Thursday, December 09, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Zombies

I've been thinking a lot about zombies lately. And no, I'm not talking about musician, movie director, and scary movie buff, Rob Zombie, although I'm sure he'd be able to add some interesting points to the conversation! And yes, I suppose the fact that Halloween is around the corner might have something to do with my current ponderings, but really, it's so much more than that. After all, if I can find wisdom in Silent Hill, why not zombies? Theologically speaking, it's really not that big of stretch—we were all made in God's image, one of the ways in which we were created in God's image is that we are ourselves creative, therefore we can find God in our creations. Including horror genre and... zombies!

So what wisdom hides in such horror gems as Romero's indie classic, Night of the Living Dead? Ok, ok, purists will point out that Night of the Living Dead does not deal in traditional Hatian-style zombies, just go with me here, ok? In one interview, Romero said,
"I wanted something that would be an earth-shaking change. Something that was forever, something that was really at the heart of it. I said, so what if the dead stop staying dead? ... And the stories are about how people respond or fail to respond to this. That’s really all [the zombies] ever represented to me."
An earth-shaking change that people either respond or fail to respond to—I think we may have something here. My observation has been that the base human reaction to earth-shaking change is fear. How we deal with this fear becomes the important question.

Some people mask their fear in laughter, sometimes cruel laughter. One of the most quoted lines from Night of the Living Dead, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" is said by Barbara's husband as he derides her fear of graveyards. Laughing at your own fear can be a powerful tool (Riddikulus!) but when you turn that laughter into a weapon to belittle others it's hardly helpful. It is perhaps a piece of poetic justice that Barbara's husband is killed by the zombies soon after delivering this line.

Some people simply refuse to face their fear in one way or another. Barbara later allows herself to descend into hysteria followed by pure disassociation. We can hardly blame her, she's taken a great blow to her psyche, but in the end it isn't helpful and reduces her character to an old-fashioned stereotypical "useless female."

And of course, some people respond to fear with violence. Sometimes the underlying fear is obvious, as when the main characters fight—at times with words, at times physically—over how to best survive the night. Sometimes the fear is less obvious—hidden behind a screen of dehumanizing pragmatism. Like this:

More and more we see headlines about people acting out of their fear in unhelpful ways, from Qur'an burnings to helicopter parents.

How do you deal with your fear? Would you survive a zombie infestation with your morals intact?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day

Happy National Coming Out Day, the internationally observed civil awareness day for coming out and discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

And let's face it, there are still issues to discuss. I'm sure we could all name several, but today I'm willing to jump on the bandwagon and talk about the recent suicides that have been all over the media as if suicide among queer teenagers is a new epidemic. Truth be told, though, as long as our society considers it ok to tell people that an integral part of themselves—that a deep part of who they are as a person—is disgusting at best and sinful evil at worst, then the queer community will still have to deal with this kind of tragedy on a higher than average basis. And as long as ineffectual methods of dealing with bullying in our school systems are in place, it'll be that much worse for our queer students.

The statistics quoted in the United Church of Christ statement concerning this issue are absolutely sobering, "Nine out of 10 LGBT youth report being verbally harassed at school; 44 percent say they have been physically harassed; 22 percent report having been assaulted; and 60 percent say that when they report abuse, no one does anything to help or protect them." I don't care what your theology is, or how you interpret Leviticus, that is unconscionable!

The good news—and there is good news‐is that our society's culture is slowly but surely changing. I think R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, probably saw that this is true, as he shifted his sights from issues surround gay marriage to his issues with divorce in a recent article about "the marriage crisis." Even Exodus International has been making some new and interesting decisions, distancing themselves from a counter-rally aimed at Day of Silence. In a recent article, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International was quoted as saying, "All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbors as they'd like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not."

I couldn't have said it better myself.
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque—Not.

As I spoke to in an earlier post I've been educating myself so I can engage in interfaith work as part of my position as Associate Minister for Youth. I've specifically been learning more about Islam because I haven't had the opportunity to interact with many Muslims, because one of the leading national voices in the Interfaith Youth Movement is a Muslim named Eboo Patel—but also because, quite frankly, Muslims may be the most unfairly hated folk in the United States today.

Judging all of Islam on the basis of the September 11th 2001 Al Quaeda attacks is like judging all of Christianity on the basis of the April 24th-30th 1916 armed insurrection in Ireland known as the Easter Rising. Both events, while differing in scale, have both political and religious components. Neither event is indicative of their parent religion as a whole. And both occurred on dates where a major religious holiday will occasionally fall. Easter will fall on April 24th (not to mention the 25th, 26th, etc.) every so often, depending on the given year's lunar cycle. And the Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan will fall on or near September 11th every so often, depending on the given year's lunar cycle.

