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Christians need to disagree with each other

I am always surprised by people who get uncomfortable or upset with disagreement. We have all seen those moments, we have all witnessed a disagreement change the dynamic of a conversation.

And no, I am not talking about conflict, but genuine disagreement. Imagine, three or four people having a conversation and a particular opinion or point of view is brought forward by one or two. Then someone says, “I disagree.” And the disagreement isn’t about conflict, but a difference of perspective. One opinion is put on the table, only to be followed by a contrary opinion. No fighting, no conflict, just two opposing opinions existing in the same space.

These disagreement moments make us uncomfortable. Often, we just don’t know how to move forward. Living in the tension of opposing opinions feels uncomfortable.

Many Christians suffer from being unable to live with disagreement. Many Christian groups go so far as to excommunicate those who disagree. Questions, differences of opinions, opposing views are not permitted. Towing the party line is expected.

And what this really means is a couple things. Different ideas are rejected with prejudice, or those who think or feel differently than the group are silenced.

The Lutheran body that I belong to has suffered with this inability to live with disagreement. As we considered allowing same-sex marriage in our congregations, many threatened to leave if an opinion different than their own was adopted. Individuals, pastors and congregations all threatened to sever relationships. Even though the new policies allowed for a difference of opinions by not forcing anyone to hold to views or perform marriages that they didn’t want to perform, many could not even remain in fellowship with those who disagreed with them.

The church that I grew up in, where my dad and grandparents were founding members, voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. They left not because they were being challenged to change their views, opinions, beliefs or practices, but because they couldn’t remain in fellowship with others who held different views, opinions, beliefs or practices.

The thing that bothers me about this refusal to abide disagreement, is that I find disagreement a beautiful thing. In fact, I cherish those who disagree with me. 

That might sound strange, so let me explain.

Throughout my childhood, one of my primary relationships was with someone who could not empathize or sympathize with others. This person was, and continues to be, unable to hear or identify the feelings, ideas, views or opinions of others. In a relationship like this, there is no room for disagreement because all thoughts, feelings, ideas or opinions are rejected if they do not match. There is no hearing of others, there is no consideration of another’s point of view, there is no attempt to take seriously that someone else might have a valid difference of opinion.

In my adult life, I have learned that this is abuse. Relationships where there is no room for the other, where there is no room for consideration of another perspective is hardly a relationship at all.

Christians often draw the line there. There is no room for disagreement, there is only agreement or rejection.

Christians are taught to either go along unthinkingly with the group or leader, to suppress questions, to stifle alternate points of views, to only allow room for one opinion/way of thinking/perspective.

And when ideas, feelings, thoughts or opinions different than the approved ones crop up, they are rejected with prejudice. Rejected before any consideration is given, rejected as dangerous, wrong or harmful.

When members of Christian groups, particularly those on the margins or those without power (ie., women, minorities, those with different gender identities, etc…) bring up new ideas, different perspectives or alternate opinions they are accused of being divisive.

Again, this is abuse.

So often Christians reject and avoid disagreement at all costs.

And yet, there is also something beautiful and wonderful about disagreement. 

Disagreement, initially makes many of us uncomfortable because we are not good at living with tension. Once we can settle our discomfort with the tension though, there is something about disagreement that we need as Christians, as human beings, to recognize.

In order to have someone disagree with you they must first hear you. Another must first take seriously your point of view. He or she must consider your opinion as possible and legitimate. As human beings we crave being heard by another. We need to know that we are not alone, and when someone truly hears us, we are not alone.

And it goes deeper than that.

When someone hears us, considers our ideas, thoughts, emotions, perspectives and opinions AND THEN takes them so seriously that they are willing to disagree… well that is someone who thinks we are incredibly important.

In fact, I think disagreement is at the heart of our relationship with God.

God is constantly disagreeing with human beings.

While we choose sinfulness, selfishness, violence, suffering and death, God disagrees and chooses life for us.

God takes us seriously enough to consider us, to hear us out, and then to disagree. God went so far as to become one of us in the incarnation, in Christ. God is serious about hearing us from our perspective.

And still, God does not agree with our choices, and nor does God reject us and cast us into the outer darkness.

God disagrees with our condition, with our predilections for death.

God disagrees with us and chooses life for us and for all creation.

