A Late Reflection for 9/11

Here’s my note: I’m tired, I should be getting ready for bed, and as of this moment I have no idea what is going to be written below.

Every year I struggle with this day of remembrance.

Every year I think about standing, waiting for the bus, not really knowing what happened and really not understanding what it meant. Every year I think about sitting in line at the gas station, filling our tanks with elevated priced gasoline because someone will always make a buck on a tragedy. Every year I remember visiting ground zero the week we declared war on Iraq — we listened to the announcement on the charter bus to New York — and just being struck by how it looked like an unremarkable pile of rubble.

Every year I remember, everything year I search for the words I can put into the universe to maybe add to the healing, but I always struggle to know what to say.

I have seen a post this year about “I missed 9/12” and how we all came together, and truly we did. Blood banks had an excess of blood, people prayed and gathered like they never had before, and we saw some of the best in each other.

But this year I have a reflection of my own: that day, and our collective response to that day, amplified my racism and made me so much more hateful than I had been before. It took well over a decade for my level of hatred of the other to return to its pre-9/11 level.

I remember learning all the lies about Muslim people and committing them to my heart and soul as moral truth. I remember celebrating war and death. I remember jokes about GI’s not having beautiful women to sleep with in this war like they did in other wars — and legal brothels offering to make up for it. I remember celebrating war, defending violence, and have no sympathy of the innocents who died in the ensuing conflicts.

I remember being given a pork sandwich to celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death and eating it because I didn’t have the strength to say, “No, I am not celebrating death, even the death of an enemy.”

I remember all of it, and I mourn. I mourn for our nation, believing we have done more damage to ourselves and torn ourselves apart more than any terrorist attack ever could. I mourn for the person I was, so shamed of the hatred I spewed and deaths I celebrated. I mourn for the people I ostracized and judged — the relationships I never built — because I believed in my righteous hatred of another. I mourn for all who suffering violence born out of hatred and bigotry in this country.

That day we saw bravery we will hopefully never have the opportunity to see again.

Shortly after, more innocent people died in our attempt to gain justice and rout terrorism — and the results of our troop withdraw from Afghanistan has shown the futileness of most of the actions.

When I reflect on this day, I long for a world that heals its wounds, not causes more wounds. I long for a world that chooses love over hatred. I long for a world that values life and doesn’t dismiss the deaths of those out of sight and out of mind.

I long for a better world.

I will remember this day by praying for peace for all. I will remember this day by praying for the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4

God will judge between the nations,
    and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
    and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
    they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4 CEB)

Goodnight.
– Robby

Boring Truth Versus Charismatic Lies

I think having to treat deliberate misinformation and outright lies with the same weight and veracity of verifiable facts in discussions around protocols and safety – especially in our community and religious gatherings – ranks second in the most exhausting parts of the pandemic. Trying to lead a congregation through the difficult, painful, and heated discussions around safety protocols and protecting the least and the lowest while misinformation took an equal breath to – or greater breath than – truth simply amplified an already difficult and painful situation and made it unnecessarily worse.

Truth is cold, boring, flat, emotionless. It does not care about your desires or wants. It has no interest in your partisan leanings or political aspirations – only your acceptance and transmission of truth do. Truth does not care if you like it or not; in the wise words of Gloria Steinem, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Misinformation, deception, and lies, though, are anything but cold, boring, flat, or emotionless. It works by using the things that make you want to look away from truth – discomfort, sadness, weariness. The bad actors who create and spread misinformation, the deceivers, say truth and truthtellers take good and holy things away from you – like community, corporate worship, closeness in this season – and tell you believing and following their lies will give those things back.

Truth has no charisma, and truthtellers do not have the benefit of having something people want to hear; they have to make truth understandable, digestible, and attractive because truth provides none of those things. Deceivers, though, can create a product with inherent understandability, digestibility, and attractiveness to their intended targets, and they do not have any rules to follow but to make something people want to hear.

Truth also suffers from how humans understand truth. Truth is truth but our understanding of truth – especially in a rapidly developing health crisis like a pandemic – is somewhat of a moving target due to our learning and inability to just inherently know things. Truthtellers have to correct and adjust their telling of truth in response to changing understanding – even if our understanding conflicts with previous understanding – and do so in humility. Deceivers use this to make their message of lies more attractive, attacking the truth on the contradictions raised by changing understanding of truth despite regularly conflicting with previous lies and changing to make their deception more attractive.

