Monday, October 3, 2016

Looking for Loopholes

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and mind —and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
                                                 -- Luke 10:25-29 (The Message)

The religion scholar was looking for a loophole. Religion scholars are often accused of looking for loopholes. Preachers too. I've been accused of it my fair share.
One of our candidates for presidency seems to be pretty good at looking for loopholes. And is apparently pretty good at finding them - financially. He appears very proud of himself for not paying his fair share.
On the one hand, why would be blame him? Even regular Christians look for loopholes, don’t we? We want to pay our taxes - okay, unlike the candidate there -- we do want to pay our taxes. But like the candidate, most of us want to pay at the lowest possible rate. That candidate isn’t all that different from large corporations that find loopholes by exploiting cheap labor. Those corporations aren’t all that different from people like you and me who are the wealthy beneficiaries of that cheap labor. I’ll give you but one example.
A Washington Post article last Friday traced the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to companies such as Apple and Samsung. The mention of those two companies alone is enough to put fear in our hearts because we all know what Apple and Samsung make. Electronics. Electronics that we need - or at least crave.
The miners dig for Cobalt. Cobalt is an essential ingredient in Lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries make it possible for your cell phone to fit in your pocket, your laptop to fit in your lap, and your electric car to fit in your driveway. Some who dig for cobalt in these dangerous mines are children. All of them are subject to dying in the mines and who knows what other health issues will arise as they age. If they age.
Miners work all day in these mines for $2 or $3 -- a day. Their families have to make choices between buying flour or salt. The conditions are dangerous. There is no regulation. We are the beneficiaries of their labor.
Why does Trump look for loopholes, and why do corporations look for loopholes, and why do we look for loopholes? Pretty much all for the same reason. To justify our way of life.
Really to have our own “stuff.” We like our stuff, our gadgets, our toys, our electronics. So we ask, What is the least I can do for the most benefit for myself? We often do this without thought to what others are sacrificing, and how others are broken, in order for us to have what we want. We look for loopholes to have our own way rather than the way of Jesus.
This selfish use of our passion, our prayer, our muscle, and our mind would be just fine for us Christians if Christ had been a capitalist. But if this story of the Samaritan is any indication of the ways and teachings of Jesus, and it is, then rather than a capitalistic Christ, we follow a compassionate and Cosmic Christ.
Let me define those two terms. A compassionate Christ is a Christ who suffers with the least of these AND transforms the exploitation of the least of these into justice, which is to say, into right relationship.
And Cosmic Christ means a Christ who is concerned for ALL of these - not just Americans or Christians, or only people. A Cosmic Christ is a Christ that is also concerned about the conditions of the planet and the universe because those conditions are the conditions under which people live and are thereby directly related to their well-being, or “salvation” if you want to use a bible word.
The well-being of a miner in Congo is as important to the Cosmic Christ as the one running for president of the United States. In fact, to the Christ, the miner is more important because the miner is lesser on our scale.
Following a compassionate and Cosmic Christ calls us to stop looking for loopholes that allow us to gain our own way while exploiting the least of these. That's the problem with using loopholes, it isn't there is no cost, only that someone else pays that cost.
Rather than what is the least I can do to benefit me the most, Christ- thinking is what is the most I can do to benefit the least of these? This kind of thinking says, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill —I’ll pay you on my way back.’ And this kind of thinking returns to make good on the promise.
Surely, the Samaritan could have found a loophole. But he didn't. Rather than putting his own burden on others, the Samaritan pays his fair share, and another's fair share as well.
We can use our money to get our own way. We can use it to exploit others. But we can’t call ourselves followers of the way of Jesus Christ when we do that.
Loophole was originally a means of defense. It became an escape from responsibility for one’s actions. The word comes from the 13th century and does indeed translate very well the original Greek - δικαιόω - to justify oneself. Why does the religious man seek to justify himself? Because he knows he’s wrong.
Notice though, the story doesn’t end with the religious scholar being hopeless. Go and do the same Jesus says. I like to believe he did. There was still hope for him. There is still hope for us as well.

Frankl, Todd, "The cobalt pipeline: tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to 
consumers’ phones and laptops," September 30, 2016, The Washington Post.
Photos by Michael Robinson Chavezdeo editing by Jorge Ribas

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Too Troubled To Speak

September 22, 2016

Twice already this past week I sat with my head shaking in hands after reading first of 13-year old Tyre King's death, then of Terence Crutcher's. Tuesday night, I was again bewildered by the death of Keith Lamont Scott. It was too close - the University City area in Charlotte, NC. Less than 25 miles from my house, 13 miles from our church.

Since then there has been rioting, another at death's door (as of the time of this writing), and pleas for transparency to the chief of police. Trust between police forces and communities has eroded not only in Charlotte but nationwide.

Ku Klux Klan activity has become emboldened by leaders whose speech and rhetoric incites division among poor whites and blacks, and among police officers and Black men. This isn't new, but has risen in the past year to a fever pitch.

What do I say? How do I respond? I've read several books and dozens of articles on our history with race and criminal justice. I've become much more aware of the systematic abuses against Black people by our courts, our policing, our country's government, and vigilantes. Something has been wrong for a long time regarding how Black people are treated here. Much of this injustice too easily fades into history. Yet, still today Black people are much more likely to be killed by police than are White people. Between 2010 and 2012, Black teens were 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than were White teens in the same period. And this says nothing of the vast inequality between how justice is administered toward people of color compared with whites.