This is why disagreement is beautiful. This is why Christians need to practice disagreeing with each other. Because we are transformed by our disagreement with God, and we will be transformed for the better through honest disagreement each other.

This is why Christians need to acknowledge the tension with live in. That we are justified sinners, we are the dead made alive in Christ, we are in relationship with God who disagrees.

Because when Christians demand agreement, when we threaten rejection, we are missing an inherent feature of God’s relationship with us – Living in the beautiful tension of disagreement.  

So let’s start honestly disagreeing with each other, because it will change us for the better. 


How does disagreement affect you? Will disagreement help us be better Christians? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

PS Sorry it has been a while since my lost post, I had surgery last week and I have been on the mend for the last 10 days.

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Why Pastors Suck at Self-Care

Shoddy self-care seems to be an epidemic among pastors these days.

Almost as often as I meet with professional ministry colleagues, I have conversations about how difficult it is to take time off and to regularly practice self-care. Pastors bemoan the fact that we cannot seem to find time away from the parish. Working on days off is the norm instead of the exception. Forty hour work weeks are fanciful ideas, whereas 50 hours is considered a slow week. Families that never see a pastor spouse /parent is the common narrative among pastors’ families.

Somewhere along the way in Christianity – mainline, conservative, evangelical, liberal, orthodox – it has become acceptable to expect that pastors will drop everything, including sleeping or eating, to be at the beck and call of their congregations God.

I have been asked what seminaries teach now about self-care, having only graduated 5 years ago. Self-care was one of most common mantras of my seminary education, and it seems obvious to me that you can’t really care for others, or fulfill your vocation with integrity, if you are a burned out wreck… yet so many pastors obviously feel the opposite.

For so many professional ministers, a well rested, healthy pastor is a pastor failing at ministry. The Duke Clergy Health Initiative study on self-care among pastors, suggests that many ministers think self-care is selfish. My colleagues have told me that there was a day in seminary education when the message to students was that being a pastor meant giving your life to Jesus (or in other words, to your congregation 24/7). There is no room for self-care in ministry.

I have three things to say to that idea.

  1. What??!?
  2. Wait… what??!!?
  3. Bullshit.

Given our propensity for being bad at self-care, I think it behooves pastors to reflect on just why so many of us think that well-rested, healthy pastors are failing at ministry.

Of course, I have a few ideas about this:

Being crazy busy is the social norm.

The clergy is by no means the only profession where people are expected to over-work and over-function. Being crazy busy is a badge of honour in our culture. Bragging about the lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of leisure is just part of everyday conversation. Busy is normal, burnout nearly expected.

Working for Jesus lets us put our families and ourselves second.

While being busy is a cultural norm, there is the counter-narrative out there that putting family and a personal life ahead of work is important. But working for God is a holy calling, and so if the property committee schedules a meeting at 7am on our day off, Jesus will be mad if we don’t show up. Right?

Many pastors think our vocational goal is to care for everyone.

credit: http://salesjournal.com/2014/06/06/the-tyranny-of-the-urgent/

I think a lot of pastors and congregations see the primary job of  pastors to be care givers. Like a nurse or counsellor, we often see ourselves as someone whose job it is to help people feel better or feel good. Most care-givers go home at the end of a shift and are no longer on call, but many pastors feel responsible for their communities 24/7.  Often we see this to mean jumping at the drop of a hat to address a parishioner’s need, whether truly urgent or not. Life and death is urgent. Gossip, scheduling issues, complaints or other mundane things are not. The care that we offer as pastors is not the end in itself, but rather a tool to help our people see God in their lives.

Trying to prove our worth to our congregations

A lot of what pastors do is hard to quantitatively measure. Sermons are not measured by their word count. Bible studies are not measured by verses studied. But pastoral presence can be measured and tracked. I think many of us know that our jobs are provided for based on the generosity of others. Being omni-present and available is a way to justify our worth. Working 60 hours a week makes us believe that the church can’t survive without us. And being omni-present in order to justify our worth means those hard to quantify duties suffer, like planning worship, preparing sermons (including down time for creativity to seep in) and teaching the bible with intention and purpose.

Congregations fall in to cycles of consuming faith

We consume everything in our society. Church and pastors are just another thing to consume. Worship has become entertainment. The Bible is information to bolster our already established world views. Pastoral care is just another service we receive. No wonder pastors burnout if they are being consumed by those they serve.

