Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Personal Thoughts on Imigration and Refugees

I will refrain from the term "illegal immigration" in this post.  Such a charged word, and with the current border crisis and the flood of children from central America flooding our borders, it seems an unhelpful category and possibly an inaccurate one.
When I first heard of these children coming in such large numbers, and doing so alone, I asked why and initially the news was only focusing on the opposition to "illegal immigration".  But also, it touched me deeply, and more personally than I expected.  Sure unaccompanied children, toddlers to teens, traveling thousands of miles alone without parents or family is heartbreaking, but there was more.

Then slowly more details of the conditions from which these children were fleeing, threat to life, inability of families to care for their children, etc.  These stories jogged a memory of stories of immigration, the story of my maternal great-grandparents. Both my Grandmother's parents left their homes in Sweden in their teens. My great-grandmother was sent to work as a domestic worker first in Norway (as I recall) at the age of 13, because her family could no longer afford to feed and cloth her. The story goes that she was mistreated as a domestic worker and eventually fled to the United States. Hard to imagine now but that this was the conditions in Sweden in the 19th century.  My great Grandfather immigrated to the states at the age of sixteen.

What is odd is that the family stories never speak of them as children when they emigrated, though in the news stories of children from Central and South America teens are described as children.  Yet, both my great-grandparents left home and eventually made their way to the United States because of poor and dangerous living conditions in Sweden.  My family's story is not unlike the story of all these children now coming to the United States.

However, when my great-grandparents came to the U.S. they wouldn't have been seen as children, but also there weren't as strick legal restrictions on immigration at that time either.

But also, I recall my grandparents telling stories of the hostile environment they grew up in as children of immigrants.  The story that has most stuck with me is their stories of being beaten in school because they could only speak Swedish and didn't know english when they started school.  They never taught their three daughters Swedish because of this childhood trauma.

We the grandsons and daughters even sons and daughters of immigrants forget the struggle and the reasons for our coming to the U.S..  We seem to forget the hostility our grandparents and great-grandparents experienced from those whose parents and grandparents were also immigrants.  The cycle continues and repeats itself, and is even more hateful against those who aren't European.  The statement on the statue of Liberty hides the reality that no generation of Americans has truly ever welcomed immigrants to this country with wide and open arms.

Under the pressures and because we were European my family had the privilege of eventually assimilating and becoming Anglo.  I'm a product of that assimilation.  That my family came from Germany and Sweden has been culturally erased both linguistically and through the culture of my grandparents and great-grandparents being reduced to kitsch.

I wonder if much of our resistance to new immigrants is the suppression of the pain and suffering of immigration in our family histories.  Our own forgetfulness that we all were foreigners, a refusal to remember that we were sojourners fleeing our past looking for a more hopeful future.

I know well my family's history the struggles of my great-grandparents and grand-parents as immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants, yet it took me sitting with the news for awhile, willing to not react or respond, before it came to me and I made the connection.  But we seem to have lost our ability to sit and listen, even to our own stories.

A side note here is The Evangelical Covenant Church's 2014 statement and resolution on immigration, discussed and accepted by our Annual Meeting this past June.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Grief and Discernment on Good Friday

The sermon tonight at the Good Friday Service was spoken out of grief, and spoke to the resonances this day can have with our own grief and loss. As Lent ended and we moved towards Holy Week I've been in a bit of a funk. Grief hasn't so much welled up. I have simply been a bit more aware that my dad is no longer with us. I have several posts sitting in draft form over at priestly goth.  Most of them have something to do with my relationship with Evangelicalism, they also have to do with gender and human sexuality.  They sit there in part because in a complex way these things are bound up with my dad's passing.   In a sense the rift revealed around World Vision's decision to hire those who are married to someone of the same sex and rescinding of that decision due to a vocal and active opposition to that decision, has touched on things in me that harken back to events in my college days and the recollection of how disappointed my father was (initially, he came to accept it) that I wouldn't claim the identity Evangelical.

