Wednesday, October 19, 2016

God Bless America

The most contentious Presidential election of our lifetimes is just days away. After the second Tuesday in November, the electorate will have spoken with its votes. The electoral college will have acted and a new President will have been elected. One might think that the election would signal an end to all the divisiveness and contention. But it may well not do so. The election may only be the beginning of the mess.

If the Obama presidency taught us anything, it might be that the kind of division that we have seen lately between parties, races, genders and economic castes in America can negatively affect the potential of any administration. It does not matter who the President is. If there are powerful segments of Congress and society who are against that President, for whatever reason, the presidency is hampered.

I mean to imply here that the United States is damaged in the divisiveness. It is not just the President who is negatively affected. It is the presidency. It is the Country. Those who are led to so narrow a definition of what it means to be a patriot that they can consider no options outside of their own purview entertain no right outside of their own. Disagreement is not tolerated. Differences are not appreciated, but seen as an attack on one's position. Diversity is not embraced. Those who think, believe, act or look differently are not "us." They are not right. They are wrong. They are bad.

If the American political system is to work, then Americans have to embrace diversity. We have to acknowledge together that no race, gender, economic or political stance, appearance, situation or love life is innately better than any other. Some will have to sacrifice their learned arrogance and positions of power and privilege. Some will have to learn to state their case for the needs of those who have been historically victimized by the systems under which we have lived. The system will not work in any other way.

Therefore, I pray that this election is the beginning of the end of all the vitriol, division, ridiculous and meaningless accusation, media hype, party bias, racial and gender inequality, economic injustice, prejudice and hate. I hope Congress will work effectively with whomever is elected. I hope that we will refer to the person who is elected as either Mr. or Mrs. President. I hope that we will show the incoming President greater respect than we showed Barak Obama. I hope that we will demonstrate a greater sense of our unity than we have over the past eight years.

The analysis of why the past eight years have become so contentious I will leave up to each of you. That is not my issue here. My firm belief is that it simply cannot continue if we are to be a thriving America. So, please, let this election mark an end of our hatred of anything other than our own opinion. Let history show that the period of divisiveness ended with one administration. Let it declare that America learned its lesson and turned itself around to a positive direction.

That miracle begins with each of us. Be conciliatory. Be gracious. Be accepting. Walk a mile in the moccasins of those with whom you might otherwise disagree. Say good and generous things, even when there might be options. Act in ways that build others up, even when we have to go out of our way in doing so. It is this attitude that built America, my friends. And it is this one that will allow us to become the country of our potential.

God Bless America!  

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


This is less a political statement as it is a spiritual one. However, I imagine the applications may be made in the realm of politics. You will decide and apply for yourselves, as you see fit.

President Obama claimed over the weekend that there are those in the opposing party who think of him as the "antiChrist." I found the term intriguing, especially given the current amount of divisiveness that we are experiencing this season. I thought the term might be an interesting one to examine. What is this "antiChrist?" From whence does the concept come, and how is it to be applied?

The concept of antiChrist comes from the world of apocalyptic literature. Not exclusively biblical in nature, apocalyptic literature promises that the world as we know it will, at some point, be destroyed and a new world, as an improvement to the one that was destroyed, would arise in its place. In biblical apocalyptic, which comprises much of the intertestamental period, between 300 bce and 70 ce, apocalyptic is the realm of an agent, called "Messiah." This Messiah was to usher in an age of ideal human existence, through the process of refinement and purification, where the dross is removed and the valuable fruitfulness of humanity is freed from its base confines.

The agent of apocalyptic destroys what is evil in order to allow the good of humanity to express itself, freely and without opposition. But there is opposition to the world of Messiah. There are those who benefit so greatly from the unjust and inequitable arrangement of the world that they oppose the purification process. They do not want change because they have benefited greatly from present configurations of power and privilege.

In the Christian world, we refer to the agent of apocalyptic with the title, "Christ." The apocalyptic transpires through him and by the actions of those who follow his lead in destroying the injustice, prejudice, greed and hatred of the present age. Those who cling to the systems of advantage, and who work to support those systems, we may then term "antiChrist." These persons wish to retain the evil of the present configuration in order to protect themselves and their interests.

The work of our apocalyptic agent, "Christ," can be defined as the ethical archetype of Crucifixion and Resurrection, where followers seek to embody sacrifice of self in order that others may be exalted. They humble themselves in order to serve others. They work for justice. They strive for equality. They work, tirelessly, for the benefit of all humankind, sacrificing their own benefit in the process.