It's coincidence. And when you hear fearful people hate-mongering about it this year, I hope you remember that it is only coincidence.

I was also going to say something about the "Ground Zero Mosque" that folk are so riled up about. But then someone I have the utmost respect for posted the below video on Facebook today, and it says it much better than I ever could—even if the arguments are based in patriotism and not the hospitality that lays at the heart of my religion.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Children Can Handle It

I recently ran across this wonderful story of heroism involving the actions of an eight year old boy. It's actually not all that uncommon to see stories of young children behaving heroically—I suspect that you can come up with several examples just within that last week or so.

So what struck me about this particular story? Well, it is amazing to think about an eight year old minimizing the damage caused by his mother having a seizure on a four-lane highway through his own driving skills. But for me, the icing on the cake is this quote:
Prokos thinks her story provides a powerful message for other parents. A week earlier, she had experienced a seizure for the first time at her home, which her children had witnessed. Though she didn't yet have a diagnosis, Prokos made a point of speaking to Nicholas and his 14- and 17-year-old sisters about what had happened, and instructed them on what they should do in the event a seizure reoccurred. One of the scenarios they discussed was what to do if they were in the car at the time, and she recalls gratefully that Nicholas executed their instructions perfectly.

She urges parents to speak openly with their kids, prepare them for emergencies and teach them how to remain calm in the face of danger.

"My son saved my life, and he wouldn't have been able to do that if I had not been upfront and honest with him," she explains. "Children need to understand the reality of things, and should know that if a situation should occur, they need to be prepared to do a, b and c."

Our every instinct is to protect our children from the world. But sometimes the best way to do that is to give them the information they need—even if that information might be considered scary. Children can handle it.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Bullying

Over the last couple of months I've seen and read a lot of articles about bullying, its affects on youth, and the many social and legal ramifications surrounding it. It's a heavy topic, frequently accompanied by the assertion that bullying has gotten somehow worse in recent years. From the suicide death of Phoebe Prince and its legal ramifications for the South Hadley school system to the young man who was recently tattooed against his will, the news media seems to be telling us that bullying is an escalating issue—in frequency and severity.

I, for one, am shocked.

Quite frankly, I'm shocked that we (that would be today's adults) have fooled ourselves into believing that bullying was ever anything less than the intentional mental, emotional, and physical abuse of a student by other students. I'm shocked by our apparent surprise that bullying might result in the suicide of a teenager—have we already forgotten the murder-suicides of April 20, 1999?

I find it interesting that in the case of the tattooing, the bullies weren't juveniles. And they've been charged with actual criminal offenses:
Charged in the incident are Blake VanNest, Donald "D.J." Wyman, Ryan Fisk and Travis Johnston. None of the suspects are juveniles. Police tell the Union Leader a 15-year-old juvenile -- who allegedly bought the tattoo gun for $30 as a souvenir -- also will be charged.

VanNest was charged with two counts of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, tattooing without a license, indecent exposure, criminal threatening and breach of bail.

Fisk was charged with two counts of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, tattooing without a license, sale of a controlled drug, criminal threatening and breach of bail.

Wyman was charged with conspiracy to commit criminal liability for the conduct of another and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a minor.

Johnson was charged with conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a minor.

Fisk allegedly did the actual tattooing. When he was done, he and the others reportedly took the boy outside Johnston's home where a group of students waited to look and laugh while the victim was forced to drop his pants. Fisk allegedly gave the victim a bag of marijuana as payment for the humiliation.
And that's interesting to me because I have been saying for years, that if an adult had said and done to me the things that some of my peers did in high school, they would go to jail for abuse. Out in the "real world" the things that happen in our schools have names like "assault" and "battery" or at the very least "slander" and "libel."

I'm tired of hearing how surprised we are that bullying is as bad as it is. I'd rather see more articles on what to do about it. And I'd really love to see some theologians tackle the common moral issues around the whole thing. Common wisdom is to "stand up for yourself" by beating on the next bully that comes after you. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. I know that I found ways to survive bullying with my self-worth more or less intact—but I didn't do it by stopping the bullies.

Any constructive thoughts out there?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Orangutan and the Hound

I ran across this video on Facebook today, and it completely made my day! When was the last time you greeted someone with the loving abandon that these two have? I wish I could embed the video in my blog, but you'll just have to click the link instead. You won't be sorry!!
Orangutan and the Hound

Posted using ShareThis

Be good to each other!
Rev. Josh

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Complete with Children!