I don't say that I left "Evangelicalism" because I don't think I was raised to be an Evangelical, or at least not its American variety.  The identity I came to peace with in seminary at North Park Theological Seminary was Lutheran Pietist (Lutheran Pietist in fact was in the title of the first iteration of this blog when I started it in 2004). The term was never used as I grew up.  Though I also don't I recall a great emphasis on being "Evangelical" either.  So it was a bit of a shock to me that my father was hurt by my refusal of an identity I had never held.  This difference between us did cause a rift for a time.
Lutheran Pietist, though is now something out of which I have come.  12 years or so after graduating from seminary I know longer so identify.  Not so much because I reject it as it has lost its meaning.  It can't contain what I'm seeking, it is too small, too constricted, too parochial in my search for the Mind of Christ.

 My father taught me to seek truth, and to seek to be Christ's.  Any identifying marker other than these things should either lead one to christ and the truth and should not hinder one in the quest for truth. (I understand that all this talk of truth sound odd coming from one who finds in Derrida a congenial conversation partner, though what follows may show how it fits.)  the quest is a quest because it can be difficult to know the truth and what it really means to have the mind of Christ.  My father warned me against those who believed they could rest in the certainty of having the truth and mind of Christ by setting up firm boundaries and identities that were supposed to be the guarantors of this truth.  Dad always said those inventions couldn't guarantee what only God could guarantee.  So, ya at 19 or 20 when my Dad took me out for Lunch and asked if I was an Evangelical, I hadn't seen that coming, and answered him as I thought he had taught me to: I refused to take on the identity that was supposed to be the guarantor of truth.

The thing is that I see most positions taken in the current American Christian landscape as seeking the guarantor of truth rather than seeking to have the mind of Christ.  So many labels we trust in, Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Pentecostal... and on and on.  Somehow in my grief on this Good Friday I feel the pressure of my father's gaze that sunny Southern California day, yet it is multiplied, so many asking me to settle my identity, to come down on this or that, to be progressive or conservative or whatever.

I don't want these labels and positions.  I want to sit and discern together, in our pain, in our grief, and yes in our anger.  This isn't an avoidance of conflict, this discernment, my father and I went around and around, at moments as many can attest, our arguments were intense.  In part they were so intense as we each were testing.  For a time our discernment of the way and our seeking together to find the truth and the Mind of Christ wasn't quiet or mediative.

Dad and I did get there.... able to sit across from each other and peaceably discuss our disagreements and even see in our disagreement and difference the trace of what we sought.

On the issue of human sexuality my dad and I never came to an agreement.  Some might consider him homophobic (he wasn't, at least that is not what I heard in our conversations).

I hesitate to speak freely about such things, because I know they are painful.  I know discernment isn't easy, and I recognize the answers we seek may not exist.  We may never be settled.  Also, I'm hesitant because in continuing to engage things around which my father and I fought over, disagreed over and wrestled wtih, in moving forward, I say goodbye.  In seeking truth and the Mind of Christ, I must now let him go.  So, my grief and the struggles of our times are bound up together.

Is there discernment at the foot of the Cross, at death?  I hope so.  For the sake of us all, I hope so.  but really more truthfully the question is, do we have the courage to do so at this moment, in our grief, our anger and in the face of death?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Descrimination" and "Freedom of Conscience and Religion"

I ask your patience.  I want to work something out and do so public ally around recent attempts by state legislatures to protect business owners (and corporations) from being coerced into providing services or products to be used by or in situations that would violate their religious conscience. This is my own wrestling with these issues, here in this place this is my personal opinions and evaluations.  On the issue that has at least has been the focus  of the coverage is the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.  I believe that same-sex couples should be afforded the same rights and responsibilities and recognition of their relationship as heterosexual couples, and I find no reason to call that anything other than marriage.  Also, I think what the State recognizes and what is done in a religious ritual, and on the level of sacrament are different things, though related things.  Though One should not read any of what follows  as an attempt to argue either side of that argument.

