Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful for Life

In honor of Thanksgiving I would like to express my gratitude for the life of my father, Benjamin Greenwaldt. When I entered this world, my dad was fifty years old. I like to say that I was the best surprise my parents ever got. I can vaguely remember my toddler years where he would comb my hair and rock me in the rocking chair while he sang me old country songs. As a young boy, my father worked on his family farm and only received an eighth grade education in order to help his family. As a father, my dad worked hard to provide for my mom and us kids. I remember getting up early to have cereal with him before he left for his shift at Chrysler. Then I would go back to bed. He retired when I was twelve years old. I was a little bit of a tom boy. We used to fish and catch night crawlers. We spent summers camping and visiting relatives in Minnesota and North Dakota. We spent a lot of time in Wisconsin too. He taught me how to drive and trusted me with independence. He dabbed my tears with his handkerchief on my wedding day and held my newborn children.

The blessing of having 6 years of retired life with my dad does not come without a price, however. This awesome story is filled with battles of cancers, heart disease, surgeries and almost deadly allergic reactions. And sadly, this awesome story is about to end soon.

You see, my whole life most people assumed my parents were my grandparents and I was well aware of their age. I secretly plotted my back up plan of what sibling I was going to go live with when my parents died. And as each year passed and that didn’t happen, I would thank God and ask for just a little more time.  Now, asking for more time isn’t needed anymore, because he has been there for every moment I could have ever imagined.

My dad, now eighty-four is in hospice care. He says he’s ready to go and that he’s lived a good life. He has fought every illness that has ever attacked him and won, but now his body is no longer able to fight. 

Somehow, I’m at peace with it. At first I wasn’t sure why I am not so shook up, emotional or distraught. Then I thought it was because it was something that I had been preparing for a long while. Then Sunday night it hit me. As I read Luther’s commentary on Romans for my History of Christian Thought class, I read, “Faith is a living, unshakable confidence in God’s grace.” 

Faith is why I am able to watch his once strong body become frailer and paler by the day. Faith is why I don’t break down at the possibility it might be his last hug. And faith is why I have no fears of what tomorrow will bring.

Thank you God, for being a God of never ending grace.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Cost of Education

Now that I plan on hopefully working for God one day soon as a minister, I am starting to wonder what Jesus would say about the cost of higher education in this country and the 7% interest on student loans.

Student debt is now over $1 trillion dollars, higher than all credit card debt combined. With good-paying jobs getting more and more scarce, the real "cost" of student debt is getting higher and higher.

The Bible actually talks a lot about money.  For the borrower you must pay back, but for the lender, they should not accrue interest. Ezekiel 18: 7-9 “[if a man]does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statues, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully-such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.”

But for most student borrowers today, that is far from the case.

Actually, I am one of the “lucky ones.” When I was filling out my FAFSA’s as an undergrad my dad had been retired for 5 years so I got a lot of grant money. I graduated only $14,000 in debt. However, I’ve been paying on it for over 10 years and I still owe $7,000. 

As a seminary student, I plan to add a minimum of $45,000 on to my total of $7,000. Though I feel deeply called to minister it took me two years to be able to accept that in order to attend seminary I will never get out of student loan debt nor be able to afford to help my children with their own college. Logically it sounds like the stupidest and most selfish thing to ever do, but my calling is too strong to ignore it. And getting into seminary was the first thing that I actually needed that BA for.

What this country is really doing is making it near impossible for the lower and middle class to ever advance economically. It continues to create a hierarchy of people and promote a love of power and money.

Students need to demand action from the government and get the cost of education lowered or at the very least the interest rates lowered on student loans. Making money on education is not very righteous and private companies especially are making a killing on interest and penalties.

There are companies like Wells Fargo that are working with borrowers to help lower payments and offer a temporary 1% interest. And even though it has been said that bankruptcy does not wipe out student loans, according to Wells Fargo it can decrease them. But we not only need temporary relief we need permanent solutions.   Congress does have the power to open doors now closed to those drowning in student loan debt; they just have to open them.

Students and graduates also need to demand action from their religious communities.

And as for me, I plan to preach and teach about debt and how central 'forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors' was to the ministry of Jesus.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Islamaphobia: Fear verses Love

Islamophobia is a new term, invented in the twentieth century to describe unreasoning prejudice or fear of Muslims. That's right; we need to invent new vocabulary to describe "an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination." 

