Saturday, October 24, 2015

Oo-oo, Witchy Woman!

If you follow my blog, you may remember that this past Easter we had protesters show up at Holy Trinity. They carried signs that said outrageous things, such as the one listing all the things people do that offend God including “pants wearing women.” Oh, my! Despite the fact that they were obnoxious and they tried really hard to ruin our Easter, most of the things they were shouting were laughable. As people were walking into the church building, the bellowing asses stood on the sidewalk spewing crazy condemnations at the top of their lungs. One of the things they wanted members of Holy Trinity to know was that their pastor is a witch!

The label did not fall on deaf ears. Members of my congregation weren’t about to forget it. I’ve been poked about being a witch on and off since Easter. In good fun, of course. So, I’ve played along with it. Tonight is our annual Halloween Party at Holy Trinity and, of course, I’m going as a witch.

This afternoon, after I had painted my fingernails black and was waiting for them to dry, I cruised through Facebook on my phone and came across a disturbing post from my friend Linda Faltin. It was all about women in Africa who are deemed witches. In the Central African Republic, as of 2010, 40% of the case load in their courts involved witches. In Tanzania it has been estimated that as many as 500 “witches” are lynched every year. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s been said that of the 25-50K children living on the streets of the capital, most are there because they have been accused of witchcraft. In Ghana as many as 2,000 accused witches and their dependents are confined in five different camps. Most of the inmates are destitute, elderly women who have been forced to live there for decades.
Whoa! What’s going on? Christian Fundamentalism. It’s spreading in other parts of the world. And there’s this little verse in Exodus 22 that says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
Suddenly, the whole witch thing isn’t seeming all that funny after all. I know that here in America we also have a history of going after so-called witches. And perhaps the men who were yelling outside our church building on Easter were thinking of Exodus 22 when they called me one. Yikes!
So, now I’m going to go to this party as a witch. Damn.
I’m not going to be able to forget about the women and children who are condemned as “witches” and suffer oppression, torture and death as a result. How can I? But I am going to the party tonight in my costume as planned, and here’s what I’m going to do.
I will strut my witchy self into that party and play the part. And I will be thankful to be part of a faith community that will enjoy it. We don’t take Exodus 22 seriously. And we don’t judge people who disagree with us by labeling them “witches” or “heretics” or anything else that in some times and places could get them killed. Most of all, I’m thankful to be a part of a faith community where—should someone actually be a real live witch—we would love them anyway!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Will Kim Davis ever go away?

This was the sermon preached on October 4 at Holy Trinity. The text was Mark 10:2-16.

Will Kim Davis ever go away? She’s the clerk of courts in Kentucky who refuses to marry same sex couples, even though it’s her job to do so. She’s gone to jail for what she believes. She’s convinced she’s right about marriage being only between a man and a woman, and there are a whole lot of Christians who agree with her. When we argue that Jesus never said anything about this topic, they will insist that, in fact, he did, and this is the text they go to: “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Now, I would argue that Jesus was answering a question about divorce here, and in the course of his answer, he described the way marriage was in his day. Of course, in his context, he never would have said, “A person shall leave their parents and be joined to another person, according to their sexual orientation, and the two shall become one flesh.” That’s absurd. Given the context of Jesus’ world, he never would have said anything like that.

It’s hard to argue with a fundamentalist about the scriptures. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that we meet them on their level. They clobber us with Bible verses and we clobber them back with some Bible verses of our own.  That never works. And it’s not the way we Lutherans read the Bible. The Bible is not a weapon, or a rule book, or a collection of ideas that come straight from God so we need to accept them unquestionably. That’s just not how we read it. We question the Bible, we wrestle with it, and we’re okay with disagreeing with it at times. We struggle to understand the original intent of passages from the Bible and how that intent might translate into our present context. In other words, we don’t read the Bible the way conservative Christians do, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever agree. I don’t know what we can do about that. 

There’s more than just a different way of interpreting scripture going on. We’re not reading the words with the same eyes, hearing the words with the same ears. Recently, among people who make it their life’s work to study the scriptures, a new field of study has emerged called polyvalence. Polyvalence, refers to the way a text means different things to different people and many of those different meanings can be predicted based on things like gender, age, nationality.  In other words, we cannot assume that we all draw the same meaning out of a text. 

The Biblical scholar Mark Alan Powell has done some mind-blowing research in this area. He’ll do something like take a Biblical text and find out what it means to one audience and then compare that to what it means to another audience. For instance, he looked at the story of the Good Samaritan where Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and told a story to answer the question. A guy was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Then some good religious types were traveling that same road, they saw the half dead man, and they walked on by. Finally, it was an outsider, a Samaritan, who stopped to help. As Americans, the meaning for us is generally that we should stop and help people who are in trouble, we should be like the Good Samaritan in the story. 

However, Powell spent some time in Tanzania, and he learned that this is not the meaning Tanzanians pull from the story. For them, the main point of the story is that people who’ve been robbed, beaten and left for dead can’t afford the luxury of prejudice. They should accept help from whoever offers it. God can work through anyone, including those we might regard as heretics. So, for us, the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” is, my neighbor is “anyone who needs my help.” For a Tanzanian, the answer is “anyone who helps me.” For the Tanzanian, the Good Samaritan is not just a moral story about how we need to help those less fortunate. It’s about empathizing with the marginalized and the powerless. This difference in meanings across cultures is an example of polyvalence. 