Being a quivering mass of availability precludes other transformational work

It is impossible to be available 24/7, yet many pastors try. When pastors try to be present for every meeting, every event, every person in need, every time the church door needs to be unlocked, we are over-functioning for the community we serve. But being-omni present also means that consideration about what it means to be a community that cares for each other is lost too. Taking on all the responsibility to care for each member of the community means that care for the community as a whole is missed. It also absolves people of sharing in the caring work. Caring for each member is draining work, but caring for a community as a whole and its behavioural systems is also hard work. It is nearly impossible to do the whole community work when a pastor is emotionally drained on caring for individuals.

Pastors have become something between a paid friend and counselling professional.

Sometime in the 1960s, as Clinical Pastoral Education and counselling began to enter into ministry, pastors moved from being community leaders, teachers, prophets, moral authorities, to travelling visitors and caregivers, who also provided free quasi-professional counselling. There is nothing that will suck your time away like having to add “being a friend / providing free on call counselling for anywhere from 100 to 1000 people” to your job description, not to mention keeping up with all the other duties of a pastor. As the role of pastor shifts and changes, like the moral authority aspect of the role that has been largely dropped, so to will the paid friend aspect have to go.

Pastors find their roles hard to define.

Another result from the Duke Clergy Health Initiative was that pastors often feel like congregational members don’t understand the breadth of clergy duties. Many feel like parishioners only see the one hour of work on Sundays. While this may be true of parishioners, I think that clergy are also guilty of not understanding the breadth of our own duties.

Poor self-care is ultimately a problem of priorities. I suspect that, with so much to do in most parishes, and all the reasons I stated above, pastors have a hard time prioritizing. And this is because priorities mean disappointing someone, because not all duties are equal and not all issues need the same attention. When everything becomes urgent, keeping everyone happy and cared for is the goal. Time off, family time and self-care are bumped to the bottom of the list.

But when pastors take the time to ask themselves, what are the most important things for me to do each week and what can be left undone, the tyranny of the urgent and the need to be busy, busy, busy melts away. All of sudden that property committee at 7AM on a day off is not more important than sleep. Those late night emails can wait until office hours. The time to care for those in crisis ceases to be immediate, and instead becomes when time allows. Writing and preaching half-decent sermons, instead of Saturday night specials becomes a weekly occurrence. Leading worship like you know what is happening before it happens becomes the norm.

And most importantly, care for the whole community instead of the collection of individuals becomes important.  Pastors can teach people how to care for each other, how to participate in community instead of consuming church, how to become disciples rather than passive observers of church.

Self-care is not just an issue of burning out pastors. Reducing the work load or adding more members to the pastoral team aren’t solutions. Prioritizing ministry is the only way to really practice self-care. This means taking a deep look at what ministry is all about. What is a pastor really called to do and be?

And in the end, practicing self-care means preparing yourself to disappoint those who expect your omni-presence. They might not like it to begin with, but they will eventually they will begin to appreciate it as we become better pastors by doing what is important instead of doing everything.


What obstacles stand in the way of your self-care? How can congregations and colleagues support over worked, burring out pastors? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

And thanks to my wife, Courtenay for her insights and editorial support. Look for a post from her about self-care, coming soon. Follow her on Twitter @ReedmanParker

Cover photo credit: http://um-insight.net/blogs/dan-r-dick/too-busy-to-learn/

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12 Signs you are dealing with a ‘Church Terrorist’ and what to do about it

Churches, like any group of people, have systems and behaviours that develop as communities interact over time. Churches can have healthy systems that allow the community to welcome many voices, have positive interactions and new ideas. Churches can also have unhealthy systems and behaviours that causes conflict and grief. Like a family or workplace or neghbourhood, working through disagreement and conflict is simply a part of life. We all have unhealthy ways of interacting with others.

As a pastor, I have seen people act in such a way that I can only shake my head.  People go beyond normal disagreement and conflict, and are simply unwilling to give up their issue, their idea, their point for the sake of community.

I call these people ‘Church Terrorists’.