As I see it there are a number of issues in play.  The nature of freedom of religion. The nature of business (and are all business and their relationship to their clientele and the public univocal? Should we see sole proprietorship as different than corporation on this issue? etc.).  There are also questions of Whether or mainstream media outlets have accurately represented the Arizona bill that was vetoed by the Governor and other similar bills that have been proposed in other states? What are the consequences of seeking to protect religious freedom in this way? Then there are questions of Whether or not a Christian should refuse to perform any sort of service if it might contribute to or legitimate an activity or person that violates their religious beliefs or conscience?  What is the witness of Christians in support or opposition to this Arizona bill and others like it?

Of course behind all this there is the debate over same-ses marriage, which appears to be what has precipitated the timing of this and other similar bills, but was not directly mentioned or addressed in the Arizona Bill itself.

Freedom of Religion:  Are their lines to Freedom of Religion? It seems to me that  in practice there clearly are.  For instance polygamy is not legal in the U.S.  As far as I understand it one can't openly practice polygamy even for religious reasons.  If your religion would require human sacrifice that would be considered murder, and I think even animal sacrifice could run afoul certain animal protection laws. (though we butcher animals for food, so the nature of the distinction is a little lost on me.)  However, the point is that in practice Religious Freedom isn't without restriction.  But there's another aspect of this debate: is religious freedom about my holding private opinions and actions in the privacy of my home only, or does it extend to my everyday and public life as well, i.e. running a business?  Some opposition to bills like the Arizona bill I think implicitly hold that religion should be private something one leaves at the door of one's home and should never be taken into ones place of business.  Some supporters of the Arizona bill and others like it do so because they believe religion is about the whole of ones life and you don't leave it at home when you go to work or go to run your business.  However, from my observation of  both sides of this debate within Christian and evangelical circles is that part of the debate is precisely  how to exercise one's faith and religion in public and in running a business.  In this sense both agree that religion isn't a private affair and one should be free to exercise one's religion in conducting a business but the disagreement is around how one publically exercise one's Christian faith in public and in business. (more on hat later)

Business:  Are all businesses the same/  For instance is it actually the same situation for a creative business person to refuse certain projects based on their beliefs, and for a Restaurant or hotel owner to refuse service to a particular class of people. Intuitively I'd say those are different things.  My wife is a costume designer and fashion/wedding dress designer.  We talk about whether she will take on projects or clients (for clarity she has no issue designing and making clothing for same-sex marriages).  At times discussion has lead us to ask whether we felt she should take on a project or client based on ethical and religious grounds. My wife doesn't take on every project or client that comes through her door, sometimes that is an issue of time or money, sometimes its that she is simply uninterested in the project, although I don't think it has ever happened, we have at least considered her not taking on a project based on a possible conflict with her religious and ethical beliefs and convictions.  I believe she as a business in the line of work she does should be able to turn down a project or client based on any considerations, whether or time, fit with her artistic vision, or ethics and religion.   As a freelance costumer and designer she must discriminate between projects and clients based on a variety of facts some as mundane and uncontroversial as the client is unwilling or unable to pay her fee, or she she does not have time for the client, but there are also artistic merits of the project from her sense of what she wants to put her name to, and their are at time ethical and religious considerations, and that is fine. To my intuition this is qualitatively different to me from a business like a restaurant or hotel refusing service.

The exercise of Christian fiath in the Public Square and in Buisiness:  To some Christians mainly those who might identify as progressive Christians, the idea that proper exercise of the Christian faith in buisness would be to refuse the service of taking photographs for a same-sex wedding hardly seems like witness to the Gospel and of the Love of Jesus Christ, even if one doesn't believe that same-sex marriage is in violation of God's will for human beings.  However, if we are arguing for the proper expression of Christian faith in a business or the public square then it seems that we should seek to protect expression of and practice of Christian faith that we disagree with.  So, there's a problem it seems to me to say, that by all means Christians should in conducting their business have that conduct be informed by their Christian faith and then say except when we think it is a betrayal of our understanding of the Gospel.