Sheldon asked me if I would do a Children's Sermon on Mother's Day, and of course I said "yes." Then I called my mother! I asked her if she was willing to send me some old pictures of herself with little me to use for the Children's Sermon—so she agreed not only to do some scanning for me but to have pictures of herself shown to my new congregation! I'm so thankful for her willing helpfulness!! The pictures below can be en-biggened by clicking on them, and what follows is the way the Children's Sermon ran—to the best of my memory.

I made a simple PowerPoint presentation with some of the many pictures my mom e-mailed to me. I carried my laptop from work into the sanctuary and sat down in one of the huge wooden chairs in the chancel. Emmi says that I was quite a sight, booting the thing up in my lap while sitting in that old chair, in that old space, fully robed for worship. We may reenact it so she can do some photography! In any case, the time came for the Children's Sermon and I sat on the front step with the laptop in my lap, facing the children. At this point, I can't see what's on the screen, and neither can most of the congregation.

"So you're going to have to help me." I tell the children before asking them, "What do you see in this first picture? Describe it for me."

"A girl with a baby!"
"Do they look happy? Sad?"
"They look sleepy!"
"They look sleepy?"
"Ok, what's happening in this picture?"

"Christmas is happening! Do they look happy?"
"Ok, what's in this picture?"

"The girl and the baby in a bean bag!"
"A bean bag chair? That dates it a bit!" says a woman sitting in a pew in the congregation.
"You know what? I put a bean bag on my list for my birthday!" says a little girl sitting on the floor in front of me.
"You want a bean bag for your birthday?" I ask, ignoring the horrified looks coming from the little girl's parents.
"Ok, what's in this picture?"

"A mom and her son sitting on a couch!"
"Do they look happy or sad?"
"How about this one?"

"The mom is kinda looking at the son!"
"They're on the same couch!!"
"Ok, what's in this one?"

"The same mom and son in another chair."
"Is that the one that looks like it might have a tent in the background? Do you think maybe they're camping?"
"I think that's the last picture! So let me ask you this: who do you think that baby is?"
"You!" this said with a definite undercurrent of "duh."
"So who do you think that lady is in the pictures with me?"
"Your mother!"
"Yup! That's my mother. And based on what you saw in those pictures, do you think she loves me?"
"Me too. I think she loves me very much. So one of the things I like to do on Mother's Day is thank God that I have a mother who was there for me, and is still there for me, and who loves me very much. But another thing I like to do on Mother's Day—and this is a little sad—but there are people who don't have their mothers anymore, and there are people who don't get along with their mothers very well. But God is there for them, and loves them very much, just like a mother. So on Mother's Day I like to pray that God will be a Mother for them. So please pray with me: Loving Mother God, we thank your for our mothers, who are always there for us and love us very much. And we pray for the people who don't get along with their mothers, or whose mothers aren't here on earth any more, that you would be their Mother. And we pray these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
And I do have something for you to help you remember what we prayed about." I hand out bright yellow pencils with writing on them. "Can someone tell me what that says?"
"Smile. God loves you."

Smile, God loves you,
Rev. Josh

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Language of God

You can click on the movie to see it larger on YouTube! Enjoy!

Be Good to Each Other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, April 01, 2010

On the Home Flood

I grew up in North Stonington. It is very strange to see the surroundings changed so very much over a single weekend...

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Girl Scout Safety?

I just ran across this debate on Safety Clicks and they make a point that neither The Today Show nor the Girl Scouts seemed to have described accurately. The big issue with this "infraction" is that a young girl states her full name on camera on the internet—which is a pretty standard example of "risky internet behavior."

Is the vigilance of her father enough to keep her safe after spreading her image and full name all over the internet? I have no idea. What do you think?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Monday, March 29, 2010

Busy, Busy Boy

I have indeed been a busy, busy boy. And you must be dear and faithful readers indeed if you are seeing this apology for the infrequency of my blog posts! But maybe if you see just a little bit of what I've been up to, you'll forgive me?

One of the things I've been doing is educating myself in how to do interfaith dialogue. To that end I recently attended an event held at Hartford Seminary that focused on dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

We were greeted by this looping video:

World of Islam

Krista Iman | MySpace Video

We watched the first few minutes of this video:

And we watched all of this one:

We also had the opportunity to speak with and ask questions of four eloquent and intelligent Muslim folk—each with their own background and experiences ranging from growing up Muslim in Turkey to growing up Catholic in California and converting to Islam later in life!

We even got to eat some awesome Mideastern food! Omnomnom! Seriously though, I was touched and inspired by these people—and one concept that really resonated with me was the idea of working towards a more fair representation of Islam in all media—not just the news but also movies and television. It reminded me a lot of Jay Silverheels working towards finding more and better roles for Native Americans in movies and television.