(Note: It is been pointed out by my twitter friend @Irish_Atheist that  ‘Terrorist’ is a hyperbolic term. He is correct. So please read, “Antagonist” wherever I have written terrorist. These people are, of course, not truly comparable with real terrorists. Sorry if the term triggers anyone or you find it offensive. I wasn’t looking to be hyperbolic, but wanted to stress the non-negotiating aspect of some behaviours in church systems.)

And I like to tell church councils or other governing boards that the reason the phrase “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” exists is that terrorists don’t negotiate with you.

Church Terrorists are people who hold churches and communities hostage in order to get their own way. Different than bullies (whom I wrote about here) who hurt and abuse communities, Church Terrorists are only concerned with getting their own way and taking care of themselves. They are the “all-or-nothing” type of people.  And yet, nice church members often have trouble identifying when a Church Terrorist is holding them hostage.

Being able to identify the Church Terrorists is an important survival skill for any pastor and/or governing board of a church. Knowing what kinds of behaviours they employ is necessary to be able to effectively deal with them. Here are 12 Signs you are dealing with a ‘Church Terrorist’ and what to do about it.

1. Church Terrorists don’t listen: Have you ever been in one of those conversations where the other person keeps making their point over and over again, and doesn’t seem to hear anything you are saying? Not listening is one of the first subtle signs that you are dealing with a Church Terrorist. He or she doesn’t listen or hear your point of view because no perspective but his or hers matters. If you don’t start calling him or her out by naming what is happening (not listening) you aren’t likely to get anywhere.

2. Failing to follow through: We all agree to do things that we eventually forget about. But you might have a Church Terrorist on your hands if someone is constantly taking on responsibilities but is rarely following through. Often this can be a well intentioned person who simply cannot say no, but then doesn’t have the time to follow through with promises, an unwitting terrorist. But sometimes, it is an undercover terrorist sabotaging the community by taking on responsibilities that others could carry out, and then purposely not fulfilling them so that no one will get the job done. When someone is failing to follow through, it is time to stop giving them responsibility.

3. Getting angry and/or crying to avoid conversation: We all have topics that we are passionate about and willing to voice our view energetically. But a Church Terrorist will get angry and/or cry about anything that makes him or her uncomfortable or that he or she doesn’t want to talk about. Few of us are interested in conversing with an angry/crying person, and so like nice little Christians we drop the issue. And Church Terrorists use the anger/cry tactic to avoid topics that are uncomfortable for them. When someone can’t talk about an important issue to the community without getting angry and or crying, you might just have to let them be angry/cry – and talk about the issue anyway.

4. Not showing up: When most people fail to show up for a meeting, project or agreed to appointment, they call ahead or they call after to apologize. Most people get in touch. But over the years, I have noticed that churches often have people who simply don’t show up. They miss meeting after meeting without explanation, they never commit to the events, projects or programs that need people to run them, or they agree to responsibilities and then simply fail to be there. When someone isn’t showing up, we would often rather ignore the behaviour than deal with it. That doesn’t help. We can forgive not showing up, without setting ourselves up to be stood up over and over again.

5. Emotional overreaction: Church Terrorists love making others responsible for their emotions. When something happens that a terrorist doesn’t like, they will let you know. They will let you know that you have ruined their day, their week, their year. They will let you know that they are so unhappy that they won’t be able to eat, sleep, stop crying, look at you the same way, or have any positive feeling towards you ever again. Not wanting to hurt a terrorist’s feelings is exactly what they want you to worry about. They want you to take responsibility for their feelings, so they don’t have to. Don’t do for others what they should do for themselves.

6. Over confidence: Church Terrorists will often assume that everyone agrees with or listens to them. They will make pronouncements and declarations at meetings or during community events like they are written in stone. Friendly, average church people often don’t know what to do with someone who seems totally sure of themselves. Going along with overconfidence is easy, disagreeing even when we aren’t totally certain is hard.

7. Having an opinion on everything: As a pastor, I have learned that not having an opinion on everything is an important way to be heard. Not weighing in on every issue allows people to know that you don’t need your way on every little thing, nor that everything in the church is your jurisdiction. But Church Terrorists want everyone to know their opinion about everything. They will hi-jack meetings or church events to make sure they have their moment to be heard. Decisions can’t be made until their point has been made. Encouraging and making room for the voices of others, in this case, is vital.

