Fail, F#@%, Why?

My tribe, the United Methodist Church, met in Tampa over the past 10 days to make decisions regarding the mission of our denomination for the next 4 years. For my fellow UMC brothers and sisters – my quick take.

Observation #1 – Leadership Failure

A posse of self-fashioned “entrepreneurial bishops”along with the pastors of the 100 largest churches have taken it upon themselves to “lead” the church through the transformation that will align our structure and resources for effective ministry. This leadership led to the IOT, the Call to Action, and the focus of the GC2012. In community organizing, we have a simple definition of a leader – one who has a following. Unfortunately, the leadership style of this posse – which leans on corporate values, disrespects democratic processes, undermines broad participation, and marginalizes differing voices –  does not engender the level of trust the denomination will need to be faithfully transformed.

Observation #2 – F#@%

Twenty years ago, I heard an apocryphal story about now Bishop Will Willimon. I don’t know if it is true, but I need it to be true. The story: In a sermon, preached at Duke Chapel, Willimon (Dean of the Chapel) preached these words – F#@%! Children are starving in Africa. And what is disheartening is that you are more offended by the fact I said “F#@%!”; than you are by the fact children are starving in Africa.

F#@%! The world and church need love and justice. And, what is disheartening is that the UMC fiddles with structure while the gospel is ignored.

Observation #3 – Why?

There is a story of a man resting in the shade. A person comes by and encourages the man to be more industrious. He encourages the man to get up and go fishing. The man ask why? So he could make some money and buy a boat. The man asks why? So he could catch more fish, make more money, buy more boats? The man asks why? So he can make more money and hire people to work for him? The man asks why, so he can make more money, buy a house, and spend his days resting in the shade.

Some how, this story seems appropriate. I think the idea of making vital congregations is too small. Perhaps, we should focus on changing the world for a while . . .


The Game is Rigged

Every day, banks create money out of thin air. Private bankers make decisions that reduce the purchasing power of our savings and take on risk that can harm the value of our homes and destroy our communities.

Greg Coleridge, a freedom struggler who works as the Director of the Northeast Ohio AFSC, is one of the best thinkers on economic justice. He has created a succinct summary of how the money system works against us, democracy, and rewards elite bankers.


Also, here is a good primer on fractional banking:

KhanAcademy – Fractional Reserve Banking

PS – If you know a student studying math and they have haven’t discovered the Khan Academy – pass on the the website to them!!!

Khan Academy

Father and Daughter

I’m Sorry

One of the most exceptional calls of my life came when a professor called to apologize for a comment he made the previous evening. It’s exceptional because I cannot think of a similar call.

Despite our prayer to forgive others as we are forgiven, it seems we do a poor job of practicing forgiveness: asking for and giving it.

Father and Daughter I need to apologize.

While praying for my almost-2-year old daughter, I imagined what Sandra Fluke’s father must be thinking/feeling. I became incensed at how hostile the world can be for young women.

This awareness was provoked by Rush Limbaugh’s poor behavior. He attacked Fluke for her stance on women’s health: he misrepresented her argument and made abusive ad hominem attacks.

1) I’m sorry that I am late coming to this awareness of the sexism that permeates our society and that it took my relationship with my daughter to widen my eyes. I have been far too comfortable with phrases like “feminazi”. Sexism and the use of derogatory words to minimize women are forms of violence. I’ve been complicit in perpetuating a violent culture against women.

2) I’m sorry that I commended Rush Limbaugh for his apology. An apology should seek the well-being of all, clearly state the offense, pledge to stop, and make amends.  His did none of those things: he merely expressed regret over his word choices. Further, he continued his distortion of Fluke’s argument and polarizing rhetoric.

My quick commendation was an attempt to minimize the partisan tribalism swirling about the issue. I did not look closely at Limbaugh’s apology; having done so, I find it lacking. My easy commendation served to excuse Limbaugh’s poor behavior.

3) I’m sorry that my opposition to sexism has been limited. I opposed Limbaugh’s comments, but have been silent when other women have been denigrated, often by males who are viewed to be more liberal. While I think the charge of a double-standard is a tactic to distract from Limbaugh’s poor behavior, those who level it are extending partisan tribalism, and are not particularly concerned with creating a community free of sexism; that doesn’t excuse my limited opposition. I didn’t speak up when sexist remarks were leveled at Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann. I can do better.