Corporations?:  In terms of Hobby Lobby and other incorporated entities attempting to claim Christian faith of their human representatives seems muddy.  But it seems to me that incorporation is a useful but also problematic for issues of ethics and responsibility.  Corporations limit the liability of the human actors who conduct the business and make decisions in a corporation.  In so doing legal precedent has concluded that the legal term "person" can be applied to a corporation.  It seems to me that much of the difficulty here is that the legal entity of corporation and legal precedent around that entity is deeply problematic and gets messy real quick when legally they and not the human persons behind them are by definition the real actors in society.  But the nature of the corporation is murky to me, so I certainly would accept any correction of my perceptions here.  However, again falling back on my intuition, I'd say that what should be expected of a sole proprietor should be different from what is expected of a corporation, and intuitively I'd say that a corporation has not protection of religious freedom since it exists to protect liability and thus isn't supposed to be the personal expression of the human persons leading it etc, where as a sole proprietor should perhaps be allowed to conduct her or his business according to her religious convictions with as little interference from the state as possible.

So, I think the issues raised in these various bills that have come before state legislatures may be more complex than our discourse about them allows.  But this means to both protect religious freedom and protect from discrimination and oppression our discourse should be more careful and nuanced.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The World Vision and Marriage Equality Kerfuffle

I have a variety of reactions and emotions to the recent World Vision decision to begin hiring gay Christians in same-sex marriages and then rescinding of that decision.  And thus this is a bit rambling and  more a record of impressions and reactions to the events of this past week.

Shortly after I was aware of the decision and the evangelical backlash, World Vision was already rescinding the decision.  Part of me is surprised World Vision wasn't more prepared for the resistance, but to another part of me it made perfect sense.  As a well respected organization with a very specific focus with a long track record, it makes sense that they might have expected being given the benefit of the doubt when it came to making a change in their internal policy.  It was a miscalculation though for them to not see that the apparatus of the Religious Right can and will be used on a well respected evangelical aid organization like World Vision and not just outsiders.  This oversight is odd since I'm lead to understand many prominent evangelicals serve on its board that made the decision and rescinded the decision.  How did the board fail to see and fail to prepare for the backlash from the evangelical Religious Right and its influence upon the average evangelical.

I wondered aloud to my wife that my coming to the whole controversy after it had more or less run its course probably meant I wasn't much of an evangelical.  Here response was to point out that in the course of the the controversy I was reading John Milbank and Jean-Luc Marion and preparing to lead a discussion in mystical and contemplative spirituality as the spirituality of God beyond concept and without being, and was fasting for lent following the Easter Orthodox Christian fast, so no I wasn't an Evangelical.

Thus this whole situation brings up my relationship to Evangelicalism as an Evangelical Covenant Pastor, and what it means for the Covenant to be Evangelical.  As I read and interacted with colleagues on two Covenant Facebook pages I saw that most of my colleagues (no matter on what side of the issue they fell on) all seemed to find being Evangelical a meaningful marker.  Moments like this simply reinforce for me the degree to which the "evangelical" simply isn't a meaningful or useful marker of identity for myself.
I came became aware of World Visions initial policy change and the controversy surrounding it when I happened upon Benjamin Corey's blog post The Day Evangelicalism Died.  In the midst of that post he trots out the Evangelical theological Society's definition of Evangelicalism as which is fairly simple and broad "afirmation of the trinity" (many Christians who aren't evangelical so affirm), inspiration of Scriptures (ditto here) and the kicker affirming that the original autographs of Scripture were inerrant (something I believe Fuller Theological Seminary doesn't affirm, nor does the Evangelical Covenant Church.) Even this broad and to my ear pointless definition of "evangelical" simply heightens for me the problem of the identity.

It simply is to me an astounding claim that somehow affirming that gay Christians may be able to have what heterosexual Christians have in a loving spouse and expressions of sexual intimacy in marriage is somehow simultaneously the denial of the entire Christian faith.  I work with, and pastor gay and transgender Christians.  Like most heterosexual Christians they aren't perfect, but they love Christ, they love the Church and are seeking to follow Christ.  And here there is the cry but what about sin what about sin.

