Thursday, August 18, 2016

10 Ways to Defeat a Bully (Crosspost)

10. Walk away. Do not give the bully attention. Completely unfollow on social media, if applicable. The person in question has nothing that you want.

9. Information embargo. Engage in ZERO information seeking. Consider what power you have personally and how you can use it to stop streams of revenue, attention, or power to the bully in question. Abstain from where you might see the person or be forced to hear about him/her/them. If another person wishes to rant about the bully, politely inform them of the embargo. If someone else wishes to know the whys of the embargo, give short truthful answers that speak from your own experience. Do not mention the bully by name.

8. Sanction. Words do hurt as much as actions. There are consequences to saying whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want. Gaslighting, lying, bluster, and threats are not acceptable speech. Refuse space to the person who engages in this behavior. A person who cannot hold to accepted rules in an interview, debate, or conference is not invited back to play with other adults. Period.

7. Divest. Pull out of situations and circumstances that give power to the bully. Tell others related to the bully’s platform that you intend withhold money, time, and energy at all levels of an organization until the bully is disciplined, if not completely removed from representing the organization or group in question. Refuse to participate in channeling any type of resource- fiscal, physical, or psychic- to the bully.

6. Be smart. Gather information that thwarts the untruths, mistruths, and misdirection from the bully. You don’t have to be an expert on anything to refuse to be scared, cowed, or overwhelmed by rhetoric unsupported by reason and reality.

5. Work with an ally. It is extremely unlikely that you are alone in a bullying situation. With particularly stubborn bullies, it can seem as though they’re everywhere all the time. Get a friend or a group of friends to join in your anti-bullying efforts. A joint information boycott or rant sabbatical may really improve morale and keep you from feeling alone, isolated, or despondent.

4. Be not afraid. The bully is not in control, despite how things may appear. God is in control. Furthermore, it is essential to remember that there are judgments we are called to make as those who are walking the Way, even as we acknowledge our own imperfections. It is entirely acceptable to pray seriously for a bully to realize the error of his/her/their way in thought, word, and deed.

3. Be prepared. There are actions and opportunities all around that afford ways to defeat a bully. These may need praying hands, feet, or mouths to help. See what you can do to make a solid offensive move against the bully or bullies.

2. Yield to the Spirit. The strength to resist the bully is a fire shut up in your bones. If the Spirit says pray, pray. If the Spirit says sing, sing. If the Spirit is leading your energy toward the disciplines of art making, writing, movement, building, silence, service, or prophesy, give way to that calling. Do not resist the urge, believing that the bully is only fought through “more important work”. This is the most important work, refusing to cede spiritual ground to any force that opposes the real resurrection and reformation work that God is doing and will not stop.

1. Embrace Christlike behavior. Remember that righteous anger, flipping over tables, cracking a whip, cursing trees, expressing frustration, praying in grief, weeping, and wishing for fire are all options.

This was originally written by me for RevGalBlogPals and posted there on 8/15/16

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Way of Christ (Sermon)

Pentecost 12                                       

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Luke 12:32-40

            Two weeks ago, I did a silly thing, since I was still on sabbatical. I looked ahead to see what the texts were for today. Innocently thinking, I’ll start preaching again and it would be good to have what I’m supposed to reflect on rattling around in my head. So I looked up the lectionary passages- that’s the list of prescribed readings for the year- and then looked them up in my Bible. In reading the Isaiah passage, I got about as far as “you rulers of Sodom” and closed the Bible with a loud swiftness. Let’s check the gospel: don’t be worried, sell your stuff, and be consumed with showing mercy and charity. Snap, close it again.

            Gosh, that’s just the stuff people looooooove to hear.

            It would be great if I just decided here, instead, to tell you some stories of my sabbatical- right. Surely, I saw some interesting things or thought some deep thoughts or was moved in some way that can bear fruit for us now. Then I can tie it up in a nice theological bow, perhaps linking back to “Be not afraid” and we can go straight to the hymn. Huzzah.

            Have we met?

