Bob and the Pharisees

This story is a reimaging of the biblical narrative in John 9 inspired by my own disabilities and the voices of my sisters and brothers, especially those in the LGBTQIA community, since the exclusionary decisions of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in February 2019.

Today, I want to tell you about a man I know named, Bob.

Bob was born blind. Yet, for years, Bob struggled for others to see him. Wherever Bob went, some people insisted on restricting poor Bob.

His sight wasn’t a problem for him. Bob could do everything he needed or at least Bob could do as much as those who placed themselves in charge of deciding who’s allowed to participate in community thought he should do.

You see, Bob’s problem wasn’t Bob’s problem at all. Bob being a problem to those in charge was Bob’s problem.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? Sometimes, people with truly limited vision, and even more limited hearts, want to exclude others. I’m sure you know the type. Religious leaders, politicians, and their cronies come to mind here.

I’d urge them to be careful though. Exclusion is tricky business. One day, you use it to exclude someone else. The next day someone else uses it to exclude you.

These religious exclusionists don’t want to hear from me or Bob of course, thinking they have it all figured out, but I wish they’d trust me. I’ve seen a thing or two. However, for now, let’s get back to my friend, Bob.

Bob was lucky. Bob met Jesus one day in his travels.

I know, I know, those exclusionist religious types claim to know Jesus too. Maybe it’s a different Jesus, I don’t know? Besides. I’m not here to debate that today. I’m here to tell you about Bob.

Yes, Bob knew Jesus. He walked right up to him. The story seems almost unbelievable but it’s true.

Bob encountered Jesus when his disciples, which is fancy talk for following students, wanted to know why Bob was blind and, even worse, they wanted to know who was at fault for Bob’s blindness.

Poor Bob couldn’t catch a break it seemed but Jesus was about to change that.

After Jesus explained Bob’s blindness was nobody’s fault and that God could use Bob exactly as he is, Jesus went the extra mile to help others include Bob as well. He’s known to do this. Only, this part seems a little strange to me too. Strange or not, though, it worked.

Jesus took some dirt and made it into mud by spitting in it. (I know, right? Wait, it gets better!)  Next, he took the mud and rubbed it on Bob’s eyes. (Imagine this scene. Was he kidding?)

Except, he wasn’t kidding. Jesus then sent Bob to a pool called Sent for him to wash off this muddy eye paste. Perhaps Jesus did this to demonstrate that both he, Bob, and each of us are sent by God to bring our fullest possible stories for our collective benefit. Whatever the case, Bob could see!

Again, unbelievable! Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that his neighbors couldn’t believe it either then. Whispers began, “Is that Bob?”

Well, word got around as it does. Now, the religious follower types who would side with those in charge wanted to know what was going on. Surely, they couldn’t let just anyone join their grand temples. They had to protect the institution. Anyone with authority would understand. So, they hauled Bob off to the super religious leaders, the tops of the tops, for further interrogation.

Bob recounted his story. Except Jesus, and thusly Bob, were religious rule breakers. Jesus healed Bob on a day when no healing was to take place. Bob still could not fully participate in religious life as such. It would never happen this way!

Things got worse for poor Bob after that. Can you imagine? Jesus says, “You have gifts. I’m going to make sure you can use them to their maximum.” Alas, religious leaders, always getting in the way.

They didn’t even believe poor Bob was poor Bob. “Surely, he must be some kind of imposter Bob just as he is impostering his gifts,” they thought. What’s next if we allow this? Others blind imposters may want to use their gifts too! This ends now!

Pharisees

An idea sprang up. As smart as they are, religious types are never lacking for ideas. They sent for his parents. They would know their son was unqualified just as they would know this man was an imposter, wannabe faker. They asked the blind man’s parents, “Is this your son?”

“Yes,” their answer came. Shocking, I know, both the question and the answer!

“How is it that now he can see?” the leaders asked. “Who know?” came the answer from Bob’s parents. “We only know he is our son, ask him if you want more information.