Yet, every Sunday morning at my church we begin service with our welcome message. The welcome message is a call and response that verbally says who we mean by all when we say all are welcome. The fourth call and response says: “Leader: You are welcome here if your people are from this place, or a different place. Congregation: For our God is both here and everywhere.”

Today, as Christians we need to live into that call even more powerfully.

I often don’t want to be called a Christian because of what that word can mean to many people, words that I certainly am not. Words like anti-gay, money hungry and judgmental. And now, Islamophobic.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Islamaphobia made its appearance and is once again in full force with the rise of ISIS. Some people associate ISIS with all people of the Muslim faith. That is a stereotype that is far misguided. The internet and social media now make it difficult to stop Islamaphobia because it gives a “voice” to those opinions. It is considered freedom of speech because there are no laws that prevent religious hatred.

The fear of Muslims is generated by ISIS using the media to promote its message.  The fear they encourage then generates hate. But hate does not solve anything, it just creates more hate. And they do it because fear works.

As a Christian pluralist, I believe we can only fight fear with love. 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” We can search for more answers, but to put it simply all God asks of us is to love. And God means everyone. Though it may seem simple, it is not. Because everyone means the people that are not like you, that do not think like you and do not believe the same things you believe. 1 John 4:21: “The commandment is we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

The good news is there is still love in the world.

Earlier this month Tasnim Nazeer, a Muslim freelance journalist wrote an article about how she was encouraged by a Canadian social experiment. The experiment consisted of two actors who were secretly being recorded at a bus stop doing a scene where the Islamophobe actor was asking the Muslim actor to not get on the bus because he might have bombs strapped to him. The other people came to the actor’s defense telling the man that he couldn’t judge someone by their clothes, religion or nationality. The social experiment ended with the Islamophobe actor getting punched in the face by a Canadian sticking up for the Muslim actor. 

Now, punching people in the face is not the best way to express one's defense to the persecuted. We need to be passionate defenders, without the violence, in order to turn our societies around. 

As a Christian, it is my job to speak up for justice; would you?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Voice of Silenced Women

At family dinner tonight my seven-year-old son started a conversation about a story he read that he never knew the character’s names. “I read the whole thing and all they said was he and she.” As an exhausted seminary student I chimed in, “It sounds like the Bible. Half the women don’t get names.” My nine-year-old son asks “They don’t get names in the Bible?” My father-in-law chimes in “Women didn’t get much respect in the Bible. Well the women didn’t get to vote until the 1920’s in this country.” My nine-year-old says, “I thought this was supposed to be a free country.”

So much truth out of the mouth of a child and unfortunately women continue to be silenced and unnamed.

In my class, I am studying the book of Chronicles this week and we are discussing the ways in which the Chronicler retold the stories from Samuel and Kings but edited almost all of the stories with women in them out; that basically the Chronicler silenced the women.

This week a story by Melanie Curtain entitled I was Sexually Harassed. Here is How I Responded was in my inbox. She described the harassment that took place while waiting in line at CVS to get a prescription. She described how trying to keep silent and just ignoring the man felt like it was causing the incident to escalate. So she named it. She said “This is harassment.” “What is happening here is harassment.”

Yes, it is and the silencing is not just in line at CVS, it is in our churches too.

Not only have nameless women in the Bible been silenced, the issue of violence against women have been silenced in our churches. It is not common for issues of domestic violence to be addressed in the pulpit. Women and children have been told to keep quiet, even by clergy. And many denominations continue to silence women as they do not allow them in their pulpits. And even women in those particular denominations believe that they should be kept in their place because that is why God created women, to serve the man.  

Men and women were equally created in God’s image. It was men who decided that they needed to exercise power and that is why the war on woman began and is still accepted to this day. And this war on women goes beyond sexual harassment. It is rape, it is pornography and it is human trafficking.

As a religious leader it is my responsibility to give a voice to women. It is my responsibility to name harassment, to name rape and to name trafficking. It is my job to restore morals into a desensitized, obviously not free country.

And as a mother, it is my job to teach my sons about respect. It is my job to teach my sons that women are not and never will be sex objects. It is my job to teach them that clothing does not give them permission to make assumptions about anyone. It is my job to teach them about what harassment and rape is.

