Neighbors, Enemies, Love, Hate, Politics & Faith

As a follower of Christ, I hear Jesus invite, plead, command me to love my enemies, not just my family, friends, neighbors or those who are part of “my group” – i.e. my race, religion, nationality, gender, (insert subgroup name here). The genius of this divine exchange is that we can not both love and hate. There is not room in the human heart and imagination for both at once. When people say they have a “love – hate relationship” with something or someone, they usually mean that they vacillate back and forth between loving and hating – it is a schizophrenic sort of experience. We may go back and forth, but the more we move toward one, the further we are from the other.

I also think that we typically use the idea of enemy to refer to groups, not just individuals. Simplification relieves stress, so we simplify the arguments and the adversaries into manageable categories.

We also would rather accuse others than accept responsibility. In a conflict, it is easier to see how the other has wronged us, failed to understand and appreciate our position. Yet we have trouble recognizing how we may have unintentionally offended, incited the other, aggravated the situation. And when someone tries to give us that feedback, how difficult is it for us to hear? How often do they need to use just the right approach for us to receive what they offer, which is for our benefit anyway?

Most people have a reason for their beliefs, words and actions. These may make no sense to us, and may even be unknown to us. But they are there just the same. A great resource for learning to hear and communicate is the book Crucial Conversations. One useful phrase they offer in trying to hear, understand and appreciate the other (particularly our adversary/enemy) is “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person say/do such a thing?” You may argue, “But they aren’t reasonable, rational, or decent!” That may be true, but the refusal to ask the question prevents us from learning, from honoring the other as a fellow human with the same basic needs.

Whether we are struggling with a family member or coworker, engaged in a religious or political debate, assessing the statements and actions of our leaders, or analyzing the global news, we do well to remember the humble and gracious Servant of All who invites us to learn from him how to love the unlovable. This must surely be an act of Spirit and an essential expression of our transformation and maturing.

Religion and military hospitals

Earlier today I received an email fwd that originated last September when someone at Walter Reed mistakenly published an unvetted policy restricting the distribution of religious material, such as bibles, even by family and clergy. Here is the language of the policy, as reported by Fox News, et al: “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.”

The policy was quickly retracted and a new one published that was consistent with the long and ongoing history of the military respecting, honoring and appreciating the role of religion and spirituality in the lives of our soldiers, veterans and their families.

Here is Walter Reed’s Pastoral Care site which makes fairly clear their commitment to the religious/spiritual/faith aspects of soldiers’ lives.

Some of the original email text includes: This military, where homosexuality is celebrated and Christianity is censored; where witches are financed and crosses are scorned; where bestiality is embraced and Bibles are banned; where same-sex “weddings” are encouraged but international charity is not. After three years of ideological warfare, the administration’s intent is clear: to disarm the military of its biggest weapon. Faith. Regardless of Presidents agenda, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that empowers the government to stop family members from giving Bibles or crosses to their loved ones. And from a PR standpoint, I’m not sure the best way to boost approval ratings is by denying comfort to wounded warriors. Unfortunately for our troops, who have endured so much turmoil under the administration, this is another blow.

Can anyone else hear the fear? And with fear often come paranoia, conspiracy theories, and scapegoating. None of which is constructive.

 

Following is my reply to that original email:

That wording was an unfortunate gaff on the part of someone in an office.
Certainly not a part of some larger conspiracy, nor is it the kind of policy that any president from either party would have had a role in formulating.
My guess is that the policy language originated in response to soldiers who had unwelcome visits of a religious nature, either from pushy family or clergy, I have seen that in my work as a hospital chaplain. And an over zealous writer somewhere thought they had a way to protect patient rights.
I’ve worked at a VA hospital in the Chaplain service, and the VA is very much open to the role of religion/spirituality in the lives of soldiers and veterans and their families, and recognized the role that spirituality plays in health.
Some examples are:
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
VA site on Spiritual Health
National Chaplain Center of the DoVA

Hope that helps offer some clarity.
Rev. Ken Crawford, Pastor

A thought about the state of politics in Collin County

(This is actually drawn from a thread of my Facebook posts)
Why does it seem as though every politician in Collin County claims to be the most conservative and have the most conservative endorsements? Is that really the best credential for an office, that you have the most rigid, narrow view on everything, and that all your friends do too?
The opposite would be just as bad, but isn’t it sad that we’ve been reduced (again) to a short-hand nomenclature that really doesn’t say anything of substance.
Aside from meeting the candidates (check) and listening to them at a forum (check) and reading their policy statements on their websites (check) and reading what the local papers have to say about them (check) what else can you do but follow knee-jerk labels?
Some say: Run for office.
I say: Don’t tempt me.
And we ask: What does it say about the state/communities we live in?
I think it says that only reactionary arch-conservatives are vocal enough to get the attention of candidates. The candidates conclude that all voters are Tea Party toadies.
Alongside the Tea Party, we should have the Coffee Party, which would focus on a fair wage and ownership for labor; and the Lemonade Party, which would empower entrepreneurs the way parents underwrite their kids’ lemonade stands; and the Milk Party, which would recognize that we are mutually dependent on the natural non-human world
And the Eucharist Party, which would live out the tenets of Jesus’ teachings, regardless of the impact they might have on our notions of capitalism, property rights, individuality, democratic process or any other notion of what’s “American” in the context of a post-modern, post-colonial era of global community, 24/7 information media and economy. What if the Kingdom of God were our focus rather than protecting our small fiefdoms that we have deceived ourselves into believing that we built on our own strength and cleverness alone, rather than on the good will of our ancestors and on the backs of underpaid and unpaid labor of generations of indentured servants, company town “employees” and slaves.
OK, rant over…. for now.

Learning to serve the poor

When I was in college I was fortunate to serve as Mission Intern at a big-steeple downtown church. When people came to the door seeking financial support, I was their liaison with the church. I had afternoon office hours and a monthly budget – I always exceeded both. Each month my supervisor would meet with me, show me the budget and how much I had given away, point out the overage and grimace in a way that expressed compassionately, “This can’t happen next month.” “I know,” I’d smile back, both of us recognizing that it probably would, and it did. I also coordinated the church’s running of a Saturday Soup kitchen, using the model known as Second Helpings – where restaurant food is collected, deep frozen, and reserved to those in need. A small group of us from a campus ministry, full of the idealism and indefatigable spirit of the young, cornered the senior pastor of the above mentioned church and said, “We’re going to start a soup kitchen, and we’d love it if you all help.” Without missing a beat the pastor responded, “We’ll do it at our place!” and sure enough, over time that’s exactly what happened.

These experiences, along with time spent as a volunteer coordinator for a Habitat for Humanity chapter, left me frustrated. I kept feeling like we were putting on band-aids, doing triage, but not helping people to address their foundational issues that put and kept them in need of help. I wrote my senior thesis on “The Socialization of the Homeless: A Call for Change” wherein I argued that the homeless in general, and the poor more broadly considered, need more than for someone to hand them resources; they (like all of us) need to participate in a community of support where transformation can occur and inner capacities can be discovered and developed to their fullest capacity. This is also the argument made by Robert D. Lupton in TOXIC CHARITY: How churches and charities hurt those they help (and how to reverse it).

Dignity is a key theme for Lupton – he emphasizes maintaining and even enhancing the dignity of the poor through all policies, programs and practices intended to help alleviate poverty. This also results in heightened dignity-with-humility for those who serve – doing for is dehumanizing for those with power as well as those without. This focus on dignity then leads to numerous shifts or outright reversals. from “doing for” to “doing with”; from focus on need to focus on relationship; from emergency assistance to development assistance; from focus on meeting our needs to meeting the needs of those being served; from “charity to parity”; from “going on tourist mission trips” that displace local labor and leave little long term change to sending skilled community developers; from food pantry to food coop; from gentrification to re-neighboring; from “experts” leading to community leaders leading with “experts” (i.e. people with knowledge, skills, resources and networks) serving in support capacities. All of these shifts result in heightened dignity for all involved.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, a phrase oft used in literature and perhaps originating with Bernard of Clairvaux, certainly applies in this present context. Churches and charities (and governments and individuals) mean well. We need to look at the unintended consequences of our actions before we take them. We need to act in partnership and community with those being served. We need to develop opportunities for reciprocity wherever possible. We need to build on strengths while filling asset gaps.

I am also now fortunate to serve in a community where some people understand these premises and are seeking to develop community awareness while enacting policy and developing program. We have much to learn. Jesus called the adults around him to learn from the children; I think a parallel principle applies here – the poor have much to teach those who would want to help them. Needing help does not make one helpless – meeting needs unilaterally does.