Here we have a breakdown in communication because of worldview and experience, that in part brings us back to the effective propaganda and politics of the Religious Right and it's stranglehold on Christians who identify as Evangelical.  For many on one side of this debate homosexuality is like adultery that is it is an act but for gay Christians and for myself who seek to support them in their faith and living out their sexuality in a Christian maner, homosexuality is constitutive of their being and person.  So, there is a break down in talking about this. when I say homosexuality, i mean an aspect of a person's being for many who disagree with my stance on human sexuality, homosexuality is an act like adultery, or stealing, or getting drunk.  I don't know how to get beyond such a conceptual and linguistic impasse.

 I have to wonder if the Religious Right and its politics had emerged 10 to 15 years earlier then it did if divorced Christians would be in the same boat as LGBTQ (some might disagree and this is less a statement of what I believe would have happened as an explanation of my own emotional response to this).

My father (who died this past November just shy of his 78th birthday) was divorced and remarried.  To some extent following the types of reading and hermeneutic of Scripture that lead so many to see world Visions willingness to hire married gay couples as absolutely objectionable, should by the same hermenuetic see my parents as adulterers.  Jesus' plain words in the Gospels on divorce and remarriage is that it is adultery!  And in fact my Grandmother (my mother's mother) initially told my mom that she would be in sin if she married my father, and initially was quite insistent that the clear teaching of Scripture and Jesus' very words meant that my mom should call of her relationship with the man who would be my dad.  My Grandmother in prayer came to a different conclusion, as did the Covenant Pastors who knew my parents in Chicago, and of my moms home church in California.  Even so, my father who eventually would go to seminary to become a Director ministry to children and families. He never worked in a church holding such a position because at the time evangelical congregations wouldn't consider him for the position because he was divorced and remarried (this was in the early 1970's).

The above proves nothing, but that in the late 1960's early 1970's evangelicals held that divorce and remarriage was a sin, and was a sin that would keep you from being able to serve in a paid leadership position in many congregations.  My father retained his identity as an evangelical until his death, though many of our conversations in that last two to three years of his life indicated revealed he was finding the attitudes and tactics of evangelicals to be troubling and unforgiving and of a rigidity he had difficulty reconciling with his sense of what it meant to be an evangelical: committed to the Gospel, meaning for my father the proclamation of God's love.

I also hear an echo of David Fitch's (David himself has weighed in) book End of Evangelicalism?  we have seen I believe what he criticizes of the dominant politic in evangelicalism, it still remains to be seen if his reconstructed and reformed evangelical politic can take root as evangelicalism in such a toxic soil.  But evangelical soil has long been too toxic for me to be able to use that identity.  but it seems to me that as long as difference in interpretation of Scripture around the issue of human sexuality means apostasy to evangelical gatekeepers and their rank and file I don't see how anyone identifying as evangelical can actually have a productive conversation around human sexuality and Christian faith, nor can I see how evangelical soil can be renewed.

At some point I will probably have a more pastoral and thought out reflection on all this and its ecclesial and spiritual ramifications, if so you'll find it at Priestly Goth.  For the moment I just have these personal ramblings. I welcome your thoughts and responses.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lenten Reflections

What is Lent all about.  Most of my life I've been in congregations that observed Lent in some fashion, and yet sometime I lose sight of what it's all about.  This happens even though I'm a pastor and seek to lead people through the season of Lent.  Here are some meditations on line that I've found found helpful this time around.  I might be adding to this throughout Lent so check back.

First several reflections on lent and spiritual practices from Billy Kangas:
5 Creative Fasting Ideas
Letter Writing: A Spiritual Practice
Asperges Me- Deep cleaning during Lent
Lent is not a self-help program

One from my friend Jeremy John
Lent: Falling in Love with the Ordinary

Two from myself over at Priestly Goth ( a sermon and some thoughts on fasting).
Seeing the Lie Behind a Truth
Why Fast?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Story(ies) of Progress: "Old Fashioned" Vinyl and Trains

I'm wondering about the persistence of vinyl, and our understanding of progress and the growing sense that we are at a particular hinge moment, or the concept that we are at a point of emergence.