Just to show you how quickly I have to shift gears at times, I was also working on a sermon for Palm Sunday! And no, I did not find a way to link Islam or Jay Silverheels to Palm Sunday. I did, however, end up utilizing My Chemical Romance, believe it or not. For the online posting of the sermon, click here or click on Rev. Josh's Sermon Archive in my sidebar under the heading "Church."

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Monday, February 22, 2010

Youth Director

This video inspires me to a series of two word phrases: One shot. Three takes. Holy crap!

Be creative,
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 19, 2010

One Great Hour of Sharing

One Great Hour of Sharing from United Church of Christ on Vimeo.

Share your resources,
change some lives,
be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010


In a previous post I said that the Motion Picture Association of America has " set standards for their ratings, but rather a secret cabal of industry insiders and extremist social conservatives who dole out ratings apparently based on how funny it makes them feel." I also said that this was a rant for another day, and I think maybe that day is today! So let me explain.

I said that the MPAA has no set standards for their ratings because there is way too much wiggle room for subjectivity and outright bias in the way they define their categories. For example, the MPAA says that "...depictions of activities related to a mature theme may result in a restricted rating for the motion picture," but nowhere defines what these "activities" or "themes" may be—leaving the ratings board carte blanche to define them on a case by case basis in secret.

Which brings me to the next point, where I called the ratings board a secret cabal of industry insiders and extremist social conservatives. The secrecy of the board is one of my biggest pet peeves concerning their system. They claim that it is to avoid bowing to outside pressures—which should beg the question of who gets to be on the inside. This is one of the many subjects tackled in the 2006 film This Film Is Not Yet Rated, wherein filmmaker Kirby Dick hires a private investigator to find out who is on the both the ratings board and its board of appeals.

I used the term "industry insiders" because the appeals board (the only recourse a filmmaker has to argue against the rating their film has been given) was found to have The President of Trans-Lux Theaters, a film buyer for The Movie Experience, the chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Theatres, a film buyer for Regal Entertainment, the President of Archangelo Entertainment, the CEO of Fox Searchlight Pictures, the COO of Maya Cinemas, the vice president of sales for Sony Pictures, a vice president and film buyer for Landmark Theatres, the CA/NV chapter president of North American Theatre Owners, the VP of operations, west coast division for Loews Cineplex Theatres, the director of American Film Market—and two clergy, one Methodist minister and one Catholic priest. (What? No UCC? On second thought, that's not so surprising...) So while the MPAA says that "No one is forced to submit a film to the Board for rating..." it does so with the knowledge that the people who buy and distribute the movies to the theaters are sitting on its appeals board.

I used the phrase "extremist social conservatives" based on the differences in ratings and feedback between Hollywood and independent films, between homosexual and heterosexual sexual situations, between male and female sexual depictions, and between violence and sexual content. While this clearly has no baring on the difference between a G and a PG rating, it plays a huge role in the difference between an R and an NC-17. And while the MPAA says that "NC-17 does not mean 'obscene' or 'pornographic' in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense," the truth is that their appeals board—sorry, I mean distributors, you can why I got confused there. The truth is that movies with an NC-17 rating will not get widespread distribution. Which means that the appeals board—sorry, I mean studio executives—won't support them.

Even putting aside the infected, ingrown nature of the ratings board and its board of appeals aside, I think that many parents aren't utilizing the MPAA ratings for their stated purpose any more. Why? Well, at best the MPAA is claiming that that all parents have the same rules concerning the appropriateness of movie elements for all children. Reality is that every parent has different rules—hopefully based on the fact that every child is different! That's why websites like Kids In Mind have come to the forefront. Kids In Mind has detailed synopses of films so parents can make informed decisions concerning the appropriateness of the film for their children.

In case you haven't noticed, I love movies. I really don't want to malign the studios, distributors, and theaters. But in all honesty, until the MPAA improves their entire process for ratings, I'd like to have as little as possible to do with them. If you're a parent, go to Kids In Mind and take the time to make your own informed decisions. If you're an adult, or your parents say it's ok, rent an independent film every once in a while. Maybe if we all do, things will change.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Haiti Aid

Good afternoon everyone! I found out this morning that a blog has gone up chronicling an aid trip to Haiti. One of the members of the group is also a member of the congregation I serve. I've been following along and it has been very down to earth and eye opening all at the same time. Please take a moment to check it out! I've added a link to the blog in my sidebar. It is under the heading "blogs" and is entitled Haiti Marycare.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

PS Yes, I posted twice in a day, so don't miss the post under this one!