Bob trudged forward as these gatekeepers tell him, no longer asking questions, “Give glory to God by telling us the truth! We know he’s a sinner.” (As is Bob and sinners have no place here is the understood implication.)

Now, Bob, getting a little steamed says, “Look, I don’t have an answer to all of your questions. All I know is he recognized my full personhood and my gifts which is something you didn’t do then or now. Do you want to be a follower of Jesus too? You must want to follow Jesus since you’re asking all these questions. Well, if you do, that’s cool, things are better when we are all included.”

The ultra-religious still didn’t get this inclusive notion of course. Bob’s thinking is far too outrageous. To preserve the institution and rules they created, Bob was thrown out rather than included.  Better to be safe than sorry.

But, what a guy, my friend Bob, even at his most frustrated, he wants to include others.

Just imagine a world where we let everybody live freely without exclusion or restriction? Bob knew the power of this all along. The problem never was Bob at all. He never missed a chance to recognize the value of others in front of him.

Fortunately for the rest of us we still have the opportunity to join forces with this bigger, inclusive love that accepts even those overlooked without restriction. It does what love does.

No matter what, when it comes to justice oriented inclusion, love accepts, no exceptions.

Do You Even Care?

Hey Insider Churchy Type, Guess what?

The people outside your walls, the ones you show through your actions and inactions you don’t care about them, they don’t care about you either.

I know because I’m a churchy type too though I might think a little differently from some of you seemingly in control in this moment.

I’m a bit of an outside insider and every time you show your true colors by making sure someone else is left outside your version of love, I hear non-churchy types asking, “Why?” or “What?” or just rolling their eyes as they tell me, “This is why I gave up on church long ago.”

They wonder why I don’t leave your church along with them but, sincerely, I stay because I want to help. Despite everything I see, I still want to believe you’ve got a loving heart in there. It’s just buried under all the garbage that isn’t.

I know what you’re thinking, “The world has always rejected us.” Your smug elitist attitude shouts it out loudly, but have you ever considered you left the world, and the people in it, long before they left you?

You were so focused on heaven, you forgot that part Jesus tells you about loving your neighbor who is right in front of you.

Yes, your neighbor. Your neighbor not necessarily like you. Your brown neighbor, your LGBTQIA neighbor, your crippled neighbor like me, the outsiders, you left us behind. Were your raptured away? Did I miss something?

No, unfortunately for both of us, that’s not the case. You left us behind but we can still hear you. You know that, right?

We hear your cries of, “We love you but please stop sinning because it upsets our fragile sensitivities” Can you hear us telling you to “look in the mirror or at least look for the log in your own eye? What part of love your neighbor don’t you get?” (Paraphrase, that Jesus guy.)

By the way, love always seeks justice for those left out its circle. Jesus often cautioned the alpha religious in his day of this too.

Love Wins Wheelchair with Stole

I’m sorry if you need more time to comprehend. It’s only been 2,000 years, I know, but are you even trying? Seriously, read the words of that book you’ve fashioned into your own image, especially the red letters. They’re pretty important.

“Love us enough to accept us just as we are and not as you think we should be because none of us is as we should be.” (That’s a paraphrase from another ragamuffin type like me who considered the plight of the marginalized and its intersection with inclusive love during his earthy walk, Brennan Manning.)

I know, I know, “Love us too,” you say. …I think what you mean is, “Let us perpetuate our systemic exclusion.”

Sorry, I can’t do that. Again, love always seeks inclusion through justice. If you recall, Jesus turned your exclusionary world upside down. Besides, our demands are pretty simple. We set the bar low. Baby steps and all. I assure you, you’d still have most of the power and control.

Just love us enough to include sort of equally. Love us enough to speak out against the evils of racism, homophobia, gender bias, ableism, etc. We aren’t asking for much although I know this makes you a little uncomfortable. I can see you squirming in your seat. Again, baby steps.

Since I’m asking, however, from my perspective as a cripple, would it kill you to try and work a bit toward access too? I don’t mean to be pushy but the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law almost 30 years ago.