But before going there (and I won't here), I'm curious about vinyl records in relation to music, musicians, the music industry and other recording and storage technologies.  Or more to the point what is progress in relation to the emergence of new recording, storage, and distribution of recorded music

What is this story?  Having the technology to record, store and playback sounds, at the moment of the invention, didn’t lead obviously to the recording of music as the primary use of these inventions.  Sometimes a technology is invented and its eventual use isn't immediately apparent, though for us now this is perhaps hard to conceive. Recorded music and the industry around it are taken for granted. Now musicians and bands begin recording their music almost as soon as they are rehearsing and playing gigs.

Part of the story here is freedom and choice (Thank you Benjamin).  The paths of recording and distribution technologies have created ever more freedom and choice for the musician.  It has also done other things, but given the choices available to musicians what about vinyl records?  How do we account for this persistence or resurgence, especially if new and technological progress is seen as an unquestionable improvement over technologies of the past?

I can't (and wont attempt here) in this post account for all the reasons for the persistence of vinyl records (I'm not aware of anyone releasing music on 8 track or even cassette tapes these days, so it isn't that technologies don't die and pass out of use.)  I don't think it's just nostalgia, plenty of people I know are nostalgic for cassette tapes, yet that doesn't result in bands releasing albums on cassette tape (or at least I'm not aware of such a phenomenon) and it seems a universal opinion that 8 track was from the get go a bad piece of technology.  To put it another way the goal of choice and flexibility may not be the most important goal to everyone.  Other values and goals may be at work in evaluating a technology, and it’s place in a progression.

Some lovers of vinyl claim some form of superior quality to vinyl over other recording and storage technologies. The pops and hisses in playing a record could be seen as flaws.  Also, records are described at times as having a "warmth' of sound.  But I've heard the argument that beyond all that that vinyl records reproduce sound in a way that better captures certain aspects of instruments that other technologies don't. You may read this and think such claims are bunk(and they might be even provably so), but I'm not so concerned about whether we can all agree on the properties of vinyl as a recording and playback technology, but that the persistence of vinyl as a preferable form of recorded music, tells a different story about recorded music and technological progress in relation to music. The goals aimed for if one prefers vinyl are different from the goals and ends of a preference or use of other technologies.  The persistence vinyl records suggest to me that we don't all see progress in the same way.  Or to say it in post-modern nomenclature, there is more than one possible metanarrative of technological progress in recording technologies, and the persistence of vinyl deconstructs attempts at a singular narrative of  recording and the music industry. 

While we tend to view progress as singular and self-evident, (and I wonder if we also are viewing emergence in this way as well), what we actually have are multiple stories of what progress means, depending upon our location, desires, and goals.  Part of that story is an explicit or implicit story of what is good.  Progress implies a goal.  If my goal isn't the same as yours then my sense of progress whether in a particular technology or of humanity as a whole, is going to differ.  I may even see your sense of progress as devolution from an apex.  Only in agreeing upon what is good and the goal or end based upon that good can we agree on what progress is or means.  Without that agreement we simply will be telling different stories about a certain technology, or historical process.

Another technological example of this is the train and its demise in the United States as form of transportation while the train has not only persisted but also made advancements in other parts of the world not put into use in the United States.  We still make use of trains but mostly trains are nostalgic for us, and we use them in limited ways as an old form of technology.  In the United States the train isn't part of our story of technological progress, while in other parts of the world it is and advancements in that form of transportation continue to be made.  Though, this is slightly different then the phenomenon of vinyl records persisting.

Progress then isn't a thing that simply caries us along into the future.  Rather progress is an amalgamation of change, innovation and the interpretive framework we create to understand change and the goals toward which we put innovation.  It seems to me that we tend to speak of  progress as innovative change that has a singular and self-evident track into the future, so that anyone not on that track is retrograde, nostalgic, or old fashioned, i.e. "stuck in the past."   What I'm suggesting is that "stuck in the past" may not mean stagnation but evidence of differing goals and understanding of what is good, and thus a differing path of progression.  Progress isn't singular, because our goals and stories and concepts of what is good aren’t singular.  In that sense the mythology of Progress as singular and inevitable is an attempt to legitimize a particular goal and sense of the good and hiding alternate paths and goods, by giving the sense of inevitability of a particular path towards a particular goal.  But we should not be surprised that we will have differing understandings of what is good and the goals toward which we should progress.