Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
I want to share this obvious observation: Even if there were some remote chance I could become pope…they would never let me. The reason is simple and it is not because of my progressive views of Christian theology, or the fact that I am unapologetically gay or even the fact that I do not believe the bible is the inerrant word of God.
Nope is because I believe December 25th is one of the biggest frauds every pulled on humanity.
Those who are pastors know that what I am suggesting is very true. Y’all went to seminary and know saying Jesus was born on December 25th is like saying there is a real living breathing Santa Claus. This fraudulent claim has made our jobs and life during this time of the year a living nightmare of endless days of no sleep and one crisis on top of another.
For the Christmas season, which begins long before the 1st Sunday in Advent, actually right after Halloween we are subjected to 12 weeks of Christmas messages that have little to do with or about our Christian faith. In fact most of the preparations, and so-called traditions have been borrowed or should I say stolen from pagan practices! Although many marketing people cleverly package their presentations pointed in the direction of a cute little baby in cute well manicured and warm manger scene.
People begin making plans for family gatherings and the perfect gift to make the perfect statement of love or impression. This is all destroyed when Johnny announces he is bringing Tom home for Christmas or Susie tells the family she will be spending this holiday with Tammy and her family.
Money, jobs, friends, illness, those dying, families, the homeless, starving children, criminals of all kinds and political games all become the all consuming thing that will happen in that particular year or in a lifetime coming up to December 25th.
Starting with Thanksgiving and through Christmas day every story has a Christmas slant meant to make one feel guilty, or believe it is possible for one day if enough money is spent to be a day of perfect perfection.
Almost every retail business, in America anyway, is geared to this time as making or breaking them for the entire year.
Legislation, which is vital to so many people’s lives, is either held hostage or used as extortion leading to December 25th.
Also, starting with Thanksgiving our food consumption just simple goes off the charts eating far too much of everything and especially the wrong things. Alcohol consumption also goes off the charts but hey you got to drink something with all that food.
The normal every day challenges of life become a crisis of faith because “tis the season”.
People’s social and pageant schedules become so jammed there is no time to take a breath or enjoy a quiet moment of peace and wonderment at God’s creativity in this world in which we live.
We are pushed to acts of kindness because it is the Christmas season, rather than it is the right and just thing to do.
I could go on and on but you get the point. Oh wait I forgot the ultimate fundraiser of those on the “Christian and political right”: “The War on Christmas” is fought for the entire 12 weeks leading to December 25th. Do you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? Legal fights jam our courts over these phrases or worse where a nativity scene gets set up. Conservative Christian websites fire up the war by warning their readers and members that “Christmas is about to be stolen from them so send us money to protect you!”
Now for those readers who have at this point decided I am some sort of Scrooge or Grinch that stole Christmas be patient and keep reading.
When I was young my Grandfather told me the reason one should not lie is because once you tell a lie, you have to tell another lie to cover the first and another to cover the 2nd and pretty soon you are just having to lie all the time because you have lost track of the truth and you can’t remember what you said and to whom.
We have been told and believe so many lies concerning Christmas that we have almost completely lost why this particular birthday is important, why we celebrate a life which in 33 years (a couple years more or less) had such an impact as to change the very course of human events.
In all the perfection we strive for in the holiday season we forget this birth was anything but neat, clean and glamorous. We forget or by cheesy tradition explain away this child was conceived out of wedlock, borne in abject poverty and grew up in a world that was most certainly as dangerous to human life as it is today. We forget or don’t talk about how the gossips of the day most have had a field day both inside the temple and outside.
We jump past the truth of this story which tells us that no matter how bad things are or get God can raise us up out of the ashes of despair to a place with the Creator.
We forget this is a birth that gave us a moral compass for living a life that would being pleasing to the God who created us because it leads to a life of doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God.
When we first bought the lie of December 25th, it became easier to buy the other lies. In fact the Christian and political right’s fear of Christmas being stolen while a lie itself was a self-fulfilling prophecy. For you see I don’t think we have to worry about Christmas being stolen…it already has been stolen and replaced with the craziness that we call the Holiday Season.
It is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born that we celebrate. The truth of the date is somewhere between April and August depending on whose math you believed. About the only thing certain about the date is it was not the 25th of December. The story of the circumstances of his conception and birth give us real hope that it gets better. Jesus’ life and work gives us a working model and road map for our life. His life is indeed one we can look up to and not be disappointed in what we see. His arrest, faulty conviction and the administration of capital punishment followed by a resurrection give those us who call ourselves followers of The Christ, the assurance that nothing in this world including death of the physical body can keep us from God.
Maybe the date we celebrate the birth in the wider view is not as important as getting back to why we remember this birth like no other birth in history.
So it is with the spirit of being authentic in our celebration I ask us to consider how our “Christmas” celebration this year will measure up to the words attributed to the one we celebrate, we remember, we strive to be like:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:3-16 (New International Version, ©2010)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Creator in heaven.
It seems to me that December 25th is as good as any day to get back to the authentic reason for giving honor to the birth of the one called Christ.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Last week I really found out just how difficult the world has become. How a couple of bad choices can change one’s life forever. How being in the wrong place at the wrong time can make it damn near impossible to get a job or find housing.
We had a young man show up at the church looking for help. For the sake of privacy we will call him Tad. At the time he came to the church I was out on a hospital call and the church secretary was the one who heard his story first.
Now under normal circumstances the secretary would have given Tad some food, maybe a marta pass and let him use the phone to make whatever contacts he needed to make and sent him on his way.
However, today was different and by the time Tad had told his story the secretary really didn’t know what to do. She did know that our church and I in particular work with the really complicated stuff…so she called me to tell me Tad’s story.