I know, you fought really hard to be excluded from that one also. Nobody will tell you who belongs inside! You won’t catch my crippleness, I promise.

It’s just that I think you missed something. The neighbor in the story Jesus told didn’t leave the other on the side of the road after he was beaten and left for dead.

Still, I get it. I know how you do things. All of us outsiders do.

We’ve watched for a while now so as we continue to turn away, don’t bother to wonder, “Why?”

Of course, it’s not too late. You could still repent and consider what the Kingdom of God is like. I think Jesus said something about that too…

I just have to ask, “Do you even care?”

 

Little Tradition vs. Big Love

Tradition can be a great thing.

Tradition allows us to look back at our past and see things from a historical perspective. Indeed, when tradition is grounded in love it can be quite beautiful. We look back so we can go forward, not on our own, but holding hands with all those who came before us.

Sometimes, however, tradition is not so beautiful. Sometimes, focusing on tradition for the sake of itself, restricts our view and prevents us from moving forward.

For this reason, we don’t rely on tradition alone.

As a church nerd of a particularly Wesleyan flavor, I’ve come to hold something I call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

That’s a big, complicated sounding phrase isn’t it?

(Quadrilateral is also a fun word to say, by the way. When my daughter was little she used to try to say it five times fast!)

Though, as fun and complicated as it sounds, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn’t very complicated at all. It only contains four things.

Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

That means I look at these four things when trying to understand something. Basically, I don’t consider my viewpoint from any one of these things on their own but I consider all of these ideas when discerning something.

Simply, when I take my view of something I ask, “How does scripture, tradition, reason, and experience inform this topic?”

Scripture comes first but scripture can be tricky. There are contradictions and translations to consider… So many things.

Then I look at tradition. Tradition can be tricky too though. These are just imperfect people like me making imperfect judgments after all. Even as we love them (people and judgments!) surely we can agree that nobody is perfect.

So, then reason is considered. What is reasonable? And, experience. What does my experience, and the experience of others, tell me about something?

Ok, maybe it’s a little more complicated than I thought.

Except, it really isn’t.

Because, there is one person more perfect than me.

I know, I’m a Christian so my opinion is biased. Please don’t hold that or the actions of some other people claiming Christian against me.

Hang in there with me for just a few more sentences.

My big point here is that Jesus focused on one thing when making his decisions and he told me to do the same.

Strip everything away and focus on Love.

As we can tell this isn’t simply, “Love the sinner but hate the sin” kind of love either (because that’s bullshit people trying to feel superior say.) Quite the opposite. He says love even those you don’t want to love. (Matthew 5:46 with apologies to tax collectors.)

Jesus does talk about radical inclusive, expansive, bottom up, subversive, love beginning with the most marginalized.

He actually talks a lot about this kind of love. We need only look a little further up in the Beatitudes portion at the beginning of Matthew 5 for this understanding.

One has to draw the conclusion that big, messy, radically inclusive love for the least of these is the kind of love Jesus discusses.

Love, Love, Love, Love, Love, Love, Love!

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to understand love is the most important thing to Jesus.

Rich Man: Jesus, who can I exclude? (Luke 10:29)

Jesus: What part of love don’t you get? (Paraphrase of everything Jesus)

Which brings me off the long road all the way back to tradition (and scripture if you must.)

Tradition is a beautiful thing when it is viewed through the lens of inclusive love. So, ask, “How did those with whom I hold hands in history practice inclusive love?”

Otherwise, you’ve sterilized the power of tradition (and scripture) for your own purposes. Let me tell you a secret.

You can’t distort love into something to make yourself feel better by making other people feel worse. Besides, it doesn’t work.

You don’t need to do this. Put that baggage down before your arms fall off.

Let love free you.

Your love is too small just as your god is too small.

Big God’s love or “LOVE” if you’re a reader troubled by god-language, because don’t let language restrict you either, Love is boundless.

Calm Love

Love won’t be limited by traditional constraints, even death.

