Marketing the Unicorn

Starbucks did something pretty amazing this week. With 1 Facebook post, 1 Instagram post, and an a-frame sign at each store the international coffee giant was able to take it’s normal daily sales and split it 50/50 between the rest of the menu and the Unicorn Frappuccino (source: our baristas at the Starbucks on Cedar Road).

The beauty of what Starbucks has been able to do is brilliant!

This drink, cleverly named after my fraternity’s mascot, is a mix of zero nutritional value, sugar, fat, and fairy dust. This is a drink that is the equivalent to eating three Snickers candy bars in one sitting, and yet our local Starbucks has been a frenzy over the past 24-hours with patrons lining up to get their hands on the pink and blue unicorn goodness (or poison depending on how you look at it).

With little to no marketing, this drink was able to become a hashtag, commonly used phrase, and power player in the morning routine of the green mermaid’s coffee arsenal (although the drink contains no coffee or caffeine).

A product that has no nutritional value, has received over 700k likes and shares on social media with little to no marketing presence. Be sure of this though, Starbucks has been very intentional about marketing this product.

What I find most interesting about this product is the timing. On the heals of Easter, in the first days of Eastertide, Starbucks has shown us how the “less is more marketing style works.” Churches should spend 5% of it’s bottom line to see 10% in growth according to UMC Communications. Yet often this is not a thought out or longterm plan.

Easter is a time during the year when churches put on the dog, planning marketing campaigns (or outsourcing them), staging multiple events throughout Holy Week, and fill more eggs than the Easter bunny. All of this is done to draw more people into the church, more new disciples, and to reconnect those who have left the church for one reason or another.

With Easter Sunday being the biggest Sunday of the year for most churches it makes sense that they would spare no expense when it comes to marketing for their events.

What if though, we learned something from Starbucks when it comes to our marketing. Be sure that Starbucks was very intentional when it comes to a marketing campaign, but their latest “secret-menu” item did not stay a secret for very long and that was intentional!

Churches have the responsibility for sharing, proclaiming, and spreading the greatest message and news of all time. More important than a blended beverage thats for sure, and yet it seems like often churches keep the Good News of Jesus Christ on the secret menu because of a failure to take marketing seriously.

With 1 Facebook post, 1 Instagram post, and an a-frame sign at each store the international coffee giant was able let the secret out of the bag. Are we overthinking marketing in our local churches? In our overthinking are we actually under-thinking?

 

One Way

 

A few years ago, Allison and I headed out to dinner with another couple.  We picked Becky and Carl up, then headed to downtown Frederick… to one of those restaurants that is typical for locals returning home to visit their parents and friends. Downtown Frederick is made up of grid-like streets, one-way streets going north and south, as well as east and west.

We parked in Allison’s ‘06 Toyota Corolla in a parking garage, then went to dinner. After dinner, we headed down one of the side alleyways Frederick is known for. They are usually barely wide enough to find a single car down but Allison’s Corolla was small enough to have plenty of room. As Allison exited garage, heading down the alley towards East Patrick Street…

 if it was a movie or one of those don’t text and drive advisory scare commercials, next I’d shift to a freeze frame of our stunned scared faces, you’d hear rubber screech on pavement, glass crunch, metal crumple, windows shatter, an airbag muffle a scream and then the frame would unfreeze to police lights…that kind of thing… you hear, “if there’d been other way to go we would’ve gladly taken it, any other direction…”

Like I said, you could say we saw the light.


“It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.[1]” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.

But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost![2]

Anyone else think this sounds like overkill? Like Jesus is overreacting a bit?

Just before this text Peter had stumbled upon the right answer[3]. He appeared to have seen the light, calling Jesus the Messiah. But here he apparently didn’t understand what he was saying.

