Do I look suspicious?

That’s what I asked the children gathered at the chancel area for our weekly conversation, after I removed my robe and stole and put on my hoodie.

Do I look suspicious? Do I look dangerous or threatening? Or do I just look like Pastor Dave with a hoodie on?

They all thought I just looked like myself, albeit wearing odd clothes for a Sunday morning worship service.

I responded with something like this:

That’s what I think too, I just look like me in a hoodie. Unfortunately, the sad, sad truth is sometimes in our country and around the world, sometimes people get scared of other people who look different from them. People who have a different skin color or people who wear different clothes than them.

And the extraordinarily sad truth is that sometimes when people are scared of other people, they hurt them. They hurt them with their words by saying mean things or they hurt them with their bodies.

When I hear reports of that, it breaks my heart. And I believe it breaks God’s heart too. Because one of the things we learn from Jesus, one of the things Jesus did a lot, was talk to people. People who looked different from him. People with a different skin color, people of another race. People who dressed different or believed differently than him. He talked with them. And you know what else he would do?

What do you have to do besides talk in order to have a conversation? [One child responds, Let them talk.] That’s right! And what do you do while they’re talking? [Listen]. Listen, exactly. That’s something Jesus did, he would really listen to people. Even people who were different from him. Even people his friends thought were dangerous, people his friends thought he should have nothing to do with. Do you think Jesus said mean things to people? Hurt them with his words or his actions or his body or with weapons? No, he didn’t. He didn’t.

It’s hard because sometimes when we’re afraid of something, it changes how we act. So our challenge today is to remember that even when we’re afraid – maybe especially when we’re afraid – God is with us. God still wants us follow him, to live like Jesus did. What does Jesus say about how we treat others? Treat others the way… you want to be treated.

Do you want to be treated well? I do too. Do you want people to say mean things to you? No, I don’t either. Do you want people to hurt you? No. I don’t want anybody to hurt you. I don’t want anybody to hurt me.

That’s part of how we conquer that fear: we live that way. We live in the way we want to be treated. Think we can do that? I think so.

Thanks for all the ways you follow and love Jesus.

After that conversation I put my robe and stole back on over the hoodie and kept it that way throughout the rest of the service. I saw some quizzical looks sent my way. I noticed some others chuckling. Still others seemed not to react at all. After worship concluded, a few people asked me about the hoodie. I’m told others were heard asking each other, “Why is he wearing that?”

While I fully acknowledge that it is fairly lame for me to take almost two weeks to offer a response to those legitimate questions, I hope this post will help make sense of my words and actions.

To be honest though, while I was deliberately trying to be subtle while talking with the kids, I expected most of the adults would quickly and easily connect that conversation with current national events.

But it seems my allusions weren’t so clear after all. Or perhaps the news of Trayvon Martin’s murder just hasn’t spread as far and wide as I thought it had.

Has that changed in the nearly two weeks since? I certainly hope so. If you need a refresher, Wikipedia has a terrific and detailed account of the case. Or, to really dive into the racial aspects of the case, spend some time perusing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ posts.

It seems Trayvon was wearing a hoodie the night he was shot to death by George Zimmerman. Geraldo Rivera claims the hoodie made Martin look suspicious and thus, by extension, it was fine for Zimmerman to shoot him.

Obviously I was neither in Florida when the shooting occurred, nor do I have any special insight into Zimmerman’s reasons for fatally shooting a child. That’s not what my conversation and my wardrobe were about.

I kept my hoodie on because violence against children breaks God’s heart and it breaks my heart, too. I kept my hoodie on in solidarity with all those gunned down in our streets and in our classrooms. I’ve never been violently attacked. Neither have my children. I kept my hoodie on to acknowledge that I’m aware what a rare privilege it is to be able to say that. I kept my hoodie on to point out how ridiculous it is to hurt someone based on what they wear. I kept my hoodie on to remind us that racism not end with the Civil Rights movement of the ’60’s.

I said what I said and wore what I wore as a way of being honest with our children about fear, violence, and racism. I said what I said and wore what I wore as a way of being honest about pain and sorrow in the world. I said what I said and wore what I wore to remind us that fear and violence and racism break God’s heart. They are not God’s way in the world.

But I also said what I said and wore what I wore to remind us that in spite of all those sins, as prevalent as they are, we still have hope for the world.

