FROM OPPRESSION TO FREEDOM

The biggest creator of oppression is the illusion of freedom. We create this illusion from the time our children are born. We use society, schools, and churches to support oppression and we call it freedom. The Christian faith celebrates the death and resurrection of a savior, Jesus the Christ, who conquered death in order to save God’s people. However, in order for the children of God to enjoy the freedom that The Christ Suffering offers we must sacrifice those qualities within us that the Church deems reprehensible to God. Good saintly people must profess, I am not worthy of God’s grace, or, I fail more than others, but it is when asking forgiveness that I find my grace in God  or some such sentiment to make oneself less than they are.  The problem with this freedom is it is not freedom at all; it is an illusion that creates oppression.

Where am I going with this? Is this an attack on basic Christian principles? No, it isn’t; this is my confession of sorts, my confession of misleading others and myself in the truth of freedom. I, for many years, lived in the joy of oppression in order to attempt to become the man that God had created me to be, only to finally find that the more I attempted to find the man that I am in another’s eyes the less of the man that I am was honored.   People outside of my immediate family, who knew me as a child, knew how blissfully oppressed I was. How empty the celebration of my attempt at holiness was. Over the course of the past five years I have become the man that God created me to be, simply by discovering my truths. These truths do not fit into the mold of the freedom of oppression. I no longer feel the need to be in your face with my truth because I am no longer trying to prove my truth to myself. I am a God loving gay man who is loved by God.

There has been an abundance of freedom offered to my kind in the past few years, and there is a big consensus of fear that these freedoms are going to be taken away. I want to take a couple of minutes to share in what ways these freedoms can never be taken from us. These freedoms are not granted by the state; the federal government does not grant these freedoms; these freedoms are instead granted because we accept them to be true. Just as in my understanding that I am more of a man of God today in my fullness of understanding who I am, I am also free to love and be married to my husband because I choose it to be so. Bill and I were married for 18 years before we could celebrate our Civil Union. It was just before our 19th anniversary that we were legally allowed to be married. Although I am sure that the next couple of years are going to be challenging, and possibly painful to many of us, I want to remind you, and me, that our freedom is not being taken away. The legalities may be challenged, but our freedom does not reside in the legalities, our freedom lies within each of us, and the legalities are simply a luxury. Don’t get me wrong, my legal marriage is a great luxury, however, the current political climate will not destroy my freedom unless I allow it to do so, and I will not.

There are those within the Christian world that wish to believe that my gay life is an affront to God, Church, and therefore American Liberties. Simply stated, fuck them and what they wish to believe. I can reflect back to when Bill and I sent our Civil Union party invitations; I received a message from a well-meaning friend who said, “I love you and Bill but as a Christian I don’t know how I feel about this Civil Union.” Today I can thank her for that statement. Why? I can be grateful for that statement because it finally made me understand one thing, “the only person who needs to come to terms with how God views homosexuality is the homosexual.” So remember, our right to be gay is not being attacked, even if we as a group or an individual should be attacked, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, we will thrive, love will win, and we cannot react to hatred with hatred. Hate in reaction to hate has never created peace and it never will. There are only two base emotions afforded to the human animal; these emotions are love and fear. Remember those who are coming into power are reacting out of the emotion of fear; statements such as “we will make America great again” affirm for me that there is a fear that America is not great, and in many ways it is true, America is far from great, but that does not make me afraid, it makes me accept the challenge.

“From those who have much, much will be demanded” is a statement made in the Christian bible by Jesus. The statement is true. America is not great and it never has been, simply because those who have much wish to hold onto it all. And I am not talking about the 3% who hold all of the supposed wealth; I am speaking of all of us living in blessing every single day; those of us who ignore the oppressed. The oppressed of whom I speak are those oppressed who live in the illusion of freedom; those who believe that Christianity is under attack. Could it possibly be our calling, as those who have broken free from the illusion, to show the true grace that is God in our lives, in our freedom; the true freedom that is our existence?  Because let me make one thing abundantly clear; we, those who want to hold on to our rights with the same vigor that the 3% want to hold onto their wealth, created the next four years of pain just as sure was those who voted for the Trumpacy, and it is we who will be responsible to love our neighbors out of oppression. Believe me when I tell you that loving someone or something out of oppression is not a simple statement but an arduous action required by the blessed.   Let’s step into the garden and plant our future. In his last hours Jesus said, ‘he who lives by the sword will die by the sword”. We cannot change the reality of the past three months, but we can affect the reality of the next few years. Working together love will prevail. Michael Jackson told us how; begin with the “man in the mirror”.
Peace all.