Because no sinner has laid out how the Son of Man must proceed, using words like rejection and suffering, is why Peter rebukes Jesus. He rebukes Jesus. Rebukes- a word normally reserved for when Jesus exorcises demons from possessed people. Peter tries to rebuke Jesus and instead Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me Satan!”[4]

It sounds like overkill until you stop to consider how what Jesus was telling them about Messiah and Son of Man contradicted everything they assumed about those words, about who he was supposed to be. According to Daniel 7 the Son of Man isn’t supposed to suffer rejection, shame, and crucifixion. The Son of Man is supposed to come in glory, come on the clouds not on a cross. The Son of Man is supposed to wrestle dominion from the Powers of the world, and all the peoples and nations should serve him. Peter and his people, their scripture promised, believed, the Messiah would come and like David of old with the sword, deliver God’s People from their enemies. Not die to them.

Jesus has got it all wrong, Peter tries to explain, tries to set Jesus straight, get him back on the right way of this one-way Messiah-ship. If you’re the Son of Man, Peter all but says, this is how it’s supposed to play out. It’s not about taking up crosses; it’s about taking out those who build them. ‘All the kingdoms of the world and their splendor can be yours’ Jesus[5].

In other words, Peter rebukes Jesus with the very words we heard Satan tempt Jesus with in the wilderness last week when Tim preached.

Jesus responds the way he does to Peter not because Peter doesn’t appreciate the value of self-sacrifice. It warrants a reaction stronger than “You’re not getting this!” “You haven’t been listening. Wake up and pay attention Peter!” It isn’t that the disciples, the most trusted of Jesus’ followers, his closest of friends, have just missed the point.

Jesus responds the way he does because Peter is tempting Jesus as Satan had (maybe Satan has possessed Peter?), tempting Jesus to establish his Kingdom by any other means than the cross.

Get behind me Satan, Jesus says to his friend. I know it is written…about Son of Man…about Messiah…but I say to you…the Son of Man must “proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.[6]


Tim wanted me to tell you about the time I saw the light.

Lucky for the Corolla, and our insurance premium, the side mirrors folded in, taking the brunt of the 5 MPH accident. The driver, obviously intoxicated, knew enough the error of his travels to at the least slow down as he hit us.

 

The car was being driven by a drunk driver. It was a one-way alley.

He decided, if that’s the right word to describe a drunk driver, it would be best to head down the one-way alley we were on, coming at us head on.

Tim wanted me to tell you about the time I saw the light but it’s not quite that simple, is it?

I could tell this story one way in relation to Mark 8. I could point out how just like we were on a one-way street, Jesus says there’s only one way to the Father, his way of self-sacrifice etc. I could then end the sermon by reminding you and exhorting you to go out and….

But the other way to tell the story is that there’s never really just one way, right? To say there’s one way is to say there’s another way too, a wrong one, a way that if you go down it you’re certain to get yourself killed and quite possibly, in the process, get others killed.

And sometimes, there’s not any clear signs about which way you’re supposed to go. Sometimes it depends on where you’re standing. Sure, the driver was under the influence but until he hit us he would’ve sworn he was driving the right way down the street.


We like to imagine the disciples just refuse to see the light. They do not understand what Jesus is saying because self-sacrifice is something they, we, struggle with but don’t forget, these guys sacrificed more than any of us to follow Jesus in the first place. They dropped their fishing nets, that is, their families and livelihoods, and followed. They’ve already by chapter 8 violated all kinds of laws by being Jesus’ followers.

Their reluctance to sacrifice and suffer isn’t what’s going on here.

Sure, I go out of my way to avoid suffering. I don’t “embrace” it like Jesus tells us. Sure, most of us go out of our way to ensure that we have the most comfortable day possible, from the way we order our routines in the morning, to what we listen to on the radio, to the people we interact with. We do not even put obstacles in place that might cause us to be uncomfortable.

 

But the point of this passage isn’t that we should give up Diet Coke or chocolate, or meat. It isn’t even that…. serving and sacrificing…

We haven’t really seen the light until we’ve realized that, so far as he’s been taught by his scriptures, Peter’s right.

The Son of Man is supposed to arrive “in a whirl of clouds.[7]” The Messiah is supposed to be a King of Kings, a King like other Kings but to the nth degree.