It seems to me that Jesus’ teaching on divorce in the first part of today’s gospel is a text rich with polyvalence.

  • Think about what this text means to Kim Davis.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have never been married.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who are married to someone of the same gender.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have been married to the same person forever.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who are divorced or separated.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have been married, divorced, and are now married to someone else.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have been married, divorced, married, divorced, married, divorced, married… Oh wait, we’re back to Kim Davis, aren’t we?

Why is this important? Because it’s not just a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong when we read the Bible. The circumstances of our lives affect the meaning we draw from a text like the one we have today, just as surely as the circumstances of her life affect the meaning Kim Davis draws from this text. 

I can make an educated guess about the meaning of today's gospel by considering it in context. I can look at the way women and children were treated as property to be discarded by men without a second thought in Jesus’ world. And I can look at the literary context of this teaching about divorce, particularly in light of what follows about welcoming and blessing children. And I can say with confidence that Jesus' teaching is about protecting those who have no rights and no power in society. So, at its heart, this passage isn’t about divorce at all, but it’s about the value of those the dominant culture sees no value in protecting. I can make a pretty strong case for that, based on the evidence. Ironically, I also could make a case for protecting the rights and well-being of LGBT folks, based on the deeper meaning of this text! But that doesn’t change the meaning others will draw from it. 

We need to recognize that and somehow deal with it. How do we do that? I wish I could tell you, but I’m still working it out, too. I do know it’s important that the perspective of progressive Christians be heard as we wrestle with how to apply the truths we find in the Bible to life in our contemporary context. We can’t allow conservative Christians to speak for us. But we also need to recognize that not all Christians understand the Scriptures the way we do. It’s a challenge—one I pray we will meet with love.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The witch is in!

I’ve been in a wickedly witchy way all day, so prepare for a rant. I really don’t want to be judgmental, but there are some people who just draw the judgmentalism right outa me. What they do at home is their own business, but when they share space with others, like a church for instance, they need to show some consideration. After nearly four decades of ordained ministry, I hereby decree that I have had my fill of the following:
  • People who bring coffee into worship, stow their half-empty cups under a pew and leave them there after they go home.
  • People who throw their gum on the floor where someone else steps in it and grinds it into the carpet.
  • People who use up all the paper in the copy machine and don’t bother to refill the drawer.
  • People who jam the copier and walk away without unjamming it, or at least leaving a note of apology.
  • People who use the last staple in the stapler and don’t bother to fill it for the next person.
  • People who finish up the toilet paper, or all but the very last square of toilet paper, and don't replace it, with no concern for the next person who will be paperless in a situation where a person never wants to be paperless.
  • People who clog the toilet so it overflows and then don't bother to mention it to anyone. This is right up there with people who take a major dump and then leave without flushing.
  • People who use the microwave, their food splatters all over it while they’re cooking, and then they don’t bother to clean it out.
  • People who go to toss their paper towel in the trash can in the restroom, miss their target and leave the crumpled mess on the floor.
  • People who use the church kitchen and walk away with dishes in the sink, or crumbs on the counters or an overflowing garbage can.
  • People who finish their cigarettes and then flick the butts on the ground.
  • People who park in our public parking lot and don’t want to take their trash with them so they leave it in on the ground: Miller cans, Starbucks cups, McDonald’s bags, etc.
What do all these people have in common? They have absolutely no consideration for those who come after them. They do whatever they damn well please, make a mess, and walk away. Just who do they think is going to clean it up? Who is going to do what they left undone? Who is going to undo what they’ve done? They are careless, and by that, I mean they don’t care about anyone other than themselves. They are the center of the universe and the rest of us are here to serve them.

I put the person who walks away without replacing the toilet paper in the same category with all people who have no consideration for those who come after them. If you’re capable of splattering the inside of a microwave and leaving the mess for the next person to clean up, you are right up there with people who abuse the environment without regard for those who come after you. And if you can walk away from a copier that you’ve jammed, you clearly aren’t ready to take responsibility for the way your actions impact the world around you. If you will toss your beer can in a parking lot, you will just as surely toss people aside when they no longer serve your needs. I know there has to be a correlation between those who are inconsiderate in little ways and those who are inconsiderate in big ways.

I have no patience with this behavior. If I knew who did these things, I’d ask them to clean up their own mess, but they always dump and run under a cloak of secrecy. This makes me think they realize that they’re wronging the rest of us. But I have to wonder if they feel any guilt about it. Do they care that this is not the way to love your neighbor as you love yourself?

If I were a real witch, I'd banish each person who does such things to his or her own little planet where they can make all the messes they want and then walk away. Of course, they’ll be stuck with a massively messed up planet if they don't eventually take responsibility for their actions. But that would be their problem, which is exactly as it should be. With all of them banished to their planets, then the rest of us could spend more time cleaning up our own messes. I know I’ve got enough to keep me busy for a while.