8. Shooting down change or new ideas: This may be the most common form of Church Terrorism. Perfectly loving and caring people can develop the habit of shooting down new ideas with statements like, “We tried already that and it didn’t work” or “People will never go for that” or “That is not the way we do things here.” While most people will eventually come around to trying something new, real Church Terrorists will stick to their guns and refuse change or new ides. Sticking to your guns is required to introduce new ideas.  Trying something different is the ultimate victory here.

9. Silent expectations, loud resentment: If shooting down new ideas is the most common form of Church Terrorism, this is the runner-up.  Often Church Terrorists will silently hold others to expectations they had no idea about, and then get upset when their expectations are unmet. New pastors or new members often fall victim to this one. “You are sitting in MY pew!” or “You didn’t use the microphone that my grandfather donated to this church!” or “I can’t believe we didn’t celebrate national orange sweater day, we have done it for years!” Talking about the unspoken conventions and expectations of a community is an important way to combat this form of Church Terrorism.

10. Directed giving: This is probably a contentious issue in many churches. Governing boards often feel beholden to givers to put the money to the use it was given for. And most of the time this isn’t a problem… yet Church Terrorists will use their donations as a way of telling leadership what to do. I have seen money given to churches for unplanned sanctuary renovations, new organs or pianos that were not in the plans, projectors when no system for creating projected services was in place, new carpet, new paint, new bathrooms when none of that was in the plans. Church boards need policies that allow them to use directed gifts for things in the plans, even if they have been directed for other things.

11. Withholding money: Sometime when church leadership isn’t doing what a person wants, she or he will stop giving offerings to the church as a way to “starve the beast,” which hampers the church’s ability to carry out its mission. Withholding money is another common form of Church Terrorism, yet often leadership doesn’t even know that it is happening until long after the fact and nothing can be done to resolve the situation. Withholding money just hurts everyone, and usually doesn’t help get to the heart of the matter.

12. Threatening to leave: I know many pastors who have members who hold this threat over their heads. “If this doesn’t change we are out of here” or “If the church votes to do that, we will be taking our membership elsewhere.” This is the most extreme form of Church Terrorism. It is basically saying that if you don’t do what I want, we cannot be in fellowship. It is the epitome of holding a congregation hostage, “do (or don’t do) this. Or else.” But it is theologically and ecclesiologically bankrupt behaviour to define the participation within the Body of Christ by one’s own opinion. However, this is what a terrorist will do. Yet, threatening to leave has serious implications for the terrorist if pastors and church leadership hold people to their threats. I know many pastors and leaders who have simply responded to such threats with, “We will miss you.”

Far too often I have been with leadership groups in churches, in counselling situations, or just in conversation with church people, and I have had to point out that they are experiencing Church Terrorism.  Someone is holding the community hostage by insisting on getting their own way, even when it is not for the good of the community.

And I don’t think every Church Terrorist does it on purpose, which is perhaps the biggest challenge to those of us who see it. Whether Church Terrorists feel like a caring church community is the only place in their life where they can have some control, or that getting their way is all they have known at church, or that things come up that we all have strong feelings about, it isn’t right to hold a community hostage. We all have things that we care about deeply at church. God and faith are a big deal for us. But that doesn’t give us the right to force others to feel and act the way we want.

The most important thing pastors and other leaders can do is name it. Say out loud what is happening in your community, and dealing with Church Terrorists after that will be much easier.

And remember, we don’t negotiate with terrorists because terrorists don’t negotiate with you.

Thanks to Courtenay for co-writing this post, you can follow her at @ReedmanParker on Twitter


 Have an experience of a Church Terrorist? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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It is overwhelming to care about Ferguson, Gaza, Ebola, Syria, ISIS, Ukraine, etc…

These days, checking twitter feeds, listening to news updates, reading online articles can be depressing. There are so many crises facing the world at the moment, with new information and action happening moment by moment. As a pastor, the prayers I write and pray for things going on in the world is getting as long as it has ever been in my memory.

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Protestors in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri is boiling over with tensions between the white police and african american community after the shooting and murder of an unarmed Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is committing atrocities with the hopes of drawing more to their cause.

Syria continues to be a mess with millions of refugees spilling into neighbouring states.

Skirmishes in Ukraine have brought down planes and resulted in death.

Israel and Hamas can’t seem to stop firing rockets and launching airstrikes at each other.