We can change the way men think about women. It starts with our sons.   

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Quarantined or in the Closet?

I believe that fear is the root of evil doing in this world. That if we can let go of fear we can begin to experience a life of peace.

Kaci Hickox, the Maine nurse that refused to stay home after she was on “volunteer quarantine” has been given the OK by a Maine judge. Hickox has no symptoms and tested negative for Ebola after she returned home from volunteering in West Africa with Doctors Without Borders.

Hickox stated that her quarantine had no merit 
and was a “violation of her human rights” and was merely “putting fear over science.” After the judge gave her the OK she said it was the first step to “overcome the fear” of Ebola. “There are so many aid workers coming back. It scares me to think how they’re going to be treated and how they’re going to feel” Hickox said.

Isaiah 41:10 "do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." The prophet Isaiah wrote during a time of political upheaval. The nations were seeking an answer from God on who controls history. This scripture is significant in showing that God protects and provides for God's people. 

Fear-mongering and putting people in quarantine is an all too common experience for many LGBT people. A recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign says fifty-three percent of LGBT workers in the country hide their sexual identity at work and thirty-five percent feel compelled to lie about their sexual identity at work.

Those LGBT people who are forced to live a closeted life for one reason or the other now have a glimpse of hope.

This week, Apple CEO, Tim Cook publically acknowledged that he was gay: “While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

As a woman of faith, I continually find it amazing how often I hear about God from the mouths of those who are LGBT.  It reminds me that it is not God who causes the pain. It is Christians who cause the pain. The horrific comments that are written as “representing God” are just sickening. We must remind ourselves that we are all God's people and are protected and provided for. We do not need to live in fear. When we wait for God, our strength will be renewed.

Religion is most likely the main reason why LGBT people remain in the closet. Last month an article titled, Keeping it Real in the Closet explains why Downtown Boy cannot tell his mother. Downtown Boy is a pseudonym for a thirty-something gay man. In his article he says he is “in the closet but not hiding.” He is not trying to be someone he is not, but he explains that religion prevents him from causing his mom guilt. “My mother is a religious woman who comes from an entirely different generation. She would look at homosexuality through religious lenses, rather than science and logic. She’s the most unselfish woman I know and she would never disown me. Nonetheless, she would blame herself for who I am today.  

Guilt along with fear is yet another way religion can control the belief systems of the people. And guilt plays a role in why Downtown Boy is known only as Downtown Boy.

Similarly, we find the same story from the nurse in Maine.  “It is a violation of human rights” and it is “putting fear over science.” And why do LGBT people live a life in the closet? Just ask the nurse, “It scares me to think how they’re going to be treated and how there are going to feel.”

LGBT “issues” are not really religious issues. It is a fear issue; it is fear that is backed up by a couple of misused Bible scriptures.  None of us as human beings should be forced to live life in a closet; quarantined from the rest of society.  Live without fear for God will uphold you. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

War, Rape and the Spirit of the Lord

I believe that God does not lead us into war, and I believe that God does not condone rape as a weapon of war. I find that faith is challenging at times, especially this week.

As a seminary student, I have been immersed in the book of Judges this week, and I have been swallowed by despair. 
The story of Gibeah’s Crime found in chapter 19 verse 22 of Judges is the most brutal story of rape in the Bible. A man only identified as a Levite from Ephraim and his concubine were traveling and stayed in a town called Gibeah. While staying there, the men of the city wanted to rape the Levite, so the Levite seized his concubine and gave her to them instead. So they brutally gang raped her and let her go. She died at the doorstep of where they had stayed. The Levite brought her back home where he cut her up and sent her body parts to each of the territories of Israel to declare war against the Benjaminites.

The type of sexual violence in conflict is not ancient history.

In South Sudan, a civil war has been going on between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and opposition forces. SPLM, the dominant party in Sudan has split into three causing a divide among ethnic and regional fault lines. At least 10,000 people have died. 

Yesterday we learned that rape is being used as weapon of war in Sudan. U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zaineb Hawa Bangura says that the people there are living in a U.N. compound in Bentiu City in Unity State among unimaginable living conditions.

“The women when they go out to get firewood, etc. have to go through several checkpoints where you have the SPLA [Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army] and in the course of that they are raped continuously.  And, the men do not get out of the camp because the men have to make a choice.  ‘If I go out, I get killed.  So, I rather send my wife, my daughter or my mother out because the most they can do is rape her.  She will come back alive.’  So men have to make that difficult decision of either being killed or female members of the family being raped," said Bangura.