Neither truth nor lies care about you; care can only come from people, not statements. Truthtellers care about you, knowing truth will set you free, protect you, and make this world better; deceivers care only about themselves, often personally acting in ways that betray the lies they tell because following their lies harms the follower. Truthtellers will act in your best interest and the best interest of all, especially if you dislike it; deceivers will tell you what you want to hear and convince you they act in your best interest despite always acting in their own self-interest.

How do you tell the difference? Truthtellers sacrifice their own safety, security, and comfort to tell the truth – and almost universally speak truth that will help the least and the lowest while asking much of the enriched and elevated; deceivers sacrifice nothing of themselves and benefit greatly from you believing their lies – economically, politically, and personally – while the least and the lowest often suffer for those benefits.

Masks work, the vaccine is safe and effective against serious illness, and lockdowns saved lives and prevented suffering; early reversals of mask mandates and lockdowns caused suffering and death, and vaccine refusal combined with not wearing masks and participation in congregate settings further causes unnecessary suffering and death. Your personal, anecdotal experiences do not negative or even conflict with those truths.

How long, O Lord, will you children accept deception and reject truth? How long will they choose temporary comfort leading to long-term suffering? How long, O Lord?

– Robby

Fearless Moral Inventory and Cancel Culture

I debated posting this because of how “hot” this issue is. I will touch a nerve that some will call political. I have selfishly avoided controversial public statements recently for a host of reasons, but I need to address a horrific trend I see happening in people I love and respected.

Real Talk: U.S. politics manufactured your outrage over the estate of Dr. Seuss stopping production and sales of six titles you have never heard of – or haven’t heard of in years, at least. The beloved classics the outraged keep bringing up and demanding be read until all of our dying breaths will still be available at every bookstore and library – with a few, radical exceptions of places the outraged would never patronize, anyway.

U.S. politics manufactures outrage to distract from bigger issues. I wish the estate had quietly just stopped selling the titles *PUTS ON CYNICAL HAT* instead of doing a press release to make the estate look more woke to sell more books to progressive millennials *TAKES CYNICAL HAT OFF* but they made their decision on how to do it and we played into the outrage game that decision gave to us.

No one got canceled and everyone got distracted from the bigger issues going on all around us. We played right into the game, and our politicians love that they can come out against “cancel culture” instead of addressing, again, all the big, life-and-death issues going on all around us.

But I cannot add anything to the direct conversation. If you want to get mad and read more Dr. Seuss, you will; if you want to stop reading Dr. Seuss – or did years ago – you will. The whole exercise wasted everyone’s time and only served to anger and divide us further.

I only even addressed it in specific as a conduit to the bigger issue this and other stories like it point to. I see something else happening here, something I have seen since everyone started screaming about “Cancel Culture” and wanting to just ignore past transgressions because they happened “in the past” and were perpetrated by our heroes and beloved creators of things we love.

After reading The Refuge and Kathy Escobar in Searching for Sunday, I have argued that Christianity and church needs to take a lesson from the recovery moment and start using the 12 Steps to guide our path of repentance.1 We, as individuals, as communities and congregations, as institution, and as the whole Body of Christ need to actively repent and do better – and give up our addiction to comfort.

(I encourage you to grab a copy of the 12 Steps a guide; you won’t need it to read this, but you might find it helpful for bits I didn’t write complete and useful later if you decide something I said resonated with you)

The first three steps you can easily mimic and declare just by sitting in the pew and saying the words. Cradle Christians have done this since their birth (adapted to fit a generic Christian repentance movement and not recovery from addition specifically):

  1. Admit we are powerless over sin and that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God (as we understand God).

Read the gospel, believe the gospel, believe the cross, and decide to put God in charge. Easy to say and easy to fake; only really requires showing up and saying the right words.

Also pretty easy to sniff out a liar, but naming that liar – even with proof – is problematic to say the least. Comfortable liars don’t take kindly to admonition, and their apologists really don’t take kindly to it.

But when you get to step four – and especially step five – just arriving at church and reading the words on the page stops fulfilling your visible obligation. We must look in the mirror and see our true selves, not the polished version we created for job interviews or the “selectively, perfectly imperfect” version we create hourly for social media. We must name our sin, name how we have wronged each other, wronged ourselves, and damaged our relationship with God.

We must name when we chose sin and its comforts over love and its sacrifices. We cannot just generically say, “I am sinful; forgive me, God,” at this point. We can no longer privately confess and only name those sins that don’t really make us look “that bad” as we have our personal, private conversation with the magic, vending-machine version of God that provides tickets out of Hell that only cost a silent confession once a week. We must name our sins, in detail to at least one other person.

We must bear our souls and say, “I am broken and sinful, and I must name the ways for facilitate healing.” Our healing and making this creation closer to what God intended requires it.