Patriarchy Bites

I have often self-identified as a feminist, and in many ways I still am. Somebody recently sent me a video rant from The Nostalgia Chick. I'm not going to embed it because—well, if it were a video game it would probably be rated T (Teen) and if it were a movie probably PG-13—I won't link to the MPAA site because they have no set standards for their ratings, but rather a secret cabal of industry insiders and extremist social conservatives who dole out ratings apparently based on how funny it makes them feel. But that's a different topic for another day. The video I was talking about is entitled The Smurfette Principle and is a comedic feminist treatment of the animated cartoons that I grew up with. And the fact that I saw the funny/hurtful truth in the piece does still put me in the same camp as the feminists, I guess.

But more and more I think that the term doesn't apply quite as well as I thought it did. I first began having these thoughts in seminary, where I was very much in the minority because I was:

(A) Fresh out of college


(B) Male

I have distinct memories of being one of about three men, and the only one of my age, in a class of thirty or forty people. The conversation had turned to patriarchy, and I'd be agreeing with all the things the women around me were saying about the ills of that particular social system. Pretty quickly, however, they would stop saying "patriarchy" and start saying "men." By the end of the class I was slumped down in my chair, hoping that the mob wouldn't notice that fact that I have a Y Chromosome. I regained some of my courage after getting through the cafeteria line and sitting down at a table to discover that the women from my class seemed to have stopped resembling a mob. So I asked them if they had realized that they had taken their language concerning men to a place that closely resembled what patriarchy does to women? And I was basically dismissed, "Oh, we didn't mean you, Josh. You're one of the good men!"


I hope that what she meant was that I'm a man who isn't afraid to point out that patriarchy bites—for both genders. And I've been seeing a ton of stuff floating around the intertubes lately that have to do with how the patriarchal paradigm is hurting men!

For example, I ran across this story about a gentleman on his first day of working retail. He is given several packages of little girls' underwear to shelve, and he's wandering the store to figure out where they go. The funny part is supposed to be when the customer accosts him and accuses him of being a pervert. First of all, do you think it would have happened that way if he'd been female? Secondly, did you know that there are female pedophiles? It's not a male-only sickness.

Let me give you another example, one that doesn't bring pedophilia into it. Let's look at Benjamin Amos, who worked as a shift manager in a Starbucks in Sherman, Texas for seven years—until he was asked to resign because "the regional and district managers didn't like the tattoos" Benjamin had from the day he was first hired. When he refused to resign, he was summarily fired. So far the story is sketchy but possibly legal. The real kicker, however, is "the female employees in the store who have tattoos yet still kept their jobs." The only explanation? "...male tattoos are typically considered to be more threatening and aggressive than female tattoos -- which are considered more decorative and, if that's your sort of thing, sensual." Pure gender discrimination based on the patriarchal concept of all men as rough, tough, and dangerous and of women as fragile objects of desire who are to be put up on a pedestal and gazed upon.

And then... let's go back to this.

I'm usually one who defends comedy as—at times—necessarily inappropriate. If this skit was intended to be a comedic way to bring domestic violence into the spotlight, then it has failed. And the people who cried out against it also failed. It was a good thing to point out that Rihanna was a victim of domestic violence and that it wasn't cool to do a joke about domestic violence while she was a guest on the show. But it was a tactical error, in that the Rihanna piece completely overshadowed the rest of the argument; if the gender roles had been reversed, absolutely no one would have been laughing. Whether or not Rihanna had seen the skit before it went on air is not the question. The question is, what does the skit say to the male victims of domestic violence watching the show?

As I was writing that last sentence, I went to reach for a statistic... but I don't know how many male victims of domestic violence there were in the United States when that skit aired. And the reason for that is the patriarchal paradigm. According to a recent article:
...more than 200 survey-based studies show that domestic violence is just as likely to strike men as women. In fact, the overwhelming mass of evidence indicates that half of all domestic violence cases involve an exchange of blows and the remaining 50% is evenly split between men and women who are brutalized by their partners.
But the patriarchal paradigm says that you're no longer a man if you get beat up by a woman, so the above fact is largely ignored. And I don't just mean by people watching Saturday Night Live. The Department of Justice has historically refused to fund studies to research domestic violence against men. The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women is the only national toll-free hot line that specializes in helping male victims of domestic violence. And yes, they are getting calls concerning male victims—try 80% of all their calls.

