a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘religion’

Things I’ve given up

I am a pastor. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The role comes with many responsibilities–some delightful, some heart-wrenching, and yes, some onerous at times. There are certain things you give up when you become a pastor. It simply goes with the territory. And it’s worth it–it’s so worth it–to get to do what I do. Still, there are some sacrifices pastors make, just as there are in many occupations and callings.

As a pastor, I am prohibited (by law and tax code and ethics) from using my pulpit for political purposes. I am absolutely free to discuss biblical and moral issues and decisions, and to apply the scriptures to contemporary life. This sometimes sounds political to some people, but as long as a pastor isn’t partisan, she or he can–and must–address issues that are part of the political arena because they are part of the religious arena as well.

Still, throughout this presidential election season I have tried to be careful, especially on social media.  Anybody who knows me or who has heard me preach on a regular basis can probably assume my party affiliation, but I have not promoted any candidate. I do not want to alienate my parishioners who think differently. I have bit my tongue and deleted my words before posting out of deference to our diversity. But, as the pundits keep telling us, this is not a normal election, and these are not typical candidates, and drastic times may call for drastic measures.

I may not be able to preach what is on my mind, but this is my personal blog, not my pulpit. And it is not only my right but my responsibility as a person of faith to speak truth. Yes, I am a pastor. But first, I am a Christian, and as a person of faith I must speak out against that which is the antithesis of my faith, that which is against the teachings of Jesus, that which is anti-Christ.

Racism is anti-Christ. Throughout this presidential campaign I have been shocked and appalled by the blatant racism in our society. I guess “shocked” isn’t the right word because I am not surprised racism exists. Even living here in the whitest state in the union, I am aware of the systemic racism that plagues our country. After all, I’m a good democrat, a bleeding heart liberal, a minister committed to preaching justice and working for change. I am aware of the white privilege I carry—not as aware as I should be, but I know I benefit from it as surely as I benefit from my ability to pass as a straight woman unless I’m with my wife.

What has shocked me is not the existence of racism but the validation and legitimization of it that has occurred throughout this election season. We white folks no longer have the luxury of believing it’s only a small pocket of ignorant, hateful people who hold such vile views. One of our two major candidates for president repeatedly insults “the blacks,” claims an Hispanic judge can’t be impartial, accuses Mexican immigrants of being murderers and rapists, and wants to register and/or exclude people based on their faith. His hateful rhetoric has normalized and legitimized bigotry, and I am terrified of what his actual presidency might do to our nation and to my family.

My son was three when he asked me what color I am. Not sure if this was about race or actual color, I returned the question. “What color do you think I am?” He thought for a minute and then said, “Let’s call you tan.” “And what color are you?” I asked. He held his head up high and announced with pride, “I’m gold!” He deserves better than a president who will not see him as a golden child, but will assume he is or will become a criminal because of his ethnicity.

My blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter deserves better, too. She deserves better than a president who defines women by their physical attributes, who treats women like objects who exist for his pleasure, who sexualizes even young girls, and who thinks he has the right to force his “affection” on any female he finds attractive. No, Mr. Trump, this latest video is not, as you claim, “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today.” Sexual assault is not a distraction. It is a crime and it is a sin. It is anti-Christ. And as a woman who has survived both public groping and private assault, I will not be silent while you deflect blame and diminish your own atrocities.

This is no longer a partisan issue. Or at least it shouldn’t be. As people of faith, we all should condemn rape culture and male dominance and the objectification of women. We all should condemn the scapegoating of Muslims. We all should condemn the denigrating of immigrants. We all should condemn the killing and incarceration of young black men. We all should acknowledge that black lives matter and trans lives matter and refugee lives matter. We all are responsible for making sure that what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 40s never happens again.

The experts say that other people are not changed by seeing a political post. But I am changed by keeping silent. I am a pastor. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The role comes with many responsibilities, including speaking truth to power. I am giving up the right to be silent.

 

No Holy Hate

Born LovedDear Heidi,

You have no connection to our congregation as far as I know, but today you went on our church’s Facebook page to condemn us. You said we are “dragging the name of Christ into the gutter” and “turning Jesus Christ into a sodomite” because we welcome all God’s children equally. Although I am unclear how an action we might take today would have any bearing whatsoever on the sexual practices of a man who lived 2000 years ago, I will set that aside for a moment to address your other claims.