Messy love is scandalous and relentless. That’s why autocrats try to limit the belief in big, chaotic, challenging love. Love lived fully is dangerous to establishment rules.

Jesus knew it. He died because of it. Only Big Love can’t be killed.

Autocrats are smart though. They’ve learned how to autocrat better.

Rather than try to quiet the hope of love through suffocation, knowing it can’t be done, they’ve simply convinced many to sanitize love in the name of tradition.

For churchy types like me, consider the “traditional plan” passed in the United Methodist Church designed to exclude people based on small thinking. Rather than eliminate love language, they’ve caged it and restrained it.

Only, Love won’t be caged! Not really. Let’s do the Big Love Plan!

Still, big Love does take work.

Love calls me to lay down the securities and safety in my life to take up its true power. Yet, even as I lay my life down, I pick up something better. Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when he said:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

You know, I used to think that only meant heavenly love, and I still believe it is that, only now I think it’s bigger too. Just as Love is bigger than we can easily imagine. But, what if we try?

We can have Big Love together in the here and now even as we take on traditional authorities. We don’t have to wait!

They cannot limit Big Love. Only we can do that.

You can live little love, the kind that limits and excludes others, or you can live big, scary, challenging, inclusive love.

It’s your choice. Love loves you no matter what.

Love brings you into its circle and says “You belong here” because that’s what love does.

If your traditional love is too small to do this, change your tradition. Frankly, it’s time. 

And, fall into the arms Big, Inclusive, Changing, and Redeeming Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Love’s Time

Today, I find myself thinking about time and love.

I think about the sadness of our times to which there seems no shortage. Walls, discrimination, killings, compassion buried in the name of tradition, and just plain hate. These things are so prevalent in our world today and yet I hold to the truth that love is bigger.

Love always wins given enough time. That’s the thing about time and love, neither can be stopped.

As Mahatma Gandhi said,

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.”

Love always wins. Think of it—always.

This does not mean we just sit idly by waiting for love to happen, however.

Love is not passive. Love is participatory.

This is great news! We get to join forces with love.

Will we mess it up? – Sure. Will there be days when it seems like love will never win? – Absolutely. Gandhi knew this and so do we.

But, as I ponder this messy in between of time and love, I find myself thinking about someone else too. – Moses.

Psalm 90 - 12

Moses knew about time.

He knew the beginning of his life as a prince, he knew the end of his life wandering in the wilderness toward the Promised Land, and then he had forty years in the middle spent as a shepherd. Essentially, the life of Moses can be divided into forty year increments. 40-40-40.

That’s a lot of time!

Moses knew time much like our time today. The in between time. The time where the hope in love is not quite realized.

I bet the time in the middle of his life seemed especially draining. I’m sure forty years listening to people complain in the dessert is no picnic either but I imagine shepherding is slow time.

Take the sheep out. Watch the sheep graze. Fend off an occasional predator. Watch the sheep graze. Walk the sheep back to the pen. Lay down to protect the gate. Fend off an occasional predator. Try to get some sleep. Repeat.

I don’t know if this is the perfect picture of shepherding, not having firsthand experience, but still I bet those were LONG days and years.

Moses really knew the frustrations of in between time.

And, yet, these words to one of my favorite psalms are attributed to him. “Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

Seriously, go back and read the psalm in its entirety. It’s quite moving in the power of its hope tinged with lament.

For Moses the true hope of love came out of those difficult in between times. This same hope is offered to us.

Likewise, this great hope rests in the opportunity to participate with love’s plan (Psalm 90:17) even while knowing it might not be fulfilled in our time.

Don’t forget, Moses didn’t get to go into the Promised Land and yet he persevered living his hope of love in the time he was given.

That’s just it. I believe the true power of love is that it might be fulfilled in us even as we work to improve the not yet world around us.

The only question is, “Am I willing to join forces with participatory, healing, restoring, redeeming love?”

Because I have the opportunity to bring love to whatever and whomever is before me today and so do you. What a glorious prospect!