The Son of Man isn’t supposed to “proceed to an ordeal of suffering.[8]” The Messiah isn’t supposed to wear a crown of thorns, naked and jeered and forsaken.

This isn’t how the story is supposed to play out. Jesus talking about rejection and shame and suffering and a cross- the cross in God’s own Word is identified as THE absolute sign of alienation and God forsakenness[9].

We haven’t really seen the light until we realize how Jesus sounds to Peter, and the disciples, as irresponsible and out of sorts and needing an intervention as a drunk driver careening the wrong way down a one-way street.


During Lent, we make a big deal about denying yourself and taking up the cross. The saving power of sacrifice seems as obvious to us as a one-way street sign.

But we haven’t seen the light, the counterintuitive light of the gospel, the shocking good news of Easter, until we realize how from Peter’s angle, and with good reason, it looks like Jesus driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

This isn’t how the Son of Man, the Messiah, brings the Kingdom.

Get behind me, Satan.

 

After all, Paul who writes:

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.”[10]

Deny yourself. Take up your cross[11].

Paul can only write that because Paul knows what Peter here in Mark 8 does not know, that this life of self-sacrifice Jesus announces, God will vindicate it on Easter by raising it from the dead. Until Easter, the cross and a life that leads to it is exactly what Paul says it is: “foolishness and shame[12].”

As much as we talk about taking up a cross at Lent, the only sign we have that Peter isn’t right to rebuke Jesus and keep from a cross- the only sign we have is an empty grave.

But because of that empty grave, we can take up our crosses, all evidence to the contrary and….

We can deny ourselves, at times making costly choices, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord of all and not the noises and idols we make for ourselves. We begin to live into the life Jesus has called us into. The life, through the waters of Baptism, which we are called to. Our called lives remove the obligation and replace it with a feeling of willingness, to take up our crosses, and go to where we are called.


But I wonder- is that all the light there is for us to see here today?

Likely if I go on you’ll think I’ve managed to take a passage as safe and unremarkable as an ‘06 Toyota Corolla and crash it at 5MPH.

But I wonder- maybe there’s another glaring sign in this passage that we seldom notice? And maybe in not noticing it we end going the wrong way down a one-way street?

Maybe, especially in Lent, we’re supposed to see how easy it is for us, Jesus’ baptized and called friends and followers, to start speaking Satan’s lines. If it was tempting for Jesus to have a Kingdom by any other means than the cross, surely, it’s tempting for us to want to have Jesus without the means by which he establishes his Kingdom. Surely, it’s as easy for us as it was for Peter to be under the influence and want Jesus but to want him on different terms.

We want Jesus to be our Loving Savior but we don’t really want to love our enemies.

We want Jesus to be…but we don’t really much want to…

Maybe we haven’t seen all the light there is to see here until we’ve looked at Peter and like we’re looking in a rear-view mirror see our own reflection.

[1] Mark 8.31

[2] Mark 8.31-33

[3] Mark 7.29

[4] Mark 8.33

[5] Matthew 4

[6] Mark 8.31

[7] Daniel 7.13

[8] Mark 8.31

[9] Deuteronomy 21.22-23

[10] Philippians 2.5-11

[11] Philippians 2.8

[12] 1 Corinthians 1.18

Don’t Forget to Wash Your Ash

It’s Ash Wednesday, which means your social media feed is full of blog posts and photos of about ash. There will be advertisements for “Ashes to Go” and friends proudly letting the world know they are giving up social media for the next 6 weeks.

Giving up something or adding something to your daily routine is one of the ways Ash Wednesday and Lent help us to develop spiritual disciplines. Maybe you plan to pray daily, at a set time, with a set prayer for the next  6 weeks. Or perhaps you are taking swearing and cussing out of your vocabulary. These are great was to draw ourselves closer to the holiness displayed throughout Christ’s life.

Today as we gather for worship and the imposition of ashes upon our foreheads or in the palm of our hands keep the holiness of Christ, and our need to repent for our lack there of, remain front and center

Confession

God is our judge.