But the most frightening thing is that the law is categorically not on the side of male domestic abuse victims. Because women can use the law to continue the abuse. 85% of the two million temporary restraining orders that are issued per year are made against men. Why 85% when 200 studies show that men are just as likely to be abused? But the nail in the coffin is this: A man who calls the police to report domestic violence is three times more likely to be arrested than the woman who is abusing him. How about that for a bad day? What other crime can you name where if you report it, the police are three times more likely to arrest the victim?

And why does this continue? How does this continue?
A recent 32-nation study revealed that more than 51% of men and 52% of women felt that there were times when it was appropriate for a wife to slap her husband. By comparison, only 26% of men and 21% of women felt that there were times when it was appropriate for a husband to slap his wife. Murray Straus, creator of the Conflict Tactics Scale and one of the authors of the study, explained this discrepancy: "We don't perceive men as victims. We see women as being more vulnerable than men."

That's the patriarchal paradigm at work. Call me a feminist if you have to, but there has to be some other word for what I'm actually saying... we need gender equality now.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Monday, February 08, 2010

Happy Birthday Boy Scouts!

It's Monday, February 8th, 2010, and the Boy Scouts of America is officially 100 years old! I somehow almost missed this, even though I had a really interesting conversation about the BSA with an old, old friend last summer. Well, let me back up a step or three...

I'm not going to name him here, unless he gives me permission later to do so—I wasn't able to ask him about this entry at the time of its writing. For now, let's just say that I've known him since he and his family moved to my hometown when we were both in 3rd Grade. For those of you who are counting, I'm pretty sure that I'm in 26th Grade now. In any case, he and I have a lot of birthday parties, school projects, youth group meetings, movies, sleep-overs, and your basic running around in the woods and having fun under our belts together.

And Scout meetings. We were Cub Scouts together for years, and we transitioned into Boy Scouts together, too. Once in Boy Scouts we took different paths, though. I kind of petered out. I don't know if I just wasn't able to incorporate myself into the existing group of older boys, or if I randomly lost interest, or if I was just that disappointed that growing up meant leaving behind the Pinewood Derby. My friend, however, went on to become an Eagle Scout!!

So, if we took such divergent paths concerning Boy Scouts, why were talking about it over fish 'n' chips at the Sea Swirl? I'm glad you asked! We were at the Sea Swirl because it's nearby our hometown and he was there to visit his folks—I was home because I was unemployed! Boy Scouts came up because I was telling him about someone close to me who had just come out of the closet. I think he could tell that I was a little nervous telling him about it, because I was clearly fine with my LGBT brothers and sisters—and I didn't really know where he currently stood on the subject. He immediately put my fears to rest when he confided that he had gay friends and that he was perfectly ok with it all, too. And that's when he brought up the Boy Scouts.

My friend told me that he'd been thinking a lot about them, how much he had gotten out of being a Scout and how he would like to give back to them as an adult leader. He told me that the reason he hadn't been volunteering with the Scouts was that he disagreed with their policy on homosexuals. For those of you who have missed the whole controversy, the BSA officially does not allow "avowed homosexuals" to acquire or maintain leadership roles or even membership in the Scouts.

I could see that my friend felt strongly about the good things that the BSA does for boys and young men in general, and had done for my friend personally. I could also see that he felt strongly about the social justice issues surrounding their leadership and membership policy. Legally, the BSA are a private organization, so unless they're getting funding from the government, they can be as discriminatory in their leadership and membership policy as they like. Perhaps the greater issue for the Boy Scouts is the possibility of losing the support of people like my friend—an Eagle Scout who loves the BSA in all other respects.

For what it's worth, seeing how strongly he felt about both things, I suggested to my friend that the time may have come for him to become involved with the Scouts again—and that if he feels that strongly about the one policy, that maybe he could affect change from within.

I hope that if I've made no other point here today, that it is this: I think the Boy Scouts of America is a good thing—but they could be a great thing. I hope it doesn't take another 100 years to get there.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happiness Is...

I keep running across stories that have to do with Christianity and firearms. I have always had a sincere problem with that combination. "Onward Christian Soldiers", praying for victory over our enemies, even "God Bless America" simply sit funny with me. There's plenty of that in the Bible of course, but most of it is in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If we stop to pay attention to the fact that Jesus did an awful lot of teaching between His birth and His resurrection, we'll see that Jesus told us to bless our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not pray for their downfall. Jesus told us that if we are struck on one cheek, we're to present the other as well.

On the other hand, my father was Navy. I have every respect for our brothers and sisters in the armed forces and I pray for their safe return. I sincerely hope that Trijicon Inc. was acting in that spirit when they decided that it was a good idea to print Bible verses on rifle scopes sold to the US military. Considering that the verses in question included 2 Corinthians 4:6 and John 8:12, it could be that was what they were aiming for. Unfortunately, those verses could also be interpreted as proof that the United States is engaged in a crusade against Islam.