Healing Shores

My favorite of the Christian resurrection stories is the story when Jesus met his disciples on the shore.  The disciples, who had been fishermen prior to Jesus’ calling them to ministry, had returned to fishing after the crucifixion, and they were not having much success in their new “old” way of life; in the story someone from the shore yelled out to them, “cast your net from the other side of the vessel” and not thinking that it would do any good, the disciples followed the direction anyway, and when they did they could barely pull the net from the sea because there were so many fish.  But, this is not the part of the story that I love.

The disciples figured out that the man calling from the shore was Jesus; he was appearing to them yet again after his resurrection, and they jumped from the fishing boat and joined him on the shore.  Jesus took some of the fish that they had caught and made breakfast for them.  Although there are many lessons in this story my favorite part comes after breakfast when Jesus has a conversation with Peter.  Remember, prior to the crucifixion, Jesus had told Peter that he (Peter) would deny him (Jesus) three times before morning; Peter who was very sure of his faith was incensed that Jesus would think so; yet, as the story goes, Peter did deny the Christ three times in the last night of Jesus’ life; Peter’s guilt made him blind in understanding the value of the resurrection.

Jesus saw Peter’s guilt and he asked him.  “Peter, do you love me?” and Peter replied, “Yes Lord”, and Jesus said “feed my sheep”.  Jesus then asked Peter again, “Peter do you love me?” and Peter again answered, “Yes Lord”, and Jesus said, “tend my sheep”, and then a third time Jesus said to Peter, “Peter do you love me” and in a distraught sort of way Peter answered a third time, “You know that I love you lord” and Jesus replied for the final time, “then feed my sheep.”

It is within this story that Jesus makes it perfectly clear that he is giving all of mankind permission to be healed.  I like the concept of healing so much more than the idea of forgiveness; in healing there is a sense of “I own this outcome” and in forgiveness it is so much more about giving the other person all of my power, both in being the cause of my “sin” and in getting past that “sin”. Jesus did not ask Peter to explain himself; Jesus’ purpose was not to cause Peter greater guilt, but instead to help Peter to understand that he could release himself from his guilt, simply by understanding his priority of love of himself and others.

This is not to say that Peter did not fail.  Of course Peter failed. But Jesus was not one to focus on failure. And I don’t think that Jesus asks his followers to focus on failure either; I am convinced that Jesus’ message is one of “moving on to the better you.”  If the better “me” were the norm, than spiritual growth would not be necessary; and yet this statement does not mean that I am broken or unworthy, it simply means that like all children I must grow.  Peter grew in his ministry with the knowledge that he had failed and yet he had also moved on; my hope is that Peter would then be able to allow his students the same freedom.  My question is, can I afford the people in my life a chance to heal?

The trick it seems is in understanding that there is still a truth to the pain caused by poor action.  I must realize that I have affected someone by my actions, and I must take ownership and command of that action. In the 12 Steps this action is taken when I admit to harm, and then seek out those whom I have harmed in order to make amends.  Making amends gives me the ability to move on; but, and this is a big caveat, I must not create further problems when cleaning up the first problem.

Peter may have felt the need to deny his failure but Christ did not support that need; instead Christ offered Peter three opportunities to profess his love; the same amount of times that Peter had denied him. When we encounter those whom we have harmed, we cannot expect for them to give us Jesus’ understanding; however, we can approach them with Jesus’ acceptance of ourselves and of them; more importantly we can give them as many opportunities to profess their love to us as we feel they have harmed us.

In the past couple of weeks the power of healing has been a bright spot in understanding for me.  C.S. Lewis once wrote, and I paraphrase, “just because one has discovered that they are on the wrong path, does not mean that they are now where they want to be.” In other words, if I am driving to a destination north of my home and I enter the highway going south and drive for some miles it will take more than my recognition of my mistake to amend those miles once I turn the car around.  It is in the journey back toward my original location that healing takes place; of course unlike a physical journey such as and errant car ride, a spiritual journey probably will never take one back to the origination point; the importance of this is, give yourself, and others, the time to heal from their error, and in that time not only will all parties heal they will also find the destination of forgiveness.

