Monday, November 16, 2009

In this morning's news it was revealed that the Fort Hood shooter, Major Hasan, had discipled an 18-year-old boy. The young man is now spouting anti-US military slogans and claiming to be a radical Muslim. The radical imam with whom Hasan had contact has said that what he did is permissible under the teachings of Islam.

Whereas they are dangerous and must be addressed, the radical slogans of the teen can be understood as an alienated young man looking for identity. Of a more serious nature is the statement of the imam.

I have heard it said that Islam is a violent religion.

I have seen Christians on trial and unrepentant for murdering abortion doctors.

So whose religion is the violent one? To say one is more so reduces the discussion to a matter of degree only, and not nature.

So what is the nature of Islam? What is the nature of Christianity? Perhaps if you got 10 Christians in a room and asked them that question you would get 11 answers. Perhaps with Muslims you would, too. It wouldn't be surprising at all. After all, religous groups of the magnitude of Christians and Muslims comprise so many people that there are bound to be varying interpretations of the tenets of the faith, even radically varying interpretations.

I say the abortion doctor killers are radicalized Christians who have betrayed the true tenets of the faith, though there are Christians who will disagree with me. Many spokespersons for Islam have expressed outrage and betrayal over what Hasan did on November 5th at Fort Hood, and there are imams who disagree with them.

The enemy seems more to be radicalization than religion. Let's not get the two confused.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It came out in the news yesterday or the day before that Major Nidal Hasan's lawyer plans to cite Major Hasan's mental health as an issue in his violent outbreak a week ago today. One of the questions that has loomed in our heads since that fateful afternoon is, "How can a mental health professional, a psychiatrist, do something so insane?" Apparently his lawyer agrees that this is at issue.

One answer I heard was easy: "All mental health professionals are just crazies, anyway, crazy people trying to feel better about themselves. None of them are to be trusted."

On the other hand, having a therapist was so common in New York City in the 90's that it became a household joke. You had a lawyer, you had a doctor, and you had a therapist!

So what gives?

I read a book several years back about marriage by a marriage therapist and family counselor. Marriage is in its most basic form a form of insanity. You choose to live with someone who sees the world differently, responds to stimuli differently, is cast in society differently, smells and looks differently...who in their right mind would try to create the world's most intimate relationship with someone so strange? The answer this book gives is, I believe, quite insightful. His studies show that we tend to choose a marriage partner who is most like the parent with whom we had the most a hidden desire for redemption. Maybe we can do it better this time. Maybe with this person we can work out the kinks in the system and get along.

So yes, many mental health professionals go into the field in an attempt to find health themselves. Many people go into the helping professions in order to redeem their own need for help. Many people go into the ministry in order to learn how to pray.

Perhaps it's supposed to be that way. After all, we're driven by what most galvanizes our attention, and a kink in our soul is a primary candidate. Truth is, none of us is perfect, all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and the line between the two is often a very thin one. Perhaps redemption is possible after all, if we just face our fears and discover there our greatest gifts.

So is Major Hasan crazy? Sure he is, just like you and me. Does he deserve to be let off the hook for that? Absolutely not, just like you and me. Should he grow through this to become a more compassionate and wiser person? No question about it, just like you and me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Homily notes from Saturday Evening, November 7th, after the events of November 5th at Fort Hood:

(Please note, the homily was preached extemporaneously, and these are recollections recorded on Tuesday afterwards.)

Behind me stand 13 crosses and 13 candles, representing 13 people who lost their lives last Thursday at the hand of Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Those of you who were here in 1991 remember Luby’s, and the specter of the same experience looms over us all. It looms because it always hangs over this community. We are a community of warriors, and the prospect of sudden death is never far from us. Everyone knows what it means when the government van pulls up to a house and a chaplain steps out. No one wants it to be their house.

And doubly this time, because this kind of action is not supposed to happen here. It’s supposed to happen over there, far away, and our men and women in uniform are supposed to leave to fight these kinds of things, and here it is in our own back yard. We feel undone.

