A Time to Speak and a Time to Refrain from Speaking

Today, I attended the Stand Against Racism Day of Action event sponsored by the YWCA of Kankakee County, IL. This was the fifth such event I have attended since returning to my hometown five years ago. At this event we viewed a TED Talk (about 18 minutes) by Verna Myers a diversity trainer and had an open conversation reflecting on what we heard in her talk.

To recap, here are Verna Myers three major points were:

  1. Uncover your own biases. Who is your default for goodness? for Evil? Who do you automatically trust? Who do you fear?
  2. Move toward young black men and not away from them. Don’t just listen to the stories we make up for ourselves before we actually know who they are.
  3. When we see/hear something (biased/racist) we have to have the courage to say something.

It was the last point that jogged this story from my memory and that I shared briefly with the diverse group of about 60 in attendance. Hear is the non-abridged version: About 20 years ago, Teri (my spouse of 25 yrs.) and I took my parents for a day visit to Chicago to visit the Mag Mile and to ascend Hancock Tower. Mom & Dad had never been to downtown Chicago even though they lived just 60 miles south of the Loop. They were fans of Chicago sports teams and we watched Chicago TV because the antenna brought them in clearly and we had no local TV stations. But, they had never ventured into the big city as adults. Why? Fear. Yes, they feared Chicago. Now I have to admit being a small town boy myself, venturing to large cities is a bit daunting with traffic and transit and all the skyscrapers that make a flat-lander lose their direction sense. In Mom and Dad’s case, the fear was more than just bumper to bumper traffic. Dad had been a truck driver after-all. The fear was more profoundly about their chances of getting mugged or murdered by a person of color.

And so as we drove through the South side of Chicago, my mother became increasingly tense in the back seat. Wondering why we had to drive through those “n—– filled neighborhoods.” For context, let me say that politically-incorrect language was more commonplace in our home than not. My parents were not supporters of the Civil Rights Movement but were not anti-Civil Rights either. They had both good and bad experiences with people of color in their young lives. Back to the story, I had a choice in that moment somewhere south of Englewood. I could just let it go, chalk it up to her generation, give her the benefit of the doubt as an under educated white person, or I could speak. I chose to speak and to ask my mom to refrain from using derogatory names for people she didn’t even know. It was tense and quiet for a few miles. And we enjoyed our trip to Chicago, even the 95th floor observatory.

What happened in that moment had a huge impact later. As my parents listened to the perspectives I was gaining through education and peer interaction, they softened their language and broadened their viewpoints. They were not “cured” of their own prejudice and neither am I. But more importantly they came to understand that we as parents of their grandchildren were not going to tolerate intolerance in language or action as example for our children. And, it worked. Our boys only learned derogatory names from school children and a few extended family, but not from their grandparents nor their parents. I think our choice to speak had a ripple effect on other family members as well. Our children did not grow up with ill-informed biases about people who have a different amount of melanin in their skin cells and when they encounter bigotry and ignorance they recognize it immediately. They are the most inclusive, non-judgmental people I know.

To be fair, I believe Mom and Dad grew in their understanding of racism over the past 20 years before their deaths eight weeks apart a year ago. I believe they had an expanded perspective on the human race and were supportive of my work in anti-racism organizing and awareness. For many of us who are white this all begins in our own homes with our own families. And may carry over to the little league ball diamond, the football field, the school concert, the office break room, the block party and yes even church on Sunday.

Have the courage to speak when it is time to speak and to refrain from repeating stereotypes. Do it with kindness and gentleness. Speak the truth. And, perhaps we may just eliminate the evil of racism from our midst.

Come Out! And Be Free to be You – Mother’s Day Sermon

Come Out! And Be Free to be You

I John 5:1-5

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,  for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.  Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Have you ever owned a dog? If you have then you may understand the importance of Obedience training. Many breeds of dogs are eager to please their human companions – eager for the reward for their obedience – rub on the head or belly, scratch behind the ears, a treat, sometime at the dog park to play with other dogs, or simply just the words “good girl” or “good boy.” Cats on the other hand I am told will do their best to train you to obey them.

Obedience is often one of the first life lessons we learn from our parents – it begins in small ways at first when we are tiny – a gentle nudge away of a hand grabbing for our eyeglasses or our hair with the word “No” often “No No No” No touch.