The Ebola outbreak in Africa is spreading and more people are dying.

Red Cross agent disinfected a hospital room
Red Cross agent disinfecting a hospital room

And these are just events from the past week.

This year we have seen #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen, issues of poverty and homelessness, environmental damages caused by resource extraction and more ongoing issues.

It is exhausting keeping up with it all.

It is harder to invest what little energy we all have to care about all these things. I am sure many are getting tired of it all.

As Christians, called to pray for our world and to serve our neighbour it is hard to know where to begin. What articles should we read? How much do I need to educate myself about each issue? What does it look like to get involved?

imagesAnd in the face of these overwhelming issues, the ultimate apathetic question is always just below the surface.

What difference can I make?

As with most big, complex issues that we face, the prevailing wisdom is to start with small steps.

Pray for our neighbours, help our children develop healthier attitudes towards those of different ethnicity, religion, socio-economic class. Getting involved locally is a logical step. Volunteer, help educate others, support active charities and organizations that are working in the midst of crisis to alleviate suffering.

Last fall, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, managed to collect nearly 80,000 sweaters for Syrian refugees living in camps. Our small national Lutheran NGO managed to do this amazing thing and response was overwhelming when the initial goal was 10,000! Yet, the UN estimates that there at least 2.5 million refugees. That means we collected sweaters for 0.032% of them…

Our achievement feels hopeless in the face of so much need.

And that was one small piece of the Syrian refugee issue? What about the war? What about medicine and food? And what about all the other crises?

Now, I am not trying to say that this is all hopeless… but I think there are a few things we need to admit to ourselves before we can figure out how to respond as people of faith.

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Crisis in Ukraine

Firstly, our political leaders are in over their heads. I often hear that politicians don’t care or are only interested in re-election. Some might be that way, but I think there is good news and bad news. I think most politicians would make the world a better place if they could. However, it is becoming clear that our modern political systems are failing us. At the end of day, most politicians – from top to bottom – probably feel as powerless as we do. The systems that they serve value the status quo. Governments, electorates and human beings are not good at accepting sweeping change, despite our clamour for it. Politicians realize that daycare credits, cheaper cell phone bills, and lower taxes buy votes in elections. Not social reform.

I wish these crises are left unresolved because of political apathy… because then we could elect un-apathetic leaders. But it is worse than we thought, those whom we trust to fix these problems are not capable of fixing them.

Secondly, we need to admit that we contribute to these problems. I need to admit that I am complicit in the poverty and lack of development that is allowing Ebola to spread. My prejudices contribute to tensions in Ferguson. People are dying at the hands of ISIS because of my lifestyle. Russia is breaking apart Ukraine because of the people my grandparents, my parents and I have elected to power. Israel and Hamas are constantly at each other’s throats because of the freedoms I enjoy. Syria is at war because of my attitudes about Islam and the Middle East. I am a part of the problem.

Thirdly, these problems are really just symptoms of a larger issue.

The crises that we are facing today are not entirely caused by one problem, but there is one issue more than any other that fuels their fires:

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

I recently watched Robert Reich’s documentary Inequality for All (you should all watch it on Netflix). The movie clearly lays out, over and over again, the relationship between an unequal society and social problems. The last time inequality was as high as it is today was during the 1930s. The world was starving, unemployment was sky high and wealth was concentrated in the hands of very few.

I have no doubt that a large reason the world fell into World War II was because inequality had pushed people to edge, allowing them to find reasons to justify racism, intolerance, and eventually global war. Germany was putting Jews in concentration camp. The United States and Canada were putting Japanese in internment camps. Racism and intolerance was on both sides, the world was recovering from economic crisis. People needed someone to blame.

I also have no doubt that during the period of the highest level of equality, the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights issues and the liberation of women gained momentum and achieved change in leaps and bounds.

6490813449_f0c51a7cc0When people are struggling to make ends meet, they become more conservative, more fearful and more close minded.

When people are not worried about paying bills, buying groceries or affording a home, they are able to open themselves to new ideas and different people.

We are in a time of high inequality today. Extreme global Inequality. In fact, this year 85 people are more wealthy than the bottom 3.5 billion.

Yes, I wrote billion.

The number of people that can fit in a public swimming pool have more wealth than half of the people on the planet.

