Below the Belt and Above the Fold

The Oklahoman

Oklahoma’s largest daily newspaper, The Oklahoman, decided to put the name and picture of the Democratic candidate for Governor of Oklahoma, Drew Edmondson, right next to the name and picture of Hillary Clinton on the front page above the fold of the Sunday edition right before Election Day. I get that The Oklahoman is one of the most conservative papers in the country. I get that the likelihood of The Oklahoman ever endorsing a Democrat for Governor in my lifetime is about as high as Senator Inhofe becoming a champion in the fight to do something about global warming, but this above the fold front page editorial linkage of Edmondson with Clinton is simply a below the belt dirty trick by a newspaper that cares very little for journalistic integrity and cares very much about serving the corporate elite in Oklahoma.

Yes, The Oklahoman also put a picture of the Republican candidate for Governor, Kevin Stitt, right next to the name and picture of Mary Fallin, but they didn’t put Stitt’s name and an extra picture of him right next to hers, and they know how even moderate Republicans in Oklahoma react to Hillary Clinton. Knowing the editorial history of The Oklahoman, it is reasonable to assume that this was a calculated move to peel away moderate Republicans from Edmondson and motivate the rabid Hillary haters at the last minute before the election. As unpopular as Governor Fallin may be, she has won numerous statewide elections in Oklahoma, whereas Clinton did not win one county in Oklahoma in 2016. There is perhaps no other politician more reviled than Hillary Clinton in this state. The Oklahoman knew exactly what they were doing by associating the candidate they oppose on the front page of the paper with Hillary Clinton – as if she has anything to do with the governor’s race in Oklahoma.

And why is it that The Oklahoman and the other major daily newspaper in the state, the Tulsa World, both endorsed Kevin Stitt over Drew Edmondson for governor. The reason has everything to do with the fact that Drew Edmondson made it clear that he cares more about funding education and protecting the environment than he does about protecting oil and gas companies from the restoration of the 7% gross production tax and protecting industrial agriculture from regulations that keep our land, water, and air clean. These two oil and gas funded newspapers would rather have a non-voting political neophyte who talks like Trump and runs his businesses like Trump than someone who won’t be completely controlled by the oil and gas industry like their newspapers are. This is the pathetic reality of Oklahoma politics and most of Oklahoma journalism.

One would think that after years of poorly funded K-12 and higher education, closing rural hospitals, a crumbling infrastructure, the highest incarceration rate on the planet, and years of revenue short falls, that Oklahomans would see through the myth that the oil and gas industry and the state and big city chambers of commerce are looking out for the interests of all Oklahomans, when in reality they fight for tax cuts and gutting environmental regulations that benefit the wealthiest among us but bring very little benefit to the most vulnerable citizens in our communities.

The pathetic reality of an oil and gas controlled Oklahoma politics will not change and the collusion among big business and big media to continue the hegemony of the fossil fuel industry will not end until the people of Oklahoma finally wake up to the reality that we are not “doing fine” and all is not “ok” and vote for a new Oklahoma that serves all people and that cares for well-being of our earth both now and for generations of life to come. Electing Drew Edmondson as Governor of Oklahoma would be a significant step in that direction. He is the only candidate running for governor who has a record of standing up against corporations for the well-being of people and the environment, and this is precisely why the state’s largest newspaper with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry so openly opposes his candidacy.

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Angry Jesus

Donald Trump
Brynn Anderson AP

Typically when we think of Jesus, an angry Jesus is not what first comes to mind for the majority of Christians. Loving Jesus, meek and mild Jesus, forgiving Jesus, healing Jesus, servant Jesus,  obeying the governing authorities Jesus, saving Jesus, he’s got the whole world in his hands Jesus, and coming back soon Jesus – these are the images of Jesus that tend to get more play in our culture these days, especially among self-described “evangelical” Christians.

We tend to stick with the “safe Jesus” and the “not going to rock the boat Jesus.” This Jesus isn’t going to piss off too many people. This Jesus won’t run off the wealthy donors in our churches. We can build big church buildings and create mega-churches with this Jesus. We can square this Jesus with just about any political or economic perspective we might have. This Jesus gives us a pass when it comes to climate change and the fact that we are responsible for starting the sixth great extinction event in the history of earth, because the world as we know it is going to end soon anyway, so why do anything that might radically change the status quo for nothing? This Jesus is in control, and we don’t really have to worry too much about our economic and political actions with a Jesus like this.

