How I (Suddenly) Became Progressive

I have been trying to find where my outside church ministry in Fort Wayne and Indiana is leading me – that ministry you do because you are called to just a little bit more than just being a preacher, hospital visitor, and administrator – and I found myself attending a presbytery justice advocates group.

As we talked, I found myself hearing the politics and concerns of the groups and found myself agreeing with them, not in a surprising way but in a, “Yes, my people.  I found my people.”  Then one of the people call the group “progressive.”

I was a little bit taken aback.  I’m a moderate, certified fence-sitter.  I have strongly held political beliefs, but they don’t fit neatly in the adversarial binary off the American political system.  The only thing “radical” about me is my insistence that those I minister to and I myself love radically and the sheer volume of coffee I drink.  I don’t lean left, I never have.  I used to lean right, but I’ve centered myself.  My positions tend to be more logical than anything, seeking first to love than to actually see things work.

If you see me or talk to me, you don’t think progressive.  At all.

But I realized something in that meeting: I have become a progressive, in a way.  I didn’t change all that much – I fleshed out more theology and stopped giving benefit of the doubt to one side, which didn’t really change all that much about me – but I can easily be labeled a progressive now.

I didn’t change, but the line moved, and I’m on that side of the line.

Here are some things it became progressive to believe or observe:

  • That all people – all of God’s children – should be able to participate in the fullness of the church, no matter their lifestyle, brokenness, or who they love.
  • That there is still racial inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That there is economic inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That people should be able to go to the doctor and not need to make a decision between eating or healthcare, rent or healthcare, or any other necessity of life or healthcare.
  • That people should be paid a fair wage.
  • That the rich should not gain their wealth by the abuse of their workers.
  • That Christian allegiance is to the cross, not a flag.
  • That Christian allegiance is to Christ, not a world leader.
  • That all Christians are broken, all Christians desperately need the saving love of our savior, and that none of us can cast a stone against another sinner.
  • That Christians are called to protect, lift up, hear, and speak out for the vulnerable and the weak, using whatever privilege and power we have to help those and speak for those who do not have that privilege and power.
  • That wealth is not a blessing from God but simple a resource for use to better God’s creation and show Christ’s love.
  • That Christians cannot act in fear and are called to act against their own well-being when it comes to showing love.

I used to believe that the vast majority of these things were boilerplate Christian values.  There may be some deviation if we really want to break them down to the most minute subtleties, but I thought this was pretty basic Christian doctrine for the mainline.

The reality, I’ve learned over the past few months and even couple of years, is that these believes and observations make me progressive politically.

I was taught that not being strongly conservative made you a liberal.  I was taught that being liberal was evil.  I was taught that being a liberal Christian meant that I didn’t believe anything.  I was taught that the progressive church was the coming of the Antichrist.  I was taught that disagreeing with the narrow doctrines of the conservative church was tantamount to being not-Christian.

And our binary, adversarial political tribalism has made it to where a prophetic voice is discounted and ignored because it is simply seen as an attack from the other.

When did being a moderate make you progressive?  I don’t know, but it has, and I guess I’m a progressive now.

I guess being a progressive means that you value showing love above all.

29Jesus replied, “The most important one is ‘Israel, listen!  Our God is the one Lord, 30and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  31The second is this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.”

– Mark 12:2-31 CEB

I guess being progressive means following the Greatest Commandments.

I guess I’m progressive now.

Peace,
– Robby

A Difficult Sermon

Note: When I preached on this passage, I realized I hadn’t preached on it since taking “Preaching” in seminary, and I almost quit seminary due to that course.  I never titled this sermon, and I can’t think of a title while I post some previous sermons to the archive, so the title has more to do with me than the sermon.

Sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (and 1 Samuel 2:12-25)

If we just read the 10 verses the lectionary recommends, we get a Sunday School lesson.  Now, I usually say something like that when the passage misses something huge, but this passage gets most of the story.  Samuel does not know the Lord yet, but he is attentive and ready to fulfill his duty.  Eli helps Samuel understand who called him, much the same way he has helped Samuel become the beloved prophet he has already become.

The passage has a strong lesson: listen for when God calls, and willingly do what God calls you to.  The passage tells a very relevant passage for literally every moment in human existence, and we should tell it regularly.

The background does not change the message: the message remains “Answer when God calls and do what God says,” but the background makes it stronger and shows consequences of not doing God’s will.

What happens before this shows why God needs Samuel, and why God needs someone other than Eli.

Eli is worthless.

I preached on this passage last in my first Preaching class in seminary.  I said something to that effect, and the professor and class responded poorly to it.  Their struggle came from me not giving Eli any credit, how Samuel’s coming of age gave pain and sadness to Eli, how God’s message to Samuel felt like a birth pang for Eli, how he grew Samuel and now he painfully gave birth to Samuel’s ministry.

That rings of truth, but incomplete truth.  The full story tells it differently: Eli did not control his family, especially his sons, and allowed travesties to happen to those under his care.  This painful experience of Samuel coming into authority was precipitated by Eli’s inaction and ineffectiveness, and had he taken a stronger position, one of Eli’s sons would take his place.

Samuel does not become a prophet if Eli does his job.

But Eli did not do his job.  In fact, Eli grossly ignored a call I harp on every week: protect and love the vulnerable.

Eli’s sons are evil.  Wicked, despicable scoundrels, according to scripture, depending on how you translate the word.

They first abuse their power by forcing people to give the best of their sacrifices, a large, uncooked portion with fat instead of the portion of the boiled meal they should.  I think about this, and immediately I think about the number of people who came through that had spent every spare coin they had to purchase this meat for sacrifice.  Eli’s sons not only took from God, which sounds pretty darned awful in and of itself, and took from people who had to spare, but they took from every person who came to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice, including those who had nothing to spare.  The priests, those called to a live of servitude and humility, demanded the finest cuts for their own use.

It can get worse, though.  They also had sex with the servant girls at the city gates.  These are servant girls who certainly cannot say no to the powerful priests serving Shiloh.  Scripture does not tell us if they did this by physical force or through coercion or through taking advantage of vulnerabilities–probably because it does not matter.  No matter how they did it, they sexually took advantage of the women at the gate.

The sons are evil, and Eli does nothing.

Well, Eli does something.  He basically says, “You boys stop it!” and then does nothing.  His words have no teeth, he will not actually make them stop taking advantage of the vulnerable.  Under his watch, people who cannot resist suffer abuses at the hands of his sons.

This goes beyond just not being able to control his sons.  All parents have times when their children do terrible things.  We do not blame the parent for the sins of the child unless you can see that no actions were taken to correct what was happening.  Eli’s sons did not just start raping and stealing.  They did not go from perfectly mediocre priests to evil men.  They had to progress from one sin to a more painful sin to a more painful sin to get to the point they arrive at when Samuel is called by God.

And Eli effectively did nothing.  Eli is worthless to protect and help the people of Israel, especially the poor and vulnerable who could not help themselves.  This swan song comes not just because Eli painfully gives birth to Samuel’s ministry, but because Eli fail and his failure caused abuses of the vulnerable.

It sounds familiar.  Listen to the cries of the vulnerable around you today.  We are coming up on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and racial tensions have grown in recent years instead of declining.  The church has a call to protect the vulnerable yet stories come out regularly about people in about abusing those God called them to protect.  The poor, the vulnerable, the “less than” are currently, today, right now, being abused.

We can be Samuel, answering the call of God, listening to the cries of God’s people, and reacting.  God has called us to protect the weak and vulnerable, the feed the poor, to live out what Christ lived out while he walked the Earth despite his own poverty.  We can do good in the world and actually act to prevent evil in the world.

Or we can be Eli.  We can have good intentions, say, “Don’t do that!” and do nothing more.  We can allow abuses to take place under our watch, speaking the right words but taking no action, doing nothing to actually protect the vulnerable.

We can do either.  God calls us to one, but Eli clearly chose the other.

Now, we may not fully recognize God’s call at first.  Samuel needed guidance and did not recognize God’s voice at first.  But once he listened for God, he did what God needed and helped the weak and the vulnerable.

We can listen for God and help the vulnerable, or we can do what we have always done, not listening for God’s direction, and just let darkness win.

I recommend we listen for God.  Amen.

Loving Rapists and Terrorist

This week I attended a Boundaries and Ethics training, and I had a wonderful conversation with a couple of other young pastors about the message of the gospel.  Later that night, I tweeted this:

I like provocative tweets, and that’s exactly what I meant to say.  If you read the gospels (especially Matthew 5:43:48) “Love your enemies” is pretty much the command.

Everyone loves their friends and who it’s easy to love.  Our command is to love all; in practice, that means to actively love our enemies.

The conversation on Wednesday revolved around one thing: Jesus wasn’t kidding or pulling punches when he said, “Love your enemies.”

We were a bit cheeky about it.  “No really, love your enemies.  No, really, love your enemies.  No, really, love your enemies.  Terrorists and rapists and pedophiles included. *NOT MY POLITICAL PARTY* included.  No, really, love your enemies…no, REALLY, love your enemies.”

Then we started talking about boundaries.  And I realized today that my tweet, which I stand by and would tweet again, might have been oddly timed.

One national conversation this week was how many women and non-CIS people have had their bodily autonomy and sexual boundaries broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in violent, terrible ways.

I would claim it is a universal experience.  Everyone woman I have ever talked to about it has had it happen, even if it was the cultural norm even 30 years ago.

So I wanted to write a little bit about loving rapists and terrorists.  Because I don’t want any to hear what I wrote as accepting and downplaying the horror victims feel.

Because it is horrific, and should be named as such.

Loving someone does not mean to make their sins and their atrocities okay.  To love someone does not mean to downplay what they have done or pretend it didn’t happen.  To love someone does not mean to tell their victims that they aren’t victims.  To love someone does not make them not a rapist or terrorist, and it does not make rape and terrorism okay.

Much the same way that God loved us and provided salvation even if what we do is not okay.  Jesus didn’t make our sins okay, he didn’t make us killing each other and tear each other apart okay, he didn’t make our destruction of our planet okay.

None of that is okay.  All of it is still horrific.

But we are still loved.  And so we are supposed to love all, include those who we find horrific and who victimize.

Love and not hate.

There is something that my tweet misses, and it can’t be included to make it pithy, but it needs to be said.  The ultimate message is to love all, but there is a certain bias towards the weak and the powerless and the victimized.  Jesus loved the broken by healing and caring.

And love the money changers in the temple by turning over the tables.

Love comes in different forms, and love is not telling a rapists or terrorist that what they are doing is okay and allowing them to continue.  Love is healing, which includes healing the victim and healing the perpetrator so they can stop creating victims.

Love is calling sin sin, horror horror, and terror terror, and creating healing for the ravages of sin.

And love is trying to stop sin.

I can’t write the practical method of loving a rapist or a terrorist that also heals and does no harm to their victims, but I know that I must love them even if I despise them.

You are called to to the same.

Hopefully that through just the right amount of more mud into the muddy waters so it’s murky enough to be helpful.

Peace,
– Robby

Silence in Tragedy and Atrocity

It is always a weird feeling when you can’t say anything when you are in a profession built about having answers and preaching the Word.  But here we are.

I’ve spent two days mourning the senseless violence that has once again ravaged our nation.  I’ve cried over the devastation of the natural disasters that have destroyed life and home of thousands, and felt rage over the lopsided and frankly sickening response to different groups of Americans having their homes destroyed.

I have prayed, and I have not heard an answer.

I want to fix the world, and I can’t.  But I am expected to have a response because of my profession and my faith.

And I don’t have a response that will be helpful or could possibly be heard in a helpful way.  So I will pray, and I will remain silent, and I will pray.  Because that is all I can do.

I know there is a call – even from my own denomination – to speak out and call our congresspeople and scream about it, but I don’t know what to say or what to ask for.  I know there is an army of people who would be willing to tell me what I am supposed to ask for, and another army who also know exactly what to ask for, both armies asking for exactly opposite things.

I don’t know, I am lost, and my voice wants to be heard but I have no words.

So now I pray:

God of peace and love, provide us peace and love, mold our hearts for peace and love, and help us to feel Your peace and love.  Amen.

And I remain silent until I have a word that might help instead of tear apart and break down relationship when we need, more than anything, loving relationship.

Jesus loves you and I love you.

Peace,
– Robby

Jesus Loves You and I Love You

I simply need to put that out there.  No matter who you are – your sexuality, your political party, your attitudes, your biases – Jesus loves you and I love you.

I can’t contribute anything unique or helpful to the conversations that are happening around us, I don’t have the energy to add my voice in a meaningful way other than to say Jesus loves you and I love you.

Peace,

– Robby

A Random Memory (And a Rabbit Hole)

I had a memory flood back to me like that I hadn’t thought of in a while:

When I was young, I really struggled with spelling.  I mean, I still struggle with spelling, but I have those wonderful red squiggles to help me out now.  Anyway, I remember sitting at a parent-teacher conference in fourth grade – I think – and there was conversation about how I was still not reading chapter books and I was still using “inventive spelling,” which was unacceptable at that level.

I guess.

This memory is always spurned by a slightly earlier memory, I think first or second grade.  I was trying to write “The Indians are our friends.” and what I wrote was “The Indians are are friends.”  I knew they were different words, but I didn’t understand the spelling difference.

Chronic bad speller.  I legitimately thank God for whomever added the squiggly lines to Word, and also whomever added them to browsers.

That one popped into my head because I meant to type “our” and I typed “are.”  I deleted, corrected, and then the memories flooded back.

