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Godless Politicians Can Save Their Thoughts and Prayers

If that title sounds cranky, it’s because it is. I am. I’m fed up.

I’m fed up with mass shootings, and I’m fed up with the political inaction that inevitably follows them. I’m fed up with the idolatry of guns in my country, the United States of America. I’m fed up with the false equivalence between any reasonable discussion of gun regulation and banning all guns. To quote my beloved deceased dad, “There is too much stupidity in this world.”

But what I’m really cranky about is how my religion has been ambushed, stolen, and pillaged, then twisted and used for political gain.

As an Episcopal priest, it’s my job think deeply, prayerfully, and biblically about how we live our faith, and teach and preach this on a regular basis. On the Sunday after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which was the first Sunday in Lent – a season of penitence – many churches across the country read the conclusion of the story of Noah and the flood: the part where God beholds the mass destruction God has caused, has utter regret, and vows to never again bring this kind of massacre upon humankind. God seals the deal with a new law, or covenant, and symbolizes this new policy with the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise to never again allow this sort of death and destruction rain down on creation.

Prayer for America

Too many politicians who claim to be Christian – who claim the faith I have committed my life to – react to massacres in the complete opposite way from the way that God does. The godly response when one beholds mass destruction is to cry out in anguish, regret that it ever was allowed to happen, and vow, by way of a new law, to never let it happen again.

On February 14, Ash Wednesday, the day the church remembers our mortality as a way to begin the penitential season of Lent, parents with ashes smeared on their foreheads mourned the deaths of their slaughtered children in the (then) latest, but most certainly not the last, mass shooting in our country. I waited as the inevitable response followed: the heated social media posts about gun control versus the Second Amendment, the impassioned cries from parents and loved ones of the massacred victims begging to our politicians to finally do something, and, worst of all, the “thoughts and prayers” that politicians hand out like candy when tragedies like this occur.

Thoughts and prayers? Save it. It’s just insulting. Read more

The Kindergartener’s Gospel

moms 4.15 imageI remember well the famous “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” poster which hung in every one of my elementary school classrooms in Alabama, with its purple handwriting on lined paper, and a shiny red delicious apple followed by a typed list of dozens of kindergarten insights. The poster featured such gems as “share everything,” “play fair,” “don’t hit,” “say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody,” “flush” and “wash your hands.” Now that I have a kindergartner of my own, this poster has an entirely new meaning to me. My 6 year-old son Hill is a literal-minded rule follower. He speaks the lines of this poster on a daily basis. He’s been taught to clean up his own messes and to take care of other kids’ toys, so that’s what he does. Period.

My son is also familiar with another set of rules not listed on this poster. These rules come straight from his many Bibles and from his parents and his godparents. We are all God’s children. God loves all of us equally no matter how we act or look. No people are better than other people because God made all of us. God loves us no matter what. These rules have been hammered into our son’s heart; they make up the fabric of his very being. And while these rules might not be earth-shattering to us as Christian leaders, the ways in which they play out in my son’s life most certainly are.

Last month Hill’s teacher introduced the class to the Civil Rights Movement, but their cursory study left my son with more questions than anything else. Hill struggled to wrap his brain around what actually happened, so we checked out a dozen books from the public library and dove in deeper. While reading Nikki Giovanni’s Rosa, a beautifully written and magnificently illustrated story about Rosa Parks, Hill gently interrupted me to ask, “Did people back then not believe in God?” There it was. He couldn’t make a connection; these segregationists obviously could not believe in God if they acted in such hateful ways.

I could feel his heart breaking when I told him that the meanest people during the Civil Rights Movement were people who claimed to be Christians. “But we are all God’s children, “ he pleaded. “God loves us all the same no matter what we look like.” This so-called Christian behavior did not match the rules that Hill had been taught, but it also did not match the rules of Martin Luther King. I read bits of my favorite sermons by Dr. King to Hill along with several books about his words and his life. Then Hill added to his list of rules: loving is stronger than fighting and God wants all children to live long, happy lives.

A few days later Hill asked me if “bad guys could buy guns in Virginia” where we currently live. I told him that our state government allows it; even folks who hurt their families with their hands and get arrested can still buy guns in our state. “Doesn’t that mean they could hurt them worse if they have guns?” Shaking my head I said, yes, that’s what it means. And then he asked if he could talk to the governor about it. I told him that he couldn’t call the governor, but he could write him a letter when he got home so that’s what he did. This time with his own purple marker and lined paper he wrote Governor McAuliffe a letter about loving rather than fighting and about kids’ safety trumping the right to own guns.

I find it devastating that a kindergartener can so clearly understand God’s unconditional, universal love while grown ups have been misrepresenting that same love for centuries. I am a person who self-identifies as a Christian pacifist and activist. The fact that a kindergartener is willing to take that extra step working for a just world while most adults would rather wait for someone else to do it for them rends my heart. I believe that Jesus was on to something when he said, “let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Most of what we learned in kindergarten really could get us through life.

Three years ago, I decided to take a break from parish ministry so I could spend more time raising our children. For most of those three years I’ve questioned whether or not I made the right decision, whether I’m honoring my call to the priesthood, whether I’m letting my gifts rot away in some dark corner. Then I have these conversations with Hill and realize that my work preaching the gospel and making disciples is actually thriving. My congregation is smaller than before, it doesn’t require wearing a collar and it doesn’t contribute to my pension, but it is still holy, sacramental and ordained by God. One day I’ll return to parish ministry, but until then I’ll be living the gospel according to my kindergartner.