Thursday, August 25, 2016

Be Subject...

Some people, when faced with adversity, ask, "What would Jesus do?" I prefer, instead, "What would Jed Bartlet do?" In both cases, freaking out and flipping over tables is a viable option.

I've been thinking about this scene a lot lately. Bartlet can interpret scripture better than many preachers, and he hits a home run on Ephesians' teaching to, "Be subject to one another."

I was at a conference this week. Mostly, it was a very good conference. There was one speaker whose ability to interpret scripture was sadly lacking. Bartlet would wipe the floor with him. And then there was that guy in another session--the older, white, straight guy who needed to share his wisdom with everyone present. In a discussion on racism, he spoke more than anyone else in the room other than the presenter. I'm sure in his mind, his Teva sandals and ponytail meant he wasn't part of the problem. Surely someone who has clearly shunned the trappings of patriarchy, or a certain version of society, hasn't fallen prey to its problems.

You're welcome to roll your eyes here.

I didn't confront him because, in that space, I couldn't think of way to do so that wasn't, "Please shut up."

Did I mention we were talking about racism and racial equity?

And so I've been thinking about "Be subject to one another." A guy at my church and I spent a while talking about racism the other day. I was reminded again this week that there are plenty of white people in my world who don't believe racism exists. Their privilege means that they've never encountered it, and often, no one has been brave enough to talk about it in front of them. Some of them are even willing to listen, because it just has been off their radar for the most part.

I think about the neighbors I've eaten with who told me what it was like to be homeless, which most always meant unwanted. I'm pretty sure I could sit in a Wendy's for hours before anyone said anything; they get kicked out quickly. There's never been a movie about getting rid of people like me or public policy that does the same.

When you have privilege, you often don't know it. You're used to being safe, being listened to, and being able to go where you want. If you're not sure you have privilege, or maybe you think all this talk of privilege is bullshit, then chances are you do have it. So here's the challenge of scripture: be subject to one another.

If you don't know where to start, then keep it simple: listen to other people. Listen to their experiences, their concerns, and anything else they want to tell you. Allowing more voices to be heard is a simple and concrete way to relinquish some of your power and be subject to someone else.

That also means you might have to shut yourself up, which we should all do from time to time.

Be subject to someone who otherwise wouldn't have power over you because you might just find yourself closer to the reign of God if you do.

And in the meantime, vote Bartlet 2016.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Playing the Long Game

Do you remember Sawyer in Lost? He was the bad boy hot guy in the show. You were intentionally never quite sure if he was good or bad. I think of him often, mostly for the phrase "long con." He had been a con artist before the island, and the long cons were the ones that really paid off. You built relationships, won trust, waited a lot, and the payoff was months maybe years later. When the payoff came, it was a big one.

While I'm not aiming to be a con artist, I am incredibly intrigued by the idea of a long game.

I readily confess that delayed gratification is not one of my gifts, patience is not one of my virtues, things like that. I've been annoyed by lack of instant downloads of books for nearly ten years. Actually, my list of annoyances stemming from this one larger issue is pretty long, so we'll skip it. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

In fact, I'm pretty sure our culture is creating more and more instant gratification expectations every day. One of my friends booked her entire wedding on her phone in under five minutes. It's just how we work now. I can even get most things I need delivered to my house in under two hours if I don't want to leave. Two hours sometimes seems like a very long time. Yes, I'm the reason Amazon is testing drones. We're taught to play the short games.

Faith is about playing the long game. I think that's true no matter what religion you practice, but am certain it's true about Christianity. This is the long game. I'm preaching on Hebrews this week. Every once in a while I decide I'm going to memorize the entire book because it's just that amazing--one of the most eloquent sermons ever. There's more Jesus as sacrifice than I'd like, but I can even deal with that.

My sermons taking a different turn this week, but here's the line I'm not preaching on that I kind of wish I was, "All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them." (Hebrews 11:13) Before and after that sentence, there are descriptions of acts of faith from patriarchs and judges--people whose stories are deeply embedded into the Christian tradition. It's this disturbing and awesome reminder: you might die before this thing you worked for bears fruit.

I've had conversations with plenty of frustrated people about why on earth everything Jesus promised hasn't happened. "It's been two thousand years! How aren't we there yet!" Hearing the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote seems to inspire more doubt than not lately, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Maybe the most frustrating and hopeful confession I make as a pastor and a person of faith is, "I'm playing the long game." We're playing the long game.

Just because something can't be completed today, doesn't mean it doesn't get done. I'll feed this person today, while working toward families being able to afford their basic needs on their own. Or I'll feed this person today, while working toward a less individualized community where we all share needs and resources. I won't sit by and do nothing, but the little something is never the end. The sandwich or the hot shower or the place to sleep is never the end thing.

We're playing the long game. The long game plants seeds and waits. The long game gives water when it's needed. The long game knows that there's another season coming. The long game is sometimes a very long game.

And somehow, the long game is the one that matters even when it's overshadows by the short games in between. We make promises. We stand firm. We do the holy work that so many before us have done. We're playing the long game.