Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When Following Jesus Becomes Difficult

This post is meant to be a thoughtful reflection on a trend that has recently had a resurgence in a different form.

"You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children in of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV).

When I first left for Shimer College, I was pretty disillusioned towards the Church. I am speaking of course of the universal body of Christians united in calling and purpose; my frustration was aimed at anyone and everyone who represented this. I had gone through a very tumultuous separation from a close-knit community of Christian theatre people. About a year later, my views had changed radically and a group of Christian friends disassociated themselves with me because they couldn't stand me anymore. They couldn't put up with my views which were so radically different from the ones I used to hold. In this second example, I did play a big part in the final decision to disassociate, which was that I antagonized them whenever they said something I didn't agree with. I make this distinction because in my first experience, I was the victim of an abusive relationship within a community whereas in the second experience I was equal parts victim and victimizer.

Fast-forward to the past few weeks, I've been feeling really uncomfortable in my chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As a follower of Jesus who is neither morally nor politically conservative, I stand outside the traditional conservative variety of Christianity. Most, if not all, the people in this chapter are pretty traditional Christians of the Catholic and conservative branches of Protestant denominations. Most Thursday nights I didn't want to attend our regularly scheduled Large Group events. Going felt like such a chore and with my already busy Thursdays (literally, I get up in the morning and go from work to the gym to class to lunch class to event and then to bed) and so the last thing I really want to do is spend an hour and half at something that I'm not comfortable doing. Guest speakers and peer talks cater to the conservative values and interpretations of Scripture without any regard for who else might be listening. It occurs to me just now that this is what it's like to be in the minority, though it's not the same as being in the cultural or ethnic minority in America (and I want that point to be very clear). I'm a white male so I almost never have the experience of being in the minority and even when I am in the minority (in a neighborhood that's predominantly non-white for example) I still don't lose the privileges afforded to me by being white.

While all this is happening, I'm also coming under fire for my opinions on political issues by acquaintances from my home state of Minnesota. Most of this is happening on Facebook, so what ends up happening is that it isn't just a criticism from the acquaintance, but criticism from the acquaintance and their four or five friends. In one instance, the father of my friend made it his personal mission to tear me apart. He would say that I was "just a liberal" (or socialist, or communist, or whatever label fit his mood), that I was brain-washed by my liberal college, and at one point my own salvation was brought into question. My friends, it was painful enough to have my college and my political beliefs chalked up to liberal propaganda, but when he called my salvation (a matter which is between G-d and me) into question, that's when I lost it. I sent the father a message and explained exactly what was wrong with what he did and why, but he persisted. Eventually I just blocked him and the problem seemed to go away. Then another friend, someone who was closer to me than the previously mentioned friend, began to assault my opinions with that pesky label of "liberal" and so forth. It was basically the same problem repeating itself. This time I sent multiple messages trying to extend an olive branch. It wasn't until we got into one last debate that ended with him apologizing, but it was too late; I was too hurt.

"Welcome those who are weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions" - Romans 14:1 (NRSV).

"[...] For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?" - 1 Corinthians 3:3 (NRSV).

In my own selfishness and pride, my desire to have my views and opinions vindicated, I often times engage in debates. The funny thing is, I've been preaching for a month or so about how ideology works and the problems it creates, but in so defending my beliefs against others I have inadvertently allowed my own ideology to take precedence over the Gospel. These debates that I get into are part of the problem of why people attack me. It's two ideologies, like an unstoppable force that meets an immovable object, warring with each other and neither side is going to budge. This is the danger of ideology. I had to be right, they had to be wrong and in the end nothing was accomplished. Nobody saw things my way and I have zero respect for them.

But Jesus was all about loving the people who hated him most. In his final moments he asked G-d to forgive his executioners for their ignorance (and not like some of us do when we say something like, "G-d help you, you ignorant piece of [expletive]"). Jesus calls his followers to do the same.

The more I learn about history, white history, and the history of Christianity it seems clear to me that I am only going to be more dissatisfied with the direction the Church has gone, but following Jesus means loving the people who misrepresent my faith. They may not deserve it, but the call doesn't discriminate based on the deserving and undeserving since all were undeserving of the grace and love of Christ yet it's offered freely to everyone who wants it. In the end it all boils down to love, not the fruity-flaky variety that ends when the odds of ever seeing its triumph are slim, but a trans-formative love that transcends "common sense".