In Judges, the men of the town wanted to rape the Levite in order to take his man hood away from him; to lower his status to that of a woman.  He gave them his “woman” instead. Her death was a message to the Levite and the Israelites.

“So, by doing some of the worst atrocities against women, you are sending messages to the men.  It is a way of punishing them.  So, women have become victims of the conflict as a way of actually destroying communities and families.  Survivors and health care workers told me heartbreaking stories of rape, gang rape, abduction, sexual slavery and forced marriage ... I was astonished in the extent in which both parties seem to have declared war on their own people," Bangura said.

I suspect the stories in the Bible have been interpreted to give “permission” to continue with the violence. We must end the barbaric treatment of others. The wars must stop.

I have struggled these past seven weeks in the Old Testament, trying to come up with the answers to my own questions. This week in Judges, it is a common phrase “and the spirit of the lord came upon (insert battle leader here).” In reading Judges and other commentaries I have come to my understanding of the foundation of the Old Testament. 

My conclusion is this: God is always with us, among our doings and among our sufferings.  No matter how many times we turn our back on God, God will still offer us grace.  God’s spirit may be upon us, but it doesn't mean that we are then God like, we are still human. It does not mean that God approves of our actions and leads us in war. It means that God is with us when we declare war and God is with us when we are victims of violence. God is with us when a woman is raped and God is with us when we offer grace….so please, offer grace.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola and Racism

I have only walked in white shoes.  They may be a little dirty, but they will never be black.

Forty-nine years ago the “separate but equal” laws were found unconstitutional in an attempt to move beyond racism.  I want to know when we are finally going to embrace one another? When are we going to accept one another? When are we going to love one another? When are we going to be human? Yet, in 50 years the United States has not "moved beyond" racism but deepened and broadened it.

Unless and until white Americans like myself realize this is a faith struggle and a justice struggle for all of us, we will continue to fail.

My faith guides my actions on a daily basis as I encounter others each day. Do you use your Bible to justify slavery or do you use your Bible to say “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) We are all human beings that need one another for companionship and to care for one another, yet we let fear divide us. 

I get it, there are still people alive who drank from the white only water fountain and used the white only bathroom. And we live in an us versus them country; conservatives verses liberals, men verses women, the rich verses the poor. We need to to end an exclusivist America and begin to work together.

It is exhausting living in this morally bankrupt country, but I bet it sure is nice for those who are blissfully unaware of the issues. Especially for those who believe that racism is the thing of the past.

Racism rolls on its lethal way, however as happened to Thomas Eric Duncan.

On Wednesday, October 8th, Duncan, the first Ebola patient in the U.S. died. Despite having a 103 degree temperature, despite telling the nurse he’d been in Africa, despite severe pain, he was tested for everything else but Ebola. He was prescribed antibiotics, told to take Tylenol and then sent home. It wasn't until his condition worsened and he was taken by ambulance back to the hospital, that he was treated properly.

Duncan’s nephew, Joseph Weeks said that the care was “either incompetence or negligence.” He wants to know why all the white Ebola patients in the U.S. survived “and the one black man died.”

John Wiley Price the Dallas county commissioner agrees, “It is historical what has happened in this community,” said Mr. Price, who is black. “If a person who looks like me shows up without any insurance, they don’t get the same treatment.”

The Reverend Jessie Jackson wrote in his blog last Tuesday, “Duncan has a foreign accent, black skin, and no health insurance. From a theological perspective, Thomas Eric Duncan is one of our brothers described by Jesus as the ‘least of these.’ What role did his lack of privilege play in the treatment he received? He is being treated as a criminal rather than as a patient.

The fact is there are many health care issues beyond this one that many white people of privilege are probably not aware of because they believe that treatment is readily available to everyone. And white people of privilege only know what they experience to be true.

For this to really change white Christians like myself need not only to believe the scriptures like Galatians 3:28 but also act as though we believe them.

Friday, October 3, 2014

LGBT Youth: The New Face of Homelessness

As the sister of a gay man, and a religious leader, I ask you to please pick up your Bible and read it from your heart.

