This morning I heard these words spoken out loud.
Not once, but several times.
Some of them said our loud over and over again.
A place for all.
Loved…as in I am and you are.
Church (or another place to worship) may not be for everyone.
I know all too well how judgmental and insular and narrow churches can be.
But for me, one of the things I value about the church I attend is the language.
Words I don’t hear anywhere else.
Said out loud.
Words which stand counter to so much of what we hear
In the news.
And, on our social media feeds.
And, in the midst of our daily round.
Words which remind me and challenge me and turn me towards what I desire and hope for.
Not just for myself.
But for us and for all.
Maybe it is because we have always lived a long way from family, but my wife and I hardly think twice about getting in our car and driving for eight or nine hours to visit family or friends. We have also driven back and forth across our country three times. The first time was more than 40 years ago when we did it in my old Ford van. The most recent was 10 years ago when we drove from New York to California and back to visit our son and his family who lived in Los Angeles. When we have the time we like to take two lane roads including those with signs “No gas for the next 50 miles,” but at some point, on all our trips, we find ourselves on the highway. On the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system which crisscrosses our country making it easy to get from here to there. From New York to California. From Maine to Texas. From Portland to St. Petersburg. Like with so many things like this, we just get on at the entrance ramp and go, and rarely think of all that went into making the interstate highway system a reality.
I found myself thinking about this because our property tax bill came in the mail last week and over lunch with a couple of people with whom I sometimes work taxes became the topic of our lunchtime conversation. Too easily the comments echoed the larger talking points we often hear around taxes. Too much. Too many. Need to cut. As I listened I wondered how the interstate highway system ever got built and thinking if we did not already have it doubting we would be able to muster the corporate will and funding to do it today.
Believing the words we use matter and make a difference and help to shape perception which can then become reality, I think we need to be clear about the difference between the words can’t and won’t.
Is this true?
We can’t afford to fix our crumbling infrastructure?
We can’t afford quality education for all of the students in our country?
We can’t afford a health care system which covers everyone?
We can’t afford to both protect the environment and sustain economic growth?
Which is it?
We can’t or we won’t.
Yes, I know.
All of those things costs money.
Money which, for the most part, comes from you and me which means higher taxes. I get that. But the interstate highway system (and a hundred other similar projects) also cost money and somehow were completed and paid for.
How did they do it when we can’t?
In the end, we are the ones who help decide.
But let’s, at least, be honest with each other as we are.
Is it we can’t?
Or, we won’t?
So what about this?
We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls … So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term “violence against women” is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term “violence against women,” nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them … Men aren’t even a part of it!
– Jackson Katz
If this is the way we think and speak, who are we blaming?
On whom are we placing the responsibility?
I am going to change the way I speak about harassment and abuse and rape.
How about you?
According to the latest polls…
God is doing okay.
Churches. Organized religion. What we do here each and every Sunday morning. Not so good. Depending on which poll you read, between 75% and 85% of Americans continue to believe in God. But, here is the challenging news…
- In the five mile radius around Bedford Village roughly 40% of the population has no connection to any organized faith community.
- In addition, more and more people, especially those the age of my children, are identifying themselves as Nones. As in no religious affiliation. Now, at 25% of the population (and growing) that makes them the largest “faith” group in the United States. Larger than Catholics at 21% and more than white evangelicals at 16%.
- And, if that was not enough to give you pause, nearly 40% of the population has a negative view of Christianity seeing Christians as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-intellectual.
A couple of years ago, I had a very honest conversation with a member of our church.
It went something like this:
I love our congregation.
I love who we are and what we do and what we stand for.
But, I don’t talk about it.
I don’t tell my friends I am a member of a church.
They would not understand.
A similar conversation took place just a couple weeks ago.
I was in a meeting with a several people I had not met before. We were discussing emerging needs in our community and how we might respond. At the end of the meeting, one of the individuals with whom I was meeting came up to me to shake my hand and, with an obvious sense of relief, to say she appreciated getting to know me. Then, she said, “With your being a pastor, I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
I get that.
I really do.
And, yet here you are.
Here I am.
Talking about God.
Doing our best to figure out what it means to follow Jesus.
At the risk of overstepping boundaries, let me project some of my own perceptions on you.
You are here because there is something about Bedford Presbyterian Church which you value.
Something which you find meaningful.
A place for your family.
A place for your children.
A place to be reminded of values important to you. Values to which you aspire.
A place in which to be involved which makes a difference in the communities in which we live.
A place where it is okay to ask your questions.
