendships. It’s so much easier to talk and Facebook with those who think like us than to try to enter into a conversation with those who don’t. And believe me, I get it. Even though in theory I think it’s important to dialogue with those of differing views, the actual practice is another story.

I have a good friend who (gasp) is a life-long Republican and (double-gasp) an admirer of Donald trump. We’ve learned to avoid political discussions. But at a dinner a while back, she bemoaned the fact that she isn’t able to have those kinds of discussions with her liberal friends. Again, I got it. But I wasn’t ready to go there.

But Gerzon doesn’t let us off the hook. He paints our sorry picture, then gives us ideas for changing the frame. And that is when it gets really hard. Becoming transpartisan won’t be easy. Even something as simple as accessing news sources that give a different pshe-likes-itoint of view from mine (e.g. Fox), is a huge stretch.

As uncomfortable as Gerzon’s recommendations made me, though, I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between what he’s proposing and what I talk about in The INTRAfaith Conversation (oh, how I hate it when I have to practice what I preach!) He even uses a resource that I discovered this summer at the North American Interfaith Network gathering: The Difference Between Dialogue and Debate. For example:

Debate

  • assumes there is a right answer – and I have it.
  • is combative – participants attempt to prove the other side wrong.
  • is about winning.
  • entails listening to find flaws and make counter arguments.
  • I defend my assumptions as truth. I critique the other side’s position.
  • I defend my own views against those of others.
  • I search for weaknesses in others’ positions.
  • I seek a conclusion or vote that ratifies my position.

Dialogue

  • assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together, they can craft a solution.
  • is collaborative – participants work together toward common understanding
  • is about exploring common good.
  • entails listening to understand and find meaning and agreement.
  • I reveal my assumptions for re-evaluation.
  • I re-examine all positions. I admit that others’ thinking can improve my own.
  • I search for strength and value in other’s positions.
  • I discover new options.

This makes so much sense to me – in the interfaith / intrafaith arena. But when it comes to bridging the partisan divide, I admit that I’m having trouble getting past “debate” mode. Especially in this election season. So much is at stake. So much is wrong and frightening. I believe there is a right answer, at least in terms of voting.

And yet. There are those thoughtful people on the “other side,” like my friend who is willing to dialogue. And I know there are conservative Christians who have complained that we on the religious left are unwilling to dialogue with them.

Perhaps the first step – before I can manage to turn on Faux News – is to examine my own intractability, my need to be right, my inability to listening be open to changing my opinion. If it is the same process as in interfaith / intrafaith conversations, then in the same way my religious identity has become even stronger, while being open to the beliefs of others – the same should be true of my political identity.

Mark Gerzon has issued a challenge we can’t ignore. As difficult as his suggestions may be, they’re now in my consciousness, niggling at me like stones in my shoes. I thought I could dump them out until after the election, but they’re still there, making me very uncomfortable.

Maybe that’s the only way it can be for now.

Posted by: smstrouse | August 4, 2016

Can We Bridge the Partisan Divide?

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Mark Gerzon thinks so. Or so he claims in his book  The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide. 

Here’s what caught my attention:
The U.S motto is “E Pluribus Unam”–“out of many, one” – but you’d never know it now, says activist Mark Gerzon. The United States seems hopelessly divided. In the past, Americans could disagree without demonizing each other. But now healthy partisan debate has been replaced by brutal political brawling, where nothing but winning matters. Loyalty to party has replaced love of country. The solution, says Gerson, is to become transpartisan. This doesn’t mean adopting a new set of political beliefs. “Transpartisan” is an adjective, not another “ism.” You can be a transpartisan Democrat, a transpartisan Republican, or a transpartisan independent. It is about the how, not the what, a way of conducting politics and solving problems that is the opposite of the hyperpartisanship destroying our country.

imagesThat paragraph arrived in my Inbox from the Charter for Compassion, promoting their new global book study. The idea is to read the book individually, host book clubs, form discussion groups, etc. Then there will be an on-line discussion led by the author.

I didn’t think too much about it until I had dinner with a friend a few nights ago. Margaret (not her real name) is my polar opposite on the political spectrum. We’ve dealt with that mostly by staying away from political topics. That’s getting pretty hard to do, though, in this election cycle. What struck me in our conversation was Margaret’s longing for a respectful dialogue with those of differing opinions. But we both acknowledged that those kinds of discussions don’t happen anymore. And if they do happen, they need to be carefully moderated by someone able to maintain a safe space for everyone.

she-likes-itThat’s the same process I describe in The INTRAfaith Conversation! Maybe it’s the beginning of a movement. I decided that I needed to join the book study and ordered The Reunited States of America. 