Anyone of my confirmation students will be able to tell you that. There comes a time in our spiritual formation where we transition from this understanding of judgement due to us for our sins, to now the understanding of the judgement due to them for their sins. This is not what Ash Wednesday is all about. When we confess our sins today we are confessing on our own behalf and also for those who are not present.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room an shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6.5-6 (NRSV)

But when you fast, put oil on you head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by our Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6.17-18 (NRSV)

Fleming Rutledge argues that Ash Wednesday, of all the days in the church calendar should remain a private day. This is a day of withdrawal both the church corporately she argues, and I would add the Christians individually.

For the time has come for judgement to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? – 1 Peter 4.17 (NRSV)

This is the day when the church stands first to confess our (individually and corporately) sins, submitting ourselves before the divine to await our judgement.

There are things we have done and left undone as communities for which we must offer repentance. Ash Wednesday offers the church gathered (however small a gathering it is) the opportunity to see how the church can really stand as a witness for the community. However small a gathering, the congregation is taking the sins of the community upon themselves. This is no easy task nor should it be undertaken flippantly.

Side Note: The gathered church is being fractured by the practice of “drive-thru ashes” and “ashes-to-go”. I recognize the usefulness of these practices as a witness to the un-churched. These practices are also helpful to provide more opportunities to our congregations who, let’s be frank, find it hard to schedule more than one hour a week for church. The practice of “drive-thru ashes” and “ashes-to-go” runs dangerously close to the same pious activity Jesus is advising us to avoid in Matthew 6.

Wash Your Ash

As we leave worship today, let us wash our faces. 

It is imperative that we wash our faces today. Walking around town with ash on your forehead is a direct contraction to today’s lection, which for many will be the scripture read and preached on today.

Wash your ash today. Let us not allow the world see our fasting as an attempt for pious righteousness but rather let our fasting be a witness to the judgement that was due to us but because of Christ’s sacrificial life we receive the justification we do not deserve.

The church is the representative in the world of God’s forgiven and justified sinners. We want to model what it means to be God’s sinful, forgiven, and justified people. – Fleming Rutledge

Self-Care Is a Requirement for Ministry

My friend Steve Austin, not of the Stone Cold variety, has one of the most compelling stories. We’ve shared his comeback from addiction and depression on Crackers and Grape Juice. Steve has convinced me that as a husband, father, and pastor putting myself first isn’t necessary a bad thing. Steve has convinced me that self-care matters.

I met Steve in a Facebook group for Christian bloggers and authors.  Steve posted a link to his latest book, From Pastor to Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible, and I knew from the title I needed to read it. Steve doesn’t hold much back as he looks back on what led him from the pulpit to the psych ward.  Steve burned the candle at both ends: working full-time, being a father & husband, and also serving a church.  On top of that he had been abused as a child (to which he openly deals with what that meant for him as a teenager and also as an adult).

Steve is launching a new opportunity for all of us concerned with our own self-care as well as those around us.

The Self Care Challenge

How Does the Self Care Challenge Work?

  • Each day, you’ll receive an email with a self-care challenge, including follow-up questions and a “Messy Grace Mantra”.
  • You’ll also have access to a closed Facebook group where you can connect with and encourage others who are doing the self-care challenge, too. This is a great way to build community!
  • In short, you’ll have all the tools you need to make this challenge a success!

What’s in it for me?

  • Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed?
  • Are you drowning in a sea of shame?
  • Does it seem impossible to tell others “no”?
  • Are you struggling with addiction?
  • Does anyone actually know the “real” you?
  • Does anxiety whisper white noise in your ear?
  • Is the black dog of depression nipping at your heels?

 

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, the 7-day Self-Care Challenge will give you tips and trick to take better care and control of your life. If you don’t take good care of yourself, nobody else will!

Ready to start the challenge? Just click here!