I had that conversation and continued to wear my hoodie to remind us that racism and violence and fear and ultimately even death are not God’s dream for the world. God’s calls us to live a different way; a better way. The way of Jesus: loving God and loving neighbor. Even when – especially when – that neighbor is one we want to call ‘enemy.’

I kept my hoodie on throughout our March 28th worship service because – no matter how silly it seemed to some, nor how confusing it was for others – it was a way for the real suffering of the real world to break through our sanctuary walls and remind us that as followers of God in the way of Jesus, our place is always alongside those who are hurt, dejected, discriminated against, marginalized, or oppressed. Because that is where we find Jesus.

My church makes the news

Ok, so it was for TribLocal and we wrote the story ourselves. But it was the featured story for a while! That counts for something, right?

Anyway, it looks a little something like this:

Did you know there are as many as 27 million slaves in the world right now?

C+R_Large_poster_10_2_08.indd 

Woodridge United Methodist Church is trying to change that. Will you join us?

The statistics are shocking. There are more slaves in bondage today than ever before. In 2007, slave traders made more money than the combined profits of corporate giants Google, Nike and Starbucks. CALL+RESPONSE is a critically acclaimed, theatrically released, feature rockumentary that shines the spotlight on slavery in the 21st century.

Actors and activists Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd, Daryl Hannah along with prominent luminaries Dr. Cornel West, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, New York Times’ journalist Nicholas Kristof and many others offer first hand accounts of the modern day slave trade. Throughout the documentary, these cultural figures share the frightening facts about slavery today.

Lending their voices and songs to the cause are award-winning musicians such as Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, Five For Fighting, Cold War Kids, Matisyahu, Emmanuel Jal, Imogen Heap, Talib Kweli, members of Nickel Creek and Rocco DeLuca, whose musical performances are perfectly in sync with the film’s important message. Dr. West makes the connection between music and slavery, noting that during slavery in America, the only two things a slave had were their bodies and voices.

First time filmmaker/musician Justin Dillon learned about modern day slavery while touring in Russia. His translator, a young girl, told him about an exciting job opportunity in the west. The job offer sounded a “little too good to be true,” and Dillon decided to investigate the offer on his own, discovering the job was indeed an attempt to trick the young girl into a form of slavery. Upon his return to the United States, Dillon decided to act, “I was infuriated that here in the 21st century, there are people living as slaves, with no hope, no options and no future. I knew in my heart that it was up to me to make a difference, to take a stand and actually do something to put an end to this abominable business.” Dillon reached out to politicians and advocates along with musicians, he put out the call and they responded.

Join Woodridge United Methodist Church on Wednesday, February 15 at 7:00pm for a screening event of CALL+RESPONSE. After the screening, the Director of The Salvation Army PROMISE program and Founder of Anne’s House, will present ways modern-day slavery is being fought in the Chicago area. The screening is free and childcare is offered.
Be part of a film experience that has enlisted over 350,000 activists around the world to demand change.

For more information about CALL+RESPONSE, please visit www.callandresponse.com.

For more information about the CALL+RESPONSE screening, please visit www.woodridgeumc.org/learn/call–response

If you’re in the Chicago area, will you join us? Come on Wednesday. Watch the film. Listen to the speaker. Be moved. Be inspired. Let your heart be broken by injustice that breaks God’s heart. Ask questions. Take action. Bring a friend. Be an abolitionist.

“Rise up, early” to #endslavery

I’m in the midst of planning a screening of the documentary, Call + Response, at my church. National Human Trafficking Prevention Month will be over by the time we show the film on February 15. But, at risk of being cliché, any time is a good time to fight slavery.

While exact figures are exceedingly difficult to determine, our best guess is that there are between 27-30 million slaves in the world today. Human trafficking exists because there is money to be made at it. Lots and lots of money. Human trafficking makes more money than Nike, Google and Starbucks combined. By all accounts, it is the second most lucrative criminal enterprise (equal to or ahead of gun trafficking and behind only drug trafficking).

Given all that we’re up against in the pursuit of justice for today’s slaves, it is easy to get discouraged. And that’s where Call + Response comes in. I found it an absolutely inspiring film. Watching it re-energized my desire to be an abolitionist. That’s why I want to show it to as many people as possible on Feb. 15.

Go check out all the trailers, see if you aren’t intrigued. Also, take a listen to this haunting song which appears in the film. (In the movie, the band was under the working name The Scrolls. They’ve since changed it to Works Progress Administration.)