The problem is that this image of Jesus, although based on some truths (Jesus is loving, healing, serving, humble, and forgiving), hides the fullness of how Jesus was depicted by the Gospel writers. It ignores the justice seeking Jesus; the Jesus who spoke woe to hypocrites; the Jesus who was baptized by the one who preached repentance and warned people of the wrath to come; the Jesus who warned of the consequences of not caring for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the sick; the liberating the oppressed Jesus; the angry Jesus; the turning over tables Jesus; and the Jesus who was seen as such a threat to the governing authorities that he became the crucified Jesus.

From a variety of depictions of Jesus in the Gospels in the New Testament, we get a clear picture of the things and actions that the Gospel writers portray as making Jesus angry, and these things and actions are the very things a large segment of self-described “evangelical” Christians seem to be embracing in the United States. By embracing Trumpism with its rejection of the refugee, its wanton disregard for the well-being of the environment, its persistence in decimating access to affordable healing from healthcare, its disregard for oppressed people and people of color, its attempts to make the poor even more vulnerable than they already are, its glorification of violence, its relentless attack on the truth, and its separating of children from their parents who are seeking asylum; “evangelical” Christians are doing the very things that make for an angry Jesus, a very angry Jesus, a whip-wielding, turning-over-tables Jesus.

If Jesus were to visit what has become one of the most popular gatherings of American “evangelical” Christians, a Trump rally, to express his anger at their embracing of the idolatry of Trumpism, and if angry Jesus were to begin turning over tables at a Trump rally, Trump would want this Jesus “roughed up,” and he might say out loud that he longed for “the good old days” when angry Jesus might be “taken out on a stretcher.” Trump might want to punch this Jesus in the face or at least “look into paying the legal fees” of persons who might sucker punch angry Jesus. Trump might even tell the armed security at the rally to consider angry Jesus’ whip to be a rifle.

If angry Jesus were to make it out of an American “evangelical” Christian Trump rally alive, he might find himself met by a group of Proud Boys in the streets outside the rally, thrown to the ground and kicked and beaten mercilessly, and the next day neither Trump nor the American “evangelical” Christians at the rally who witnessed the treatment of angry Jesus would say one negative word about it, and Trump might even get on FOX News to proclaim, “Maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

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Only Love Can Do That

In an evening in which it has been difficult for me to find the words to express my sadness for the expressions of hate and the loss of life today, may Mark Miller’s voice and music, and the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. strengthen our souls to wake up tomorrow and express only love.

Only Love Can Do That

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Ministry and Politics

mlk-1965-selma-montgomery-march-p

In our official work within churches, we who are ministers must be non-partisan in our political rhetoric and engagement to protect the non-profit status of our churches and respect the agreement within our religious communities that our churches will be non-partisan (note: a church could decide it wants to be partisan, but it would need to forfeit its non-profit status to do so). However, being non-partisan does not mean we must be non-political in our official capacity as ministers. Within the Christian tradition for example, the work of Jesus in the world was profoundly political. That is most likely why he was executed by political authorities on political charges. Following Jesus is a political act.

Bringing good news to the poor and oppressed and liberation to those who are held captive by systems of domination requires us to engage in political work as ministers and even openly criticize and resist the actions of governmental authorities if these actions are opposed to what it means to love and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This can all be done in the prescribed non-partisan ways (not endorsing a candidate or a political party or calling on our congregations to work against a candidate or political party). The decision by ministers to attempt not to engage in any political action in our official role as ministers in our churches is actually itself a profoundly political action in a context in which our social, political, and economic systems are oppressing the vulnerable ones with whom Jesus calls us all to be in mission and harming the community of all creation.

Ministers, like all persons, do not only act in our official capacities of our employment; we are also members and active participants within the broader human community and have responsibilities to be politically engaged and are free to do so in partisan ways if we so choose. Once again, when we who are ministers choose not to engage in political action as citizens outside of our official capacity within our churches, this is a profoundly political choice as well.

In a context in which harm is being done to our neighbors who are refugees and immigrants, women are being mocked for speaking out about sexual assaults, persons who are LGBTQIA are experiencing discrimination, our incarceration rate is the highest on the planet and our criminal justice system shows clear bias against persons of color, inequality between the rich and the poor is increasing, millions of persons do not have adequate access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the flames of fear and hatred of persons who relate to religion differently are being openly fanned, and the very earth itself is being ravaged by human activity; trying to be non-political is not only a political choice, it is also an irresponsible and immoral choice as well.

