Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lets Stop Glorifying War in Church

This weekend, we are celebrating Memorial Day. In the last week, as I have passed churches on the road and seen their Facebook updates, I have seen a lot of messages that says something about honoring our heroes. Each time I read or see that, I cringe. It is further evidence of the combining Christianity and patriotism in this country. The Early Church gathered in secret to worship a Savior that was executed by the most powerful military at the time, but now we worship the most powerful country and its military strength along with Christ. There are a lot of dangers in this continued Idol worship.

The influential German theologian Karl Barth was perturbed as a young man when his clergy mentors and other prominent Germans signed the Manifesto of the Ninety-Three in 1914. This manifesto offered unequivocal support of the actions of the German military. This had a major effect on Barth's theology about the separation of the church and the government. When a professor talked about this pivotal moment in Barth's life and theology last semester during a class on Karl Barth, he did not even attempt to make the connection between Barth's crisis to the current dilemma that we face in this country. Tomorrow, thousands, perhaps millions of US Christians will walk into their churches and not be surprised to see the American flag near the altar.

I have been thinking about this dilemma for a while. Growing up, I attended anti-death penalty vigils outside of my state's Governor Mansion. In reading about the cases, I sometimes learned that the death row inmates have served in the armed forces at some point before their crime. Often I reflected on this double standard, we teach people how to kill people and then praise them, but then we will also put to death the same people if they kill other people. How does any of this fits in Christ's admonishment that we should love our neighbors?

Last May I took a short intensive class on Young Adult Ministries. As part of this class, we talked about ministries in university settings, prisons, and the military. To talk about military chaplainships, the class traveled down to Washington DC and talked to chaplains currently serving in different parts of the armed forces. Several of us asked most of the chaplains how they dealt with the command from Christ to love our neighbors. All but one chaplain did not answer this question. Usually they responded with that they are just following orders or altogether avoid the question. The one chaplain who actually answered the question said that it was a hard question and one that some soldiers had a hard time wrestling with.

As a Christian, when I am in church, my allegiance is only towards Christ. I do not believe that God only blesses the USA, instead I believe God loves the whole world. I do not buy into a philosophy that is the outgrowth of the Manifest Destiny that led to the unnecessary slaughter, slavery and death of millions of Native people. I do not buy into a philosophy that was used to justify slavery in this country and around the world. I believed that we are called to love our neighbors period.

By writing this, I do not want Christians to abandon our troops. We should dialogue about what it means to support our troops and how to support these men and women after they return home, changed forever. We should also hold up the people who go to the same regions to do purely humanitarian work, often unarmed and with less support, in an effort to bring about peace in other ways. But at the same time lets not glorify the world's richest military within our church doors. We already do that enough the other six days of week.

Instead, on this Memorial Day weekend and after, let's keep Church as a place to remember the human costs of the war (including all casualties of war) and our own implicitness in this industry that keeps us at war. Let's pray that God will keep giving us strength to work towards an eternal peace that will only exist when God's Kingdom come into being.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not Letting Myself Be Defined By My Speech Or My Beard

Earlier today I went to a barbershop downtown and had my beard greatly trimmed and received a nice hair cut as well. Part of the reason I had to do this is that I am doing a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a nearby hospital. This basically means I will be the hospital chaplain's intern for the summer. When I interviewed back in the fall, the chaplain informed me that for health reasons that I would have to cut most of my beard off.

Ever since I was young, I have wanted a beard. I do not know exactly why, but I do remember wanting one as early as middle school. Then when I was 18 I grew my first beard and for a good portion of the last ten years I have had a beard in some form. At times, I have kept it trimmed in a way but for almost the last two years I have just let it grow with very minor trims. I mainly did out of curiosity to see how long it grew. But I did it unconsciously for another reason too.

In therapy, as I have written aboutbefore on my blog, I have been dealing with my self image. For most of my life, I have felt that my speech impediment has been my most defining characteristic. I thought the way I speak is how people remember me the most and it was usually the only quality most people would notice. But some friends told me that this was not case. Once I wrote an email to someone who had met a couple years before at a conference. She had not remember me, so I said that I had red hair and a speech impediment. She emailed back to let me know that she did remember me but she remember me for other qualities than my speech impediment.

I think this was the first time I realized that I should not let myself be defined by my speech impediment. But it is hard not to let it be, especially after a couple decades of telling myself that I am defined by my speech. To be honest, I have to deal with people not being able to understand me everyday and I have to deal with some of those people automatically assuming that I am mentally handicapped in a way most days.

Yet, with a long red beard, I would get noticed before I even opened my mouth. People everywhere complimented me on the beard. I stood out in another way than just having a speech impediment and a

ll the baggage that comes with that. With a long beard I felt defined in another way. It was like my security blanket. I thought maybe people will remember me as the guy with the really rad red beard, instead of the guy with the speech impediment. But, also I did get a lot of snickers and laughs coming at me because I had a ridiculously long red beard. Sometimes, like my speech impediment, I felt embarrassed by having this long beard.

As I thought about this dilemma in therapy, I realized that neither my long red beard or having a speech impediment completely define who I am. I have a lot of other characteristics, much more important aspects of myself. If I let myself be define by either of these two qualities, I am holding back my gifts that I can offer the wider world. Even though I will always be defined negatively by an handful of people (it can be a cruel world out there), I have to remember that I am a child of God and I need to live into that role more fully. In Matthew, Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount that, instead of hiding it under a bushel, everyone should let their light shine (Matt 5:15-16).

Yes, I do need to let my light shine brightly and not hold my gifts from the world.