I know you mean well, Heidi. I know you believe you are doing the work of the Lord by pointing out the (perceived) sins of others. I also know that getting into a biblical argument with you is pointless—not because I do not know my Bible, but because you apparently do not know my Jesus. My Jesus is not concerned about being dragged into the gutter; in fact, that’s where he met some of his best followers. But he is concerned about love. And he most certainly is concerned about people damaging the souls of his children by telling them God hates them.

This is why, on June 21, my church will have a booth at the Pride Portland Festival here in Maine. The sign above our booth will say: “Wounded by the church? Please come let us apologize.” That’s right, we will be apologizing to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for the way they have been treated by the church and for the horrific things said to them in God’s name. In other words, Heidi, we will be apologizing for you.

You warned us that we will be held accountable for every person we “lead to hell” with our “deceptions.” Will you also be held accountable for every teen who commits suicide because he has been told he is an abomination? Will you be held accountable for every woman who hates herself because you said God hated her? No, I don’t believe you will be . . . not because you are not responsible, but because we worship a loving and forgiving God. In fact, if you want to come to Pride, feel free to drop by our booth. I will apologize to you on behalf of the church that infused your mind with such hurtful images of God.

Hate cannot be made holy by sprinkling it with water and calling it Christian. And the resurrected Christ cannot be re-created to condemn those who you disdain.

You said we have nothing to teach the world. I think that’s something.

 

Carpe Diem?

Carpe Diem motivacionWhen I was in college, I loved that phrase. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It was a reminder to make each day count, an encouragement to follow my dreams, and a challenge to live a life of excellence. I wanted to live boldly, bravely. Carpe diem was the answer.

Now I am a little wiser.

Now I know that on some days, the best you can hope for is mediocrity. Excellence is a wonderful goal, and we should strive for it personally and professionally. But we also have to strive for sanity. Sometimes we just don’t have enough energy to be excellent.

Now I also know that hard times come when you can’t possibly “seize the day” because you are just trying to hold on. You are clinging with all your might to the cliff’s edge, and one more “to do” or one more disappointment or one more loss, no matter how small, could make you lose your tenuous grasp. You can’t seize the day when you’re just trying to survive it.

Plus, now I know that seizing the day means seizing all of the day . . . all that the day has to offer. And most days offer sorrow as well as joy, anxiety as well as fearlessness. Am I willing to seize all of that?

Take this week, for example. This week I started in my new role as Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of South Portland, Maine. I am excited beyond words. From the moment I read the church profile, I felt drawn to this place. From the moment I met the search committee, I felt drawn to these people. From the moment I accepted the call to be their next pastor, I felt drawn closer to God as I seek to follow in the path I believe is God’s next right step.

But there is also trepidation. Every new pastor feels some anxiety in starting at a new church—or at least every honest one I’ve ever met. There are many uncertainties. Will everyone be pleased with my leadership? (Experience suggests that the answer is no.) Are they ready for the changes that will inevitably come with a new pastor? (Maybe.) Will I be everything they think I am? (Probably not.) Will the church be everything the search committee said it is? (And more!)

It is the beginning of a new journey, a new relationship, and I am a little nervous, yet certain. I am cautious, yet ready to be bold. I have already taken the plunge, a step into the only-partly-known waters of this congregation. But I am certain that I will swim. And I am certain that when I can’t, I will be held up. You can’t ask for more than that.

So I will seize this day, with all that it has to offer. And I will remember that I am seized, held, embraced, by God. Carpe Diem. Carpe Deum.

Truth and Typos

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Today is April 16, 2013, just one day after the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Today is also the day I was supposed to attend a conference on responding to trauma. But instead I am sick at home, the cold I’ve been fighting for over a week finally having knocked me on my well-padded behind. If I had taken better care of myself when the cold first arrived, it would probably be gone by now. But based on how often I repeat this same mistake, apparently I am incapable of learning this lesson.

Anyway, between naps and reading about the tragedy in Boston, I read my parishioners’ Facebook posts with more attention than usual. One of my people posted a request yesterday that everyone please be careful what they repost, as so much false information was being repeated. In response, a friend of his commented that some media outlets are so intent on being first with the news that they don’t check the accuracy before reporting. Then he wrote, “I don’t want the first. I want the truth!”

Well, that’s what he meant to say. But one little typo–one tiny missing letter–changed his intended meaning.  Instead of “I don’t want the first,” he wrote “I don’t want the fist.”

I don’t want the fist, either. I don’t want the violence. I am sick of the cruelty and the carnage. I am sick of funerals for six-year-olds. I am sick of helping my eleven-year-old think through how she would react in such an attack. Yesterday she asked if we would be mad at her if she gave her life to save a friend. I wanted to scream “Yes!” But I couldn’t.

I don’t want the fist. I don’t want the violence. And I dread the violent response. It is too soon for us to know who perpetrated this act, whether it was domestic or international, whether it was an individual or a group. I find myself praying it was one person, so that our thirst for revenge will be limited. I find myself hoping this one person is white, heterosexual, and either non-religious or even–I’m sorry–call himself a Christian, so that we will not use this as an opportunity to target people of color or gays or Muslims or anyone else we want a reason to hate.

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. And truth will not come through the fist. It never does. Facts may, but not truth. Truth is far too powerful for that.

At this point you’re probably expecting a “Love wins” message. And frankly, I’m tempted. But my friend and colleague, Rev. John Gage, pastor of the United Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, had this to say today:

[It’s] not that I don’t appreciate all the “love wins… eventually” posts going up in the wake of yesterday’s bombing. Hell, I posted one myself a bit earlier. But, honestly: No, it doesn’t–not unless we make that happen. Love doesn’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air. Love has to have hands and feet. Love needs wisdom and the courage to act now… and now… and now to root out the hate, not with the sword, but with the ploughshare. Far-sighted faith in love’s eventual victory may sustain us in low moments, but love doesn’t actually grow unless we plant it and tend it and defend it at every opportunity. Love is a garden, not a given.  

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. I want the love garden we all tend.

I pray that this is a lesson we are capable of learning.

It Shows

Young Woman Sitting in Front of a Computer and LaughingYesterday I tried Skype for the first time. I had heard others talk about it, and I thought video chatting sounded great, but I had never tried it for myself.

I finally took the plunge—downloaded the software, set up an account, and bought a headset—and then yesterday I got to visit with Valerie. Valerie and I became best friends when we were in high school, and although our relationship has gone through many changes over the years, I still count her as one of my very best friends. I could call her at any time of the day or night, and she would be there for me. She also can tell how I’m doing by the way I answer the phone. If something is bothering me, I can be sure to hear “What’s wrong, chica?”

Valerie and I don’t get to see each other very often, and she recently moved to London so I don’t know when I’ll see her again. But via the wonders of Skype, yesterday I got to see her (virtually) face to face. I got to see where she works. I got to see her smile. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed her.

After we disconnected, my spouse said to me, “You’re different when you talk to her.” When I asked what she meant, she explained: “When you’re on the phone, I can tell by your tone of voice whether you’re talking to a friend or an acquaintance or a stranger. But your whole face is different when you talk to Val. I’ve noticed it when you talk to your parents, too. Your face is different when you’re talking to someone who you know loves you.”

Although I’ve never thought of this before, it doesn’t surprise me. There is a wonderful sense of security that comes from knowing you are loved, and surely it shows.

But this conversation made me wonder: Is my face different when I pray? After all, I’m talking with someone who I know loves me. Does it show? Does it show on my face? Does it show in my life?

Sometimes I wish I could Skype with God. Yes, I know I am limiting God by anthropomorphizing God, but still . . . sometimes I just want a God I can see and talk to face to face.That’s when I am particularly thankful for people in my life like Valerie, and my parents, and my spouse. Not that they are God! But they do help me catch a glimpse of God’s love through their love for me. And I think it shows.

And the church bells rang

I just listened to the attorneys in the Jerry Sandusky case as they reported on the verdict. Sandusky was found guilty of 45 out of 48 charges in this horrific case, and although sentencing likely will not take place for several months, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

I have to admit that I am pleased with the verdict. Although nothing can undo the trauma of abuse, at least those who were victims of Sandusky’s atrocities know that he is finally being held accountable. I cheered for the victims—not just his, but victims everywhere. I cheered for the survivors. I cheered for justice.

The State Attorney General said that at least one of the victims had asked, “Who would believe a kid?” She replied, “We would believe a kid.” I loved that. It was a powerful statement. I just wish it had been true.

People didn’t believe the kids. Not when there was one. Not when there were two. Not until there were many accusations, coming from adults, not children. Only then were their voices heard and honored.

This case illustrates so much of what is wrong in our society: that people will go to great lengths to look the other way; that those in power will do anything to preserve it; that the already-vulnerable continue to be targeted and preyed upon; that truth just simply doesn’t matter.

So yes, I cheered when the verdict was announced, for truth won out and the vulnerable were heard and the powerful were brought down and no one can look away.

I cheered. And then I was silent. I sat in prayerful silence. For the victims. For the survivors. For the families torn apart, including the Sandusky family.

And then I heard the church bells. As the Attorney General was speaking, the bells of some nearby church rang the hour. While the bells rang, she quoted a Supreme Court decision from 1988: the twofold aim of the law is that guilt shall not escape, nor innocence suffer.

Innocence has suffered. As the mother of one of the victims said after the verdict was read, “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.”

Another verdict was brought down within hours of the Sandusky verdict, just two hundred miles away, in Philadelphia. Monsignor William J. Lynn was found guilty of endangering children, “becoming the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.”[1] He himself did not molest anyone, but he was found guilty of failing to protect children from priests known to be pedophiles.

I cheered this ruling, too, because the church must not tolerate abuse. The church of Jesus Christ—in whatever manifestation—must not allow any form of abuse, molestation, discrimination, marginalization, or intimidation. Not physically, not emotionally, and not spiritually. After all, Jesus said, “What you have done unto the least of these, my children, you have done unto me.” And what we have done unto Jesus is an abomination.

We have some important lessons we need to learn, and quickly, before more innocents suffer. Only then can we proudly let the church bells ring. Only then will they mean something.


[1] Jon Hurdle and Erik Eckholm. http://www.nytimes.com

The proof is in the picture

I recently took five days of vacation. That isn’t odd; certainly nothing worth blogging about. Except that I’m a pastor, and it’s the week before my busiest week of the year. No pastor in her right mind would take vacation the week before Holy Week. The week after Holy Week—that’s when we all need a break.

But not me. I took vacation because in addition to being a pastor, I am also a fan of the UConn Women’s Basketball Team. My family and I traveled to Rhode Island to the Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. Although I am a fairly new fan, both of basketball and of the Huskies, I am an exuberant one. I love the traditions, the cheering, the complaining about the bad calls, and the camaraderie with other fans sitting nearby. I had a great time—especially since we won!

The University of Kentucky played a good game against the Huskies. They fought hard and gave it their all. Yes, it was a rough game, with lots of fouls on both sides. But in spite of the competitive nature of the game, the players showed one another respect. I cannot say the same thing, however, for UK’s pep band.

When players are introduced before the game begins, the announcer alternates between teams: one player from Kentucky, then one from UConn, etc. But each time the players from UConn were introduced, the members of the Kentucky pep band turned their backs. I consider this to be bad sportsmanship, and more than a little rude. Now, I must admit that not all UConn fans behaved admirably. Some of them booed Samarie Walker the first time she took the court. (Walker left UConn after playing half of one season for the Huskies.) But fans aren’t representatives of the school. The pep band is.

Image

I took this picture as evidence of their behavior, but now I see something I didn’t notice in the moment. If you look closely you will see that three of the students in the band did not participate. In spite of the fact that every other member of their band—and the director—turned his or her back on the opposing team, these three students did not. I don’t know why. Maybe they were tired. Maybe they were daydreaming. Maybe they were looking at the cheerleaders, who were directly in front of the band. Or maybe…just maybe…they chose not to participate because they didn’t think it was right.

I am choosing to believe the latter. I think these three students took a stand (or a “sit,” as the case may be) even when that left them the odd men out. And although I have no idea who they are, I found myself feeling proud of them. It’s hard to stand up for what you believe in, especially in the face of your friends.

The whole thing made me wonder: What if some spectator to my life was taking pictures? Would the pictures show me taking a stand or following the crowd? Would they find me turning my back or offering a hand? Would they show me as the spiritual leader I like to believe I am, or as a scared little kid playing dress-up on Sunday mornings?

If some bystander took pictures of my life, would I be ashamed to have the pictures posted on Facebook?