And then we ask God to take away our sin and make amends to those we have hurt.

On an individual basis this looks exactly as you would expect, and most people do not lose their mind and try to convince someone making amends they have nothing to apologize for and their feelings of sinfulness only come because culture and popular opinion have shifted.

We absolutely need to do this on an individual basis – and frankly, we need to not just encourage it in worship but give space and safety for it to happen (I don’t know what that looks like, exactly, but that’s also a different conversation). We need to acknowledge and name how we have damaged relationships and withheld love, and we need to do what we can to heal the relationship. 2

But this must go beyond our individual sins; we must confess the sins of the bodies and institutions we hold up and systems we benefit from. We must do this for God’s creation to get better and heal. We must do this much the same way Jesus did this (which got him killed).

Yet every time anyone sees something wrong in our history and says, “That’s a terrible thing that happened…” or, “That was wrong then and is wrong now…” and suggests trying rectify the situation and make amends to those hurt, sections of our society – and especially particular parts of the Body of Christ – start jumping up and own, hollering about how it’s silly and anyone offended by our harmful past actions – and present actions – are “snowflakes” who just follow popular culture.

Racism is real and depictions of non-White people – and who we consider White now but did not before – from periods of our past are incredibly racist and lift Western European and American White-ness as superior to all other races and cultures. Depictions rooted in sexism, homophobia, and any other -ism, do the same to the marginalized for the benefit and entertainment of the privileged. Continuing to publish those depictions does active and lasting harm to the groups depicted.

Ceasing publication and distribution of those images and depictions shows at least a small sign of fearless moral inventory and a step toward doing better.

I will never give Disney any room for moral authority – just, no – but I find part of the updated disclaimer they put on dated and problematic pieces they have available for viewing incredibly apt and approaching righteous (as much as I want to vomit saying anything Disney does is righteous):

“These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

You don’t have to believe Disney truly believes this or says this for any reason other than financial gain to see the righteous truth and frank confession in that statement.

These things did not suddenly become wrong, and culture did not dictate our morality to us. We (royal we) do a fearless moral inventory of our society, systems, and culture, and, in doing so, learn that we did things that were wrong but acceptable when we did them. We look to both do better and make amends for our wrong actions.

As far as I read in the gospels, that sounds like what Jesus called the religiously comfortable and powerful to do.

We do all of this inadequately and constantly fall short3, but if we continue to take a fearless moral inventory – and act upon it – we can move the needle toward justice and God’s will. We can follow and embody Christ instead of fearfully and angrily holding on to what was because the fearless moral inventory might uncomfortably implicate us and taste bitter in our contentedness.

Do we refuse to participate in following God’s will for justice and sacrificial love because we might find ourselves implicated and needing to repent and take the bitter herbs, or do we follow Christ even to death – especially the death of our sinful and comfortable selves?

I think you know the right answer. I hope you choose it, and I pray for the strength to choose it myself.

Peace,
– Robby


1 I know the 12 Steps as written and published contains problematic language for a couple of reasons – gendered language for God, an implied necessity for Christian faith, etc. – but the steps themselves are a pretty spot on and incredibly challenging path to repentance. Unless you can stop sinning whenever you want, you have an addiction to selfishness and withholding love (and if you can stop any time you want, why don’t you)?

2 No one owes us forgiveness or absolution, by the way; you apologize to open the space for reconciliation and find peace yourself, not so you can receive Earthly absolution from the person you wronged. Any apology that ends with, “Are we good?” or any other request for absolution is a false apology.

3 Some (read: very few, but not zero) people do get wrongly “canceled” or have no opportunity make amends for small, past actions, but this is rare and exaggerated by those whose beloved heroes refuse to make amends for egregious past and present actions and fall victim to what some have started called “consequence culture.” I wouldn’t acknowledge this on principle, but if I don’t, it gives opportunity to discount the whole thing. I must say to those people, “Cancel Culture” for being kinda bad on social media but not awful isn’t nearly as prevalent as is being canceled standing up to the rich and powerful and not being rich and powerful yourself.

How Long, O Lord?

I still have no words.

The beginning of Psalm 13 has rang in my ears since I first started watching the attack on our democracy yesterday:

“How long, O LORD?”

How long will we deny the problem?
How long will our leaders deny truth?
How long will the powerful sow seeds of hatred?
How long will can we bear the violence of weaponized discontent?

13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
– Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

Lord, in your mercy…
…hear our prayers…
…hear our screams…
…hear our wails…
…hear the pain in our speechlessness…

I cannot give commentary, I cannot make more sense of it than anyone else has, I cannot even speak more truth to the powerful than has already been spoken.

