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.