In tonight’s first reading from Ezra the people of God were undone. Ezra was the King of Persia’s cub-bearer, a Hebrew, who was called to take a remnant of the Hebrews in exile back to the promised land. When he got there the city of God, Jerusalem, and the Temple of God in Jerusalem, lay in ruins. We lay in ruins.

In the second lesson from Revelation of John, we read about an almost dreamlike horror, a city known for its immorality, undone in a day. We are undone.

In tonight’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew the disciples are rowing against the wind across the Sea of Galilee. We are rowing against the wind. The chaotic waters represented to them the chaos that lays always just below the surface of life, it’s the chaos that has broken out into our world today.

I read the Gospel lesson in English and Spanish, and of course in both Jesus comes walking across the waters of chaos and says, “Do not fear, it is I.” In the particular version of Spanish a little nugget is revealed that is hidden in English. In the Spanish it reads not “it is I,” but “I am.” (Not, “soy yo,” but, “yo soy.”) “I AM,” where have we heard that before? Moses, standing before the God of his fathers in the burning bush, running from Pharaoh and his past life, hears God appear and give him His name as “I AM.” When Jesus walks across the chaos of life into the boat and the hearts of the disciples He declares that “I AM” has shown up.

And that is our hope this day. In the midst of our chaos God has shown up. He has not abandoned us to the power of evil. He has not skipped out when we needed Him most. He walks with us through these dark days, giving us grace for the moments and peace in the midst of trouble. What is more, He gives us the grace to reach out to others who have not our hope and care for them.

Yes, this is Good Friday, but Sunday is coming. In that hope care for those around you, and let me care for you!


Monday, November 9, 2009

There is a dark side to womanhood!

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Leaving Church, talks about her incurable urge to nurture injured and suffering beings of all kinds. At one point she rescues a small bird, raises it and finally releases it. Somewhere along the lines she discovers it is a starling--an introduced pest that destroys crops and creates health hazards in cities. Nonetheless her maternal instincts drove her to make sure it got a good start in life. Talk about a woman's woman!

On the other hand, Elizabeth Lambert has been suspended from women's college soccer indefinitely for punching an opponent between the shoulder blades, throwing another one on her back by yanking hard on her ponytail, and kicking the ball in an opponent's head from only a couple of feet away, while she was lying on the ground. Though rough play is more expected from men, the commentator on Good Morning America said such violence is not uncommon in women's sports.

They say that Spaniards fight bulls and not cows because a bull will close its eyes when it charges and a cow will keep hers open. An angry cow is much more dangerous. A female bear will take on a male much larger than she to protect her cubs, and often win. When the female of the species attacks is not about pecking order, it's about survival.

And so men know that women don't know how to fight fair. They just don't. When they fight they fight to anihilate, not subdue. There's a dark side to womanhood!

So, guys, when your woman suddenly goes berzerk my advice is to clear out. Let the momma bear do her thing to protect her cubs, and when the dust settles and all is clear, when the maternal sweetness returns to her eyes, when she is repentant of the havoc she has caused, then come back, blow it all off, and make sure you don't do whatever it was you did!

How does this relate to the Christian faith? Christianity today is often a women's experience. Not many men are involved in mainline denominations except in the ordained orders. Partly it's economics, but partly it's because we often portray the faith as nurturing rather than challenging. But nurturing has a dark side, too, and Jesus wasn't always nurturing. The faith has the capacity to challenge the male of the species and nurture the female of the species--and forgive her when her momma bear rises up and tries to knock your block off!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We in the greater Fort Hood area were shocked by the news that emerged from the army instalation today. A military psychiatrist, Major Hasan, opened fire in a room crowded with soldiers processing deployments and other movements, killing 11 and wounding 31. Police gunned him down and we thought he was a 12th casualty, but a later report revealed that he survived and is in stable medical condition.


It made national headline news. One congressman promised that all the questions would be answered, but I'm not sure he can deliver. The media is making all kinds of hay about the fact that he is Muslim. One reporter had a telephone caller who said he shouted anti-American slogans as he shot, but this is unconfirmed. Was that so? If so, is this man afiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, a turncoat in our midst? If so, then how did he go this long undetected? If not, then what was his motive? That, I'm sure, is the biggest question, along with, "How do we prevent this in the future?" There are other questions, here are some of mine:

How could a mental health professional with years of experience do something so insane?

