Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few days ago, during a respite from one of the many polar vortexes that have blown through Louisville, I took my dog for a walk. My neighbor called me over.

“Hey there! I saw you fall the other day.”

“Oh, yeah. I slipped on the ice.” I laughed nervously and stared at my dog.

“Yeah, you fell. Then you laid there a while. You looked like you were hurt, and I thought you might have moaned a little. I was about to come over and check on you, but you stirred a bit, fell back down, pulled yourself up, and then limped slowly inside your house. I thought it was best not to disturb you, since you were probably icing your wound.”

Thanks, neighbor. He keeps an eye out for those around him and not a lot makes it past him, but I could’ve done without the painstaking retelling of one of my most recent examples of clumsiness. The only thing that makes this story even more embarrassing is that I was running back inside the house to change my shoes when I fell. I had realized I was about to take my sick dog to the vet in my house shoes instead of my snow boots.

We’ve all been there—tripping on the street and moving quickly along like we just decided to change our pace, as if anyone besides children would suddenly decide to start skipping instead of walking. Or maybe we spill a drink on our shirt and then decide to wear our coat to cover it for the rest of the evening. “Oh no, I’m not uncomfortable. I love sweating.”

But here’s the thing: life is too short to pretend we are perfect. As a recovering perfectionist, I should know. This means that where I would normally get very anxious about completing a project or meeting a new group of people, I now just try to do the best I can. If I fail or people don’t like me, so what? Neither of those so-called potential failures should be the measure of success to Christians, who are commanded to love their God and their neighbors as themselves. That’s easier said than done, and I can still get very anxious about the smallest things. But having a mantra of “so what?” has been helpful during those moments when I screw up or my neighbor slowly regales me with tales of my face plant or I just can’t seem to get it together.

Paul advises a church in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Paul’s point is that we are all part of the body of Christ, and each one of us has gifts and a role to play. We don’t have to be perfect or have it all together. We are meant to work in community to help one another and embody the love of Christ. We can fall down, mess up, be awkward and fail. Each one of us is beautiful despite (and even because of) our shortcomings.

You are a member of the body of Christ. You are gifted and special. Let’s work together to share this message with all God’s children.

This article also appears on Next Sunday Resources.

Friday, December 13, 2013

No, Megyn Kelly, Jesus and Santa Weren't White

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few days ago, conservative talk show host Megyn Kelly claimed on her Fox News show that "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white...just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change, you know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too...that's a verifiable fact, I just want kids to know that."

This statement was in response to a Slate piece by Aisha Harris entitled, "Santa Should Not Be a White Man Anymore", wherein she notes her confusion between seeing a black Santa figurine in her home while white Santas were popularized elsewhere at the mall and her school. Because the real history of St. Nicholas is so far removed from his present iteration as Santa Claus, she argues that it would be easier and less culturally problematic to change him into a penguin. This avoids questions of race and culture and makes him accessible to all. While I see her point about wanting to avoid cultural problems, it might be a good idea to confront the underlying issue of racism in America rather than continue to ignore it.

On that note, I would like to confront the factually incorrect statements made by Kelly in response to Harris.

Image pulled from "Image Foundry Studios"
1) "Santa just is white." -- First, Santa isn't real. So, I'm assuming she's talking about the person upon which his legend is based, St. Nicolas.  According to The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, St. Nicholas was born in the fourth century and became the bishop of Myra. Myra is located in present day Turkey. Supposedly, he provided three different girls each with a sack of gold to serve as dowries and rescue them from a life of prostitution. Over time, the legend grew and meshed with Norse legends. Immigrants brought these legends to North America, and the modern Santa Claus was pretty much manufactured by Norman Rockwell, Coca Cola, and other manufacturers of goods that wanted to ramp up Christmas sales.

So what did the the ancient Turkish gift-giver look like? A composite, made from forensic anthropologists who reconstructed his skeleton from his crypt in Bari, Italy, shows that he looked very much like modern day Turkish men. I think we can agree that he doesn't look like a typical white American male, though that categorical racial box is very problematic and fraught with ambiguity. It might be more accurate to say that he would not experience the privileges of being a white male in American society.

2) "Jesus was a white man, too." -- Wrong again. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew in first century Nazareth. This was a poor village in the shadow of the large city of Sepphoris. He, his father and his brothers, while stylized as artistic carpenters in the Christmas story, are actually more akin to day laborers who would have walked miles everyday to find work and survive in the shadow of the powerful Roman rulers who controlled the land. When he grew up, he heard about numerous uprisings to throw off the Roman yoke and started speaking out against the political powers and the religious leaders who collaborated with them. Speaking out too much and being referred to as "The King of the Jews" caused him to be executed for sedition.