This is my calling, and by G-d, I will do it.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Dr. Jekyll

Today is one of those days where I find myself more emotionally volatile than most, thus I have split this entry into two parts one of which is here and the other of which is on tumblr. For those who are not aware, I post my unchecked venting/ranting posts on tumblr so as to provide myself a place to say things I would not normally write for all to see.

When I was younger I didn't know racism was still an issue. On days like today, I was led to believe we were celebrating Dr. King's victory over racism. I also thought that one of the main reasons he went on to oppose the war was because he had stomped out racism. Then I'd have these thoughts, more like moments of extreme discomfort, being around someone who was different than me. Maybe it was a Latino who was talking to his friend in Spanish, maybe it was a black guy using African American English Vernacular (AAEV), or maybe it was just another white person who didn't speak English as a first language. What I didn't know is that the society I was raised in was racist. The TV shows I watched portrayed various degrees of racism, even Star Trek wasn't immune; my music had racist undertones, the church I grew up going to had racist narratives woven into its dogma, the school I went to was full of racist stereotypes (I dressed up as one of Tisquantum's companions for a Thanksgiving day performance in third grade- complete with shirtlessness, red marker all over my face, and a paper feather headdress).

It's not as if my parents' church, my school, or the friends I grew up with were intentionally being racist. I grew up in white culture, a privileged white culture. Imagine with me, if you will, that white culture is like an underwater city. In this city things are not perfect, but the systems of law, equality, and morality worked as well as anyone might hope. When you dial 9-1-1, the police/firefighters/EMT's arrive as soon as possible. When someone commits a crime against you, they are punished to the extent the law permits. When you apply for a job, you're hired or not hired based on your qualifications for the job as well as your performance during the application/interview process. Your doctor is a well-trained medical professional who makes a large salary and lives comfortably as compensation for the demands of his/her job and the expertise it requires to maintain their proficiency. Your local grocer has various kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables available almost all year around at prices you can afford. Your rent/property tax doesn't spike when new neighbors from another area of the city move in. This is privilege.

You might resent me using that word, "privilege" since it's getting thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems like there are new types of privilege being invented everyday. Privilege in the context we're using it is not a bad thing, unless it's not available to everyone. Male privilege, I can walk the streets without guys hooting and hollering with suggestive comments about my ass/legs/chest. White privilege, I can talk to police officers without fear of being profiled as a trouble-maker based on the color of my skin. Thin privilege, I can find clothes that fit me in every department store. These are all privileges afforded to me, not because I'm not a white male of an average body size, but because we believe in principle that everyone should be able to walk the streets without being sexually harassed, talk to police officers without being profiled based on skin color, shop at a department store and find clothes that fit. Despite these principles, the world in practice doesn't work like this except in the privileged white culture. Did you notice the negative tone the word "privilege" took the way I just used it? Privilege just doesn't seem so awesome when it's not available to everyone.

What boggles my mind is how angry I get when I'm on the receiving end of prejudice. It's so rare that I was almost in denial that it was actually prejudicial when it started happening over the summer, I just wanted to write it off as a bad joke. Then I ran into a person who told me just what he was thinking by asking, "What the fuck are you doing here? Huh? Go home!" It didn't matter that my apartment was just a couple blocks down the street, I was living in a demographically and culturally black neighborhood at the time and white people who moved there had been known to be there because they wanted something from the community. I took it with a bit lip and hurried steps. I knew before I had even moved my stuff into that apartment that I was not entirely welcomed in the neighborhood. I was definitely out of my element and others saw that. Reflecting on how I felt about being on the receiving end of prejudice, I think about Dr. King's commitment to nonviolence and suddenly I'm struck with awe. Here's a man who lived with bold-faced racism, segregation, and intimidation coming against him from multiple sides yet he still wanted to solve problems nonviolently.

It is my prayer that I can help those who have carried on Dr. King's legacy of nonviolent response to discrimination.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,