I hope he does have some good advice. God knows, this country needs some help – not to become great again or to boast about how great we already are, but how to talk to one another again in a civil manner.

The presentation and discussion led by Mark Gerzon will be September 17 at 9:00 am PDT and you do have to register.

But give it some thought. Join me in at least maybe the beginning of a bridge building project across our partisan divide. I guess you could call it the INTRApolitical conversation. Who knows? Maybe at our next dinner Margaret and I will finally be able to talk about politics.

Posted by: smstrouse | July 28, 2016

Remembering Shirley Chisholm

chisholm-640.jpg__640x360_q85_crop_upscaleI had tears in my eyes as I listened to Michelle Obama at the Democratic convention.

For a lot of reasons.

Many have already covered her brilliant speech. But I was remembering Jesse Jackson and Oprah, with tears in their eyes when President Obama was elected.

CoXsLzCW8AQPe_q.jpg-largeWe are now poised to elect the first woman president of the United States. And that is no small thing. Just 20 years ago, Wal-Mart refused to carry this shirt because the message “goes against Wal-Mart’s family values.” N0w, Wal-Mart no longer stands by that statement. But if you think we’re a post-sexist society, think again.

So when I think about Shirley Chisholm’s run for the presidency in 1972, I’m overwhelmed by her courage. I remember it well. Back then, I couldn’t even be an acolyte, let alone a pastor. That was the way it was. As a kid, I’d learned what I was allowed to do and not allowed to do (or wasn’t proper) because I was a girl. That continued into womanhood. So Shirley Chisholm was a revelation. Maybe that’s why that’s the same year I helped the young girls of the First Lutheran Church in Jamestown, NY make and win their case for becoming acolytes. It sounds so dumb now, doesn’t it? But it was a battle then – and a sweet victory.

I was ordained in a church that has declared it would never call a woman pastor. After the service, Bishop Ed Perry came up to me and said, “Well, I’ve walked all around the building and I didn’t see one crack in the foundation.” Ask any woman in ministry her stories, if not of outright discrimination, then of sexual harassment, inappropriate comments and touching, commentary on clothing and hair, and inquisitions about relationships, possible pregnancies, etc.

And let’s not even begin talking about authority and power.

Or rather, let’s. Only “uppity women” aspire to positions of authority and power. You’d think we’d be beyond this by now, but we’re not. Read this article about Hillary Clinton (written by a man, by the way), especially beginning with the tenth paragraph: “My current conviction is that the main fuel that powers the anti-Hillary crowd is sexism. And yes I’m serious. So go ahead and roll your eyes. Get it over with. But I think the evidence supports my view, and I’ve seen no other plausible explanation. And just to be clear, I don’t think it’s ONLY sexism. But I do think that this is the primary force that has generated and maintained most of the negative narratives about Hillary.”

So even when Hillary is elected (please God!), make no mistake, she will face the same kind of obstruction that President Obama has faced from the neanderthals among us – even though, as a Huffington Post article proclaims, Americans Are Finally Comfortable With The Idea Of A Female Presidential Nominee.

Sheesh! I used to wonder years ago, after one more person (usually an older woman) came out of church where I’d been a guest pastor and said, “I never thought I’d like a woman pastor, but you’re alright.” It was meant as a compliment, but I always wanted to ask, “What did you think a woman pastor was going to do?”

So I’m remembering Shirley Chisholm as I continue to watch the convention with smiles and tears. And I’m honoring her witness. As her book – and her gravestone – proclaim “Unbought and Unbossed”

Hooray for uppity women!

 

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Posted by: smstrouse | July 20, 2016

Going to Hell at the Republican Convention?

 

 

Infierno2

 

Infierno, Alberto Vincente Ortiz

 

On the last day of NAINConnect 2016 in Guadalajara, we went on a tour of Tlaquepaque, a tourist-y area known for its decorative arts and crafts. A highlight was the Museo Regional de la Cerámica, representing the various indigenous cultures of Mexico. 

At one point, a friend pointed out this piece entitled “Infierno,” the artist’s rendition of Hell and declared  that was where I’d be going. 

I joked back that it was good I didn’t believe in Hell, at least not in that version of it. However, I had to admit that there were times I wish I did because there are certain people who deserve a place in it, notably George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. 

Do I actually want to consign these criminals to the fires of Hell? OK, maybe not. Still I’d sure like to see some kind of punishment meted out and am frustrated by the lack of accountability for their actions.

I’m feeling the same kind of anger and frustration as I get reports from the Republican convention (I can’t bear to watch it). In the opening “prayer,” Pastor Mark Burns, an evangelical prosperity gospel televangelist from South Carolina, declared that “our enemy is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party” and that Donald Trump is the one to whom God is giving the words to “unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.” 