The training promotes safety as our children test limits and abilities with toddling and childhood. “Take that out of your mouth” “put that down before you break it” “that’s mommy’s not yours” “wash your hands before you eat”

And then there are the ground rules and limits set for increasingly independent youngsters
“be home before dark”
“don’t ride your bike farther than you are able to see the house and absolutely no riding on the highway,” “do your homework first then if there’s time you may play a game,” “one cookie is enough, put the others back!”

rules

Of course the rules get more serious as the teen years approach: “no dating until your sixteen without one of your parents present,” “loud music after 9PM will Not be tolerated,” “laziness will result in forfeiture of your allowance,” “Clean your room or lose your privileges” “Clothes go in the hamper not next to it on the floor” – some of us never learn that one, “just say no to everything except your mother!”

Obedience of our parental folks is sometimes for our own good – health & safety for instance.
Other times obedience is truly about imposing our will on our children, sometimes with positive intention and sometimes with negative results.

One of the major changes in our cultural landscape recently has been the diminishing privacy people have. It seems we can’t or don’t hide much from anybody these days. You may bemoan that as a loss of freedom and perhaps that’s correct.

Privacy, however should never be used as a smoke screen for abusive behaviors against children. So to the extent that decreasing privacy helps uncover injustice against vulnerable people, then we must ask which value is most important to us our privacy or the freedom of another from abuse or exploitation?

Obedience should never be Coercive or about Manipulation of another human being. And this is even true of obedience to God.

MotherTObey
Obedience is often associated with Rewards and Punishments.
• Break the law, or the rule, or the Limit and get caught, you are subject to punishment.
• Obey the law and nobody will notice – but your reward may be a lower insurance premium or you may get a treat like DQ or Permission to go to the concert.
• Religion has said obey God and you’ll get in to heaven – ticket stamped – destination confirmed.
• Disobey God and you’ll find yourself in the throws of hell.

Obeying God is Less about Rewards & Punishments and Mostly about following God’s commandments = Love God & Love Every Neighbor
Obeying God is:
• to submit yourself to the Awesome Abundant Amazing Love God has for you and for everyone else
• to subject yourself to the Healing Mercy and Powerful Grace of God
• to Accept yourself as a Fully Adopted & Affirmed Child of God and to Treat Others as Sisters and Brothers in that same Grace

Obedience to God Frees us to be Who we are Created to Be – Children of an Awesome God!

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

Obeying God – Not Burdensome? All those laws, 600something in OT alone? In this world with all the opportunities to take advantage of invisible privileges and the exploitation of others?

GodChoseYou

What John wants to tell you is that when you fully understand that YOU are CHOSEN by God and So IS EVERY ONE ELSE – Completely Loved, Encouraged by Grace, Accepted & Free From the Need for Any Other Affirmation in the World – When YOU Understand that – When YOU Breathe and Live that in Your Life – YOU are Free to Be You!

When we think about parenting – eternal or earthly – we should ask ourselves whether our Obedience training is Teaching us a Blind Compliance in Another’s Will for our Lives or Are We Being Encouraged or Encouraging our Children to Be Who we or They Are Created to Be?
Are we Growing faith to Conquer the Exploitive Ways of the World – Trust in the Truth that we Don’t have to Try to Be Somebody else. Friends, we are Created Beautiful – for beauty beholds imperfection and celebrates it without constraint.

Beauty

Our Consumer Oriented Culture is Based on Marketing Products for Profit that Make us Feel or Think We are Beautiful – Beauty that is Defined by Fashion, Body Mass Index, Health, Abilities, Wealth, Attention, & Power.

This is especially true for the very women & girls in our society we celebrate today. The Mass Marketed Messages of the Ingredients for Beauty and Acceptance often are Received as a Brew of Shame if She doesn’t Meet up to the Impossible and Fake Standards Used to Coerce Young women to Reject themselves as they Try to be Beautiful.

Teen girls are pressured to have the perfect body, which of course doesn’t exist except in the imagination of Media. Suicide rates for teen girls trying to conform to air-brushed and computer generated images are too high – one is too many.
I found this beautiful video with a strong message for all of the women in our lives that was posted on our Facebook page earlier in the week – Song entitled Try by Colbie Callait.