There is always a third thing that pops into my head.  There is a story from this guy talking about a girl on social media who is obviously a teenager with teenage theories and beliefs.  He goes through how dumb she supposedly is – again, probably because she’s a teenager1 – and yet she always used the right version of there/their/they’re, as a righteous condemnation of anyone who gets it wrong because “she’s dumb, and even she can do it.”

I wonder how much brilliance is ignored because communication isn’t everyone’s forte.  Sometimes saying something is more important than saying it properly.  Sometimes the thoughts get ahead of the grammar, and the thoughts are much more important than the grammar, yet we condemn anything not written properly as stupid.

I’m as guilty as anyone.  I’m a little bit racist in this regard, in fact.  There is a pronunciation of “ask” that makes me immediately discount the speaker as less educated and less wise.  Now, I recognize this about myself and I consciously snap myself out of it – I have casual racism within me, like anyone else, and I believe just acknowledging it and then putting it aside when it happens will make me, and anyone else, better at interacting with the world – but it’s a thing for me.  And it almost made me discount the wisdom of someone in CPE, someone who brought a lens to my experience I was so very lucky to have because her presence was so very atypical to the CPE process.

We need to become better judges of the thoughts expressed to us and stop using our biases against certain types of communication in that judgement process.  How often have you discounted something because it isn’t well written?  How often have you discounted something because the speaker is angry, or upset, or emotionless?  How often have you discounted someone because they lack education, or are highly educated?  How often have you discounted someone because of their level of privilege, be it high or low?

Because I have.  Probably every day.

There was a great article – and if I find it, I will tweet it and link it here – that has an argument that we can’t possibly be fully “woke” and trying to attain the title of “King Woke” or “Queen Woke” is a fools errand.  Instead, we just need to acknowledge our biases – in the terms of the article, racism, but all biases that divide and silence – and do our best to set them aside as we live in this world.

So I issue a challenge.  Read a poorly written article and judge is based on the merits of its argument, not the quality of its writing.  Read an article arguing a position you disagree with – hate, even – and evaluate it honestly, not biased by your current preconception.  If we do this, we can both widen our minds and also widen our arguments when we come up against something we find abhorrent, attacking it at its core and its logic instead simply in a way that can be described as “divisive” and “political.”

And instead of pretending you have no biases – and especially no internalized and/or casual racism – acknowledge it and work to set it aside.

Maybe we can start interacting with each other and loving each other fully if we try.

Okay, I need to stop procrastinating.  Hopefully this mind-dump makes sense.

Peace,

– Robby

1For anyone my age and older, you should be insanely thankful that all the stupid thoughts you had as a teenager were not recorded as a permanent record for all to read forever – and to nail you to the wall about because you are a stupid teenager. Every election around/after 2032 should be pretty entertaining…

In the Name of My Sanity (Or, Sharing the Works of Our Hands)

Something in my last post that is absolutely true is that I want to write about something not awful.  The darkness in the world has been a reason why the previous iteration of this blog remained kind of active over the past three years, but only writing to respond to travesty is soul-killing for me.  Cathartic, but soul-killing.

So I decided I’m going to write something happy.

Last night we had a delicious meal: butter-fried steak, roasted tomatoes, sauteed bell peppers, blanched and cooked green beans.  It was heavenly.

All of the major ingredients came from the hands of someone whom loves us.  The steak came from a couple of parishioners who are responsible for us not buying ground beef for the past three years.  The beans and tomatoes came from the generous excess of another parishioner who loves being able to give away the excess from her garden.  The bell peppers came from our pots, and I think it is important to love myself.

At Bible study last night there were four pints of grape tomatoes, a pound or two of green beans, and a dozen eggs to share because of the excess of the loving work of the gardeners – and Marv’s chickens – and God’s creation.

And it is freely and joyfully given.  We have offered – many times – to pay for the eggs, and the offer is always declined.  By the end of the summer anyone who wants to can tomatoes, beans, beets, or really any food has ample produce to do it.

There is something absolutely wonderful this level of generosity.  I haven’t bought sweet corn since we moved to Cascade.  From the moment I moved here I have felt loved and part of a family under God.

I’ve struggled with how to respond to the darkness of the world – and I still struggle with it as I also consider how to respond to potential reactions to my words – but I have been preaching an answer for basically my entire ministerial career:

Show love to those around you.

Yes, I can tell you to not be racist and disavow those who are and publicly condemn acts of hatred, but last night, eating from the generosity of others and receiving more generosity last night, I felt more love and more welcome.

If we can live our lives like that in our small circles, and do that will all people, we will reduce the darkness in our world.

I can’t fix the racism of our nation, I can’t heal the deep wounds that it has caused, but I can show love to all.

Show love to all.

Peace,

– Robby