I want to be a better lover. I want to reduce the violence perpetrated against women.  I want to create an inclusive society where women are not excluded. I want to foster a society where people forego partisan tribalism and seek the well-being of all.

Genuine apologies are a good place to start because they break the cycle of violence, create the space for God’s powerful love and grace to reshape us, and provide a glimpse of the Beloved Community.


Death of Jesus

Beyond Crucifixion Violence

The violence of Jesus’ death makes me pause, queasy, weep, angry.  I wrestle with the killing of Jesus and its definitive place in our understanding of the Christ, God, and faith. This season of preparation is a good time to reconsider how we understand this violence. Because I recognize one of our deadliest sins is that we trust the power of violence over the power of God’s love, I am compelled to reject our traditional understanding of the violence of the crucifixion:  Jesus’ death doesn’t forgive our sins and violence is not redemptive!

Death of Jesus Evil is so destructive, our trust in the power of God’s love so little; we have bastardized God’s love and the redemptive life of Jesus.  We define them  by the world’s measure of power – violence!

Our death theology does not answer the problems of sin, evil, injustice, and suffering; rather it exasperates them by perpetuating the cycle of violence. Beyond affirming violence, our death theology cannot fully generate life, justice, or courage.

Life: Our death theology minimizes the relational nature of God.  It reduces God’s love for us to a transaction –  one that God exclusively executes.  Rather than mutual respect and love;  we are reduced to passive pawns.  A life theology would inspire us to act, to love, to live!

Justice: Our death theology is flawed because it treats evil, sin, and injustice in an individualistic and isolated way.  Andrew Sung Park highlights this deficient and provides a correction.{{1}}  He pairs the Asian concept of han with our traditional understanding of sin/forgiveness.  Han is the legacy of sin that remains when victims are denied justice. Because the forgiveness of sin is transacted between God and the perpetrator, the victim is not included in the redemptive calculus and justice is unaddressed.  This understanding of redemption colludes with perpetrators because they do not have to fully face the consequences of their sin.  Those who are powerless, are left without voice, without justice, and without a theology that gives them hope.

Courage: Both the passive and individualistic nature of our death theology contribute to our evasion of power.  Jesus has different messages:  to those who lack power – he offers words of hope and encourages them to resist; to those with power – he offers warning and encourages them to give up power.{{2}}  A life theology would help us understand how power is used in the crucifixion, where we are in the cycle of gospel living,  and encourage us to resist the power of evil and to stand in solidarity with those who are innocent and abused.

To move beyond our death theology, we can draw on the breadth of the biblical and theological understandings of Jesus’ death.  Theologian Ty Inbody identifies six{{3}}:

  • Jesus as a teacher of the true higher knowledge
  • Jesus as a moral example and influence
  • Jesus as the final scapegoat
  • Jesus as a victorious conqueror
  • Jesus as our satisfaction of God’s justice (death theology)
  • Jesus as our penal substitute (death theology)

To overcome the evil of violence, Jesus as the final scapegoat is the most promising understanding of Jesus’ death.  We can draw on Rene Girard’s anthropology to help us see that the resurrection is God’s NO! to our need for violence.

To be better lovers we must move beyond our death theology and discover a theology of life.

[[1]]Andrew Sung Park: Wound Heart of God: The Asian Concept of Han and the Christian Doctrine of Sin[[1]]

[[2]]Eric Law: The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community[[2]]

[[3]]Tyron Inbody: Many Faces of Christology – Chapter 6[[3]]

Genesis (of BABL)

I’m still mad at Tex Sample.  Five years ago, I heard him preach on Romans 12 and that sermon has not let me go.  It got into my spirit and has lingered.  Sample made the Word come alive and I’m still being transformed by it.    He simply reminded us of the high calling to which we are called as followers of Jesus:

  • present your body as a living sacrifice
  • don’t be conformed to this world
  • do not think of yourself more highly than you ought
  • let love be genuine
  • hate what is evil
  • hold fast to what is good
  • love with mutual affection
  • outdo one another in showing honor
  • do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord
  • rejoice in hope
  • be patient in suffering
  • persevere in prayer
  • contribute to the needs of the saints
  • extend hospitality to strangers
  • bless those who persecute you
  • rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those that weep
  • live in harmony with one another
  • do not be haughty
  • associate with the lowly
  • do not claim to be wiser than you are
  • do not repay evil for evil
  • live peaceably with all
  • never avenge yourself
  • do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good

AND, he audaciously suggested we should intentionally practice these actions of discipleship!