I can only mourn. The America I believed in – the America promised to me by those who loved me – came under attack yesterday, or at least the illusion of and eventual hope for that America.

A misguided American – a misguided child of God – lost her life because she believed this was necessary; she was lied to and believed it, and she lost her life because of someone else’s lie.

I just…have no words anymore. I have said it all before, and today I can only mourn and pray for healing that has not come yet and does not appear on the horizon.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come, Lord Jesus, come…

Saying, “I’m Colorblind!” is Racist

(Disclaimer: Because I have to say it, please be smart and know I did not write this post about the actual inability to discern colors.  I also read an article recently about an Autistic person who cannot discern race; not about that, either. You know what this is about.)

Let me give you a quick thought experiment, an online quiz if you will.  What race are the children in this picture:

Answer key to the world’s easiest online quiz: Black, White.

You see race.  You see the level of melanin in people’s skin.  You know why this picture would be posted with the caption “I don’t see race!” like some kind of hyper-enlightened, hyper-woke person who lives somewhere above everyone else.

Why not choose a picture of children of the same race?  Right, because you do, in fact, see race, and everyone else does, too.  In White schools all over the country, though, they teach children to say things like “colorblind” and “I don’t see race.”  The education system teaches us to ignore differences and create a homogenous society.

Which does not work.  Before we get into race, let me guide you to thinking this issue with a more generic issue: bullying.

We all have a child in our life who gets bullied – or a friend who got bullied as a child.  Go find that person, ask them what advice their teachers gave them to fight bullying, and if it worked.

No really, if you did not experience profound bullying as a child, literally go find someone who did – or who current does – and ask them what their teachers told them to do about bullying and if that thing did anything to lessen their experience of bullying.

Did you go ask?  If you did, good; if not, well, I will answer for you, and my answer will match almost anyone else’s answer.

“Ignore the bully.”  “No, it did not help.”

(Honestly, if you did not ask, go ask now.  The internet will wait for you to get back.)

Unless you acknowledge the problem and take steps to actually fix the problem – education, rules, enforcement, systemic changes – it will not go away.  Without changing who I was inherently and situationally – poor, unathletic, intellectually gifted, weird – bullying would not stop without someone intervening and addressing the problems that allowed it to happen.

And it happened because of what and who I was, not indiscriminately.  Only acknowledging reality and changing the system would fix it.

When you say things like, “I am colorblind” and, “I don’t see race,” you only deny the real lived experience of people of color and pretend you have universal lived experience without any connection the privilege of your race.

You deny history.  You deny the destruction of Black Wall Street.  You deny segregation.  You deny chattel slavery of Africans in America.  You deny that the very country whose flag you worship got built by enslaved people taken from their homeland and sold as property – and denied their humanity.  You deny everything that happened to lead us to this point.

You deny statistics.  I know I grabbed a strange source, but I have mostly – if not universally – white readers and the super-white Ben and Jerry’s website has a surprisingly comprehensive set of statistics of racial disparity in the United States.

You deny the lived experience of the beloved Black people in your life.

When you deny these things, you empower those who enforce a system of racism and White supremacy.  When you deny these things, you give the system a free pass to keep oppressing people of color.  When you deny these things, you allow racism to continue to exist.

Notice I said racism and not prejudice.  I did not use the word prejudice for a reason.  Humans will have prejudices against people forever.  I have prejudices against “woke” pastors, lead pastors, Princeton graduates, and generally anyone in leadership at a presbytery, synod, or denominational level.

Racism requires something prejudice does not: power.  Racism in America goes one direction because of power and racial history.  This country built itself upon the ideal that white skin = human and dark skin = animal, or less than animal.  At its highest ranks, this country still functions on that belief and uses race and prejudice to continue to control.

When you say, “I am colorblind!” you enable the system of oppression to continue, but when you finally acknowledge that no, you are not colorblind because that is impossible, and that you benefit in a lot of ways – safety from the authorities and provided by the authorities being pretty freaking major – systemic racism, you can start helping.  When you acknowledge race, acknowledge racism, acknowledge American White Supremacy, and say, “This is not right and I refused to willingly participate in it any longer,” then you threaten the powers that continue to oppress, and you weaken their ability to oppress.

If you want to see this end, if you want to see rioting end and police brutality end, if you want your middle class, White experience of America to be given to all people, then you have to confront reality.  It really hurts initially, keeps hurting, and feels really uncomfortable in the best moments – and, when you make some headway in your own journey, it starts to feel hopeless when you watch the world’s journey (or lack thereof) – but only acknowledging and refusing to allow this system to continue will help fix and heal things.  You can fight this in your voting, in your speaking out, and, for those in positions of power and authority, in your hiring practices, justice practices, and education practices.