Image from the BBC Photo Library
The United States is arguably the Rome of the modern world. We are the most powerful nation on Earth. Jesus would not identify with the privilege of being an average United States citizen. He did not live in abundant opulence like we do, when 50% of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day (80% on less than $10 a day). If Jesus were an American, he would more likely identify as an undocumented immigrant or other poor, oppressed class, given his historical social standing and statement regarding wealth and poverty.

Regarding Jesus's appearance, he most certainly would be flagged for a security check and racially profiled by TSA. According to forensic anthropologists who examined countless remains from that time period to find the most likely image, he looked like a Middle-Eastern male of Arabic descent.

So, what should we do with this information? We should ask ourselves about the images we hold in our minds of important historical or cultural figures. Are they constructed based on fact or to remake someone in our image for our comfort? Does holding on to historically inaccurate images keep us from becoming a more unified society, where we can appreciate and value one another's diversity? Perhaps most importantly, do they keep us from seeing people of all races as precious children of God? If so, we may want to smash these false images as idols and dig deeper for the sake of Jesus's call to love one another as we love ourselves.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Heartbreak and Hope in Miami

Flickr Photo by Tiffany L. Clark/Creative Commons
Jose Antonio Vargas Flickr Photo by Tiffany L. Clark/Creative Commons
by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last week, I attended a screening of Documented, Jose Antonio Vargas’ film about his coming out as an undocumented immigrant after winning the Pulitzer Prize. His journey is honest, poignant, and humorous. A lesser subject would have cut some of the material showing the strain of the situation on his familial relations, but the film never flinches from the raw story.

I sat in on a panel discussion after the screening filled with members of an organization featured in the film, “DREAMers Moms.” I had a chance to speak with several of them, and one story stuck out in particular. One mom left her country for the good of her children so they would have hope of a positive future in the United States. She hasn’t seen her mother in 13 years and won’t until immigration reform is passed into law. If she leaves the U.S., it’s likely she wouldn’t be allowed to return and care for her children. This would leave them essentially orphans who would be placed into foster care. Her mother is now in her 80s, frail and sick. This woman is losing hope of ever again touching the woman who cared for her, but still prays daily for a miracle.

Jose mentioned during the panel that a largely untold side effect of being undocumented is the toll that the constant fear of deportation and worry about family has on mental health. As he edited the film, he said, he noticed several points where he was clearly suffering from depression. I asked panelist Gaby Pacheco, an immigration activist and Dreamer who also appeared in the documentary, how she and others she knew developed mental health strategies for coping with anxiety and depression. She said it is vital to find others suffering from similar fears and share stories with them. With a lack of mental health resources for undocumented persons, that communal sharing is a form of therapy. She also voiced a need for mental health services to be included in comprehensive immigration reform.

The documentary will air on CNN, and be screened at film festivals and in theaters. Don’t miss a chance to see this film and encourage others to see this story that humanizes immigration reform. Partisan rhetoric has fueled this issue to a point beyond realism, but this film makes the political intimate and personal. After you see the film, join the discussion at organization,
www.defineamerican.com. Address the question, “How do you define American?”

I became passionate about immigration reform a few years ago when working with pastors Javier Benitez and Hector Villanueva at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. The two work constantly to protect their parishioners from racial profiling and deportation, especially on Sunday morning when police camp outside entrances to Hispanic churches in order to profile and catch potential undocumented persons on the way to worship. This is intolerable. It is a moral imperative that we find ways to welcome the stranger as Scripture calls us to do. We must listen to immigrant stories and respond appropriately out of love. What does a Christian response to immigration look like in your community?

The article originally appeared on Sojourners.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dying in Real Time

Terry Megginson Walton
by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last week, a beloved former employee of CBF named Terry Megginson Walton passed away from a long battle with cancer.  I didn’t know her very well, unfortunately, but she made me feel extremely welcome at CBF National events. She was warm, quick with a smile and a laugh, and was easy to get to know. From what I observed, Terry was keenly interested in making everyone she met feel like a beloved child of God.

Over the last few months, I noticed that more and more people were calling for others to pray for her over Facebook and email. But then something even more intimate happened. Last week, people began sharing their favorite memories of her on her Facebook pages, attaching pictures and last messages to Terry. Dozens and dozens of people were saying goodbye in the most touching of ways, which created an amazing memorial to her and a fitting tribute to a life that was clearly well-lived through her love of others.