When you read the Bible from your heart, you will come to know how wrong it is to persecute gay people just for being who they are.  

Matthew 5:11-12 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

It is heartbreaking how the persecution of gay youth drives them into homelessness. 

About ten years ago I bought my husband a lifetime subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine for $100. Yesterday, for the first time in ten years he asked me to read an article. The article, The Forsaken was a story of the rapidly rising number of LGBT homeless youth.

“I don’t know what we could have done for God to have given us a fag as a child,” her mother said before hanging up. 

I have sat next to the pain of being LGBT.  My oldest brother, who was 19 when I was born, was half-way out of the closet. He was blessed that he could tell his family and close friends, but he didn't want to be completely out because of how he would be treated.  He did want kids, so he and I became very close because I was his substitute child.  As I grew up, I got to know him on a sister level. He so wanted to love and be loved in a way I couldn't love him. And it was heartbreaking to see him not be able to find that love.  Before he died, he said he wasn't afraid to die; that he was alright with God, but he made me promise that he would not die alone. That I could do; and he definitely did not.

Why is it, that there are many gay Christians or LGBT people who have faith that God loves them and believe that God made them in his image, but there are many straight Christians that absolutely fear the possibility that God loves everyone?

Because of the new marriage equality laws and campaigns that state “it does get better” it makes it seem easier for youth to step out. The sad reality is that when LGBT youth come out of the closet, they are not always welcomed with open arms.  
Five percent of America’s youth are homeless 
and of that five percent, forty percent are LGBT. All of the five stories featured in The Forsaken 
were stories of youth who were banished from 
their own families in the name of their religion.

“LGBT advocacy groups do not want to talk about religion,” says Mitchell Gold, founder of Faith in America. “One, they don’t want to come across as anti-religion. And two, they just aren't familiar with it. But the number one hurdle to LGBT equality is religious-based bigotry. The face of the gay rights movement shouldn't be what I call '40-year-old well moisturized couples.' The face of the gay rights movement should be a 15-year-old kid that’s been thrown out of his house and taught that he’s a sinner.” 

The truth is I do not have a Bible verse or specific scripture passage that can solve the answer of homosexuality being a sin because the Bible simply does not address it. I can tell you that the verses that have been cherry picked to prove it is a sin have been cherry picked for a reason.  If you read the scripture verses collectively and study the context and history of which it is written, you will understand it is about something else entirely.

It’s Not Eve’s Fault

Eve was blamed for causing humanity to get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and women and even young girls have been being blamed for actions that are not their fault ever since.

That is what originally happened when fourteen-year-old Cherice Moralez was raped by her teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold.  Rambold was originally given a shockingly light sentence for raping this student in his care, only 31 days.

Judge Baugh defended his light sentencing with a statement that Cherice Moralez was “a troubled youth” that looked and acted “older than her chronological age;” And that she was just “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. Despite Judge Baugh’s justifications, according to Montana state law, Rambold must serve a minimum of two years.Judge Baugh was later suspended for one month without pay of his last seven months on the bench before his retirement.

And last Friday, Rambold was resentenced to 15 years with 5 years suspended for the rape of Moralez.

Faith voices should be lifted in defense of young women who have been raped, but instead carry a theological legacy of victim blaming, especially blaming women. In some churches today, the doctrine of sin leads to inherent guilt and shame and to blame the victim, especially women and girls. As a woman religious leader and a mother, I can tell you honestly that sin in the rape of a young girl by her teacher, and the original failure of the justice system, was entirely by the teacher and by a heartless judge.   Human beings sin, it is true, and the story of Adam and Eve is really about that, but we have to be clear in our schools, our homes, our churches, where to rightly place the blame and it was not with Cherice Moralez.

Early Christian theologian, Augustine introduced original sin as the blame of Eve because Eve corrupted Adam.  He viewed sex as evil and that sex was the work of the devil with women being the devil’s agents.  He said that Eve as representing women was a temptress that leads men astray. And unfortunately, some of Augustine’s views about women still hold true.

The bible in certain religions is used to blame victims. When a woman is being beaten by her husband she is often reminded that disobedience to her husband is sinful. When children are told that they are to honor thy father and mother and respect their elders, they often blame themselves in cases of sexual abuse.