Does any of this move you? What will your response be? Will you become an abolitionist?

#NHTAD in the midst of #NHTPM

There are as many as 27-30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, today.

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Image via Wikipedia

Today, January 11, 2012, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. But just one day is truly not enough. And, honestly, “merely” raising awareness is just not enough. Fortunately, this year President Obama declared all of January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

It seems to me that the vast problem of modern-day slavery/human trafficking has become much more visible in mainstream media. It’s certainly all over Twitter. (Just search #NHTAD.)

Heck, there’s even an anti-human trafficking opera now!

There are no so many organizations fighting trafficking, so many people engaged in this struggle to end oppression. My blog roll is in desperate need of updating to reflect all the excellent people and groups I’ve become aware of (mostly through Twitter) who are also abolitionists.

Just yesterday I watched Call + Response for the first time. It is an excellent film, mainly for raising awareness – but also for inspiration to, well, respond. Modern-day slavery is (it should almost go without saying) a blatant, disgusting, soul-numbing, mind-blowing, body-paralyzing evil. This film reminds us of that. But it manages not to get stuck in the funk. In fact, it uses the funk to inspire hope! (Trust me on this. Or, better yet, see the film yourself! We’re hosting a screening at Woodridge United Methodist Church on Feb. 15.)

My hope and prayer is that, wherever you are on the abolitionist journey, you will keep learning, sharing and acting to end slavery in our time.

A few ways to respond today, this month, always:

Learn some basics.

Watch videos from Not for Sale’s Global Forum on Human Trafficking.

Read teen author, Zach Hunter’s ideas to end slavery.

Check out retreat resources from United Methodist Women.

Read about The United Methodist Committee on Relief’s efforts in Armenia.

See how educators like Holly Boardman are inspiring – and being inspired by – their students to end slavery.

In the words of Justin Dillon, writer, director and producer of Call + Response:

This is an open source movement. The platform is written, everybody simply needs to write their code on top. What are you good at? What do you care about? Has this issue touched you? What is your response going to be?

The church is my biggest platform. I will continue to challenge the people of Woodridge UMC to fight slavery locally and globally. God dreams of a slave-free world. We long to bring that dream to life. (Plus I’ll update that blogroll.)

What is your response going to be?

In support of workers’ rights

Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. (‘Cause I’m all super fly Web 2.0 like that.) Anyway, most weeks, whatever I wrote for eNews also ended up here. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but now I think it is high time for full disclosure about that. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor. (Yes, there is a story behind the name. Remind me to tell it sometime…) Occasionally, when it seemed appropriate, I’ve subtitled my letter/column/post amalgamation Justice Advocate. This was one of those weeks.

We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. – ¶163B Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s right, friends; Justice Advocate returns this week in an attempt to offer you tools to aid your consideration of current events.

Why? Our Scripture and our tradition provide many reasons. Here’s just a couple:

In the Old Testament reading from last Sunday (Feb. 20), Leviticus 19, God commanded the people of Israel not to harvest their entire fields. “You shall leave the gleanings of your harvest for the poor and the alien.” And of course the lesson ends with those wonderful words that were the source of Jesus’ teaching: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A couple weeks prior (Feb. 6), we heard from the prophet Isaiah (58:1-12) admonish God’s people. Isaiah, speaking on God’s behalf, told them (and, we believe, us today) no matter how pious their worship, God would not hear them or respond to them because “you oppressed all your workers.”

In other words, concern for the poor and taking care of others was built right into the Law from the very start!

As for tradition, The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society (GBCS), the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church, reminds us,

From its start with John Wesley, the Methodist movement has focused particular attention on the concerns of workers. Justice, dignity and equality for workers are an integral part of our social teachings and heritage. For 100 years, we have fought for a living wage in every industry and our Social Principles make clear that we believe people – not profits – should be at the heart of our economic system.

The GBCS statement on Labor and Worker Justice concludes,

As United Methodists, we are called to stand with workers – in our churches and communities – to ensure their basic rights are protected and their labor is valued.

Put all of that together and I think it is crystal clear why on Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church wrote to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker asking him to reconsider his attempt to remove the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. Our scripture, our tradition and our Book of Discipline all demonstrate the need for workers’ rights to remain in place!