After I heard this sermon, Romans 12 became a regular part of my prayers.  Sample’s sermon, Paul’s words, Jesus’ calling – would not leave me alone!  They were prominent during my prayers on the following Ash Wednesday.

As I faced my own limitations, I became aware that to my parents I could have been a better son (both are deceased); to my sisters I can be a better brother; to my wife I can be a better husband; to Jesus I can be a better follower.

What does that mean?  I can be a better lover.  A better lover of God.  A better lover of self.  A better lover of my neighbors. A better lover of God’s creation.

Lent & Givin’ Up – Givin’ Up

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I Corinthians 13:7

As Lent approached in 1993, I was entering my third month of rehabiliation following the bicycle accident in which I broke my back, damaged my spinal cord, and became a parapalegic. Grieving my losses, it was hard to imagine voluntarily “giving up” something for Lent. I felt, I had “given up” enough; so I gave up “giving up something”.

I remember that part of my journey and my relationship with God during that time. Then giving up “giving up” provide an experience of God’s grace and prepared me to celebrate the mystery of Easter – the power of God to overcome the evil of crucifixion.

This year, “giving up” has two meanings.

ONE   Like a third of people who make New Year’s Resolutions{{1}}, I’m in danger of giving them up. I haven’t consciously decided to give them up. I’ve slowly slid back into previous habits: ones that are less than what God desires for me. So for Lent, I’m giving up –  giving up my New Year’s Resolutions: I have three – a) to practice email zero;  b) de-clutter my life; and c) handcycle 3x/week & weight train 2x/wk. (Current research suggests I’ve made a mistake making 3 resolutions and overtaxing my willpower.)

The slow, almost unperceptable way that we give up our New Year’s Resolutions, provides insight into others ways we give up. Cynical? Given up on the power of hope?  Holding a grudge?  Given up on the power of reconciliation?Darryl Fairchild handcycling

TWO Giving up is losing our commitment to living fully. In 1993, I had friends who were worried that I would give up living fully and were committed to accompanying me on my journey so that I would not give up. Because of the tragic accident, they were worried that I would shy away from life. (Little did they know that surviving the accident only confirmed my youthful delusion that I was indestructible . . . ) There were hard days; Giving up was not an option.

The preparation of Lent is a time to look at the ways, conscious or unconscious, we have given up.  It is a time to allow love to rekindle within us so that we live fully.

[[1]]NYT – Be It Resolved: New Years Resolutions Stick When Willpower Is Reinforced[[1]]


FOR ALL. Two powerful words with profound implications from which we tend to shy away. The journey with Jesus calls us beyond our initial inclination.

Jesus’s love and justice have no bounds! Unfortunately, we find creative ways to exclude folks from our concern and loving. It is human nature. As soon as Jesus gives the instruction – And love your neighbor as your self – before the words were even out of his mouth; one asks – And who is my neighbor? We want to know where we can draw the line to limit our concern and loving.{{1}}

As patriotic citizens, this same inclination seduces us to set limits on our highest ideals – one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. In our next breath, we start to set limits on all. Does it really mean – women, people of color, people with disabilities, undocumented workers, gays and lesbians, Muslims . . . ?

We are never candid about our sin. Like the good religious folks in the parable, our concern and loving are not limited by sin. We pass on the other side for good reasons – boarder security, social cohesion, American identity, the sanctity of marriage . . .

Followers of Jesus understand there is a struggle between two visions for our country: one rooted in the Christian gospel and our American ideals; and one rooted in sin, our inclination to exclude. One sees our work to include all as faithful, sacred work{{2}}; one sees our work to include as a threat.{{3}}Eric Law - Kaleidoscope Institute

Be A Better Lover, influenced my the prophetic words of Rev. ML King, Jr.{{4}}, seeks to overcome our sin of excluding by intentionally building inclusive communities. To complete this sacred work, we need to be disciplined and we need to develop good skills. Eric Law and his work at the Kaleidoscope Institute provide a way to be faithful and effective in building inclusive communities. It is a strong model with a set of practical skills, a comprehensive curriculum, and a solid spiritual foundation. One of its strengths is its focus on the competencies necessary to lead in our diverse and changing world. I look forward in future blog posts to sharing lessons learned from this model, so that together, we can build inclusive communities for all.