The story on the shore helps us to understand that our wrong actions do not create us; however, our reactions to our wrong actions do. We are offered the opportunity to feel our guilt, own our “sin”, and make corrective actions. Jesus basically said feed those who may have harmed you and give them the occasion to remember that they love you. Most of us do not feel harmed by random people on the street; we merely react to those people based on a hurt that we carry with us. Healing from our hurts, and allowing others to heal from their hurts will give us a much smoother ride once we realize that we were driving south and our destination was in the north.

Peace All.

Were You There?

There is an old Christian spiritual entitled “Were You There”.  The verses of the song lead the Christian believer along the path of the Crucifixion of Jesus the Christ.  The purpose of the song is to remind the believer of their responsibility in the  brokenness in the world; questions such as, “were you there when they nailed him to a tree and were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” are reminders that this brokenness is the cause of suffering and death.  

I have been reminded of this old spiritual for the past couple of days, while hearing the stories coming from Ferguson, MO, and discussions from around the world about the death of Mike Brown, and I have been rather vocal about my feelings on the subject, partially because my daughter-in-law has been posting so much information on Facebook, and mostly because I think that we need to be vocal about atrocities when they take place.  Reflecting on Ferguson should cause each of us to reflect in the same way that “Were You There” calls the faithful to reflect.  Ferguson is not a tragedy because of Mike Brown, Ferguson is a tragedy because we can still avoid the recognition of ourselves in the streets of Ferguson. 

I have been told many times, “I can’t comment, I wasn’t there.”  I disagree.  We were there on the day that Mike Brown was killed.  We were there because we placed ourselves there each time that we ignored or participated in prejudice in action.  When we as a people can believe that the poor are poor only because of bad decisions, and not because of our own elitist ideologies, we create the need for riots in the streets of Ferguson. 

I have been involved in a couple of discussions about the rioting, and my answer is always the same “rioting is a poor choice; but what do you suggest a society with no voice do to be heard?”  I do not condone the rioting, but neither do I condone the ideology that keeps oppressing the poor, whether the poor be Black, White, Hispanic, or any other human being. When Mike Brown was killed and the community cried out did we answer? Most of us did not.  Most of us did what we are conditioned to do, we waited for the news story to change so that we could move back into a world where we can deny that we were there, and those who did not walk away are making us very uncomfortable.  In the Christian Easter Tradition, the song “Were You There” is highlighted during Holy Week because within Holy Week the faithful are to be reminded that they are a community, and that their actions can be part of the problem; Ferguson is simply re-introducing us to the truth that we were there all along and not paying attention, just like the song reminds the faithful that they are present at the Crucifixion each time that they harm their neighbor in one way or the other.

I suggest that we talk abut Ferguson, not with language of understanding what happened between Mike Brown and the police officer (a tragedy such as this cannot be understood) but in the language of helping each other to see our part in those streets.  I have been blessed to be clean and sober for a bit over 27 years.  In my early years of sobriety I found solace in the rooms of AA and what that experience taught me, and still teaches me, is that we are all exactly alike.  Each and every human being has the same hopes and dreams.  We may have different mask, but rooms like AA help us to remove those mask and traditions such as Christianity should help remove those mask as well.  Songs such as “Were You There” exist so that the faithful will ask themselves what part they are playing in the brokenness of the world, and Ferguson continues to be active because we are refusing to acknowledge that we are part of the problem.

Ferguson is not about who is right and who is wrong (I am pretty sure there is right and wrong on both sides), although it is difficult to avoid placing blame when something this tragic takes place; Ferguson is about the possibility of becoming a better society.  “Were You There” when Mike Brown was killed?  I was; I know very few who were not, but Ferguson can open our hearts and Ferguson can make us look at each other fully, maybe for the first time.  I hope to see the person in every single man or woman who walks beside me or who passes me; all I have to do is strive to see how alike we are and stop looking for how we might be different.

Peace

Ken