Connecting Communities With Rabbi Hayim Herring 

A few weeks ago I had a chance to interview Rabbi Hayim Herring for an episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. At a time when our communities are more connected than ever, why is it that faith communities feel disconnected from one another and their larger community? Rabbi Hayim Herring, co-author of Leading Congregations and Non-Profits in a Connected World, tells us why this is happening and offers ways faith communities can reconnect.

We talked about a wide range of topics tying back to our connected communities, or unconnected communities, both in the church and synagogue context.

Being a youth pastor, one of my chief complaints about the church is that youth groups are often a separate congregation within the church. It is not uncommon for churches to have separate worship services just for teenagers, separate from the larger congregation.

Last year, I presented a workshop on this topic at the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference.

‘Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble’ explored how we can move beyond the traditional models of ministry and begin the practice of risk taking as a faith community. What we are presenting is the collective efforts of what we’ve learned during our time in seminary (part of my focus has been on youth ministry) and in our local ministry setting.  

It should be no surprise that youth ministry is struggling like the rest of the church and it’s been my experience that most of the struggles we have are because we are focusing on the wrong thing: numbers. Numbers of weekly participants, number of “salvations” (yes this is a real thing), number of parent volunteers, number of retreats, mission trip numbers. Number. Numbers. Numbers.
I’ve noticed lately in online youth ministry groups that people are being fired (or forced to resign) for a lack of numbers in there programs all the while the rest of the church is declining. Youth pastors more and more frequently are being asked to grow a ministry that is engaged in the church all the while being forced into a corner of the church very few people go visit – The Youth Wing.
What’s really at play here, in some way, is that while churches are struggling to grow student ministry seems like it should be growing fast, right? I mean, we just bought $5000 worth of video games and TV’s, renovated the youth area, and then hired a young(er) good looking guy to lead this band of teens. And yet, churches still are not seeing the growth they desire, or that the community needs when it comes to ministering to students. Why is this?

I think Rabbi Hayim’s book is of great value to anyone seeking to connect communities; both in the youth ministry world and beyond.

Are You Strangely Warmed?

When Crackers & Grape Juice first started, Tony Jones argued the best option for a the title was, “Strangely Warmed.” Jason being Jason went against the better advice, withholding Tony’s suggesting to us, and we went with “Crackers & Grape Juice.” The past is in the past, and there is nothing we can do about it now.

Since Crackers & Grape Juice began 11 months ago, we have quickly developed a great base of listeners. Both clergy and lay listeners have embraced our bi-weekly conversations, bearing through some awful sound quality problems (but hey, you’re getting it for free right?). A few months ago we threw around the idea for a new podcast. This podcast would be a weekly focus on the Lectionary. Since 2/4 of the team preaches regularly it made sense. They were already preparing sermons, why not throw in our 2 cents to the Lectionary passage for that week.

Strangely Warmed will be the new addition to the Crackers & Grape Juice family. And rather than forcing more of our own opinions on you, we are enlisting the voices of some of our favorite Crackers & Grape Juice guests and theologians.

We are kicking the new podcast off with the lections for Ash Wednesday, Year A. Fleming Rutledge will provide her commentary on Ash Wednesday services, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, and even prophetic preaching.

You won’t want to miss a single episode of this weekly podcast. Lined up after Ash Wednesday we have three weeks of Lent with Stanley Hauerwas, a few weeks with Eric Hall (our resident Catholic-heathen), and Tony Jones will walk us through Holy Week.

Head over to iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or wherever you download podcasts and subscribe today. If you have a pastor/preacher friend be sure to pass this post along to them.

So What Should The Church Do About Refugees?

There’s a good chunk of our Bible where refugees are the main character of the story. Israel spent a lot, and I mean a lot of time as refugees. It was during this time that God was first revealed to us when Israel was in a refugee status. Fast forward a few years God takes on human flesh (i.e. Jesus) as a refugee. Fast forward a few more years and God tells us that we are to care for refugees as he is preparing to take on death. I guess you could say that our story, the story of the church, is a story that compels us to care for refugees.