Tears sprang to my eyes as these messages to her swallowed my Facebook feed and I realized that her life must have been coming to an end. And, a few days ago, her family relayed the news that she had indeed passed on.

As someone who knew her only briefly, I was overwhelmed with the sentiments of her friends to share their best memories with her to send her on her way. Look how many people she had touched! What a beautiful tribute!

Before Facebook was available outside of the world of college students, one of my professors, Dr. Paul Weber lost a long battle with cancer. Like Terry, his impact on the world is immeasurable. He was a former priest who married a former nun and taught political science. He always strove for a high ethical standard in whatever he pursued, and he loved mentoring students. Dr. Weber was a huge reason why I decided to go to divinity school. Before he passed, his family encouraged people to write letters of their favorite memories to him without saying goodbye or focusing on his illness. I wrote to him about his classes, my favorite lessons, and his encouragement and care outside of the classroom. I never heard a response, but this gave me an opportunity to not let anything left unsaid.

My takeaway from the lives and deaths of Terry Megginson Walton and Dr. Paul Weber is this: there are amazing people in this world who touch us deeply. We would not be the same people without them. While we can, we must let these living saints know what they mean to us before they pass on into the cloud of witnesses.

Who has loved, cared, sacrificed and mentored you? Are there friendships that have transformed you life? Don’t wait until tomorrow to tell them how much they mean to you. Let them know that their lives are well-lived, and that they have made a difference to you. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Challenge to Congress

by Rev. Ryan Eller

Members of congress are obsessed with their own opinions and even more obsessed with getting them on camera. Knowing that, this article shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. So, I did what all good nerds do when we’re pissed off, and wrote this challenge, attempting to articulate for members of congress a way for them to understand where we’re all coming from, way down here in Middle America.

A reasonable challenge to members of the United States Congress from Middle America:

1)   Don’t take your salaries while you aren’t doing your job. In both reading the constitution and looking at the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, it’s pretty clear that passing a budget (or at least a continuing resolution) and funding the basic constitutionally protected business of government (military, roads, etc. etc.) is your job (as this now ironically awkward letter from congressional Republicans even suggested back in 2010.

2)   If you take us up on this offer, because you aren’t taking your salaries, share the experience of most people without an income and default on your own debt. While you’re at it, figure out a way to provide health insurance for your family. Really, test it out by applying for COBRA or searching on the new insurance exchanges for coverage. Heck, even go down to the doctor’s office and just ask how much it would cost you for a visit, now that you’re not receiving an income and don’t have health insurance and all.

3)   While you’re at it, file for unemployment insurance. You’ll enjoy that process a great deal I’m sure. Plus, it will prepare you for your real unemployment, which I’m guessing may occur some time in November of 2014 anyway.

4)   Since you have no income and one of your family members is likely to get sick at some point, you’ll need to figure out, like most Americans, which bills to pay and which ones to put on credit (if you can still get credit, that is). Go ahead and make a list. While you’re at it, make a list of all the things that will happen in your life if you don’t pay your bills. Since you’ve likely never experienced this before, I’ll give you a few hints:

a.     Your credit score will diminish, and it will now cost you more to live because each time you take out a loan your interest rate will be higher.

b.     If you can’t make the payment on your home, try selling it to prevent foreclosure. Don’t worry too much about the memories your family has had in the home. After all, you can make new ones in the next place you live. Also, good luck with the sale since most folks won’t buy in a market full of uncertainty created by congressional inaction. Regardless, do all you can to make those house payments because, trust the rest of us when we tell you, negotiating with the banks won’t work out well for you.

c.      You’ll have bill collectors calling the house to threaten you. It’s annoying, but you’ll figure out some good ways of dealing with it eventually. That is, until they show up and repo your car. Then, well, you’ll be in need of a ride. (Note: please use this as an opportunity to learn about our public transit system, which you, as a once-elected official, were charged to oversee and fund.)

5)   Once you do feel like doing your job again, and getting paid for it (because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t take you very long once you experienced what most of us actually experience), please come back to Capitol Hill and share with your colleagues what it’s like when you can’t pay your bills (or in your case, simply choose not to even when you have never not paid them in US history). Then maybe you’ll realize that yes, there are consequences to not increasing the debt ceiling.

Do all of us middle and working class folks a solid, and just start acting like responsible leaders and do your constitutional duty. This might be hard for you to grasp, but we really don’t care which one of you comes out looking like the winner, as long as we’re not the losers in whatever game y’all think you are playing on Capitol Hill.  

Rev. Ryan Eller is a professional organizer, consultant and ordained Baptist minister, whose work includes managing nonprofits, political campaigns, and serving as the former US Campaigns Director for change.org