As a Christian minister, I believe in the inherent worth of every human being. I believe we are all God's children. I believe we are all the same. I usually call on my faith to give hope for a way through difficulty and as a strong response to injustice. But my faith fails me to find meaningful ways forward. For a long time, I have struggled with a helpful response the injustices of systematic racism. But I cannot seem to speak. I cry.

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God; and God hears me.
On the day of my distress I am seeking Adonai;
my hands are lifted up;
my tears flow all night without ceasing;
my heart refuses comfort.
When remembering God, I moan;
when I ponder, my spirit fails. (Selah)
You hold my eyelids keeping me from sleeping;
I am too troubled to speak.
                Psalm 77:2-5

I feel like the psalmist. But as a White minister I must speak. I must ask why does this keep happening? I can understand that officers have to protect themselves and the public. If an officer has an objectively reasonable belief there is a threat to oneself or the public, then legally, lethal force is acceptable, even if the person is walking away or fleeing. But should it be?

To walk in the shoes of a police officer every day is an extremely stressful place to be. Without question that must be acknowledged.  

And the causes of police murder of people must be addressed in serious, concerted ways. One way to address this is to look closely at training of officers. One's biases -- racial, economic, social, political, or otherwise -- have no place of honor among protection of the people. And all people must be protected and treated fairly. Shooting first isn't fair.

I don't believe any police department wants the reputation that is being laid on them because of the bad judgment of a few officers. But the few are becoming all too many.

Ordinary Christian people must find their voice of justice with mercy and speak truth to power. This begins with learning about our own racists ways, including our deep (media-fed) fear of the black male.  It begins with learning about the history of racial abuse and joining under the leadership of our Black prophets to address the systematic targeting, criminalization, incarceration, and killing of black men. The time for silence is past.

Charlotte protests erupt over police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott,, German Lopez, 9/21/2016
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Rev. Nathan King is pastor and teacher of Trinity United Church of Christ in Concord, NC. Trinity is a social justice church and fully welcomes all people into its life and work following the ways and teachings of Jesus.

Rev. Nathan King

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Closer Attention

The other day I was out walking in the backyard. Leaves are strewn around on the grass and pathways. In daylight it’s easy to find my way. At night, when I put out the dog, I sometimes follow him outside and walk down the path to breathe in the night air. With leaves fallen, it’s more difficult to see the path and, though the place is familiar, I have to pay much closer attention to stay on way. My eyes work to adjust themselves gathering light from various sources. I have to slow my steps. It’s a short meditation on awareness walking in the dark.
The days grow shorter and the season of Advent finds us in deeper darkness until on December 22nd the light returns with the Winter Solstice. Until then, may your eyes adjust to see familiar things in new ways. Familiar things like Advent and Christmas, or the person who greets you each day. May you be blessed with new awareness as you find your way more directly to God.

Pastor Nathan

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall Leaves

I love this time of year! Autumn. I could just stop there. Say no more. Breathe. Take it in. I don’t know just what it is about this season that enlivens me. Maybe the change in temperature (and in humidity here in the south). Maybe the breeze. Maybe the impending prospect of October’s bright blue weather. High school and college football. Harvest moon and Halloween.
Maybe my mysterious connection with autumn comes from the annual childhood return to school and friends, becoming socially engaged again, and teachers who not only taught me to love learning but who genuinely cared about me as well.
Autumn also brings memories of transitions. My mother and my wife’s father both died a few autumns ago. So there is also loss and, thereby, grief memories during this season of wonderfully mottled colors and decaying foliage.
But all of it feels right.
Delight. Hope. Loss. Change. Transitions. This is that time of year for me when all those things seem most natural. What looks like, and in many ways is, death and decay are beginning the long process of becoming re-formed. New. But not in the sense of the way they were new before. Rather, completely new, as in different. Similar perhaps, but also differently new.
Embrace it! (Or die forever). I wonder if this is what Jesus meant when he talked about eternal life he came to bring – life in all its fullness.
What does this autumn look like, feel like, within your own body? Within your own spirit? Within your own soul? May you be re-newed by this holy transformation.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Facing our Demons

This post links to a sermon from this past Sunday at Trinity UCC, Concord. It raises the question for me of where problems with authority really lie. Sometimes the problem is with the authority itself. Jesus challenges the notion that authority is a matter of office. Rather, he demonstrates that the more authentic authority is compassion.

I give thanks for the help of Bonnie Schell in the delivery of this sermon about changing our attitudes toward mental illness.

Click the link below and you will be re-directed to where the audio should begin in a few seconds. Scroll over to the 21:45 minute/second mark to begin the sermon based on Mark 1:21-28.

Trinity UCC Worship January 29, 2012 

Monday, January 30, 2012

In the Beginning

With which beginning do I start? Do I begin with the beginning of my conscious spiritual journey, or maybe with my family of origin, or perhaps with the beginning of last week? So many beginnings. So many endings.

I first conceived of blogging Living Dying Wisdom almost two years ago after a doctoral class in Wisdom as a Way of Life. It was a class at...Wisdom University no less. With that class I fell in love again with the pursuit of wisdom. For the philosophers of Ancient Greece, this pursuit was rooted in a daily contemplation of one's own death. So as I pursue a doctor of philosophy degree in wisdom studies, my writings here are about that broad process.

I serve a local United Church of Christ in Concord, NC as Senior Pastor. It is a small congregation of about 80 in worship each Sunday. We are an Open and Affirming church. This means we welcome, affirm and support all people, and specifically include Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender persons in the full life of our congregation. We also believe taking the bible seriously means it cannot always be taken literally.

Posts here may reflect my work with the congregation, its ebb and flow of living and dying, as well as the movement of my own personal journey into the daily contemplation of death.