When society often doesn’t believe the victim or blames the victim, it makes it difficult for people to get help and the abuse to stop. In the case of Cherice Morales, her struggles within herself ended in her suicide before the first trial of her rapist was even completed. Her mother, Auliea Hanlon stated that once the news of the assault became public, Cherice was “ostracized and bullied and that her mood became even darker.”

A small amount of justice has been done, though it comes too late for Cherice. In this particular story the societal acceptance to blame the victim was not tolerated. Hanlon was alerted to the abuse by one of Cherice’s peers at a church counseling group. The case sparked protests by activists calling for resignation of the judge. Sheena Rice, the protest organizer said, “Judges should be protecting our most vulnerable children…not enabling rapists by placing blame on the victims.” Judge Baugh tried to apologize but in the same statement defended his remarks by saying it is “horrible enough as given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.” Marian Bradley, president of the Montana National Organization for Women said “such language and lenient sentences for sex crimes discourage victims of sexual violence from coming forward.”

The state of Montana has spoken: victim blaming has to stop. It is time for the church to be the leader in this fight.  The church itself needs to be transparent in its own abuse and then learn how to become an example to society. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scotland's No Vote; Now What?

 Scotland: you experienced Democracy, now work together.

Last week Scotland announced the results from their vote on whether or not they should break away from Britain has resulted in a no vote. 84% of registered voters participated in the outcome and 55.3% voted not to become independent from Britain.  

So what does the 44.7% do now? Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron promises change to make the United Kingdom work for everyone so the “yesers” can work for their change.

Religious people need to learn from Scotland's experience.

It is common in religious institutions, for a dispute over something to pop up. It could be something as significant as issues over doctrine or as simple as the style of bulletins.  And more often than not, that upset person just walks away.

And there are many who simply consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious. In a 2012 survey one-fifth of the US public are religiously unaffiliated and 37% say they are spiritual but not religious. 68% claim that they believe in God and 21% pray every day, but only 10% are looking for a religion that is right for them.

In 2012, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote an article titled Spiritual But Not Religious? Okay, But You’ll Be Hungry in an Hour. She writes about the spiritual “food” we need on a regular basis. “Spirituality is the sweetness of religion, the effervescent taste of the divine. Religion, on the other hand, is the fiber. You've got to have some fiber, some strength of tradition, ritual and sacred texts, to get you through the day.” Thistlethwaite goes on to say how religion has disappointed “the spiritual.”

I agree that religion overall has been disappointing.  But, here is where I agree and disagree, she ends the article with this: “But until religious institutions begin to catch up and offer appealing and nutritious religious substance to these folks, this trend toward spiritual but not religious will continue. And I fear more people will go hungry.” Yes, “spirituals” are more than likely starving. However, there are religions and churches that are working very hard to be inclusive and loving to life experiences. 

Like the relationship between England and Scotland, the relationship between the "spirituals" and the churches is not prefect; in fact it is messy and difficult. But each needs the other. The churches need the “spirituals” to help them in the work of feeding souls. These churches, often small but mighty are already there, and can be a source of connection for "the spirituals."

I believe that we are on a verge of a religious shift. Eventually, those “spiritual” people will realize that what is missing in their soul is a deeper relationship with the divine, understanding that they cannot do it alone. Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” And then they will be willing to do the work that it takes to be a part of a religion that is in tune with their life experiences.

Life is messy. People are difficult. And loving all people for who they are is not easy. But God calls us together to live, work and worship as one. John 17: 20-21 "'I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.'"  

It is easier to go it alone; to break away. But the work is worth it. Your experiences become a part of who you are. How can you experience the deeper meaning of life alone?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Mom to Her Sons: Be Better than the NFL

As a Mom and a mother of boys, I am very concerned that the NFL, with its failure to deal with violence against women by its players, could very well be sending the message to our youth that domestic violence is acceptable.

I want my young sons to learn they need to be better than the NFL.  But it is not easy to teach that when these sports figures and teams are so influential.  The NFL seems to forget that their fan base is not only men, but also young boys. My nine-year-old has taken it upon himself to watch documentaries on footballs past players and super bowls. He has found his own team that he follows, the Arizona Cardinals, mostly because he admires wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. My son can hold an adult conversation on football past and football present and he can tell you any known fact about Fitzgerald you would ever want to know. And I am sure that my son cannot be that unique. I am sure there are other mom’s out there whose home is filled with football talk.