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Becoming Great

Sketch for 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' c.1851 by Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893

Ford Madox Brown. Sketch for ‘Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet’. c.1851

My Dear American Christian Siblings,

This is what Mark’s Jesus said about becoming great: “But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” -Mark 10:43-45, Common English Bible

If we Christian Americans want to become great, I am pretty sure it will not happen through the way the majority of us are currently headed. Our greatness as followers of Jesus will not come from the way of “strong leader” authoritarianism, the way of turning our backs on the immigrant and the refugee, the way of separating parents from their children, the way of not hearing those who have been harmed physically and emotionally, the way of white male domination of our economics and politics, the way of increasing inequality between the rich and the poor, the way of increasing injustices against people of color, the way of decreasing access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the way of discriminating against those who orient themselves to religion differently than we do, the way of discriminating against our LGBTQIA siblings, or the way of increasing our exploitation and harm of the earth. This is not way to greatness; this is the way of hubris and hate, the way of injustice and oppression, the way that Jesus would often simply refer to as sin.

If we are to become great as followers of Jesus, our greatness will come from the way of love of all our neighbors and all our enemies, the way of humility as members of a common humanity and community of all creation, the way of working for justice with the poor and oppressed, the way of bringing affordable healing and care for all people, the way of welcoming the stranger and the refugee, the way of reuniting families instead of tearing them apart, the way of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, the way of providing homes for the homeless, the way of peacemaking and not hate-making and fear-making, the way of opening our hearts and our homes to people of different religions and no religion, the way of listening to and respecting women, the way in which the lives of people of color matter just as much as the lives of white people, the way of restorative justice rather than retributive justice, the way in which all persons are treated equally as persons of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the way of repairing and regenerating the earth as we care for all creation.

If we as followers of Jesus in the United States are to become great, we must turn over the tables of injustice in our land, we must become lovers of all humanity and all creation, we must become willing to take up our cross and actually follow the one whom we claim to follow and work sacrificially to create the Beloved Community of All Creation. if we do these things, then we have an opportunity to contribute to the goodness of our nation and the flourishing of all persons and the whole planet, and that my dear Christian American siblings would really be great.

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A Forest of Desire

Olympic forests

In 1976, when I was nine years old, my maternal grandparents moved to Port Angeles, Washington from Madison, Wisconsin to retire. They lived there for 23 years, and I visited 25 times. I love everything about the Olympic National Park there, from the misty rugged coastlines, to the towering moss-covered rain forests, to the glacier crowned mountain peaks (though the glaciers have receded greatly in the past 42 years since my first visit).

My Grandma and Grandpa Youmans had a small home on the edge of Port Angeles with wonderful picture windows looking out over a meadow surrounded by forests composed mainly of Douglas Fir, and they had a modest guest house that was filled with family and friends more often than it was not, especially during the summer months. They had an incredible garden and friends with incredible gardens, and my grandma could cook with the very best. My 25 visits to be with them in this natural paradise were some of the most beautiful times of my life.

The thing I enjoyed more than anything else when I visited was to spend time walking in the forest around their home. For a southwest Oklahoma boy where some of the post oak trees don’t grow much taller than a person, walking among those trees was like being in a majestic natural cathedral. I spent hours walking in those forests, looking up over and over again, and on one occasion my near constant gaze at the trees led to an unfortunate encounter with stinging nettles. Stinging nettles aside, those forest strolls and hikes were like spirit food for me, and I still have vivid and joyous memories of them to this day.

As amazing and awe-inspiring as my visits to the Pacific Northwest were, I also had some deeply disturbing experiences there. On my first visit to this Olympic Peninsula paradise at the age of nine, I saw where a forest had been clear-cut. It was a like a gut punch to my soul. I was certainly old enough to understand that we used trees for many things – wood for homes, furniture, and paper (there were two paper mills in Port Angeles at that time). I understood that people cut trees down for these purposes, but this understanding did not prepare me for violence of a clear cut.