[[1]]Luke 10:25-37[[1]]
[[2]]Eric Law video – When I Pour Out My Spirit — A Pentecost Meditation[[2]]
[[3]]IBT article on CPAC panel: The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity[[3]]
[[4]]MLK – A Time to Break Silence. Our three greatest sins: materialism, militarism, and racism. Racism goes beyond the limits we set because of race. This evil is defined by our inclination to draw a line that limits our concern and love; by the creative ways we find to exclude people.[[4]]

5 + 1 Markers of True Love

Over the years, I’ve experienced love in a wide range of ways.  I’ve been overwhelmed and swept off my feet.  I’ve had my heart broken.  I’ve been inspired, consoled, healed, and nurtured.  In love, I’ve seen the ordinary become extraordinary; and I’ve glimpsed the face of God.

Sometimes, I’ve had experiences that masqueraded as love.

At times, in the midst of an intoxicating, confusing, frustrating, unsettling experience, I’ve wondered – is this true love or a seductive impostor?Two Heart

It was with great relief and thanksgiving when I discovered Jean Miller Baker’s Five Good Things. These five good things are the characteristics of a growth-fostering relationship. {{1}} I would say that they are the markers of authentic or true love. To these five, I’ve added one.   After reading about the importance of generosity in a marriage{{2}} and reflecting on my own experience of generosity, I’ve added it to my list.

5 +1 Good Things

  • increased sense of zest – in a loving relationship you feel a sense of vitality, of “being alive”.  Yellow flag: a colleague once commented on her marriage, “it is sucking the life force out of me;”  that would be anti-zest;
  • increased ability to act – in a healthy relationship you are encouraged to act, you have a sense of power.  Yellow flag:  feeling like you are “walking on eggshells”;
  • increased clarity – you gain knowledge about yourself,  your partner, and your relationship.  Yellow flag: feeling like the relationship is “crazy making”;
  • increased sense of self worth - the relationship fosters respect.  Yellow flag: feeling like you are small or diminished;
  • deeper sense of connection - with your partner, God, and others.  Yellow flag: feeling isolated, being restricted from relating to others;
  • expressions of generosity - giving good things freely and abundantly.  Yellow flag: feeling like you are giving, but not receiving.
These characteristics are immediately helpful for our most intimate relationship.  They help to keep us grounded in the midst of our loving.
As we continue to explore what it means to Be A Better Lover, as we follow Jesus, these markers will also be helpful in examining other relationships in our lives and in our community.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

[[1]]Jean Miller Baker  has identified 5 characteristics of growth-fostering relationships[[1]]

[[2]]NYT: Is Generosity Better Than Sex?[[2]]

Love Is in the Air

With St. Valentine’s day fast approaching, it is time to post on love! (With only 2 days to go, I am open for gift suggestions for my wife.) Part of the fun and poignancy of this blog is how the name – Be A Better Lover – unsettles and reorients. In our hyper-sexual culture, the word “lover” in connection with following Jesus is a bit jolting – disorienting. It also serves to remind followers of Jesus of our ultimate concern (God is love) and calling (to love God, self and neighbor)! It invites us to fix our spirits on the radical, revolutionary, incomprehensible, we have never seen anything like this, we don’t have words to express this – unimaginable love of God in Jesus the Christ.

When we are honest, we quickly find that we are ill-prepared to be good lovers. One reason for our unpreparedness stems from the dominant Christian themes in our culture. Few churches or Christian leaders speak primarily about being lovers and loving well. We are more likely to hear how Jesus died for our sins or led to pray the sinners prayer before we are Left Behind; than be encouraged to be a better lover.

A second reason comes from the undefinable nature of the love Jesus commands of us. We can see this dynamic in the earliest followers. Their experience of Jesus was so radical they could not fully explain it. Why do we have four Gospels? The experience of Jesus is so beyond words that one Gospel could not convey their experiences of Jesus nor the fullness of love.