The antiChrist seeks to protect hegemony, privilege, power advantage, unequal and unfair distributions of goods, position and social bias. The antiChrist cares for himself. (Here I use the male pronoun intentionally, not because all antiChrist characters are male, but because they have enjoyed positions of privilege and power in the current configuration.) The antiChrist sacrifices nothing.

How do apply this short lesson on antiChrist? I leave that up to you. You are very bright. Let me just say that the definition does not apply exclusively to the world of politics or economics. It applies also to relationships, personal and interpersonal. It applies to the ethos that we create in communities, congregations, domestic policies and foreign ones. It is a universal of the human condition.

The bottom line here is obvious, I hope. Human beings can live together in a qualitative condition that reflects the apocalyptic of Christ. We can also live in the social, cultural, interpersonal condition of the antiChrist. It is entirely up to us.So, whether or not we think of President Obama as the antiChrist is irrelevant. It matters whether or not we see ourselves as working for Christ's apocalyptic. It is a matter of choice. What role will we embrace? What title do we embody?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Spirituality or Politics?

The world of spirituality recognizes the presence of  divine spirit in all living things. That world leads to equality, justice and peace.

The world of politics recognizes that one side, one opinion, one set of values and one perspective is right. Any other is wrong. That world leads to divisiveness, degredation, sectarianism and segregation.

Pick in which world you choose to live. Then live in it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Spirituality and Privilege

It was aired on NPR sometime on Sunday, but I cannot be sure of the time or the place that I heard it. I think that I was in the car with my wife, Lisa, driving down to Shiloh's 7:00 p.m. worship service on Sunday evening. It may have been after worship, however. I just can't remember.

I remember the comment, though. It was something like this, "The level of vitriolic anger and rhetorical divisiveness in our culture can be traced to one source. It's white power and privilege being stripped of its hegemony."

Wow! The speaker equates all the anger and divisiveness in our culture with whites who sense that they are losing their advantage over others. What had been taken for granted, claimed as a 'natural' position of privilege, is diminishing. As the culture grows more and more accepting of diversity of every sort, the 'natural' advantage of some over others diminishes and, eventually, disappears. The speaker claimed that this direction is frightening to those who have always held the advantage.

The concept is not new. We have seen the tendency throughout history, even during many of our own lifetimes. As cultures change, there are always factions of the population who see the change as a threat to their privileged position. In my own lifetime, I have seen the religious right (of every religion, by the way) respond negatively to the rise of diversity, acceptance and affirmation of those who differ from the privileged class. Theologies of privilege have grown around the fear of lost position, and culture has been demonized for the diminishing advantage of the former privileged class.

The culture in which we live is changing in ways that alter the foundations upon which some have built position and power. Of course, the changes also affect those who had been victimized by the systems under which we have lived. The course of the developing culture seems to be toward acceptance of diverse races, clans, creeds, religions, sizes, looks, practices and lives. If there had ever been a 'normal' person of power and privilege, that position is now no longer safely grounded in any particular description. The hegemony of certain types, kinds, clans, colors, races, origins, sexual preferences, opinions, values or traditions is disappearing.

The NPR speaker noticed that those who had been privileged are reacting with anger, hatred and violence. The sounds mark the death knell of white privilege and the rise of genuine diversity. It seems to me that this is not far afield of something that the spirituality of Christianity could easily embrace. I think of it as something that we might applaud. This is a positive cultural evolution. The vitriolic anger and rhetorical divisiveness call for cultural reversal. Those voices want the old privilege, position and power back.

Cultural evolution will not be deterred, however. This is becoming a diverse culture, wherein all persons are radically equal in nature. There is no more 'natural' advantage. There is no type, kind, clan or ilk that naturally deserved privileged position.

I believe that we could be celebrating this great good news instead of calling persons names, claiming political correctness run amok, diminishing persons for their opinions or values, or rejecting persons out of hand for their social and political stances. Maybe it has been counter to the presence of God's Spirit all along. Maybe culture is leading our spiritual evolution.  

Monday, September 12, 2016

Mini-Golf Outing

Several times over the past few years, people have asked about an event that runs alongside the Annual Shiloh Church Golf Outing that offers other than golfers an opportunity to participate. My response to these questions has always been the same: Go ahead and plan something. This year, thanks to the leadership of Karyn Sleppy and Casey Sierschula, Shiloh went ahead and did something new, and it was a huge success.