What chance does peace, tolerance, development, open-mindedness, or social change for the better have in a world that is so unequal?

What chance does Ferguson have at bridging the racial divide when it is based on a 400 year old economic one?

What chance do under developed African nations have at fighting off a deadly disease like Ebola when hospitals are tents and sanitation is nearly non-existent?

What chance does peace in Gaza when both sides are fighting over the scraps of the western world?

What chance does democracy have for the people or Iraq or Syria have when the fighting is just as much about control of resources and wealth than it is issues of religion?

What chance does Ukraine have at bettering its quality of life when Russia desires to keep Ukraine under its thumb to prop up its own power and wealth?

We treat wealth and equality like a zero-sum game. For you to have more, I need to have less. But it is not zero sum. We can all become more prosperous together.

Christ.In_.A.Suit_In the Bible nearly 2000 verses deal with money or wealth, more than prayer, faith, and hope combines. Jesus talks about money in 1 of every 7 verses. Over 1/4 of his parables were on wealth. And let’s not forget that when Jesus talked about keeping the law, clean and unclean, or making sacrifices in the temple, he was talking about inequality. Those who could afford access to God, and those who couldn’t.

In a very unequal world, Jesus declared the abundance of God’s grace. God’s love is not a commodity to be hoarded or controlled by a few at the exclusion of the many. Wealth and prosperity are, likewise, not to be hoarded. God’s creation, wealth included, is not to be hoarded or controlled by a few at the exclusion of the many.

As one christian, one pastor, one blogger sitting in relatively calm Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, it can feel overwhelming to hear about every crisis that seems to be popping up this week, and wondering what I can do about it. It is like trying to play Whack-a-Mole with one mallet on a game the size of a football field. There isn’t even time to see all the moles popping up, let alone choose which one to think about whacking.

But if there is something that can be done to address all these issues at once, even in some small way, it would be to work towards greater economic equality. Elect leaders who will introduce policies that help level the playing field. Support programs that encourage education, which is the greatest tool to help us all become more prosperous. Look for ways to stand for political change that will distribute wealth more equally. Teach our kids that everyone deserves the same access to education and opportunity, and they will see past the racial, religious and political divides on their own. And lastly, find others who are talking about this issue. Join with them. Educate yourself.

And if you are a Christian, remember that Jesus thought this issue was important too. He talked about it more than heaven or hell, he preached against the extremities of wealth and poverty more clearly and definitively than just about anything else.

And when you pray for peace, for tolerance and understanding, for help for those who are suffering, remember to pray for a more equal world too – because equality will help bring about the rest.


How does this news cycle make you feel? What do you think we can do about it all? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

1685510

A Sermon on Ferguson, Robin Williams and the Canaanite Woman

As a blogger, it can be hard to know where to begin with all the things happening in the world. But as a pastor, I can’t help but preach about where God is in the midst of this mess…

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord… (Read the whole passage here)

Sermon

Have mercy on me Lord. 

These are familiar words. In fact, we just sang them this morning. Given the times and places where we usually say these words, it can feel strange to sing them while we are safe and sound at church. Normally it is in moment of distress, moments of trial and hardship, moments when there is nothing else but to ask for God’s help.

Have mercy on me Lord. 

A news alert flashes across the televisions, computer or smart phone. The top story of the evening news. The front page of the newspaper. They all declare the same thing:

Robin Williams is dead.

Mork is dead, Adrian Cronauer is dead. John Keating is dead. Garp, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sean Maguire, the Genie from Alladin, Patch Adams and so many more beloved characters from our favourites movies. They are all dead.

And the world mourns, the world cries out for healing, the world begs for more understanding and help for those suffering from depression.

This news is a shock and yet it isn’t. Another star whose personal struggles and demons meant that we all share in the tragic results. We all grieve when a famous star dies.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

The canaanite woman that approached Jesus must have been desperate. She must have been willing to risk any humiliation for her daughter. She also must have known that God in flesh would hear her plea. The woman who calls on Jesus does so knowing that she is repeating the language of worship, the language that Jesus and all Jews would have used in worship. Words that are spoken to God, this woman speaks to Jesus. A sign that she knows just who this Jesus fellow is.

And yet the disciples try to send her away.