            The reality is that we are actually confronting three of the most frequently occurring issues in Scripture in these passages. Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of how not to behave is the first. “Be not afraid” is the second. God’s concern with our possessions is the third. Each of these things appears so often in scripture as to be ubiquitous. If a complex, literary compilation like the Bible uses the same examples and exhortations through different styles, writers, and time periods- there must be something fairly significant about them.

            First, why are Sodom and Gomorrah mentioned in a passage that refers to God hating the way people worship? What did Sodom and Gomorrah have to do with ritual sacrifices, liturgy, or religious practices? To be very clear, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of gross inhospitality. Living in the desert requires an openness to strangers, a willingness to take them in, offer them sustenance, and care for their animals. Life in the wilderness is communal, even when you do not know each other.
            The men of Sodom and Gomorrah, when confronted with strangers in their city, not only ignored social norms and expectations and failed at God’s call to hospitality, they demanded to be allowed to do what they wanted with the strangers. In other words, not only did they fail to be generous with what they had, they decided to make the very bodies of the strangers their own property to do with what they wanted.

            When these cities reappear as examples later, it is due to a prophetic call to hospitality and alertness to God’s work in the world. In the time of Isaiah 1, which is written much later as a kind of foreword to the proceeding chapters, the people of Israel have been exiled, lived in exile, and now have returned to the land. The writer is not telling those listening to stop worshipping. Instead, they are being called out for believing that their worship life will absolve their failure to live ethically with the rest of their time and their community.

            This is where it applies to us as well. What we do with the other 167 hours of the week is as important to God as what we do in one hour on Sunday morning. Both historical and contemporary readers of Isaiah are supposed to understand that our worship can be distasteful to God, not because God doesn’t like the hymns or the order in which we do things or the candles are wrong, but because we don’t bother to align the rest of our lives with what we do and say here, which affects the people around us during this hour and all the other hours of our lives.

            Which brings us to the theme of “sell your possessions and give alms”, which really means “sell your possessions and do charity or mercy”.  I am guessing that most of you didn’t want or need a better translation on the second half of the sentence and were hoping for something different in the first half. Here is the hard truth: we all have too much stuff. We have more than we need and, if we were honest, we have more than we want.

            Just like how our worship may get separated from our living, instead of intertwined and one informing the other, so our possessions may begin to possess us. We do not have a good connotation of “being possessed”, but think of how many commercials, advertising emails, discount mailers, catalogues, print ads, and other things we receive on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Speaking for myself, I hesitate to mention how often I see something and want it.
            Jesus’ words here go beyond mere accumulation; they are aimed directly at questioning our priorities. How dedicated are we to the way of Christ- a way of radical welcome, of mercy, of forgiveness, of generosity, of time and talent? Is the way of Christ our highest brand loyalty or does that belong to a certain shoe manufacturer, fishing rod company, athletic team, or car brand? To whom do we belong, by what are we possessed, and how would someone looking at us or our homes or our bank statements know?

            This seems like a good time to mention “Do not be afraid”. This phrase comes up again and again and again in the Bible. Why would it be repeated so often if it were not a thing God cared about? In the light of the other two examples in this sermon, does it mean- do not be afraid if you are not hospitable, not community-oriented, or if you just love stuff? No, I am pretty sure that if you find yourself in that boat, you are called to a little healthy concern about your priorities.

            However, “be not afraid” does mean that you should never doubt God’s priorities. A merciful God, revealed in the preservation of Israel through the exile and beyond and even more fully in the life and resurrection of Jesus the Christ- a merciful God will not cease to love you, will not fail to walk with you, will not stop making space, opening a path, and inviting you forward into the way.

            The Quaker writer Parker Palmer wrote about going to an elder in his community when he was struggling to find direction in his life:

Ruth's reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: 'I'm a birthright Friend,' she said somberly, 'and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.' She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: 'But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding effect.' (Letting Your Life Speak)

            As we go forward into the life of faith, into the life we are called, the more deeply we trust the Spirit, the more way will close behind us. The way of dedicated individualism, the way of over-consumption, the way of anxiety and fear, the way of dehumanizing strangers and alienating neighbors—the way of Christ leads 180 degrees away from all of this and as you walk into one, the other closes behind you. This is real. This is the truth. Be not afraid.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Fairy Tale Ending

The BlogHer August prompts are about fairy tales.

Do you believe it's possible for some people to get that fairy tale ending of happily ever after?

I think it depends on what we think happily ever after looks like. I read a lot of romance novels and the community of romance readers is very big on what we call the HEA (happily ever after). In fact, if there is a not a clear resolution of conflict and at least the implication that the main characters are going to live together in love and harmony, then we're fairly quick to reject it as romance. 

However, HEA covers a multitude of dishes, vacation squabbles, differences of opinion, socks forgotten on the stairs, burned dinner, and general frustration. The implication is that love will cover all these things- if indeed any of these things occur. Many contemporary (setting and writing) romances deal with a variety of more complex issues: learning difficulties, mismatched personalities, chronic illness, children who are more than genial plot devices, temptations, anxiety, and other real life/world issues. 

The next station on that train of thought for me is that if HEA was enough, the gospels would be the end of our written scripture. They would end with an empty tomb, encounters with the risen Christ, and then we would fade to the sunset. Ta-da! And Peter and James and John and Thomas and Mary Magdalene and Johanna and the other Mary all lived happily ever after. 

Except that Acts tells us otherwise. And our experience of church tells us the same. 

There is an HEA of resurrection, promise, and presence, but there is also work. Riding off into the sunset with the risen Jesus only leads to the sunrise and the one after that and the one after that. As it turns out, the fairy tale ending is just the end of the recitation. It's the commencement of the work of living out the togetherness that was the joy of the story. 

So do I believe that it is possible for some people to get that fairy tale ending of happily ever after? 

I do. I really do. But I think the ending is only the beginning- the beginning of the work of the new life, the new love, and the new reality that has been made in the HEA. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ruined (Book Review)

Lately, I've craved sentences. As a voracious reader, I absorb large quantities of words, words by the gallon, the bucket, the ocean. However, in the present time of my life, I long for and adore simple sentences. Literally, I'm looking for something that could tattooed on the top of my foot.

Ruth Huizenga Eberhart has just such a sentence. In the middle of Ruinedher wrenching memoir of rape and spiritual agony, she writes, "The fall is a more universal theme than restoration." 

The fall is a more universal theme than restoration

Maybe I don't want that exactly inked into my skin, but its message is indelible. So was the four hour encounter in Ruth's 20th year shaped everything that came after it. As it so often does, the will of neighbor- his or her poor choice- causes a crisis when one has to examine where that choice intersects with the will of God. 

Ruth's rape, the aftermath, her relationships- all of these things intertwine with her pain, her grief, and her questioning about the God about whom she'd taught and the God she was actually encountering in silence and in space. Her lyrical writing, sometimes a little slowly paced, allows the reader to realize that God's silence is not always a big NO, but an invitation into a smaller, yet more spacious yes. 

Grace is more than forgiveness; grace says that it’s all right to need forgiveness in the first place. It’s all right to be imperfect, to intend well and mess up. To try again. Grace is getting a do-over. 

The fall is a more universal theme, because so few lack the language for expressing restoration, for understanding it, for believing it is possible. When Ruth eventually takes proactive steps to avoid being forever terrified of men who resemble her attackers, my eyes were so wide. Living day after day is surprising after a horror or a tragedy, but it happens. One hardly believes one can keep breathing. Attempting to keep something "normal" is brave. Ruth is very brave. 

Actively seeking to change something within yourself is courageous. Ruth is incredibly courageous. Her courage is not just evident in how she learns to view herself through God's understanding, but even more so in how she comes to see her experiences through God, divine mystery, and love. 

The fall is a more universal theme, but I believe it is only because we actually crave the stories of restoration. We long for the redemption narrative. We want to see it come out all right. This is because, in our hearts, we know our own falls and faults and we long to know that we too will sing restoration songs. 

I received a copy of this book for an honest review. My honest recommendation is that this book is completely worth your time and effort.