Shiloh's Annual Golf Outing was held in August, raising just over $13,000. Those funds will be used to meet the needs of local families through the upcoming holiday season. In a process that runs through the month of November, families from the community will apply for, be interviewed for, and be awarded funds. Last year, when we raised $10,000, we helped around 80 families. This year, we hope to help somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 families. The business community, personal and family sponsorships, direct contributions, and golfer participation made this kind of support possible.

Karyn and Casey thought that an alternative golf-related activity might allow others to take part in this important community service. Things began to take shape on a Sunday evening, when someone suggested that we do a mini-golf outing. The ladies picked up on the notion and began to make concrete plans. A sign-up sheet was put out, simply to see if people might be interested in participating. More than 50 people registered an interest in such an event. A date was set. Plans were made. Contacts took place. On Saturday, September 10, Shiloh Church held its first annual Mini-Golf Outing.

The event was attended by persons who ranged in age from 4 to over 80. Eleven teams of four persons each played 18 holes of miniature golf at Putter's Par-adise, in Englewood, while others enjoyed chips, dip and pizza on the Patio at T.J. Chumps. Alongside the mini-golf, Karyn and Casey planned a fifty/fifty "guess the number of tees" fund-raiser and an additional opportunity for direct support. The funds raised would join those of our other golf outing to support needy families through the upcoming holidays.

Our winning team, "The Bald and the Beautiful," was made up of Jay, Dawn and Makenzie McMillen, along with the 'uncomfortably coiffed' Todd Fisher. Jay also tied with Bob Schultz for individual medalist honors, completing the course in 45 strokes. Our highest scoring team was "Rawr!" That team featured 4 year old Ora Sherwood, who finished with the greatest individual score. Ora named the team as well.

The success of the event was multi-layered. Everyone had fun in what was a genuinely inter-generational event. A server at Chumps won the fifty/fifty "guess the number of tees" event, and people came to just watch. We actually raised some money. The mini-golf outing will join its $400 plus dollars to the $13,000 from the other golf outing to support needy families, who are the real winners in our outings.

Thanks to the leadership of Karyn and Casey, Shiloh had a great deal of fun and raised funds to support needy families. If you have an idea for a program, project, event or activity at, through or from Shiloh Church, simply float the idea and start planning it. Great things happen when persons answer the call to action by taking initiative for innovative ministries, missions, activities, programs or projects. Let the community help you in answering that call to action.  

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Language Problems

I received a complaint that followed Sunday's 10:25 message, one that I had heard in a completely unrelated context recently. It seems that some of my language left some people confused and frustrated. I apologized, of course, and tried to explain my use of the terms. But the person who complained was having none of it. She turned and stormed away.

The terms in question were 'discipleship" and "apostleship." The complaint was, "Why do you use terms that no one understands and that, for all anyone knows, mean exactly the same thing?" The other recent complaint was voiced over my use of the term "evangelism" to refer to everything the church does beyond its own doors. I used the term in a proposed judicatory organizational structure. One of my colleagues suggested that the term was too "churchy" and did not carry any connotation of mission or outreach.

Wait. What? Since when does "evangelism" fail to refer to mission or outreach? And since when do "discipleship" and "apostleship" mean the same thing? I work hard to use words carefully, to which even the most ardent protectors of the language can attest. In each case, I believe that I used the terms correctly and with distinct purpose.

Evangelism is everything that those who are called and equipped by God's Holy Spirit do to share the "good news" of Jesus Christ. It includes mission ministries, foreign and domestic, work for justice and peace, prophetic declarations, simple acts of service and assistance, even advertising and marketing. The Church's evangelical work is simply to articulate Christ Jesus in whatever context one finds one's self.

Discipleship is the act of sitting, figuratively at least, at the feet of Jesus, learning, listening, adhering to his teachings. It is letting Jesus care for and about us. It is to be an object of his sacrifice, understanding ourselves as saved by him, led by him, and ever faithful to his example. Through faithful discipleship, we tie ourselves to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is the Christian indicative. We are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Apostleship is distinct from discipleship. Whereas discipleship is indicative to the Christian identity, apostleship is its imperative. With discipleship, we sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. In our faithful apostleship, we are compelled outward, through the power of God's Holy Spirit, to represent Jesus Christ in what we say and do. We are sent ones, empowered ones, equipped ones, called ones. As communities of called and equipped persons, we represent Jesus Christ in the world.

There is a deeper issue here, however. Religious language, even in its proper and concise usage, is a tremendous problem. The language has been usurped by those who have used the terms as bludgeons or bayonets, to divide the good from the bad, those who are going to Heaven from those who are going to Hell. To use the terms today is risky and open to pretty wide misunderstanding. I find this both sad and challenging. It is sad because we, meaning the alternative Church movement, have allowed some to use our language as weapons against others. It is a challenge because we, again the Progressive Church of Jesus Christ, need to locate and use new terms, in new ways, for very old purposes.

This past Sunday, I attempted to equate discipleship with belief. It remains vital to the practice of the Christian faith. Apostleship, I attempted to say, is the set of actions to which we are called and for which we are empowered. Ironically, perhaps, one can perform faithful apostleship without ever having been a faithful disciples. Discipleship that takes place without an accompanying apostleship is simply philosophy or metaphysics, and accomplishes nothing in the world.

So, what are we called to do in the world? Evangelism, of course.

Rats! There I go again.

We are called to represent Jesus Christ in all that we say and do. I am sorry that the language was confusing. I will continue to work at stating the faith in a more concrete and secular set of terms.    

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sitting for the Anthem

So, Colin Kaepernick, quaterback of the San Fransisco 49ers, refuses to stand for the playing of the National Anthem, until such a time that the systems under which we live in this country reflect equal protections and securities for people of color. Since refusing to stand, and explaining his actions to the media, Kaepernick has been under brutal attack. People have burned his jersey in a public act of repulsion. He has been called every name in the book - and some that aren't - on social media outlets. Team ownership has been called upon to fire him. Companies have been asked to remove him as an endorsement of their products. Fingers have been pointed at him. Shouts have rung out. Let's all hate Colin Kaepernick.

First things first. I do not agree with Mr. Kaepernick's actions. I do not embrace the act of refusing to stand for the playing of the National Anthem. While I firmly hold that he has a point about racial discrimination as a deeply seeded problem in this country, and while I believe that problem is articulated in nearly every facet of our communal life, I do not believe that Mr. Kaepernick's act will do anything toward resolution. In fact, it has simply driven a wedge.

While I do not believe that Mr. Kaepernick's act will bring positive resolution, and while I see the act as divisive, I defend Mr. Kaepernick's right to make this statement. After all, in that very anthem that Colin Kaepernick decries, we sing " of the free and the home of the brave." Firstly, it takes considerable courage for Mr. Keapernick to take this radical stance, or lack of stance, as the case may be. It is a courageous act of social dissidence, whether or not we agree. Secondly, Mr. Kaepernick is well within his rights to respond to the playing of the National Anthem in any way that he sees fit. He is free to do so. He is not free to force anyone else to do as he chooses, of course. Neither, certainly, are we free to demand that he act as we see fit. I have a right to stand in response to the National Anthem, even to place my hand over my heart, if I wish (see previous blog post on Gabby Douglas), but I have no right to demand that others do as I see fit.

I have seen recordings of Colin Kaepernick's act of civil defiance. As I watched him sit through the National Anthem, I took note of his important point. I am convinced that the level of vitriol pointed at Colin Kaepernick reflects a much deeper problem than his simple act of civil demonstration. Racism is a major issue in this country, one with which we must deal openly and frankly. As importantly, however, I think, is the fact that people feel the right and obligation to criticize - even reject - those whose choices differ from their own. If this is the "land of the free," then we have the right to act in the ways that we see fit, but not the right to mandate our ways in the lives of others.

It is ironic, I think, that such hoopla is created in the world of sports. Sports have no intrinsic social or civic value. If we believe that sports teach us team approaches, fairness, honesty,  and corporate values and virtues, I would suggest that history has shown as powerfully the exact opposite. The world of sports has taught us privilege, arrogance, dishonesty and lack of virtue as much as it has shown us any positive benefit. Listen to fans of competing teams interact. Be a witness to the way that the world of sports creates a different social stratum, one all-too-often devoid of social responsibility or civic duty. I am aware that there are positive examples as well. It is funny to me, though, that the loudest social statements can be made in the course of an arena so devoid of intrinsic value.

So, before we demand that the 49ers fire Colin Kaepernick, before we demand that his sponsors remove him from endorsing their products, before we burn his jersey in effigy, before we call him names, let's all consider the point(s) that he is making. Let us not extend our own freedoms onto his actions. Let us, instead, put his act of social dissidence into proper perspective, walking a mile in his cleats, watching and listening, even when we might disagree. Perhaps his witness might lead to some new attention being paid to the racial climate in America, the rights of persons to make such bold statements, and the proper place of sports in the national dialogue.