They send her away because she is a gentile, because she is a woman, because she is a beggar. They send her away because she is different. She isn’t one of them, and as open minded to the poor, to the marginalized, to the downtrodden they think they are, this woman is too different and therefore undeserving of their mercy.

Even Jesus doesn’t have time for the woman. She begs him to help her daughter and Jesus says some pretty offensive word to her: It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

This is not the Jesus we know. This is a cruel, uncaring Jesus who doesn’t even see this woman as human, but more like a street dog.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

In Ferguson, Missouri an 18 year old black teenager was walking down the street, and was stopped by a white police officer. The two got into a scuffle and the police officer shot the teen 8 times, killing him. The boy had his hands in the air, and was saying, “Don’t shoot” as he was killed.

The small suburb of St. Louis is shocked and outraged that a white police officer can kill a black teen without repercussion. Neighbourhood vigils and protests turn into a national movement calling for justice and for acknowledgement of the systemic racism that led to this incident.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

The canaanite woman who has asked for mercy does not let up. She has a sick daughter, a child suffering from a demon, from an unknown illness. She asking for Jesus’ help not her own behalf, but as a parent. And she is willing to risk rejection, and to keep asking, even if he says no at first.

And Jesus gives a resounding no. He hasn’t come for gentiles, he has only come for the people of Israel. Jesus has come for God’s chosen people… yet this woman, this unclean gentile woman challenges Jesus… challenges Jesus to change his mind.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

Wars continue in Syria, Iraq and Gaza. People are dying in Africa from the deadly Ebola virus. The need for mercy in our dark world feels overwhelming these days as the news is a constant flow violence, sadness and shock.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

These words are familiar to us. They are words that we pray, words of desperation and words that we practice week after week when we gather for worship. Words that are handed on to us and that we are entrusted to use faithfully.

And so when we don’t have the words and when we don’t know what to say, those familiar words like Have mercy on me Lord, or Peace be with you, or Thanks be to God, they spring to our lips without needing to think of them first. These are the words of the community of faith, they are the words of our forebears in the faith. These are the words that we teach each new generation as they come to worship.

And most importantly, maybe most surprisingly. These are words that change the mind of God.

To imagine words with such power is hard for us. Words that change the mind of God seem like too good to be true. And yet, that is exactly what happens each week, each moment we worship. The words that we hear in this place and the words that we share remind us over and over again, that God’s mind has been changed about us.

We have chosen condemnation, we have chosen death for ourselves. We are sinners who can only choose to die over and over again. Yet with mercy and love, God comes and speaks to us, with forgiveness and grace, God choses life and love for us. As Jesus changes his mind today, he doesn’t just change it about one woman. In Gospel of Matthew, from that moment on, Jesus’ mission was not just for the Jews, but all creation, for Jews and Gentiles alike. We are the ones asking Jesus for mercy and we are the Gentile members of the body of Christ who have received it.

Today, the Good News is that God changes God’s mind to include us. To include Gentiles, to include 21st century Canadians, to include the people of The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. God in Christ has come into our world, to be born, live and die for us. God in Christ has come to give us so much more than scraps from the table, but to give us a place at the table, to welcome us and feed us with God’s own body and blood. To make us into One Body. To hear our cries for Mercy.

And despite the horrible news that we have encountered this week there has been mercy. Since the death of Robin Williams there has been renewed awareness for those who suffer from mental illness and increased giving towards charity.

Mercy given.

In Ferguson, as tensions grew between police protestors, faith leaders and community leaders joined the call for justice but also the call for peace.

Mercy given.

In Africa there is help being sent, including new medicine with the hopes of helping.

Mercy given.

There are calls for peace and an end of violence in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, but most of all people of faith are standing together in solidarity promising to pray for innocent victims of conflict.

Mercy given.

Mercy isn’t about taking the problems away, but mercy is the promise that God walks with us in the midst of the darkness. God promises to be our light in a dark world, to be our healing balm for our suffering, to be the compassion that we so desperately need.

Have mercy on me Lord. These words will cross our lips over and over again. They will be ingrained into our bodies and into our souls, they are the words that change God’s mind, they are words that change us from dead sinners into members of of the body of Christ – forgiven and alive. Mercy is what we need these days.

We cry out,

Have Mercy on us Lord.

And Mercy is what God gives.

Amen.

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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