You are not colorblind.  Saying you are colorblind empowers the system of racism.  You do not get to absolve yourself from the difficult conversations and the reality of your own prejudices by saying this; you convict yourself and show how little you care about the reality of racism and American White Supremacy.

Christians, our savior was murdered by religious authorities, given the permission to murder him by the (likely) White Roman authorities.  Do you follow a poor, first century Palestinian Jew who died a horrific and painful death on a Roman cross, or White Renaissance Jesus who looks really buff and powerful nailed to a pristine wooden cross?

If you view racism like you view bullying, do you stop bullying by saying bullies do not exist and you do not see any difference between the bullies and the bullied?  No.  Stop pretending that, by saying you see no difference between the oppressors and the oppressed – the perpetrators of racism and the victims of racism – you magically fixed all the racism in the world.

I see race, and I want to see how our country can help every race shine brightly without fear.

Peace,
– Robby

Our Divisions Will Kill Us

Go read last week’s sermon as a prelude to this.  I preached that sermon as the Word of God–as ordained ministers do from the pulpit–and though I still struggle to believe I could possibly give the Word of God, if I do that, preaching that sermon gave the Word of God.

I–the guy who writes this blog–have more to say that does not qualify as the Word of God.  I want to follow-up with on how our divisions shatter our world and how we should approach the crisis of today.

I believe we live in a crisis state.  The United States had a policy of separating families–including infants–who illegally crossed the border, many wanting to claim asylum but found themselves unable due to boarder stations not processing people attempting to enter the country.  The United States has deported parents without their young children.  The United States has an active and growing resurgence of vocal and violent racism that claims moral superiority not unlike the Ku Klux Klan before them.

The United States currently exists in deep, painful, and life-threatening crisis of evil, both in the philosophical sense and a real, practical, and horrifying sense for many populations within her land.

I believe the crisis is a an opportunistic infection of a much different disease.

The disease is hateful, vitriolic division.

Do not misunderstand my point.  The opportunistic infection can and will kill us.  I do not write this to downplay the dire crisis situation we find ourselves in.  We need to cure the infection or what we know as the United States will die.

As we seek to cure the infection and heal the damage caused, we need to desperately need to understand what allowed such an infection to happens and treat the problems so it cannot happen again.

I want to start with a troubling Twitter hashtag I saw over the past few days that exemplifies our vitriolic division.  #CivilWar2 has declared war between Democrats and Republicans.  Mind you, the declaration does not go against the infection but against other parts of the body.  It declares a political philosophy morally correct and refuses to accept dissent.  It demonized half of the country and tells those who would gladly join the cause of fighting the infection to fall in line with their political philosophy or suffer the consequences, driving those potential allies into the welcoming arms of the crisis-makers.

I do not speak of new things.  I remember hearing in college–my much more conservative days–that voting Republican means I want women to get cancer.  I remember hearing in my youth–as my mind and philosophies formed–that voting Democrat means I want to murder babies.  I remember hearing that standing right of the line means hating black people.  I remember hearing standing left of the line means I cannot call myself Christian.

I wrote no exaggerations.  Someone told me each one of those things, each multiple times.  As I stepped right, someone called me evil; as I stepped left, someone else called me evil.

I can picture their faces.  I do not exaggerate; people called my changing and evolving positions evil, often adding stupid and immature to the mix.

I could only learn one lesson aside from than how lonely I would feel desiring and working toward politics and ministries of reconciliation and subtly: disagreeing would force me to the outside.  Not having a tribe forced me to the margin, and we have no tribe for subtle, strong centrists who desire the best policies for universal love, universal survival, and universal growth.

I am not evil.  I am not stupid.  I am not immature.  My growth marked improvements in each of those areas, and multiple someones called my growth each of those things.

When everything that you disagree with is evil, nothing is evil.  When everything you disagree with is stupid, nothing is stupid.  When everything you disagree with is immature, nothing is immature.

I have finally arrived at the root of the problem as I see it.  We live in a unique crisis of evil.  I cannot state that any differently.  We live in a unique crisis of evil.

We have so overused that word and vitriolically divided ourselves into two tribes and killed all dissent that when we actually have something evil in front of us, we have no way to call it as such.  By writing this someone will believe I said, “Republicans are evil!”  By writing this, someone will believe I said those who speak out angrily should not be so uncivil.  By writing this, someone will hear a political message.

We all did this by politically dividing our stances on morality and evil.  I found myself marginalized by the American political dichotomy, but I have my tribes, as well.  I find myself ready and willing to tear down other denominations for what I want to call evil when they simply interpret the Bible differently.  I have wholesale condemned people who believe in “Ecclesiastical Separation.”

I can name them as easily as I can name those who condemned me.

We have called the other evil for so long that when evil appears in great force, we cannot call it as such for fear of sounding political or do speak up only to have that fear painfully realized.

Our hateful, vitriolic divisions allowed this to happen.  We allowed this to happen and shattered the safeguards that would have prevented it in the name of political expediency.  We found ourselves shocked that evil could take advantage when we opened the doors wide open.

This crisis can kill us.  The opportunistic evil that comes from our divisions can and will kill us.  We felt morally superior as we allowed this to happen and patted ourselves on the back.

I ask this of every #CivilWar2 political activist:

When this war you declared ends, do you plan to call the other side “our countrymen (sic) again”?  Or do you plan to shoot your guns off and make sure they know you won and demonize them, furthering the divide between you and those who would stand as your allies?

If we would stop dividing ourselves, and especially stop dividing the Body of Christ, we could fight evil.  Now we have to watch it do its work until we can stand united again.

I am reaching out to you, asking that you ignore our divisions and stand united against the crisis of evil we currently live in.  We shattered the safeguard; help me rebuild it.

Peace,

– Robby

How Do I Help? What Do I Say?

Is there an answer to my questions?  Can I actually do something?  Because I just do not know.

I am so sickened that I can barely speak, and I certainly am struggling for words.  The President’s words today blaming victims and defending proud and violent white supremacists fills me with so much anger and fear, and I know that I cannot remain silent.  If I remain silent, I cannot step into the pulpit in faith every again.

But I have no idea what to say.  Do I comment on literally everything?  Do I try to scream into the voice of screaming and hope my voice comes through?  Do I just cry?

Because I do not know.

How do I fix this?  How do we fix this?  How does anyone fix this?

I want to help.  How do I help?


I can do this, and I must do this:

I condemn the President’s words today fully.  There is no equivalence between the two groups and I stand with those who were and are protesting the white supremacy groups of this country.  I mourn with the family and friends of Heather Heyer, and I pray for the recovery and resolve of all those who were injured by the terrorist who plowed his car into the protestors.

President Trump’s words are indefensible, and this is not debatable.  I write this as a pastor, as Christian, and a human being.

If you are offended by this, or you think I am speaking out of turn, this is addressed to you specifically.  If you are not offended by President Trump’s words, this is addressed specifically to you.  If you want to minimize the anger and fear this event caused, this is addressed specifically to you.

Every commandment, every call, every bit of Christianity is based upon two commands, and this is a direct violation of the second:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

I stand with those who stand against hatred and bigotry in all forms.

That is the Christian response.


I love you all, even if this addressed to you.  I pray for this world and pray that we can stop hating each other.

And I pray that the world calms down enough that I can write something joyful on this blog soon.

Peace,

– Robby

Why People Voted for Trump

(UPDATE: So as I’m editing old posts while creating the new blog, some posts beg to be deleted but I can’t just bring myself to do it.  The situation with our now President has changed, I have, from the pulpit, called him out for actions I found despicable, and yeah, it’s been a weird few months.  As I’m looking for a position (and eventually will be an installed pastor), I wonder what I should leave up, and what should disappear.

This one stays because I had a friend who was calmed because of this post.  It was a pastoral post, even if it’s a bit harsh and WAY political.  It stays because it did good. – RB)

Okay, I wasn’t going to post about this because no matter what I say on the topic, I’m going to be accused of voting for someone.  I’m not sure who, I’m not sure who is going to accuse me, I’m not sure the ramifications, but I’m tired of people saying 48% of the nation is bigots.

It’s not and you know it.

Let’s get something out of the way.  Bigots were always going to vote for Trump, minority groups for Clinton.  Right or wrong, stupid or not, that’s how it was always going to go.  But that doesn’t include the majority of people.

So how could someone vote for Trump?  Let’s take a walk down the “Lesser of Two Evils” track.

So, you have Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.  You see Trump as a millionaire bigot and Clinton as a millionaire criminal who is above the law.  Neither has your interests on their radar.  Both are going to get us into war.  Nuance – and some fact – is missing from this, but nuance and facts are often missed when selecting a candidate.

So how do they address you?  Clinton acts like you are unimportant, a benign growth on the body of the nation, while Trump at least treats you like the heart and backbone of the country.

So, you have to vote for one of them, one treats you like you are below them and the other like you mean something, who do you vote for?

It’s not bigotry, it’s not racism, it’s not because rural people hate women or Muslims or (insert whatever group they were supposed to have not cared about to vote for Trump); it’s because Trump spoke to rural America while Clinton spoke at rural America.

You want fly-over states to vote for you?  You want Iowa to go back to voting for Democrats?  Treat them like they aren’t a nuisance, and that their feelings and opinions actually matter to you, and then they’ll be way more open to having a conversation about progressiveness.

And about Iowa specifically.  We are a joke until it comes to an election; then we’re 6 electoral votes that are up for grabs.  Maybe we stop treating Iowa like a joke, remember that Iowa was 2nd for marriage equality, and try to actually reach out to farmers and factory workers and rural people instead of treating them like Risk pieces.

Most people will vote for their own needs over someone else’s needs, and unless you voted for the rural person’s needs over your own, you can’t judge them for it.  It’s not bigotry, it’s not evil, it’s self-preservation as far as they can tell.

And it’s not stupidity, either.

That’s it.  I’m posting it, consequences be damned.  Maybe, just maybe, we can try to understand each other – and why we make the decisions we make – a bit more instead of saying 48% of the country voted to restrict your rights and make your life more difficult.  Maybe they did what was best for them, much the same way you did what was best for you.

I’m not telling anyone what to feel.  I’m not addressing the fear that many people have.  I’m not pretending to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of the marginalized in our country.  And I’m not saying this is how people should have voted – I’m very much in favor of voting to protect the marginalized and believe they are the groups we should consider first.  What I am trying to do is explain why a rational, loving, unbigoted person might vote contrary to you.

And hopefully, we can act like a united people eventually.

Please, can we stop hurting each other and yelling at each other?  It is doing no good.

– Robby

The Problem of Pastors and Politics

I was having a conversation today…and yesterday…and Sunday about how it has been so very, very hard to keep my damn mouth shut about the political game.  I’ve slipped a few times – more this week than in all previous elections combined – but I am doing my absolute best to not tell people to vote in any way or imply that any candidate is not a Christian candidate.

I’ve wanted to.  My God, I’ve wanted to.  But I have been keeping my mouth shut.  Mostly.

I know I’m not alone, but I can’t help but notice that I have quite a few pastor friends who are quite vocal this election, and I get it.  I really do, I really, really do.  But I find myself at a crossroads.

I am a pastor(ish), and even when I am not in my pulpit, I may as well be because people are going to hear it as the pastor giving his pastoral advice.  I may not be presenting the Word of God in every moment (ESPECIALLY WHILE WATCHING DEBATES) but I am a pastor in every moment, and the words of my mouth are the words of a pastor no matter if I am commenting on the qualities of a specific sandwich at Chick-fil-A* or talking about the qualities of a specific candidate.  In every moment, my voice is the voice of a pastor.

Now if I say that a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A* was tasty but the breading was a bit soggy, I have expert status because I eat a lot but not because I’m a pastor.  I’m just a sad, sad man at that point.  But if I say that one candidate is better than another, my being a pastor gives a level of expertise as a theologian and professional minister.  If I say a particular candidate is not a Christian and demonize them, then I have declared – even unintentionally – that the correct Christian choice is to vote against them.  If I say that the country is doomed if a particular candidate is elected, I say that using the authority I have as a pastor.

Maybe that’s how you think pastors should work, and I won’t be able to convince anyone otherwise, but consider the situation I find myself specifically and tell me how I am supposed to be political and not do a disservice to the Christians I serve, because all of them are baptized, confessing, and worshiping Christians just like me, flaws and all.

I have a staunch Trump supporter, a few that will vote Republican, a strong Clinton supporter or two, a few that will vote for Hillary, and a pile that seriously think the only answer – the absolute only answer – is for neither to be on the ballot and so they feel so helpless and hopeless.

Now let’s say that I demonize Trump and support Hillary.  The Hillary supports just feel supported, the Trump supporters no longer feel like they are welcome Christians, and those frustrated in the middle point to things that she has said that clearly go against my preaching and ask how I can support her.  Most people (or at least half) were just told – albeit possibly unintentionally – that voting for the candidate of their choosing is a sin and that they should feel ashamed.

Now reverse it.  Different people, same result.  I literally told half or more of the people in my congregation that they are sinful for disagreeing with me.

Maybe you don’t see it as forcefully as I do.  Maybe you see yourself as speaking in a voice that isn’t your pastor voice.  Maybe you believe that absolutely no real Christian could support a particular candidate – and that your view is absolutely correct.

But I do.  And before I get an onslaught of things that are wrong with both candidates, I’m watching the same news, reading the same blogs, and having the same thoughts as everyone else.  I can see – clearly – what is going on.  I don’t need you to tell me why you hate/love a particular candidate.  I am not blind or dumb.