I'd never thought about it that way before, but this is another very good reason to pay attention to the separation of Church and State. I've always said that separation of Church and State is of the utmost importance because it is what allows us to have the freedom to worship where and how we please. It is because of the separation of Church and State that we can print Bible verses on things without worrying about what the government has to say about it. For some reason some Christians seem incensed that the separation of Church and State also allows Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, etc, etc, etc, the very same freedoms. As a patriotic citizen of the United States of America, I say that this freedom of religion is one of the very best things about our country. And as the Muslim Public Affairs Council put it, "Allowing religious references to be placed on U.S. weaponry, which are bought and paid for by U.S. taxpayers, is unacceptable."

The other piece of news that relates to how religion and firearms shouldn't mix is the case of Scott Roeder. For those of you who missed it, or don't recognize the name, Scott Roeder is the man who walked into the morning worship service at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita and shot one of the ushers, George Richard Tiller, MD, in the head at point blank range with a handgun. George Tiller was the medical director of Women's Health Care Services in Wichita, one of only three nationwide which provided abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy. Scott Roeder was quickly arrested and confessed to the murder, which he claimed was justified, "Because of the fact preborn children's lives were in imminent danger..."

I suppose you can guess where religion comes into all this, Scott Roeder considers himself a member of the Army of God (USA) and claims the Bible as a major influence in his life. I have a huge, huge problem with this! Where does love God, love your neighbor, love yourself—the two greatest commandments and the basis for all of the Law and the Prophets—come into the decision to walk into a church and shoot a man in the head? How can you argue that every life is sacred, therefore I'm allowed to take one? Even if you're right about abortion, vengeance belongs to the Lord, not extremists with handguns.

Well, District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled on Thursday that "Scott Roeder's lawyers failed to show that Dr. George Tiller posed an imminent threat and therefore will not be allowed to ask jurors to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge..." So I guess the court is coming down in a similar place concerning whether or not the killing was "justifiable."

For my part, I'll try to take my own advice and not judge the man. And I promise that I won't shoot anybody in the name of Christianity. It would be pretty hypocritical of me.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Internet Data Privacy Day

I learned from an article through AOL that today is Internet Data Privacy Day. The article had an absolute wealth of links to all kinds of wonderful web sites dedicated to many aspects of digital literacy. I will be adding a section on internet safety to my sidebar in honor of today.

I think the most important quote from the article is "You as a parent need to catch up. But first you should make sure that you understand what they are doing. You also need to be sure that you've protected your own data sufficiently." Why? As it says on the American Academy of Pediatrics site, "While today’s tweens and teens may be more digitally savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues."

Please don't get me wrong, because I rarely make the mistake of selling today's tweens and teens short, but let's face it—our brains don't stop developing until our mid-twenties. Tweens and teens are by nature and definition not entirely mature. The years we spend as tweens and teens are all about figuring out who we are and becoming who we're going to be—and we always make mistakes as we go through that process.

Luckily, most tweens and teens have loving and caring adults who have seen what the big mistake—the truly horrible, life-altering mistakes—can be and desperately want to help tweens and teens avoid them.

I think that's why digital media, the internet, and even cell phones are so scary to many parents. It's all so new and it's more difficult to catch those big, horrible, life-altering mistakes before they happen. Difficult, but not impossible—that's why they need to catch up.

I think the most important site I saw today was the American Academy of Pediatrics site I mentioned earlier. It details, step by step, how parents and guardians can help their children of all ages not makes those really big mistakes. In all honesty, when I was growing up I thought that my parents were a little too strict. I hardly got away with anything fun. Now that I'm an adult, I'm thankful for it—just like the way that hard-to-please teacher got the best work out of me. My parents helped me not make any big, horrible, life-altering mistakes.

So here's my message to all the tweens and teens out there. Yes, I just asked your parents to invade your digital spaces. You might be angry with me about that right now. But I'm willing to bet that you'll be thankful for it later.

Be careful,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Time Travel

January has been incredibly busy for me in surprising ways—so much so that I've not done half the posting that I've wanted to here. I apologize for that, my dear and faithful readers! If I could time travel, I would go back to January 6th, to post pictures of The Journey of Homage. Why January 6th? Because that's when Epiphany is. For those of you who are behind on your big English words that are really old Greek words, an epiphany (little "e") is when you have a sudden brilliant idea—as if through divine inspiration.