In some of my early visits, I got to see first hand an area of mature forest right next to my grandparents’ property be clear-cut. Each day of those visits was met by the sounds of machinery and saws as the forest was systematically wiped out in front of my horror-stricken eyes. This description is not an exaggeration of what I felt at the time. I was struck by horror seeing what we human beings were doing to this once vibrant and alive forest as it was reduced to lifeless stumps in the dirt. Even as a young boy, perhaps especially because I was so young, I knew that there was something deeply wrong with what we were doing to these forests.

My sense of outrage was deepened during one of those early visits when we took a tour of one of the paper mills, and I watched the process by which these majestic trees became paper. Ever since that day, I have never been able to use paper produced from trees without some sense of guilt for doing so. That trip to the paper mill was not as horrifying as my first tour through a hog killing factory two decades later, but it nonetheless made its mark on my spirit.

My sadness about what we were doing to the forests became more pronounced each year I would visit my grandparents. Each time I would fly into Seattle, I would see from my plane window more and more blocks of forest that had been clear-cut since my visit the year before. It was a sight that sickened me.

This sickness of my soul in the face of these clear cuts is one of the key experiences of my life that led me to become concerned about our natural environment, the ecological community of which we are all members. Witnessing the destruction of the forests in Washington led me to learn about deforestation throughout the world. Learning about the deforestation throughout the world led me to learn more about the other deeply intertwined ways that we as a human community are exploiting and desecrating our ecological community.

The gut punch to my nine-year old soul in the face of a horrifying clear-cut became a kind of seed that grew into a forest of desire to do something to save, renew, and regenerate our ecological community. It is a seed that has grown into a calling to care for all creation, a calling that I have answered imperfectly, but to which I feel compelled to keep trying so that this precious planet, our only home, might somehow experience healing.

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Persons of Sacred Worth

General+Conference+Special+Session+2019+GC19

As we prepare for the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church where we will decide whether we as a church will fully include persons who are LGBTQ in the life and leadership of our denomination, I think it is really important to realize that persons who are LGBTQ are people and not a lifestyle. They are not an issue, not a problem that our denomination is having to deal with. They are persons. They are persons who love and live, and, like all persons, they have sexual orientations and gender orientations, and they long for loving, caring, and committed relationships. They simply long to be accepted, included, and able to serve others in the life and work of our churches.

Persons who are LGBTQ are not the problem or the issue facing our denomination. The problem we are facing, the issue we are facing is whether we will be a church that fully includes all persons or not. That is the issue, that is the problem with which we are struggling. Our problem is not persons who are LGBTQ. Our problem is a lack of love, hospitality, and grace and an overabundance of judgment, fear, and sometimes even hatred towards our LGBTQ siblings when we objectify and depersonalize them as issues, problems, and lifestyles rather than celebrating their full presence as persons in the Beloved Community.

For 46 years, the United Methodist Church has explicitly singled out persons who are LGBTQ as being incompatible with Christian teaching.  For 42 years, all church funding for LGBTQ support groups has been banned by the United Methodist Church. For 34 years, the United Methodist Church has explicitly denied persons who are LGBTQ the opportunity for ordained ministerial leadership in the life of our churches. For 22 years, the United Methodist Church has banned its ministers from performing same gender union services, and now that same gender marriages are legal in the United States, the ban has been applied to same gender marriage ceremonies as well. The persons we United Methodists say are persons of sacred worth are not even allowed to celebrate their marriage vows on United Methodist Church property. Their marriage ceremonies must be performed in exile from their United Methodist Church community as if they are somehow not worthy enough to be married in the church. General Conference after General Conference, the language and laws of the United Methodist Church have become more and more discriminatory against and harmful to our LGBTQ siblings.

The psychological and spiritual harm committed against our LGBTQ siblings in the United Methodist Church has been immense. There is no doubt that the United Methodist Church has contributed to the spiritual and physical bullying of our LGBTQ siblings, and there is no doubt that the United Methodist Church has contributed to the suffering and even the deaths of our LGBTQ siblings who have been harmed by the policies and practices of our church.

The experience of pain, suffering, and spiritual and psychological abuse of our LGBTQ siblings cannot be ignored or downplayed in relation to the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. We cannot continue to ignore the real, lasting, and often deadly harm that we as a church are committing against persons whom we affirm in words as having “sacred worth,” but whom we treat in practice and policy as less than full persons.  Our continuing harm of our LGBTQ siblings in word and deed is the true problem from which we in the United Methodist Church are called to repent in the hope of reconciliation of all persons of sacred worth in the Beloved Community

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