Furthermore, Wisconsin leaders from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church of USA, United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church joined Bishop Lee in that effort.

This debate among our neighbors to the north has generated a lot of media attention. Now it seems our neighbors to the east are considering a similar measure. Some of my hometown friends worry that our neighbors to the west will soon do the same. Will Illinois follow suite? We shall see…should make for an interesting spring!

Want to learn more about the intersection of Christianity, workers’ rights and budgets? Try these:

Interfaith call for a just and equitable budget

Thoughts from Sojourner’s

Religious Voices in Wisconsin from Huffington Post

Add your voice on behalf of workers’ rights with Faithful America

UPDATE: Just came across this very insightful post from Forbes’ Rick Unger further exposing just how duplicitous Wisconsin Governor Walker is being in this matter. Here’s a taste:

If the Wisconsin governor and state legislature were to be honest, they would correctly frame this issue. They are not, in fact, asking state employees to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs as that would not be possible- the employees are already paying 100% of the contributions.

…While the governor of Wisconsin is busy trying to shift the blame to the workers in an effort to put an end to collective bargaining, the reality is that it was the state who punted on this – not the employees. Further, by the state employee unions agreeing to the deal proposed by Walker on their benefits (as they have despite Walker’s refusal to accept it) they are taking on much  – and possibly all – of the obligation out of their own pockets.

UPDATE 2: Today, Feb. 28, the Board of Church & Society tweeted: “What does the Church say about labor unions?” With this link on the main UMC site: http://fb.me/SzR2CLDI Just thought I’d share the happy coincidence!

Can we talk?

I need to ask you a question. It is, admittedly, a slightly impertinent question.

But first, a quick story.

I’m guessing this will sound familiar to many of you. As a dad, there are a number of conversations with our kids that I find myself having over and over. Which is to be expected, right? Our kids are 3 and 5; repetition is an important part of how they learn. (That’s probably true for many of us who are well beyond those ages too!)

One such exchange that I keep having with Joshua, our 5 year old, goes something like this:

Joshua: Daddy, how are we going to ______? (E.g. get to school, be home, go to the birthday party, etc.)

Me: How are going to get there? By driving.

Joshua: Oh.

Me: Joshua, do you mean when are we going to _______?

Joshua: Yeah! When are we ________?

Me: In about _____ minutes/days/months/etc.

Joshua: That’s too long!

This happens over and over. I do not know why, but Joshua just cannot quite differentiate how from when yet. Oddly, it never goes the other way. Josh never asks when when he means how. Perhaps all this is some great insight into human perception of spatial and temporal events and how they are interrelated?

If so, I don’t seem to be smart enough to know what that great insight is.

I do, however, know a different question that’s been vexing me of late:

For any Woodridge UMC’ers here: In the life of our church, how do we have good and deep conversations about things that matter?

For you who aren’t connect with WUMC: In the midst of the varying rhythms of life, how do you have good and deep conversations about things that matter?

Or maybe the question is better asked:

When (or where) (in the life of our church or outside it) do we have good and deep conversations about things that matter?

I’m delighted to say I was honored to participate in four such conversations this week:

  • On Tuesday, members of Team Capital spent long hours asking tough questions about how to refine our building project into what will be best for the church.
  • On Wednesday, our group of alert and bright Confirmands asked excellent, deep questions about the bible, about truth, about God, about Jesus, about interfaith relations…way more than we could respond to in one sitting. But as our time together for the evening drew to a close, one of our 7th graders gave voice to what we were all thinking, “this was great! This was our best session yet!”
  • Later on Wednesday, a small group of our high school students pondered ways they can lead efforts to eliminate bullying from their schools. We tried to define “bullying”, examined online behavior, and prepared for Saturday’s summit with a Lockport youth group on this topic.
  • Then Thursday, representatives from Small Miracles Preschool Board, Youth Council, Trustees and both Pastors met to honestly examine all the logistics and consequences and symbolism and possibilities and concerns regarding the proposed room changes. There was (and is) tension about this. But there is also much hope and excitement.

It was a thrill and a joy (and a bit exhausting) to be a part of those conversations. They fed my soul and I appreciate all who were involved. I believe we honor God with such conversations. They help us follow Jesus for they are practices of faith.

But they also makes wonder. How about you?

How (or where or when) are you engaging in deep, life-affirming conversations?

How do we invite more people in our lives to so engage?