I may be biased, but I think Bedford Presbyterian is a great congregation.
|I think you are a great congregation.
From baptisms to funerals…
From food pantries to work trips…
Make a difference.
Adding what goodness you can into the world that needs all that and more.
So, if I am even partially right, what do we do with all that?
When who we are and what we believe stands counter to perceptions. A hundred different responses to that question can be given, but for this morning this.
The reading from the Bible this morning was a part of the story about what happened to the disciples following the death of Jesus. You may remember or can reread how the story is told. The Sunday morning sermon version is this. Loud wind. Tongues of flames dancing above the heads of the disciples. The followers of Jesus overwhelmed and overcome by the presence and Spirit of God. After listing all the different peoples and nationalities gathered in Jerusalem for the festival the author of the book of Acts includes this wonderful sentence. “In our own languages, we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Which leads to the question, “Assuming we agree that BPC is not some type of private club with secret handshake and that something of who we are and what we value and what we do is important and meaningful and that acknowledging the witness of the Gospel is good news not just for us, but for all, then given the demographics and dynamics around us, what is the language we need to be speaking today?”
When many of us were growing up the “language” of the church was organ and choir and preaching and liturgy and open doors. While still meaningful to many of us, that is not the language of today. Or, the primary language of today. The language of today is, in part, online platforms. Social media. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. Snapchat. You Tube.
Before you shake your head, consider this.
- After the shooting death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa earlier this week, Megan Hansen posted an article about race on our congregation’s Facebook page which when I last checked had reached more than 1000 people.
- The picture of middle school youth and high school youth at their fall kick-off event reached which Kathy posted reached more than 250 people.
- The sermon I preached last Sunday reached as many people online as were here last Sunday..
And some of those people…
Maybe many of those people…
Are never going to walk in the doors of our church.
And they may not even live within a reasonable distance of the church.
And, yet they are touched and connected to the witness and ministry and mission of Bedford Presbyterian Church. Is that a part of who we are? A part of what we are to be doing? A part of the language we are to speak? I think so. Particularly because I value and believe in who we are and what we are doing.
So, here is the opportunity and the invitation.
As a part of our connection with BPC, learn the language of the day.
If you are on social media and see something that strikes you or makes you think or represents what Bedford Presbyterian means to you, add a comment and pass it along. In our own way we will share the good news we know and the signs of hope we see and those people and places who are making a difference and doing what they can to bring God’s Kingdom close.
In a conversation this morning a friend said to me: “He deserves better.”
I understood what she was saying, but I stumbled over her words, yet, we use them all the time.
Advertisers use them all the time.
You deserve it.
I deserve it.
He deserves better.
I find myself wondering what do I deserve?
I honestly don’t know.
I am not sure I deserve anything.
Somehow the word deserve taps into a sense of entitlement which I am not sure is helpful.
Because of who I am;
Because of what I have or don’t have;
Because I have worked hard or been good;
I deserve not to get sick.
Or, not to have a child struggle academically or battle addiction.
Or, to have this car or those clothes.
Or, to be treated with deference by any and all.
Maybe I am just picking at nits, but, in the end, I believe language matters and the words we use matter because words shape and reflect how we view our lives and think about our world. What do you think?
I only caught the end of the interview.
It was a program about lessons learned from fathers.
The person I heard being interviewed told this story:
He came home from school one day, and in response to his father’s question about how his day had been he told his father how he had seen a classmate teased and called names on the playground. His father asked him what he did in response to what he had seen and heard. ”Nothing,” he replied because he said he didn’t wanted to risk being teased and called names. To which his father said, “When you hear someone else being called names take it personally.”
What a lesson.
How often, I wonder, have I turned away or been silent when I heard another being called a name, or belittled or demeaned in some way? And, in doing so I gave and give tacit approval to what was being said and done. What if I began to take it personally?
What if I allowed the name calling to impact me the way it must impact another?
What if I finally began to feel and to understand the hurt or the shame that come with being the recipient repeated taunts?
What if I allowed the anger I would feel if the words were directed at me to be anger I feel on behalf of another?
Here’s what I think.
If we want things to change…
If we want the dialogue in our communities and our country about immigration, homosexuality, education, politics, red states and blue states or whatever topic/group you would like to add to the list, we have to begin to take it personally. We have to change our language and confront those whose language is offensive. Confront not only who use language with which we disagree, but also those with whom we agree who use language in a way that diminishes and demeans another.
We have to begin to take it personally.
What a lesson.
What a challenge.