This may not stop all the unloving in the world around me but what if, as I work to change it, I’m the one who’s changed?

That would be pretty cool. I’ll become in the becoming. You can too.

I know it’s not easy. I know what it’s like to be knocked to the floor. I’ve often commented on this very thing. It’s awfully difficult to see God when you can’t get up.

For those who are victims of the hate in the world around us, including our LQBTQIA sisters and brothers in The United Methodist Church and many people around the world, victims of various acts of hate, these are falling to the floor times. I urge you, take hope.

Love is still there. Love mourns, sustains, and sees us through even while constantly working toward repair, renewal, and restoration, amidst the brokenness of our humanity. Love is that big.

Maybe that’s the gift of time. This is the prayerful plea of Moses.

If I knew the number of my days, I’d focus on what really matters today and the actions I need to take to be the most loving.

When we seek love’s wisdom, we can become in our becoming.

Knowing today is the best day to move forward, why wait?

Ask yourself, “What would I do if today is all I have?” Would that change how you’d spend your time?

Remember though, even as your time here will run out, Love will not.

Love is never in short supply.

Love will keep moving as love does either through me or in spite of me although I hope it’s through me, don’t you?

This is our time! 

Let’s Live Love’s Way Today.

 

Matters of Life and Death: Productivity Thinking, Bad Theology, and Exclusion

Important Content Warning: Talk of life, death, exclusion, Nazi propaganda (along with picture) and other acts of hate.

I have a confession to make. I’m feeling a bit lost.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately that my blog and other recent writing is too all over the place. I mean just consider these few examples below:

Yesterday, I had an article published in my local newspaper, The Buffalo News, about the importance of safe staffing levels in healthcare. You can read it here. [1]

I’ve written a lot about the results and fallout of the increased discriminatory proclamations from the United Methodist Church’s General Conference Special Session including in my last blog post where I ask the question, “Who do you believe is indispensable?” You can read that here.

In the past, I’ve also written a lot about the dangers of placing value on a person based solely on perceived productivity, (Because what is productivity really?) the exclusion of disabled people from society, and the importance of healthcare in living our fullest possible lives.

And, you can agree with me on these topics or not. That’s ok. I know straws, for one, is a touchy subject. I hope you’ll see my bigger point of listening, justice, and inclusion.

However, back to my identity crisis. I even asked the question, “Who am I?”

But, earlier today, as I sat in reflection brought on by a conversation with one of my pastors and friend, Tim Vermande, it hit me. These things are not in conflict at all.

Each one of these things is about justice, inclusion, full participation, and life informed by love. These things matter and not just on their own. Together they tell the importance of our shared human story because we are doomed if we forget them.

We need to honor each person’s identity to protect against erasure or risk forgetting their value. If we forget each person’s inherent value instead placing one over another we divide. If we divide, we exclude. If we exclude we lose life. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope. Look at the propaganda piece from Nazi Germany below. I realize it’s shocking. It’s also important. This is life or death.

Healthcare Poster 1930s

This poster is from the 1930’s, and promotes the Nazi monthly Neues Volk (New People}, published by the party’s racial office. The text reads: [2]

“This genetically ill person will cost our people’s community 60,000 marks over his lifetime. Citizens, that is your money. Read Neues Volk, the monthly of the racial policy office of the NSDAP.”

This is the problem with valuing one person over another. It’s not an opinion. This is a fact. This happened as did slavery, lynching, bombings, and many other terrible, horrible things. From my disabled perspective look up Willowbrook State School or simply look above at this picture.

It’s not just a distant memory of yesterday either. It’s happening today. Racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and more are happening in our society and in our churches right now.

You can use all kinds of excuses; money, the bible. (Those two things are used to justify a lot of things including the topics I write about most often.) None of these excuses make these things less true or less harmful. I can’t be part of it with either my silence or my complacency. Love doesn’t do that. Love calls me to inclusion through justice.

So, I guess my identity is consistent after all. I’m being consistent with justice, inclusion, full societal participation, and love. These are the offerings of the true life we all deserve. These are the things we must protect especially for the most marginalized.

So, I continue to fight as love for the least of these among us continues to shape, form, and inform me along the way.

I hope you’ll join me.

In Peace, Love, and Power,

Chris

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Buffalo News, Letter to the Editor, 3/13/2019

[2] Calvin College, German Propaganda Archive, https://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/?fbclid=IwAR0vDGQQAT47BDd10rgtw5MDHncdKI_Erbl_GYw-sJCB8pUzVgQuBWAjtLs

 

Who Do You Believe is Indispensable? On Exclusion, Love, Life, and Death in The United Methodist Church

1 Corinthians 12 talks about community as a body. In 1 Corinthians 12:22 in particular we are told, “Those who seem less important are actually indispensable.” This is an important statement because it leaves us with a question to ask ourselves.

“Who do we tell by action, attitude, or outright exclusion they are least important?”

I know, as a disabled, wheelchair using person, I feel this sting when I am excluded from full faith life simply because of inaccessibility.  Whether you like it or not, this is my reality. I am, and continue to be, excluded from full participation in the community life of the Church. After all, I cannot go to any church for worship. I wouldn’t get in. As disability advocate, Stella Young said so well, “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.” 

Now, put yourself in my chair for a moment. Consider if every time you want to attend a function or event you have to call to see if you can get in and, even if you can get in, is the space inclusive enough for you to fully participate without being limited, restricted or left to figure out what you will be allowed to do.

In short this provides insight into whether or not the organizers, leaders, and people of this community consider my participation at all and answers the question, “Am I welcome?” Some might offer smile faced excuses and apologies but again, “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.” 

This sting of exclusion informs how I view the exclusion of others, including my family in the LGBTQIA community left out from full faith community participation as a result of the decisions made by The United Methodist Church Special Session of General Conference 2019 and its prevailing attitudes, and my response to their exclusion. Again, “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.”

Love Wins Wheelchair with Stole

As one who knows the pain of exclusion I must speak out with my words and actions, shouting if need be, “Either everybody is included or nobody is included.” Otherwise, I am saying, “As long as space is made for me, those who are more vulnerable are, in fact, dispensable.”

In the end, it is all about love. Sure, exclusion exists beyond the Church walls too but isn’t the Church called to be different from the world? Aren’t we called to be the most loving? (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31) 

Furthermore, we are told, “We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21) 

Love does not exclude even with a smile on its face. “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. 

I hope you ponder these points on inclusive love with me because while some debate how and who should be included, someone is dying without knowing they are completely loved. How will your actions today change this reality?

Who do you believe is indispensable? 

Restoration by Repentance: A Reflection for Lent

Lord, what should I do,
In this broken down body,
In this broken down church,
That can’t find the space?

Lord, what should I do,
In this broken down church,
In this broken down body,
That can’t run the race?

Lord, show me the beauty,
Of this time called Lent,
In placing ashes on my head,
In Restoration by Repentance.

Cross - Ashes

Lord, help me move away from temptation,
Help me put down power, and control, and bitterness,
To be part of your bigger story,
Avail me to your greater glory,
Lord, set me free.

And, even in the waiting, Lord,
In this yearning to be free,
Create something new in me,
In Restoration by Repentance.

Let me live in you,
And, receive new life,
That, even as I lay my life down,
Not just heaven bound,
Nor only here on earth,
That this may be true.

Though, Lord,
If I hear on earth,
This your message of life,
Bring me to rebirth,
Not just far off,
But, in the here and now,
Lord, don’t make me wait.

However, if I must wait,
Bring me to Restoration by Repentance,
In the time between,
Help me become even in my becoming,
As only you can,
Secure in the way from death,
That leads to life.

Even in life through death,
Even in the most unusual,
And, in the more than a little strange,
Make big love like that,
Love that brings renewal,
Even by decay.

So, maybe there’s space for this broken down body,
Even this broken down church,
As I journey this day.
With Restoration by Repentance.