This violence is everywhere in the sport it seems, and it is as severe as in the video of Ray Rice spitting on and then knocking out his then fiance, now wife. And after reading about pros Greg Hardy from the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, who also have domestic violence charges against them, I am convinced that the NFL has a real epidemic on their hands. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell originally suspended Rice for two games but then suspended him indefinitely after the video was released to the public. Now the NFL is being accused that they had the video for 5 months, an accusation that they are denying. 

It is one thing to educate our girls on how domestic violence is not okay, to not sit in silence and that there is help available, but it is more important to teach our boys that mistreatment of others is never okay; not just violence, but spitting, yelling and using degrading words. And it is not okay for the NFL to make it okay for their football players. Because these players, if they want to be or not, are role models for our youth.

As a Christian lay leader, I know our churches have to help with this education. Ever since the misinterpretation of the Old Testament scripture of Adam and Eve and the fall, women have been oppressed, despite the fact that this misinterpretation was cleared up in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11: 11-12 “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as a woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.”

The NFL already exploits the sexuality of women with their barely dressed cheerleaders and their sexual image filled commercials because sex sells. And everything is all about money. Unfortunately for parents and church leaders, it gets harder and harder to raise children with the right message when they are bombarded with the wrong one. And if you read some of the comments from young men football fans who support Rice with comments like, “and that’s how you keep your woman in check” you’ll see exactly what message they have gotten.

As a woman of faith and as a mom of one of your admirers, I pray for you Larry Fitzgerald. I pray that whatever situations your lifestyle brings you, that you are able to make the right choices and exemplify Jesus like character, because young boys are watching you.

But to the young boys and men, my message is this: you need to be better than the NFL. 

Shocked by God

My name is Julie Eklund and I have been struck by God's lightning bolt. This blog is an expression of my journey as I discern my call to ministry. I am a life long member of the United Church of Christ. My attendance up until being a mom is sketchy. After making the transition to being a stay at home mom and no longer having to work on Sundays I became committed to being an active member of the church where I was baptized and confirmed, Spring Creek UCC.  

I began serving in many areas but the most significant to my call was as the church moderator. I really made the most of it and I put all I've learned and experienced into growing our church.  And that time of being committed to growing the church was a time of focus, determination & faith. As moderator and past moderator I was involved in many sensitive and challenging issues. As some in the church lost faith, mine grew into a different and more mature understanding of myself and my relationship with God. I began to understand the importance of ministry and how the power of trust in a pastoral relationship is priceless

My call came to me on January 22, 2012. I had served as lay worship leader that day. After service, our pastor at that time, Michael Simmons asked to see me and my husband in his office.  He said to me as I was reading the scripture that day he had an overwhelming feeling. He felt as if God was telling him that I had a gift for the ministry.  I was shocked and it became a very confusing time for me for many reasons.  I confided in my mentor from church, Terry White. About a month later, Terry suggested I give preaching a try since Spring Creek needed pulpit supply in March.  I agreed and I presented a sermon titled I’m Excited, I’m Excited, I’m Excited on March 18, 2012. The positive response was overwhelming. 

I then began the “logical approach” of the pro & con list and decided it really didn't make any logical sense for me to pursue going to seminary. After preaching a second time, I decided that since Spring Creek allows me to use my gifts as a lay leader, I didn't need to pursue seminary.  Yet others at church kept encouraging me to consider.   Before I preached the third time, I prayed to God and asked her to help me make a decision once and for all and quit struggling over this. I got the usual fellowship time encouragement and the Facebook messages. But that afternoon I got a phone call at home from a member that I wasn't personally close with. She told me that my message was meant for her that day and she really needed to hear it. She thanked me. After that phone call, I realized that her call was the lightning bolt from God that I was waiting for and that it was time to enter into the discernment process. I've included an audio link below if you'd like to listen to that sermon.

My struggle with accepting the call to ministry is that I know this isn't something to be taken lightly and it is a call beyond human capacity. I have always felt that God had a bigger plan for my life than I was living and so God must have put all these people in my life to encourage me and show me the things that I hadn't realized in myself. And now the beginning of my journey as a seminary student at Chicago Theological Seminary begins. This blog is a requirement for my Public Theology class. My personal goal is to use this blog as a medium to help minister to those who are not able or ready to step foot into a community of worship.