As a holiday, Epiphany (big "E"!) is when we celebrate all of the ways in which it was revealed that Jesus of Nazareth was actually God in human form, walking and talking and eating with us! With Epiphany falling so close to Christmas, we don't usually end up talking about the angelic visitations and miracle birth and so forth very much at Epiphany—I guess we're all angel-ed out by January. Many congregations celebrate Jesus' baptism, a few take the time to remember the prophets Anna and Simeon and the things they said to Jesus' parents at his dedication (Luke 2:22-38), but many more tell the story of wise men from the East, following the star and baring gifts so that they can pay homage to the newborn king. We pay homage to Jesus at Christmastime by baring our own gifts to the homeless and needy—that's why it's called The Journey of Homage.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Earthquakes

I was going to wait a little while longer to post. And it was going to be the pics I finally tracked down of The Journey of Homage. But there's so much going on in the world right now.

Just in case you missed it, there have been several significant earthquakes in Haiti quite near to the capital of Port-au-Prince. My understanding is that the devastation is simply... horrible. Imagine the dead and dying laying in the streets alongside the terrified and exhausted survivors because hospitals were wrecked and overloaded and the living were staying outside for fear of more aftershocks...

And just in case your imagination isn't that good, keep in mind that probably at least one of your Facebook friends, or a member of your church, or even a classmate or co-worker knows someone in Haiti. My heartfelt prayer go out to the people of Haiti and the people worldwide who know them.

Already there has been an appropriate outpouring of aid from many sources. Being who I am and doing what I do, of course, the first I became aware of is through the United Church of Christ. As the UCC's appeal puts it:
The need is massive.

How You Can Help:

1. Pray for the people of Haiti their leaders and emergency and humanitarian aid workers.

2. Please help the people of Haiti by sending gifts payable to your congregation marked for "OGHS – Haiti Earthquake Relief" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries.


Send gifts, made out to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "OGHS – Haiti Earthquake Relief" to Wider Church Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.


Make a secure online donation to the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.
The second came to me through a Connecticut based non-prophet angency called Handy Dandy Handyman, which is completely masterminded by a member of the Roman Catholic laity. HDHM introduced me to Father Rick Frechette. You can contribute to his charitable work in Haiti here if you click on "January 12, 9:06 PM Haiti’s newest tragedy. We need God’s help" under the heading "What's New?"
The third place comes to me through Dennis and Leslie, who have worked with International Medical Corps in the past. Dennis writes:
IMC is my favorite NGO; it's got an A+ rating from Charity Watch, meaning that more than 92% of its resources go directly to program activities. Some of you may remember them as the people who Leslie & I interned with in Sierra... Leone. They're good people, they work fast, and if you were wondering how to help out, here's a good place to start.
Unfortunately, there's also a lot of incorrect information bouncing around the internet, like this Twitter hoax that I've already seen careening around Facebook. I'm hoping that the information in this blog entry will be helpful to you. Please remember to always do the research before sending anyone your hard-earned money!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh Sander

Friday, January 08, 2010

Epiphany & Stuff

In my last post I said I hadn't been planning on blogging until Epiphany, and here Epiphany has come and gone, and I'm only just now getting to it.

I was hoping to have some pictures for this entry, but I forgot to bring my camera on The Journey of Homage, and I have failed at laying ahold of anyone else's. Anyway, the Journey was a big success, in my humble opinion. Despite the fairly significant snowfall we had the night before and into the morning—we had about a dozen people walk and we gave out almost 90 bags total. But the best part was watching the people who came with me go from being terrified of even approaching people, to grinning and learning how to say "Feliz Navidad" and even giving out hugs! I'm proud of all my people.

Then, on the other hand, there's Wal-Mart and H&M. My jaw nearly ended up on my chest when I read an article this morning that outed them for destroying and throwing away clothing that hadn't sold. That's right, they not only threw away perfectly good clothing, but they intentionally destroyed them first so no-one could go through their trash and get something good out of it. This clothing isn't being donated to charitable organizations... why? And the fact that the spokesperson for Wal-Mart "acted surprised" simply does not wash with me. I've been hearing from people I know who work inventory, as well as folk who work retail, that this kind of thing is more commonplace than you and I might think. I sincerely doubt that Wal-Mart employees randomly came up with "let's slash 'em and toss 'em" on their own! At least the spokesperson for H&M had the grace not to "act surprised." Then again, maybe I'm just harder on Wal-Mart because they have a history of doing things like banning gay couples from their stores for not shoplifting. Read that sentence again. It says they were banned for not shoplifting.


But it's a new year! And I'm still convinced that there are more people doing good things in the world than there are folk doing horrid things. So to leave you on a hopeful note, I thought I'd share a word for the new year from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh