Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You’ve got to be taught to hate

I’m walking down the street, minding my own business, listening to Barbra Streisand. And this song comes up. It’s a two song medley, one from ‘South Pacific’, the second from ‘Into the Woods’.

Think about the philosophies of life and theologies that are passed along from generation to generation.
Think about the ethnic, gender, religious or economic biases that you learned from your parents or other influential adults in your early years, and how you have continued to live them out as an adult.
Think about how your kids now reflect those same values.

If only our homes and schools and churches were places safe from discrimination.

Here are the lyrics to the songs as sung by Barbra on her ‘Live in Concert 2006’ album.

You've got to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught before it's too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen

How can you say to a child who's in flight
"Don't slip away and I won't hold so tight"
What can you say that no matter how slight Won't be misunderstood
What do you leave to your child when you're dead?
Only whatever you put in its head
Things that you're mother and father had said
Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do it too
Children will see, and learn
Which were left to them too
Oh guide them but step away
Children will glisten
Temper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
"Listen to me"
Children will listen.

It’s not too late to:
1. Change your heart, and
2. Pass along something better to the next generation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


It’s way too easy for me to rant. To get on my high horse and try to knock off the other riders.
I could say it is my gift, that I am supposed to disturb people. That I have a responsibility to complain about things that need to be changed.
That may be true, as far as it goes—but sometimes it needs to go farther, and in a different direction.

Tonight I basked in a Steve Bell & band concert. Awesome music. Awesome band.
Steve is releasing his new CD called Kindness. The title song was written by Brian McLaren. Yes, that Brian McLaren.

The words are gentle, simple, encouraging, positive. Not at all rant-ish.

Hearing Steve sing it tonight reminded me of the extreme value of being positive.
Of pointing out the good, not just the bad.
Of encouraging, edifying, uplifting.

Here are the lyrics for the song:
Christ has no body here but ours
No hands no feet here on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he looks
On this world with kindness

Ours are the hands through which he works
Ours are the feet on which he moves
Ours are the voices through which he speaks
To this world with kindness

Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here

Let us go now, inspirited
Into this world with kindness

You can listen to part of it here:
I was at the conference Steve refers to in his notes for the song, and blogged about it here:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The times (part 2)

I expect there have always been natural disasters. But when a big one happens, you start tallying up the recent ones—and it seems they are happening with greater frequency.
We have the triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami, and radiation from Japan, and then we immediately remember New Zealand, China, and the monster in Haiti. Then, not that long ago was the huge and deadly earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia and the Indian Ocean. It’s easy to see a trend, to say that these disasters are another way that times are changing.
If we aren’t diligently killing off people through war, we are seeing it happen through ‘Acts of God’.

Are things getting worse? Are we approaching the end of the world? Is God trying to tell us something? Some Christians seem to think that these disasters give them a great soapbox to deliver a message of God’s judgment. Or is there a certain amount of blame to be placed back on us, the energy hungry Western world?

What do we do, what can we learn? Do we use these catastrophes as an opportunity to preach, or to get involved, to actually care? Or do we thank God that it didn’t happen to us, make a token donation, and carry on with our daily, consumptive lives.
I’m not trying to promote pat answers here, just some more thinking. For us on the West Coast, we realize again how little control we have over nature, and news of another earthquake tends to shake us out of our lethargy (at least for a few days). Maybe this time we will get more prepared for our own disaster, and really work towards making a difference where the need is the greatest.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The times (part 1)

“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.” (Tolkien)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Dickens)
“For the times they are a-changin'” (Dylan)

Words that are terribly apropos in recent weeks and days.
Whether it is the groundswell of political unrest in North Africa and beyond, or the triple disaster in Japan, the world is not the same as it was even a few months ago.

Where do we (or should we) find ourselves as followers of Jesus?
One answer seems pretty obvious. Compassion is always an appropriate response.
But for me less obvious is my response to the surge of freedom fighters in a number of Arab countries.
Sure, I’m all in favor of throwing off the yoke of oppression of a dictatorship. And, as a product of a fairly democratic country, I tend to see democracy as a great concept. But perhaps that is just the knee-jerk reaction of a Westerner?

Is there a perfect political system?
Where does the Kingdom of God figure into this? In its most perfect incarnation, what would it look like if a nation followed the kingdom principles of the Sermon on the Mount, for example? Does democracy best exemplify loving your neighbor, being poor in spirit, or turning the other cheek? Or is there a different system that would better mirror the Kingdom?
And, as a guy endeavoring to follow the example of Jesus, should I support some kind of effort to ‘subdue’ the leader of a totalitarian government? Should I encourage or support military action (OK, call it war) from outside in order to strengthen the efforts of the locals to establish a government of the people? Or should I mind my own business, and let them duke it out on their own? Our politicians face similar questions, and have made their decision.
Or should I assume that this is all part of God’s way of bringing about Armageddon, the end of all things. That we should rejoice because ‘wars and rumors of wars’ are proof that the end of the world is coming soon, and that this is the ushering in of a New Heaven and a New Earth a la Revelation?
The last option smacks too much of a view of God that I don’t want to be connected with. The God that enjoys smiting. The God that loves us, but hates them. The God that calls us to war. The God that some individuals or groups of people claim is on their side as they ‘destroy the infidels’.