While some borders are closing, or continue to remain closed to those seeking refuge from violence, there are border that are opening and continuing to open daily. This can be taken in two ways. First, there are congregations where refugees and immigrants are being cared for. Rising Hope UMC in Alexandria, VA is one of those communities. Those seeking refuge from the cold weather find a safe place to rest at Rising Hope. These people, seeking refuge and safety, are in many cases forgotten and cast aside by our communities. Our church buildings can literally become the place where refuge is found (isn’t it supposed to be like that anyways?).

Since the ICE roundup across the street from Rising Hope UMC last week, there has been a renewed call for churches to be places of sanctuary. ICE overstepped by waiting for the men they detained to leave a church. Yes, I acknowledge the legal arguments many will make, however, waiting outside a church for someone to walk away will force many refugees and immigrants into hiding.

The second way borders are opening and continuing to open is through other nations where xenophobia and Islamophobia have not yet taken hold. What then are we, Christians feeling compelled to act, to do? Support these nations and organizations/faith communities where refugees are being cared for.

The faithful witness for the church includes protesting while at the same time calling us to support congregations in nation where refugees are being welcomed. We have not mandate from God to tell our nation and our leaders how to secure our borders. The only thing we’ve been mandated by God is to care for those who come to us. This can get us in trouble because at what point has someone come to us? Is it when they step foot on our side of the border or when they step foot inside our home or church?

So, what is the nature and role of the church in this time where refugees and immigrants are unable to find refuge? We tackled this topic and more in a recent episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. I’d love to know what you think.

Trump is Our Nero

Donald Trump is the Emperor Nero for 2017.  Some of you who skipped the first week of church history are saying, “Nero-what?”

So to begin with, who was Nero?

Nero was the the Emperor of the Roman Empire from 54 AD until 68 AD. He was the last of the “Julian Emperors”. For our purposes we need to focus on what is known as the Great Fire of Rome. The long and short of it is as follows: the majority of Rome burned to the ground. The vast majority of building during this time period was wooden. 

Why do we care about this? Well, Nero mismanaged the situation. Like any good leader, Nero redirects the blame to a vulnerable group to avoid the pressure and accountability that was due to him. The minority group to absorb the blame due Nero was the Christians.

The result of Nero’s blame for the fear and destruction resulting from his fire mis-management was Christians being attacked with torches and by animals.

Fast forward almost 2000 years.

Christians are not being torched or attacked by lions in the streets, but Trump is still utilizing the Christians as deflector for his mismanagement of the Muslim ban rollout.

Trump is not reinstating Christendom in The United States, but instead is acting against Christians, (intentionally or unintentionally) without most Christians realizing it. Even while the ban is debated and blocked by the courts, Trump continues to use tactics similar to persecutors we’ve learned about in church history to isolate and deflect blame from himself towards those who seek to care for the immigrant and refugee.

How is Trump persecuting the church? He is persecuting the church in three ways: division and antagonizing, patronizing, and puppetry.

Division & Antagonization

You have to give him credit, the Donald is great at dividing and antagonizing us.

Fear is the best way to divide and isolate. While many Christians oppose this ban, Trump’s use of fear mongering towards Muslim immigrants and refugees has turned many Christians away from our Biblical mandate to care for these groups towards isolationism and nationalism. Many people who are regularly supporting the care of refugees around the world are having a change of heart as Trump uses fear of the other to wedge a divide within the church.

Now the wedge in the church may be an unforeseen bi-product, but nonetheless it exists.

Patronization

Patronization is a big part of any political agenda. I get it. But playing to a certain political base, and in our case Christians who cannot see how we could ever live with any other religion on the planet, is not creating policies or agendas that seek security. These actions are playing to the lowest common denominator in a way that keeps us divided amongst ourselves for longer periods of time. All the while, we forget that the church and Christians are called to live out a life that looks different from what the world is telling us to live.

Puppetry


Finally, like Nero, Trump is turning our communities against one another. Rally and counter rallies are being organized in cities across the country. Churches are being divided into Red and Blue churches, focused on refuting or defending a ban based solely on a person’s religion.