I confess: I am tempted to respond to Mark Burns with “Go to Hell!”

El Infierno.jpg
El Infierno, Adelaida Pascual Gonzales

Then there’s Rudy Giuliani, ranting about President Obama’s so-called failures and touting the virtues of Trump. He’s either delusional or intentionally lying for is own political reasons. Either way, I want to say, “Rudy, go to Hell!”

Next up is Chris Christie, who auditioned for the job of attorney general by conducting a mock prosecution of Hillary Clinton. In the process, he worked the crowd into a frenzy, shouting “Guilty!” and “Lock her up!” For a truly frightening look at the mob scene, watch Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue on The Late Show (start at 5:30 if you don’t want to watch the whole things – but why wouldn’t you?). Governor Christie, for your part in shutting down the George Washington Bridge at rush hour and for your collusion in the coronation of Trump, I say “Go to Hell!”

And as amusing as the Melania Trump plagiarizing scandal has been, it’s got nothing on these characters. Even Donald Trump himself can be excused in a way. He is what he is. From the beginning, The Huffington Post has been adding this paragraph at the end of each Trump story: 
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.

So, while I don’t make excuses for him, he’s only the harvest of the seeds that the Republican Party has been sowing since Obama’s election. And as disgusted as I am by him, I put more blame on those who – for whatever their reasons – have jumped onto his bandwagon. It’s to them I direct my own rant of “Go to Hell!”

And now, having vented, I’m feeling chastened by my lack of charity, my straying from the path of my own belief in every person as a child of God, and from Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment:
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray them, slander them, or hurt their reputation, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way.

But oh, how hard these people are making it! What’s a progressive Christian to do? If I can’t count on the fires of Hell to give them their comeuppance, where can I go for justice and accountability? 

I don’t have any answers other than to participate in the democratic process, vote according to the teachings of Rabbi Jesus, and work for justice however we can. It’s too easy to shout “Go to Hell!” The work is – and always will be – harder than that. 

Still, I confess: it felt good to rant, at least for just a little while. 

 

PS – Check out my other blog, The INTRAfaith Conversation at https://intrafaithconversation.com

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: smstrouse | July 7, 2016

The Christ-Likeness of Elie Weisel

elie-wieselI don’t know what the person who wrote this comment after the article meant: “I do not agree with his religious beliefs, but he has certainly lived what he speaks about and that is how respect is earned.”

I’m not criticizing; he or she obviously has respect for Elie Wiesel. The commentator could be either a Christian disagreeing with Wiesel’s Judaism or an atheist in opposition to any expression of religion at all. I don’t know; it really doesn’t matter.

What got me thinking was how Wiesel transcended religious labels and calls us to a common humanity and a common wisdom. Many of the quotes I’ve been reading since his death last week have resonated with my own understanding of Christianity.

Now, don’t be alarmed. I’m not calling Elie Wiesel an “anonymous Christian” or somehow denigrating Judaism. What I’m saying is that in my understanding, Christ is bigger than the historical Jesus. In fact, we might even have other names for “it”: Buddha nature, the Tao, the Universe. So themes of grace, hope, suffering, resurrection, incarnation, light, love – which I find in abundance in my Christian tradition – can be found in others’ as well. Such as in these:

We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

People say occasionally that there must be light at the end of the tunnel, but I believe in those times there was light in the tunnel. The strange way there was courage in the ghetto, and there was hope, human hope, in the death camps. Simply an anonymous prisoner giving a piece of his bread to someone who was hungrier than he or she; a father shielding his child; a mother trying to hold back her tears so her children would not see her pain—that was courage.

I know and I speak from experience, that even in the midst of darkness, it is possible to create light and share warmth with one another; that even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream exalted dreams of compassion; that it is possible to be free and strengthen the ideals of freedom, even within prison walls; that even in exile, friendship becomes an anchor.

I cannot cure everybody. I cannot help everybody. But to tell the lonely person that I am not far or different from that lonely person, that I am with him or her, that’s all I think we can do and we should do.

Every moment is a new beginning.

You don’t have to be a Christian to be Christ-like. Elie Wiesel embodied a wisdom for all of humanity.

Posted by: smstrouse | June 30, 2016

Interfaith Headcoverings?

18-oz-chow-chowSeveral years ago, when I was back home in Pennsylvania, I asked our music director/ administrative assistant, Orion Pitts, if he wanted me to bring him anything. Since Orion is also from PA Dutch country, I figured he might need to stock up on pot pie noodles, pretzels, or apple butter. What he asked for was a jar of chow chow (for the uninitiated, chow chow is a pickled relish made with a variety of vegetables).

I bought a large jar before I headed to the Philadelphia airport and tucked it into my carry-on bag for safe-keeping. When I went through security, I was pulled out of line and asked what was in the jar. “Chow chow,” I said, never expecting that a PA Dutch condiment would be seen as a threat. But it was. Orion’s chow chow was confiscated. Thankfully I wasn’t detained as a potential Amish terrorist.

mennonite3Why am I thinking about this incident when I’m writing about head coverings? Because our speakers for our Pluralism Summer series this week are members of the Mennonite church. I grew up among Mennonites in PA, so I’m remembering the bonnets worn by some women and girls in both Amish and Mennonite communities. The basis for these coverings is most definitely a religious one, based on Bible passages such as 1 Tim. 2:9-15, 1 Peter 3:1-6, Titus 2:3-5, and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Now, I may have some very different opinions and interpretations about these texts, but I do respect the right of members of a religious tradition to wear symbols of their beliefs.

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Of course, it becomes problematic when it comes to women because patriarchy raises its ugly head. Most of the reasons for women covering their hair involve modesty, but there’s also a measure of subordination to men involved – including the Mennonite/Amish tradition. It’s always good to hear of women in all of the religious traditions questioning and/or rejecting these reasons – whether or not they continue to cover.

I don’t have a problem with anyone’s head-gear – as long as it’s freely chosen. I can’t imagine the any woman other than the most burkaseverely oppressed and brainwashed to freely choose to wear a burka. Bhijab1ut the hijab is a different. Again: I don’t have a problem with the hijab as long as it’s freely chosen. There is so much hostility these days towards Islam, including calls to ban the head covering entirely. And some of that is in response to its perceived
symbol of male oppression.

I’m not even going to get into all of that right now. I’m just wondering: will we have the nerve to include other religious groups that require women to cover their hair, including  Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Amish, and Mennonites?

 

 

 

Posted by: smstrouse | June 25, 2016

I Pity the Poor Immigrant

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The Supreme Court dashed the hopes of millions of immigrants this week when it was deadlocked over United States v. Texas, No. 15-674. This is the case that opposed the 2014 executive action taken by President Obama to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to legally work in the US.

The proposed program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) would give unauthorized immigrants who were parents of either citizens or of lawful permanent residents the possibility of obtaining work permits.

But the Supreme Court is down to 8 members due to th2016-06-23t22-32-03-166z--1280x720.nbcnews-ux-1080-600e death of Antonin Scalia in
February and the refusal of Republicans to consider the appointment of  Judge Merrick B. Garland, the president’s nominee to fill the vacancy. The 4-4 tie leaves in place an appeals court ruling blocking the plan. According to the terse wording of the decision: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”

So in the midst of our splintered political system, this is just one more example of how real people are forced to suffer.

At an anti-racism workshop I attended today, we were asked the question: why should we as Christians care about ending racism? We were supposed to come up with a 6-word answer. In my small group I suggested we could cut it down to one: Duh! Of course we went on from there to expand on that flippant response.

It’s the same answer for caring for the plight of immigrants. Jesus was all about crossing boundaries, including people considered to be “other,” showing compassion, and healing what was broken – both people and systems. How can a Christian not be in favor – at least – of helping immigrant623supreme-court-immigrations who are parents of people who are already citizens or lawful permanent residents? We’re talking about families, for God’s sake.

 In our Pluralism Summer series, we’ve asked our guest speakers to address the question: how does your tradition inform your politics? In my opinion, the only answer a follower of Jesus could possibly give is to side with the justices who voted against the appeal. And if anyone has any doubts about the far-reaching implications of Supreme Court appointments, this should convince them.

In the meantime, we continue to care for those caught in the middle – in both our thoughts and prayers and our actions – which include getting into the voting booth and voting as a follower of Jesus.

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I get so tired of hearing statements from people that Muslims have to speak up against violence committed in the name of Islam. It’s obvious that they’re either not looking in the right places (although these responses are hard to miss) or they’re just blinded to the fact that most Muslims are appalled by these attacks – and frightened by the Islamaphobia that gets ramped up even further.

So – here is a whole list of statements from Islamic organizations. The next time some fool says it’s time for the Muslim community to sopeak out, hand them this. Hopefully it will do some good.

The following links will bring you to the webpages of major Islamic organizations in America giving their response to the slaughter in Orlando. From the US Council of Muslim Organizations USCMO CONDEMNS THE ORLANDO SHOOTING (Washington, D.C., 6/12/2016) – The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), the largest coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, expresses its horror […]

via Statements From American Islamic Organizations on the Orlando Massacre — A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice: News and Views

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