Dealing with the Butchery of our Consciences

There is too much going on to allow any of us to feel comfortable or safe for more than a few minutes.

There is this ridiculous fight going on in the federal government over funding for a wall on the southern border of the United States. While the fight feels like nothing more or less than a political stunt, it is troubling on many levels, but one of those levels particularly troubling to me is there is no such passion for working to allocate billions of dollars to help Americans who are living in poverty or near poverty.

It is ironic that so many Christians tout the name of Jesus, claiming him and the religious he spawned, as their own. It is as though they have remade him in their image; that, or what we have all read and studied our whole lives is incorrect. They have made him – and therefore Christianity – into a well-to-do white male, the manger story of his birth notwithstanding. Jesus’ family was homeless; he was born into poverty. He was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, which thus makes the anti-Semitism of so many Christians so difficult to understand. Were Jesus alive today, he and his family would be in danger of being attacked by angry white “Christian” men.

He was poor and was an advocate for the poor, leading and encouraging the poor to speak up for themselves to demand justice. He practiced free speech, so he believed in it which would have set him up for criticism today. He challenged the system – again something which would have drawn criticism today. I don’t really know what “Conservative” means, but from my reading of the Christian Bible, it does not seem that he identified as the same. He was targeted by law enforcement, scorned because he challenged their authority. He was scorned by members of his own family, which means they probably didn’t have peaceful family gatherings during the Jewish holy days.

He was accused of doing wrong, had what amounted to as a mock trial with a biased judge, was sentenced to death and executed – which means that the person whose birth we celebrate was a convicted felon, someone who would not have been eligible to enter the United States under the current immigration laws and policies.

The irony of the fact that, were he alive today, Jesus would most probably be rejected by the very ones who profess to be Christian is not lost to me. He would not be welcomed or respected by the Congress or by many evangelicals. Wrong religion. Wrong ethnicity. Wrong socio-economic class. And wrong political belief system. He might be called a socialist because of his work for the poor. He would be rejected by most of today’s devout Christians, I am fairly certain.

And yet, modern-day Christians, people who believe in and practice racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and more – brag about their religious affiliation. People who think nothing of ignoring the poor, or of murdering members of the gay community or the Jewish community or the African American community – brag about following one who advocated that we should build community with each other, not walls between us.

Is it possible to proclaim/profess of being a Christian and yet be so unaligned with what the Jesus of the Christian Bible taught? Does it represent a particularly heinous type of hypocrisy to claim a man who taught what many of us are unwilling to do?

In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was making its way out of the womb of Congress, there was much resistance – by Christians as well as by other religious groups. Christians participated in much of the violence perpetrated against African Americans who wanted to register to vote and then …vote; their hatred was leveled against white allies as well. At one point, as the violence reached a tragic peak in Selma, Alabama as would-be voters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then attorney-general Nicholas Katzenbach tried to get Dr. Martin Luther King to cancel a second planned march. Dr. King responded, “I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than to make a butchery of my own conscience.”

With the blatant hypocrisy that exists between the practice of identity politics and Christianity, I wonder if there are many people who see the chasm between what Jesus taught and what they/we practice, and if so if their consciences are bothered, “butchered,” as Dr. King phrased it? Is anyone sitting in remorse and shame for treating people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, religions as objects and not as human beings worthy of being treated with dignity?

Somehow, I don’t think there is much of that; the religion of the “newborn king” has been bastardized by many – of all ethnicities. That being the case, what is our celebration of Christmas really about?

A candid observation …

The Hole Caused by Loss

It is the week before Christmas…and for many, a very sad time.


English: American Christmas Tree
English: American Christmas Tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Normally I write about social justice issues; helping, reaching out to, telling the stories and explaining the plights of “the least of these”is a passion of mine.


But today, I woke up thinking about people who this year will experience the pain of loss as the holy season – the “holy-day” season, comes to its climax.


People who last year had daughters or sons, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, partners …or even beloved pets …will feel the sting of loss in a season of plenty.


I remember the first Christmas I experienced without my mother. It was, put quite simply, horrible. It was as though there was a hole in the house. The tree was up, but I really didn’t care about it. There were gifts under the tree, but the gifts didn’t matter. What I wanted was my mother. I was mad that she was gone. She had been my rock. It was mama who had made the holy-days special and fun; it was her laughter, filling the house as completely as did the scents of the food she would cook, that made Christmas special. It was mama who had urged us out of the house on Christmas Eve to go Christmas caroling with the church youth group to “spread some joy to someone else,” no matter how cold it was, only to greet us at the door when we were done with hot chocolate and something warm to eat.


There was not a lot of money, but there was always a lot of fun.  My four siblings and myself knew that we would not get a slew of Christmas presents; we knew that. But it didn’t matter. For years we had gone out with Daddy to pick up a Christmas tree and we would have an absolute ball decorating it. Mama teased us when we pouted as the live Christmas tree tradition came to a screeching halt and we got a ridiculous-looking aluminum tree with a rotating light (red, yellow, blue, green) because Mama got tired of vacuuming pine needles all year. We were not impressed, but Mama loved us through our disappointment and somehow, that wonderful, familiar feeling of love and fun remained with us, aluminum tree notwithstanding.


The house was always filled with the smell of food. Mama said, “The smell of food means love …” If that was the case, we were not lacking.


When she got sick, when cancer invaded her body and took her out so quickly, it was a blow from which I don’t think I’ve ever completely recovered. The Christmas before she died, she had been in the hospital for a month as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her. That year she missed Thanksgiving. There was no smell of food in the house, nothing that said “mother love.” I mean, there was a turkey, but it didn’t taste good. Nothing was right. The hole created by her absence was too deep and too dark.


The next Christmas, she was gone. The hole became an abyss. Not even the lights of the Christmas season were enough to give me light enough to see past my pain.


So, I know what some people will experience this Christmas.  The hole caused by loss will be in the living rooms or family rooms of so many families. There will be gifts and some laughter, but real joy will be elusive for many this year. It’s just too soon. The wound caused by the loss is too fresh.


Last week I talked with a young woman who will experience loss in yet a different way. Her parents, her family, has disowned her. She will spend Christmas with distant cousins. She’s glad to have a place to stay, but the wound …caused by her loss, will pulsate. Here in Columbus, there is a family who lost what appeared to be a perfectly healthy son to sudden death; he dropped dead after basketball practice. A local sports reporter lost his daughter in a horrific crash. Two friends of mine lost their mothers this year; another friend lost her best friend.


I woke up thinking about people like that …who are putting up a good front, but who see and feel that hole caused by loss. The pain passes, but that dratted hole sticks around. The holidays will not be the same (have not been the same) this year. There is a loneliness that goes deep and begs for a balm.


It gets better. Believe that.


A candid observation …




Muttering in Times of Pain

For the past week, I have not been able to get the families of the victims of the shooting in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School off my mind.

I have always said that Christmas, for the hype about the season being the “most wonderful time of the year,” is actually very depressing for a large number of people. Christmas for them represents, or makes more obvious, what is wrong or lacking in their lives. For too many, there is no family, no home, no “manger,” so to speak, for them to lay their heads or their hearts.

That is true in general, but for the families of the victims of the Newtown shootings, and for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, it is even more true. At a time where many are celebrating by giving gifts and eating way too much food, I would bet that many of the people in Newtown are forcing themselves to eat even a little, and for victims of Hurricane Sandy, left homeless by Sandy, I would assume that they don’t feel much like eating and laughing, either.

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about “redemptive suffering,” i.e., that there is value in suffering. If it does not kill us, it makes us stronger, and so if we endure the suffering, the assumption is that we come out of it better, changed, but better. That is true for the most part.

But it is not the afterward that I am thinking of. All of us have “new normals” based on painful experiences in our lives. It is the in the midst of the suffering that is the problem, the issue. There is no “quick fix.” One cannot take an Advil (or four), four times a day to ease the pain. The pain of suffering is ruthless and persistent, and it sometimes taunts the sufferer. There are lapses of the pain, when the sufferer thinks that the interminable pain is gone. But it comes back. Pain is peristaltic in nature; it ebbs and flows.  There is an arrogance about it because it knows that it will leave when it feels like it.  It is a spirit-virus, and it must run its course.

There is no remedy. We try to find one, like alcohol or drugs, or any number of other things, but those are just crutches, and not helpful crutches at that. Billie Holliday said it best in a song, “Good Morning, Heartache.”

That is what I keep thinking about as concerns those families in Newtown, and in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Heartache is greeting them as they awaken this morning, rubbing salt in their already excruciatingly painful wounds. There are probably Christmas presents for the little children killed last week that were purchased weeks ago in anticipation of happy squeals this morning, but those presents will not be opened…and in the case of the victims of the hurricane, I wonder where in the world they are even waking up this morning?

Those families are in the “moment by moment” phase of suffering; I would imagine that even breathing hurts for some of them. I know that pain. I have been there.

The families in Newtown and the hurricane victims are fresh reminders of horrible pain, but throughout 2012, many have suffered horrible losses, and this Christmas is bitter…not even bittersweet yet. I think of the parents of young Trayvon Martin…and so many other families of young children who died this year due to violence.

I am praying for those families. The one thing that I have learned to do in the midst of suffering is to mutter. I mutter scriptures that remind me of the presence of God, a God who allows evil but who does not wish for us to crumble under the pain that evil causes. I mutter. Consistently. Constantly. Words that help me not to think about the pain in my gut that is eating my spirit alive. Everyone has his or her own words that they have read or found comfort in in times past.  Powerful words become the antidote for pain. They help our spirits get the strength to push the pain from the depths of our souls out of our beings.

I doubt the parents and families of the victims of Newtown and the victims of the hurricane have the strength right now to utter anything. Right now, they are in the phase of suffering where even breathing hurts.

So, I will mutter for them today. It is my gift for them, to them. Today I will intercede for them and mutter the words that have helped me in times of excruciating spiritual and emotional pain.

Hopefully, the words sent up will allow these newly suffering people a manger on which to lay their weary and hurting heads.

Nobody gets through suffering alone. The crowds in Newtown have thinned out. The television cameras are gone. There is a loud quiet that is sitting on that little city. There is no commotion to serve as a distraction for their pain. So, I will mutter for them, because their suffering is just beginning. All of us need someone to hold us up when we want to simply stop living…

A candid observation…