With us now fighting among one another, either in person or via social media, we run the risk of becoming tired, and then unwilling or able to have meaningful dialogue around this divisive and complex issue.

What do you think? Have you noticed any of these three 21st century-first world persecutions happening in your community?



So to begin with, who was Nero?

Are Christians Bringing Sharia Law to America?

On the latest episode of Crackers and Grape Juice we talked travel bans, Islam, xenophobia, and Sharia law.


Our guest, Mona, discusses the consequences President Trump’s Muslim travel ban has had and will have on her and our fellow Muslim American brothers and sisters. With all the talk of travel and immigration bans there have been real consequences. American citizens who are Muslim have been forced to have tough conversations with their neighbors and children. Xenophobia is creating fear throughout our nation rather than embracing the diversity we have in our country. And while we are forcing what we’ve deemed as “the other” to have these conversations, it seems that we have neglected to have the same conversations.

Consider Mona’s words from a week or so ago:

We are getting so mixed up with everything thrown at us I think that perhaps one thing we all agree on doesn’t seem to be clear.

We would like our country to be safe and we would like to see ISIS eradicated. What we disagree on is how this is going to happen. What is alarming is the attempt to couch any disagreement with how it is done as a failure to care about the safety of Americans. That’s ridiculous.

You know why I oppose waterboarding? Not because it’s cruel or unconstitutional, but because experts say that it does not work. If one of my daughters disappeared tomorrow and you told me that you had a suspect that you wanted to waterboard I’d say I’ll do it myself if that means we’ll get answers. The reason I wouldn’t do that is that there are better ways to get the answers we need.

We don’t want to give ISIS propaganda tools not because we are catering to them, but because research has shown that this is what they want. We need to play the game in a way that we are going to win. It’s fun to say we’re going to “knock the hell out of ISIS” but it only matters if your tactics work. Republicans are not the only people who don’t want another terror attack. Don’t you think the children of liberals go to malls and zoos and movies? Not one sane person in this country is willing to risk another terrorist attack if we can prevent it. The discussion is, how do we prevent it.

I posit that American Muslims would like everything possible to be done to stop a terror attack, perhaps more than the rest of you because God help us we get it from both ends. On the one hand we are the victims of the terrorist on the other hand we get the backlash. It is absolutely disheartening that after the shooting in the Canadian mosque last night by a pro-Trump white nationalist most people lost interest in the shooting completely, particularly our new administration that is so laser focused on terrorism. It was only interesting when the perpetrator may have been a Moroccan immigrant. Both ends. We get shot while praying and we are accused of not caring about terrorism if we say please don’t assume I’m the shooter.

The only silver lining I’ve seen in the last ten days is people moving beyond their own personal interest. Call it intersectionalism or whatever, it’s something I have shared with my friends for years. God is the same no matter what language you use to pray or faith tradition you follow, black lives have always mattered, who you love is your business, and reproductive rights are personal. Whether you’ve been pushed into this way of thinking by current events or you have always felt human first and that God gave each of us free will for a reason, your support now is so welcome and I will continue supporting you. And to the white women (and men, but as always women get the worst of it) out there who don’t always have a dog in this race but march, and post, and protest, and many times lead the fight? Thank you. The implication that you should feel that it is not your right to do so irritates me no end. Many of you have been my best allies for years now, not just when it impacted you directly.

The events of this weekend have shaken me up. Again, not because I want unvetted refugees to enter the country or visas given out like candy to foreign nationals (I don’t) but because the broader implications of an administration that disregards checks and balances and acts without counsel and refuses to concede valid points of criticism is pointing us down a dangerous road. We are moving there at breakneck speed.

My conservative friends have (mostly) stayed quiet and I will tell you it hurts. After the election an article was sent to me by a friend who worked in the Reagan administration to assuage my fears. In relevant part it stated “Born or naturalized Americans, working or studying on a proper visa and abiding by American laws, whether Muslim, Mandarin, or Martian, should understand that they have nothing to fear.” I haven’t asked him (yet) if he still feels that way.