Back to the question: What is my response to these cataclysmic events?
Well, my heart immediately sides with those who desire freedom. And my internal justice meter redlines at the violence perpetrated by and on behalf of the existing leader in order to stay in power.
But isn’t that much the same as happened decades ago as ‘the Allies’ joined together to defeat Hitler? Not only was there moral support for freedom, but over a period of time, many nations declared war on nations they felt were threatening that freedom. I think the prevailing consensus of the West is that war was necessary—the ‘just war’ theory.
Of course, the same logic has been promoted for outside involvement in many other countries since then, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
But does that make it right?
Crucial, pivotal times. Times that can challenge us to think. And I think thinking is an undervalued, overdue activity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

”All the screws have been removed.”

A few weeks ago I heard that phrase somewhere—but now I don’t remember the setting (and Google hasn’t been of any assistance). It had something to do with preparation for moving something that had once been solidly attached, and now was going to a new location.
Whatever the setting, the phrase hit me between the eyes.

What a sense of expectation!
And fear!
And anticipation!
We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto—but I don’t yet know where we have landed.

It’s putting on your skis or committing your feet to the snowboard. You are on a smooth surface, any moment now you could be off on a trip—somewhere. Any nudge will get you started.
All you can say for sure is that the future will not be like the past. But you have no assurance as to where the end point is.

Is it comfortable? Not on your life!
Is it safe? Likely not.
Is it good? Potentially, very good.

Sometimes removing the screws is the first step in a repair project. Once you have removed all of the screws, you can fix the problem with your toaster or vacuum cleaner or carburetor.

Sometimes it is the first step in upgrading something. Remove the screws, take off the cover, and now you can replace that old hard drive in your computer with something bigger.

Sometimes it is the first step in renovating. Take off the old curtain rods, or kitchen cabinets, and install something more modern or useful.

Think about the block of wood once attached to the lathe. While there, it was being formed for a particular purpose. Sure, it was quite an operation, but there was a sense of security in the attachment to the rest of the tool.
Then, the shaping is over, the screws are removed, and real life begins.
Or the student in college. A solid, structured life. Classes, assignments, exams.
Then comes graduation, the dorm is vacated and a new life begins.

And it doesn’t necessarily stop once you have established a career. Sometimes a well-established job disintegrates, or the family needs to move, or all of the little tax deductions are now out on their own, and the nest is empty.

Or, sometimes, God stirs the nest. You get this strange unnatural urge to ask a question. And one by one the things that you thought were written in stone (to switch metaphors) are now less concrete. It’s not that the foundation is crumbling, but certain pieces of the structure are being replaced. The screws are being loosened, and one by one removed so that the structure itself can be placed somewhere else.

If this has happened to you, you know what I am talking about. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is probably the best thing that ever happened to you—but it is still a scary place to be.

Whether physically, emotionally, or even intellectually or spiritually, you now know that your course has been changed, but you don’t yet know where you will land.
Rationality says: “Quick, get reattached. Reset your anchor. Don’t let yourself float away.”
Trust says: “Help! I’m scared—but I know that my little boat isn’t going to be swamped. Blow me where you want, I’m free and safe in You.”
Are you feeling like “All the screws have been removed”—but not yet reattached? Hang in there! As trite as it sounds, you are now ready to move on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Did you know that you have the power to make people disappear?
As you move through a public space, who do you see?
And who do you not see?
Who do you intentionally try to not make eye contact with?
Of course, we see our friends, and usually have no problem seeing people we may not know.
But there are the others…

Here in Victoria, there is a business that hires people to be fund raisers for various charities. They place people in pairs on the street, lying in wait to sign you up as a regular supporter of groups like the Red Cross, or Amnesty International. I admit, I often do what I can do avoid getting pulled in by their tractor beam—ducking into a store, or crossing the street.
Panhandlers have told me more than once that they feel invisible. Even when they offer a cheery “Good Morning!”, they are often treated as if they didn’t exist.
How about the ‘non-normal’ person that you come into close proximity with as you walk down the sidewalk? The lady with the white cane, the boisterous drunk or flailing young addict trying to maneuver their way down the street. The social misfit, the chatty guy from the group home, the obvious member of a different culture.
“I don’t feel comfortable….”
“Not quite sure what to do….”
So I pretend they aren’t there.
Perhaps we are acting like the first two characters in the story of the Good Samaritan who ‘walked by on the other side.’
But what does it feel like to the one who is ignored?

And then there is the flip side—those who don’t want to be seen, who don’t want to have an encounter. Ears plugged with earbuds, eyes focused on texting or reading, apparently afraid that they might have to join the real world.

What does this all mean?
Is it OK to ignore those who look like they want to be ignored, or those I am uncomfortable with?
The prickly question to ask in response to the previous questions is: “What would Jesus do?” If my most important calling in life is to follow Jesus, what would he be doing?
He would go to the well in the center of town where, in the heat of midday is a Woman who Has a Past. And he would talk with her.
He would hang out with publicans, tax collectors, sinners—the riffraff.
He would let a prostitute pour oil on him, wiping him with her hair.
He would touch the untouchables.

The old gospel song says; “I’ll go, where you want me to go, dear Lord.”
Will we? Will we go down an uncomfortable street?
Another song says; “Here I am, Lord. I will go, Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.”
Really? Will we go where he has already gone?
How about: “Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.” In the light of Matthew 25:40 (Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.) will we open our eyes and see Jesus in the person we were trying to ignore?

You have the power to make people disappear or appear. What will you do?

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