God Chose YOU just as YOU are! God’s only Desire is for Your worship & Your Love. If anyone else tells You anything less or more they may be Manipulating you. God has no interest in Manipulating you. God wants you to be Free to Be You!
So Come Out! Stop hiding in the dark. Step into the Light of Christ’s love. You are beautiful just as You are and You are God’s child! Amen.

May 10, 2015 Easter VI – Year B COME OUT! Series Part 5 of 6 – Rev. Robert Bushey, Jr. Central Christian Church Bourbonnais, IL

Is the Church Irrelevant?

Recently I had a week of laryngitis which developed late on a Saturday evening. Arriving at church on a Sunday morning with almost no audible voice was interesting to say the least. I have rarely lost my voice completely. Sure, I’ve had my share of colds and sinus infections with sore throats, but this time my voice was gone. And, for me, that is a challenge! My voice is significant in my vocation, family life, and for my conversational personality. By some miracle I was able to squeak through my sermon, one of the best I’ve prepared on the Baptism of Jesus, IMHO expressing a clear understanding of baptism and yet I have to wonder if anyone really heard the word or were folks just distracted by my attempt to speak? I struggled the rest of the day on Sunday as I tried to participate in dialogue only to give up time and time again. I was frustrated by my inability to say what I wanted to say.

Baptism an Act of Stewardship

On Sunday, I tried to proclaim baptism as an act of stewardship, indeed the purest form of Christian stewardship. In baptism we GIVE our whole selves BODY, MIND & SPIRIT in COVENANT or RELATIONSHIP with GOD. When we enter the waters of baptism, we allow all that holds us back from complete commitment to follow Jesus to be washed away as we symbolically die with Christ and are buried with him. In other words, we give up the distractions that claim our attention, such as our addiction to “our stuff.” When we RISE from the waters of baptism, we enter into newness of LIFE in Christ Jesus, indeed abundant and eternal life. We are not made perfect, although baptism is a once-and-done, symbolic act. We are granted the opportunity to give of ourselves freely for the mission and ministry of Christ in the world namely the church and her witness to the good news of Jesus. So, baptism is an act of stewardship, of giving of ourselves for the service and mission of Jesus. Stewardship has been a common theme during worship at Central for the month of January as we invite everyone to make an estimate of your giving for 2013. I was moved by the testimony of one of our most recently baptized youth during the Call to Stewardship on Sunday. Hearing how Central Christian Church has already made a difference in his life, points us to the real purpose of our Christian Stewardship, to transform lives by sharing our gifts of time, abilities and money. Your generosity has made an impact on his life and provided hope for the witness of Central in future generations.

Where Are the Younger People?

Nearly every week recently, I have found an article or news program focusing on the rising number of people who have either left the church or have never been a part of church in their lives. NPR ran a series last week called Losing My Religion. Known as the “nones” or the non-religiously affiliated group, they are mostly younger adults without any upbringing in religion. Some say they represent an entire generation. And, while several factors are always listed for the growth in this particular group and the decline of organized religion as a whole, especially Christianity in the US, a couple factors always get my attention. Researchers say the “nones” often believe the church as an institution has become irrelevant, but many still believe in God. Irrelevancy is the result of the failure of the church to communicate the message of faith in a meaningful way to new generations and cultures of people.  Several service clubs and associations are also seeing declines among younger members. Another factor for many who have left the church has been the unwelcome spirit they encountered in the church, indeed many have been hurt by the church in some way, by some meaningless or negative comment or worse the abusiveness of a member or staff person. Nothing will drive a person away from a church like mean criticism or judgment from another member. The gift of humility allows us to accept and respect another person with their “imperfections” because we understand ourselves as imperfect as well. Healthy relationships in the church and all walks of life begin with humility. And, healthy relationships draw people to the church to belong to something powerful and worthy of their investment of themselves. Just to be clear, humility is not the same as being a victim of another’s abusive behavior.

If the recent surge in articles about the growth of the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd often members of the “nones” tell us anything, it may be that the church has struggled to give a relevant voice to the life affirming, welcoming spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has too often been silent where voices of solidarity and justice for the oppressed were needed all the while Christianity was represented publicly and politically by those shouting fear and condemnation for all who are cast out socially, the very people Jesus sought to serve. In other words, the church has talked about loving one another but not actually done it very often. Let’s turn that around, shall we?

{From my minister’s column in the Christian Challenger, January 15, 2013. Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Bourbonnais, IL}