It seems probable that he never expected to survive this incident. Now that he has what does he think? What does he feel? What will he do? What will the Army do?

What about his family? Is his marriage over? One reporter said that his wife spent the afternoon in the Family Readiness Unit counselling family of the wounded. Does that reflect a rift in the marriage?

And then lurking behind the closed doors of all the minds of those who were here in October of 1991: Why does this feel ominously like Luby's?

Answers will be partial and long in coming, patience is hard to exercise. And there are no quick answers that help in a situation like this, tempting as they may seem. One must sit in the anxiety and let it percolate. After all, the ultimate question here is not what happened.

It is how will this form you? What will it contribute to who you are? By the power of the Holy Spirit you can use it to become more wise and compassionate, by yourself you could easily use it to become cinical and cold. The answer is not on the TV. It's within you. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This morning on TelevisiĆ³n there was a story about a singing group in California that broke up due to internal conflicts. The reporter interviewed one of the lead singers who had a lot of bad things to say about the other side of the issue. One question asked was, "If you met them on the street would you greet them?"

"No," came the quick reply. "God forgive me, but I cannot and will never trust them."

Aha! As one who sees himself as a bridge between peoples, the poignancy of this moment and a cultural teaching opportunity is too much to pass up.

What is greeting in the Latin context that it implies trust? Indeed, that is the case. "Saludar" is an extension of not just amiable and polite feelings, but of trust. A greeting is seen as an encounter between souls, not just bodies. For the average Anglo a greeting is a simple sanctioned white lie: "How are you?" "Fine." It is an aknowledgement that you happen to be taking up space close enough to me that I can't politely ignore you. Obviously a greeting is not a greeting is not a greeting. The Hebrew, "Shalom" is a prayer for wellbeing on every level. In the South East Islands a long and involved dance is required when two clans meet as a way of determining the relative strength and intentions of each group. "Greeting" can take up to an hour. Similar practices were common among the Shuar and Achuar, the head-shrinkers of eastern Ecuador and Peru.

So who is right? From the standpoint of a cultural anthropologist it is impossible to say who is "right." What is "right" is what is effective in each cultural setting. That stance works as long as people groups do not intermingle. In today's world that is hardly a workable scenario.

So who is "right?" Well, each of us works out the details in terms of the particular relationships with those of other cultures with whom we happen to be relating. We create a special deal between them and me, a third context which is negotiated between us.

What does that have to do with my Christian faith? Well, greetings are ways of initiating and maintaining relationships over time. God was the initiator in the relationship He seeks with humanity. He has "greeted" us in the wisdom of the prophets, and in the definitive way that He did so in His Son, come in the person of Jesus of Palestine of the first century.

The question is, how shall we return His greeting? Here the wisdom of every culture can probably inform our response, but to borrow from the two that are most common in my area of Texas try the following.

We normally learn to greet God like Anglos do, keeping a little distance. That's OK, God can handle that. In fact, sometimes He is that way with us--keeps a bit of distance, makes us look for Him. That distance creates an ebb and flow that is the lifeblood of every relationship. However, the Hispanic intimacy that infuses moments of interaction with great meaning is also an important way to "greet" God. He certainly does so for us. In the Incarnation He became one of us. In Baptism He adopts us. In the Eucharist He feeds us. Sometimes we find Him in the most meaningful and profound ways that it inspires us to paint, sing, dance, write, do something to somehow cram the depth of our experience into some sort of symbol by which we can try to grab hold of it, share it, and let it form us. Maybe we even do a greeting dance with God by which we assess just who we are in relation to Him. But always, in whatever way we choose, God's greeting of us has as its end our shalom--the deep and multidimensional well-being that is the life abundant that Jesus came to give us. May we bless one another in the same way!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Al Gore was on Good Morning America talking about his new book about the environment. At one point Robin Roberts asked him about an accusation that had been expressed, saying that Gore was one of the first Carbon Billionaires, that his tooting of the environmental horn had made him incredibly wealthy, and by implication, that was why he was so "green." His response was interesting. He said that he was not a billionaire, but that he had investments, and that he has always made it a point to invest in ways that were in keeping with his values and principles, which are pro-environmental stewardship. Most of us think about investing in terms of what will yield the greatest growth at the end of the year, and invest in funds that are so diversified that it would be impossible to judge them in terms of their earth-friendliness unless the fund itself had that kind of commitment.

This is also voting day. A lot of disgruntled Republicans are hoping this election will be a referendum on the Obama administration, and many Democrats are dismissive of such an interpretation. Politically it seems always expedient to attack the people in power if one is not in power, and to protect those in power if you are of that group. That seems to be the values and principles of our political system.

But voting is the key to our system, and voting as a Christian means setting aside our political agendas and our economic ones and, for all the love lost on Al Gore, doing as he purports to do. Vote your conscience--as informed by the Gospel. As a Christian our values do not necessarily lie along any one particular political platform, but integrity is of the issue. Vote your own principles and values, not what will yield the biggest bottom line or position you for power. If you can do that without voting a split ballot you might reconsider where you are getting your values from. Jesus is almost never that clearly aligned with the powers of earth.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This morning Good Morning America reported a story about Jennifer Strange of California who entered a water-drinking contest run by radio station 107.9 "The End." She drank almost two gallons of water over a three hour period and died in her home several hours later of water intoxification. The jury ruled in favor of the family of Jennifer and awarded over $16 million in punitive and other damages. The jury agreed with the plaintiff that Jennifer bore no responsibility since she followed the directions of te contest, in spite of the warnings of callers-in and her own discomfort. The radio station was found to be totally responsible and negligent at not exercising proper concern for the wellbeing of their guests, and because they had not followed company policy to send the idea of the contest by their legal department.

I, too, find the radio station negligent. The disc jockey is reported at having said, "Your body is 98% water, you should be able to drink all the water you want." This is clearly not supported medically, and whereas we are, indeed encouraged to drink more water than we normally do, there is such a thing as too much. Several years ago a soldier died at Fort Benning, Georgia after a hot summer day's exercises. The problem was overconsumption of water. The effect of too much water is he opposite of too little--it dilutes the body's electrolytes rather than concentrates them--but the effect on the body is the same. It can kill.

However, and I meanno disrespect for a family in mourning, but Jennifer was a big girl who could make her own decisions. She joined the contest of her own free will. In the context of the contest she abdicated her own responsibility to listen to her own body and her own reason and to call it when it crossed the line. She placed trust in other fallible human beings rather than retain it where it needed to have been. In theological terms she did not act in total freedom.

In theological terms one has to define what true freedom is. We, as created, dependent beings, are ultimately free only to make one choice--to choose our master. We do not have it within ourselves to find ultimate meaning only within ourselves. We always choose something external to ourselves for which to live. The soldier who sacrifices his own life to save those of his battle buddies is called a hero, and rightly so. He has submitted his own good to the higher good of a greater cause of his own free will. He chose his master: the survival of his friends. The mother who foregoes new clothes each fall in order to afford clothes for her children is acting freely. She chooses her master: the good of her children. The CEO who works 80 hours a week and takes no vacations and earns an obscene salary with over-the-top benefits has acted freely. He has chosen his master: the almighty dollar.

Jesus said, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The key is choosing the right master. A couple verses further down from the above one (John 8) Jesus says, "if the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed." Some masters are slave-drivers who leave you exhausted and abused. Only one Master is the real Master, and that is your Creator. Choosing this master sets you in the center of the truth, and allows you to take control and make clear and honest decisions. It distances you from the pressures of the context in which you are in so that you can see the truth for what it is and are not taken in by the environment. The great healer, Jesus, would never have us choose that which destroys our own selves. He would require of us the responsibility to take care of ourselves so that we can serve others in His name. Obviously this was not a choice Jennifer made.

So rather than dish out millions for punitive damages and emotional suffering for a woman who did not take basic personal responsibility, the court blamed and charged money. The court blew it.