Further, these followers did not even have a word that could convey their experience of Jesus! Set aside every sermon you have heard where the preacher explained – “there are three Greek words for love – eros, philia, and agape . . .” At the time of Jesus, only two of those words were in use – eros and philia. Agape was a little used word with a small semantic range. The followers of Jesus chose it because it was in essence a blank sheet. They used “agape” to point to their new understanding of love and to define it anew. Agape is defined by Jesus and the way he loved through his relationships, ministry, teaching, preaching, healing, praying, life, death, and resurrection.

I like the phrase – the radical, revolutionary, incomprehensible, we have never seen anything like this, we don’t have words to express this – unimaginable love of God – to convey this undefinable nature of love.

This understanding of love has significant implications for how we follow Jesus. We must be in relationship and we must be attentive to the moves and needs of Jesus and our neighbors. Following is very dynamic! Some will be frustrated by the lack of simple, rigid, direction. Yet, it is in the ebb and flow of this living relationship where faith is sustained and abundant life is experienced.

Super Lessons

A year ago, comedian Bill Maher stirred the pot by suggesting that Superbowl fans were duped socialists!{{1}} His argument relied on a common misunderstanding of socialism (that socialism = the redistribution of wealth), hinged on the fact that the 32 NFL owners evenly re-distribute their revenue, and played on the apparent hypocrisy of freedom loving American capitalists loving the socialist NFL.

This comedic piece and the reactions it received {{2}} reveal the inadequate understanding too many people have of our economic system. They simply know “free markets” are good and “socialism” is bad. Misinformed, they are unable to fully or responsibly participate in self governance.

As followers of Jesus, we are compelled to learn how our economy works. We need to know: 1) we have a mixed economy; 2) a “free market” is as real as the tooth fairy; and 3) the market is not some invisible force that will solve all our problems. (Future blog posts will expand on these basic economic facts.)

Today, rather, than take the Maher piece too seriously, let’s take advantage of the opportunity humor presents – to see our world in a new light. In this light and with a community organizing perspective, I observe three important lessons that inform our work for justice.

Lesson 1: Community organizing focuses on power – the ability to act. Maher’s piece sketches who has power in the NFL (the owners), how they use it (for their economic interests), and how it is balanced and imbalanced. The 32 NFL owners have agreed to combine their power to negotiate TV and labor contracts and to create a highly structured economy. By acting collectively, they increase their power in relationship to other actors.

Lesson 2: Community organizing understands our society consists of three sectors: public (government entities), private (market entities), and civic (relational entities – families, faith communities, service organizations, etc). The collective power of the owners, a market enterprise, is used in a variety of ways to influence the public sector to act on their behalf.{{3}} For example, in 1961 the NFL secured anti-trust immunity from Congress which enabled it to negotiate TV deals in a monoloplistic manner. In some cases, the NFL owners use their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the civic sector. The deal the Cincinnati Bengals extracted from Hamilton County to build its stadium illustrates this point.{{4}}

Lesson 3: Community organizing works for effective government of, by, and for the people. The NFL is an example of an organization with effective governance of, by, and for its main participants. The owners have highly structured and regulated rules that determine how they make decisions, allocate resources, and adjudicate disputes. There are regulations for the administration of the league and for the play on the field. These regulations do not stifle competition nor stunt innovation; rather they insure a level playing field, generate trust in the league, foster transparency, and advance fair play.

We can be better lovers by learning to build our power, act in the public sphere to balance the private sector, and work for effective governance.

[[1]]WARNING: Language
* Huffington Post – New Rule: Americans Must Realize What Makes NFL Football So Great: Socialism

* Youtube version – Irritable Bowl Syndrome[[1]]

[[2]]One from the right:
* – Sorry, Bill Mahrer, the NFL is Not Socialist

One from the left:
* – Bill Maher Calls Out Right Wing Hypocrites Who Hate Obama But Love NFL Socialism

A few from the middle / sports world:
* – Did You See This? The NFL = Socialism
* – Why the NFL Really Stands for Capitalism
* – The NFL is Not Socialist
* – Baseball vs Football Which Sport Is More Fair[[2]]
[[3]]Is the Superbowl a Socialist Enterprise?[[3]]

[[4]]Wall Street Journal – A Stadium’s Costly Legacy Throws Taxpayers for a Loss[[4]]