The long and short of the story was that Tad had just found out he was HIV positive and when he told his roommates they threw him out. He had spent the night before sleeping in the woods and trying to stay out of the way of the police. By the time he had gotten to the church he was cold and hungry and extremely tired. He also added that this was the first place he had been to where anybody would even listen to his plight.
I gave the secretary a couple of referrals that specialize with HIV positive men. She had given him the number for a local shelter and he was heading that way. I was concerned how this particular shelter would react to him and his story should he decide to tell them. So, I indicated if that fell through to call me on my cell and I would talk to him and try to set up a time to get together and see if we could begin stabilizing the situation.
God’s humor and timing is pretty awesome and when I got back to the office, there was Tad and his emotional state now in addition to being tired, scared, and cold was now angry.
When Tad got in touch with the shelter and they told him to come on down, he had gone back to where he had been living to gather his belongings. Upon arriving he found his bed cloths, coats, underwear and socks and some other personal stuff had been burned. What had not been burned had been piled up in the back yard and bleach poured all over it.
So now it is time to take a deep breath, sit done with a cup of coffee and walk through this. So here is a very brief description of the last year for Tad.
He has been married for 5 years.
He has been in recovery from drug use for 3 years.
About a year or so ago he got laid off from his job, and in an effort to get money for food he passed a bad check (bad choice #1). Got caught and spent time in jail.
While in jail he lost the job he had just gotten when he had to go to court and face the bad check charges.
A few days after getting out jail he is out and about looking for work when Atlanta’s finest stop him on the street and begin to question him. (Wrong place, wrong time)
They question him about drug use, where he lives, check his ID and pat him down. One of the officers walks up the street about 20 yards of so and discovers a bag of crack. So now he is arrested for possession of something which clearly was not his since in his movement had not gotten to where the officer found the bag.
The case goes to court and is dismissed out of hand by the judge who says this should have never happened.
In the meantime he and his wife need to move from one housing unit to the next.
In the process of the move a background check is done on Tad, the drug arrest is discovered. Tad is told he can not live at the complex with his wife because of HUD drug arrest rules. So now, he is homeless.
In an effort to stay out of the police’s way he goes from friend to friend. He finally hooks up with some old college buddies. Some sexual experimentation goes on. The experimentation is anything but safe (Bad choice number 2).
Through the church he and his wife had attended they find a place with some church members he can live until he can get some legal help to be able to move back in with his wife. Yup you guessed it, this where his stuff was burned, bleached and he was told never to come back.
I can not begin to tell folks how many ways this is so wrong, without compassion, without reconciliation, without justice and not a shred of common decency.
Tad has family in the area so we contact them to try to arrange a place to stay. Quote: “I got kids you ain’t bringing no AIDS here!”
In the meantime we have found housing but there will not be an open bed for 5 days. So Tad and I are off to the shelter downtown. By the time we got there no more emergency bedding was available. They had a transitional housing program but that would cost $10.00 a day. Before readers shake heads and roll eyes, please bear in mind the old saying; “If something costs a quarter and you ain’t got a quarter it is too expensive.”
$50.00 for a homeless person? Yea, just chew on that for a while and think about the insurance CEO knocking down 3 or 4 million a year.
A few phone calls are made and a couple of members of the church commit to covering the cost. Wow! Praise God! For a church that has less than $2,000.00 a month to work with, this was an impressive act of compassion. We get him back to his room, ugh, no, not a room but rather a dormitory with 30 other men and come to find out infested with “bed bugs”.
Well, today as I write we are past the crisis. Tad has housing and we are working at getting the proper coping mechanisms back in place. So why write about this?
Simply, Tad’s story could be our story. A couple of bad choices, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and wham we too could be the scourge of society, the one for whom legislatures pass laws to protect the common good. A little common decency, a little compassion a little unconditional love could have prevented this story.
Tad’s story is not singular but rather community. Of the 11,000 homeless in Metro Atlanta one will hear the same type of story again and again. Their plights are justified by those with power in government and the more powerful churches by pointing out their perceived short comings, their perceived sins. They are labeled as drug users, drunks, homosexuals, Gender confused, prostitutes, illegal’s, crazy people, and just plain bad people. A little common decency, a little compassion a little unconditional love could have changed these perceived sins to blessings.
Yet, sad to say we the people contribute to making the homeless criminals because we demand law and order rather than common decency, compassion and not being so judgmental about how people get where they are.
For instance, there are no public restrooms through out the city. So if one urinates outside and gets caught they can be given a ticket for public urination a misdemeanor, or if they cross some imaginary line with law enforcement they can be charged with exposure, a crime that will land them on the sexual offenders list. That is a place in the State of Georgia no wants to be if they want to have a roof over their head.
Maybe somebody could tell me where the common decency is in dropping charges against a homeless person but making them pay a fine. Did it ever dawn on our brilliant officials if they had money to pay the fine, they might not be on the street to begin with? Dear reader, don’t roll your eyes because there are some who are simply one traffic ticket fine from not paying the rent or mortgage.
People often ask me why are things going the way they are, how did we get to this point, how did we become so polarized? Simple, as was said earlier we as a society and a people have lost our common decency. Why? In my not so humble opinion since 9-11 we live in fear. We fear everything and everybody. The list of fears are too many to list here, but it is fear that causes people to make more and more laws, get less and less compassionate and understanding.
So the next time you see someone sleeping under a bridge, walking the street, sleeping in a door way, remember they have a story too and their story all too easily could be our story with a wrong choice, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I think my wish for this Christmas, my prayer in this holiday season will be simply this, Dear God fill our land, our homes, our jobs, our churches our families with decency and the strength to do justice, act mercifully and walk humble with You…and so it is.