I just don’t think it’s responsible for us to be so publicly demonizing and deifying candidates and tell those who we serve who disagree with us – that those that serve right along with us – that we hold the only possible Christian option and dissent is unacceptable.

Now jokes about voting for Mr. Potato Head and Aaron Rodgers (whom I hate with the fire of a billion suns) and expressing your frustration with how the election is shaking out is an entirely different matter.  That’s called being human, and my success as a pastor is about 75% due to my being willing to be a human.  But when you discussion of political situations turns to “Absolutely not her/him”, you tell those who disagree with you that they cannot have their position and still be Christians.

I’ll admit I hate elections, and I want my Twitter feed to go back to beer, jokes, bourbon, jokes, and occasionally a profound statement, but the rhetoric is out of hand, even if I agree with 99% of it.  We’re pastors, we have a different standard and a different calling and we should respect that even when it pains us.  We serve our congregations (or different ministries), not the political process of our country.  Think about the people you serve and if what you are saying will make them less served by you.

Rant over.  Contemplating turning the heater on in my office.

– Robby

*I hadn’t had Chick-fil-A in years and then one opened in Dubuque and I was on the road a lot and found myself having to choose take-out and now I’ve had enough Chick-fil-A for a year…

How to Choose a President

So I watched every second of the debate last night.  It was a huge mistake on my part, not likely to be made again.  But it got me thinking, how do we actually decide who it is that we have leading the executive branch of our federal government?  What is the thought process that we go through to actually make the decision?

I am not endorsing or detracting from any candidate officially (though I really, really want to…) but I think it is more than fair to give ideas on how one might decide who to vote for.  A set of questions, in a specific order, that gives you an idea of how to choose a candidate.

Remember, these are in a specific order.  Start with the first question and move down.

1. Is this candidate qualified to actually fill the role of President?

If I sent an application to an engineering firm, it would rightfully be tossed out.  Do you know why?  Because I am incapable of completing the tasks of the job I am applying for.  It doesn’t matter if I have the same design philosophy of the company, it doesn’t matter if I’m a really cool dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m fresh blood while another candidate is old hat, if I cannot complete the tasks required of me, I should not be hired.

I think all the vast majority of people – include Christians – get so caught up in the political game and black-and-white nature of partisan politics that this very simple question gets ignored.  It needs to be first on the list, period.  You don’t hire pastors as security guards – usually – and we shouldn’t hire people who can’t actually complete the tasks of President to be President.

(Sidebar: I hate capitalizing President…)

2a. (Specifically for Christians, but also applicable to others) Will this candidate embody the Greatest Commandments?
2b. (For everyone) Does this candidates actual political positions align with my moral convictions?

I tried to come up with something more instructive here, but I couldn’t.  Look at the political positions the candidate purport, look at how they speak and act, and then decide if you can give them the yes on these questions.

There is an argument that these questions (especially for Christians) should come first, but the best morality and the best politics and the best person means absolutely nothing if you can’t put those things into action.  The reality is that if someone cannot actually do the job, it does not matter how awesome they are.  There is a reason I’m not, nor will I ever be, a baseball pitcher or starting NFL quarterback.  I’m pretty awesome, but I can’t do that.

3. Is this person the best candidate for everyone who isn’t me?

I am a white male, protestant, religious, moderate, working class (and slowly clawing my way up), beer drinker, bourbon drinker, short, over-weight, non-pot smoking, writer, pastor.  And I could focus that microscope even further.  Who is best for me may not be best for my wife, or the church secretary, or the family that just moved in down the street, or the banker, or the homeless guy I gave money to that one time, or the pan-handler I gave money to that one time.

When we choose someone who is best for us, we are choosing on a very narrow microcosm to benefit with our choice.  If we decide to be a bit less egocentric in our decision-making, then we actually consider a much broader set of benefits and actually, you know, attempt to improve the world, not just our personal microcosm.

And really, everyone else being better off makes you better off, just saying.

4. Is this person the best candidate for me?

If you actually get this far, then you can actually be selfish.  If you are fortunate enough to get through all of the questions with two (or more?) candidates who can actually do the job, embody your moral convictions, and are good for everyone, then you can selfishly choose a candidate who will pass laws that will make your microscopic microcosm of the world better specifically for you.

That’s the end.  Hopefully this was unbiased enough to not actually endorse/detract from anyone specific, but I can’t guarantee that.  This is the first election where I very much wanted to just start screaming publicly about political matters, but it isn’t my place and certainly my pulpit will not be sullied by partisan politics.

– Robby