Your silence hurts me because I am at an anxiety level where I panic at the grocery store not sure how much longer I’ll be able to buy produce outside of an internment camp (or worse). I try focusing on work but I feel like I should be planning an “out” for my family for WHEN this administration chooses to attempt to suspend the rights of Muslim Americans allegedly in the name of national security. The only thing that gives me comfort is all of the friends and family who have stood up for our rights and I believe will continue to do so. If you asked me last year if that included you my conservative friends, I would say absolutely. We grew up together, went to college or graduate school together, we raised children together and sit on the bleachers and complain together. There is no way you think that what is happening right now is o.k. I tell myself. But you know what? I’d like to hear that from you. I’d like to hear you call out crazy when you see it, because unfortunately the only voices this President hears is those of his supporters.

There are real consequences to our actions or lack of action. We are now being forced into conversations we’ve been avoiding for the past 15 years. Conversations and discussions we avoided because we weren’t the problem because we had a friend who happened to be Muslim. Discussions over the Trump travel ban have ranged from protestors taking to the streets to This American Life devoting an entire episode to the botched roll out of the highly suspect and questionable “security measure.”

In today’s episode we have the discussion we’ve been avoiding.


If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

Itunes

stitcher_radio_header

spreaker-logo-272x125

Everyone Doesn’t Believe What You Believe

A few weeks ago while at the Theology Beer Camp, otherwise known as vacation Bible school for adults I was part of a conversation focused on the current political. There was a lot of what you could call “Trump-bashing” leading up to and during this conversation. This conversation was the day of the inauguration. President Trump had not been in office for 4 hours and already his presidency was being critiqued. You could say he had given us enough to critique leading up to his inauguration.

During our conversation Jason made the observation that the majority gathered group had made a huge assumption: that everyone in the room had in fact voted for Donald Trump. While I struggled to pass statistics at West Virginia Wesleyan I can tell you for certain that statistically speaking there was at least 1 person in the room that rainy Friday afternoon who voted for the Donald. You could even argue that at the Women’s March on Washington, along with the local marches, there were women and men present who voted for Trump as well.

This was a huge assumption for us to make. While it is easy for us to critique Trump for his terrible foreign policy decision so far it was unfair for us to assume that no one in the room disagreed with us, especially when we did not provide them with the space to voice their difference of opinion.

The same is true of our local congregations. Is it not?

There was a time when I made this assumption in youth ministry. Why would a kid show up to church for youth group if they didn’t believe in God?

Oh I don’t know, maybe the opposite sex?

Once I realized not every student in the room agreed with or believed the same time, the assumptions I was made changed dramatically. My teaching changed and I changed. I was able to minister to the atheist or the student whose faith was rocky. I was more approachable by students who had questions and I was able to better respond to their questions. I was able to invite conversation to our group rather than a monologue from myself or the over-zealous student.

The same is true of those of you preaching every Sunday. Not everyone in the pews believes what you’re preaching. 

There are times in preaching and teaching when what we say matters. Whether it is firm Christian doctrine of positions of the local church, I am fine with those being strongly held. But to have the overarching assumption that everyone in your church on Sunday mornings, every baptized person in the building, or every Sunday school teacher believes is just dangerous.

It is dangerous because of the reasons I outlined from my youth ministry experience: we fail to make space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation.

Our lack of space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation is what has lead to the political divide we have in our country. If we fail to make space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation we only threaten to aid the divide to grow further.

In the UMC we laud our “open hearts, open minds, open doors” slogan. If this were truly realized the assumption that everyone in the room believe what we are preaching would not exist. We would make the assumption then, if we believe our own catch phrase, that in fact there are many in the room who do not believe. And that is what the body of Christ is supposed to do, be a place where all are welcome.

Maybe our slogan and catch phrase should sound more like this:

Come, “you who have much faith and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed; come.” – Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals