Friday, July 22, 2016

Seeking Peace in a Violent World

I didn't watch very much of the Republican National Convention this week.  I was already somehow both emotionally numb and emotionally raw from the shootings of black men by police and the shootings of police, as well as the news of terrorist attacks in Europe, etc. etc. etc. (As I write this, news is breaking of yet another terrorist attack in western Europe.)  I didn't have the stomach for the speeches spewing fear and at times hate at the RNC.  

I wish I could say that I thought things would be much better at the Democratic National Convention next week, but I think there will be plenty of fear talk there too.  There may be a difference in kind and/or extreme--I'm not trying to create a false equivalency, my own personal beliefs say there are real differences--but let's face it, fear works in American politics, so does demonizing your enemy and so do promises of security.  Both parties peddle the stuff; neither can be absolved from appealing to our society's worst instincts.

I've been thinking dark thoughts this week.  

This week I reached a new level of realization regarding the fact that the white privilege I enjoy will not protect my sons from the effects of systemic racism in my culture.  Within my family, my sons are just Julian and Jameson and I forget the color of my son's skin is different from mine, but outside our family the culture will not let me forget.  When asked I've always explained that my adopted sons are bi-racial (African American and Caucasian), but I've realized maybe that's wasted breath, because the world will see them as black and treat them accordingly.

I've felt weary lately thinking about the world my sons will inherit.  Not only does racism burden my thoughts, but also the violent nature of our current politics, our indifference to climate change, economic inequality, sexism, homophobia/transphobia, etc. etc. etc.

I'm telling you I've had dark thoughts this week.  

I haven't been much fun to be around.  I've had to apologize to a few folks to whom I've sent an e-mail reply too quickly without thinking through my words or to whom I've posted a particularly uncharitable comment on social media.  Instant communication is not my friend when I'm thinking this way.  Clearly I need to go back to handwriting snail mail.  By the time the letter is finished, I will have cooled down and can throw it away.

Like I said, dark thoughts.

I suppose these thoughts about the world around me relate to how I'm thinking about the world within me.  My fears for my sons have a lot to do with my own feelings of inadequacy re: being a white man trying to prepare my black sons for the world.  For that matter, my fears about the world, have a lot to do with my fears about how I'm doing as a parent in general.  I knew parenting would be difficult, but I never thought it would be this hard.  My discouragement about the violence in our world and in our politics has a lot to do with my fears about my own faith journey. Do my own faith practices actually reveal that I'm following Jesus or am I just another consumer of shallow religion that offers no real benefit to the world?  For that matter, in my role as a minister, which kind of religion am I really offering?

Dark thoughts.  Fearful thoughts.  (I'm pretty sure there's something in the Bible about  "there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear."Hmmm. . . maybe I should look that up.)

I've been looking for inner peace this week just as I've been searching for outer peace in our world.  The thing is, of course, it's pretty hard to see anything but turmoil in the world when there is turmoil inside oneself.  There is always beauty, always hope, always joy to be found if one has enough inner peace to see them--even in the midst of a violent world.  

I'm not there yet this week, but I thought I'd share a few things that helped me, both of which are worth listening to.
  1. The first was this week's episode of "Into the Mystic" by UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer.  It's titled "Peace on Earth" and in it he uses the chaos happening at the RNC just outside the national UCC offices in Cleveland as a stepping off point to talk about the need for people in the world who are instruments of God's peace.  You can listen to it on the UCC web site or on ITunes.  I subscribe to the podcast and I'm always glad I listen to it each week.  It's five minutes in length usually, but it makes a difference in me.
  2. The second was an interview with Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize winner Thick Nat Hanh on the public radio program "On Being."  The monk talks about the difference one makes in the world in terms of peace when one is at peace inside.  We either cause suffering or ease suffering depending on our inner state.  The program also has interviews with people who have been helped by his teachings, including a police officer who uses his wisdom in her training of fellow officers.
I'm not sure how you filter the onslaught of daily news of violence in our world or how you find peace inside yourself, but I'm interested in hearing about it.  

God knows I can always use the help.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. In recent sermons I have shared about presentations on white privilege I have heard which are given by the UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer.  You can listen to one I attended in Charleston, SC on the anniversary of the killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church.  It is well worth listening to and he offers one of the best explanations of white privilege I have ever heard.  He does so by beginning with his own experience of being taught racism in his own family.  

Recommended Read and Listening 7-22-16 Edition

On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

United Church of Christ News
Responses to Killings of Police Officers and the killings of black men by police
Racism and White Privilege

"Losing My Religion for Equality"--Jimmy Carter tells about why he left the Southern Baptist Convention over it's treatment of women

Gun Violence
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool
  • Perhaps the best thing about my seminary education was getting to take courses on spirituality with Glenn Hinson. I (like so many others) am grateful he has been a part of my journey. This is a wonderful interview with him.
  • "Stopping Traffic"--As a minister I get to be in a lot of funeral processions. I'm always grateful for drivers who pull over to show respect. This blog post eloquently describes how I feel about those who don't.
  • "Eight Warning Signs of a Bully Church Member"--spot on in my experience, especially numbers one and eight

Recent Sermons

  • You can click here to listen to my sermon from July 10: "Don't Be Like the Good Samaritan"  If you missed it, here's what it's about:
The story told in Luke 10:25-37 is most often called the "Parable of the Good Samaritan," but nowhere in the story does it say the Samaritan was good.  Often our idea of a good person amounts to little more than cultural respectability rather than God's idea of righteousness.  Rather than only thinking of ourselves as the Samaritan, we should think of ourselves as both the wounded man left to die and the passersby who do not stop to help.  Jesus calls us to be the Samaritan, but we are too wounded or too busy to fulfill that role.  As white people become more and more aware of the ever-present racism in our culture, we are called to examine our own wounds and why we too often pass on by.
  • You can click here to listen to my sermon from Sunday, July 17: "Subversive Religion"  If you missed it, here's what it's about:
The hymn the apostle Paul uses in Colossians chapter 1 describes Christ in cosmic terms.  This description of Christ as pre-existent, active in the process of God's creation and the one who reconciles all things offers us a subversive way to understand the Christian religion.  This Christ subverts our understanding of power and political allegiance.  It subverts our cultural divisions.  It subverts our own limitations and the limitations we place upon others.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Either Black Lives Matter or the Police: It's Not That Simple

I stayed up late watching news of the killings of five Dallas police officers (Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa), just as I had stayed up late earlier in the week watching the coverage of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.   As soon as news broke of the killings of police officers, I knew what would happen.  Sure enough, when I awoke, cable news was awash with politicians and pundits declaring the killings were the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement.  One US Congressman declared that saying "Black Lives Matter" is a betrayal of MLK, Jr.'s dream of a color blind society and anything other than "All Lives Matter" was un-American.
Pundits, members of the media and maybe all of us seem to need to distill the complicated issues of race, violence and law enforcement down to a single simple narrative.  Either you are on the side of black people or you are on the side of police.  To grieve the senseless death of police officers means one must reject the claims of Black Lives Matter activists.  To react with horror at the numerous killings of black men by police officers means one must view all police officers as enemies. 
I reject this kind of either/or thinking.
Reasonable people may think, "Of course we can care about black lives and police lives," but we are not living in reasonable times.  In our current culture of daily violence beamed to our smart phones, there is little time for reflection or resisting the allure of simplistic political and media narratives.  The social pressure to demonize one side or the other is immense.  God calls us to resist the temptation to choose either one point of view or the other.
My heart can be broken for black men killed by police AND for police officers killed.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can declare "Black Lives Matter" AND declare "Police Lives Matter" without one cancelling the other out.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can validate the experience of black people mistreated by police AND validate the experience of police who feel unappreciated and unfairly judged.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can protest systemic racism in law enforcement AND express gratitude for the many members of law enforcement working to deconstruct that same racism.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can hold police who are given the power of life and death to high standards of accountability AND I can acknowledge the difficulty police officers have when making split second decisions regarding the use of force.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
On my better days, I follow Jesus Christ who condemned systems of violence and oppression AND loved the people caught in those systems.  He teaches us we do not have to choose either one or the other.
Grace and Peace,


P.S. After I wrote this, I found a clip of Trevor Noah on the Daily Show saying basically the same thing.

Recommended Reading and Listening: 7-8-16 Edition

On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

Responses to Killings of Dallas Police Officers and the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
The Anniversary of the Killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church
Presidential Election and Religion
  • The Theology of Donald Trump--Written by a Republican who has served in the last three Republican presidential administrations, so I was a bit surprised to read it and discover I agreed with every single word of it. An incredible and articulate piece of writing.
America and Violence
Hunger and Food Deserts
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

You can find more stuff that I think is worth reading, watching and listening to by following me on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Response to the Orlando Terrorist Attack at The Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL by Rev. Chase Peeples

KC Interfaith Service

Picture of the participants of the KC Interfaith Service Held for Victims of Orlando 6/12/2016
CCCUCC Assoc. Pastor, Bethany Meier. in attendance

A Response to the Orlando Terrorist Attack at The Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL
by Rev. Chase Peeples

Dear CCCUCC family,

We awoke Sunday morning to the news that a gunman had opened fire at a night club in Orlando, Florida killing at least 20 people.  By worship time, more news had spread--that the night club was one frequented by LGBTQ people and the number dead stood at 50 with more than that wounded.  Although the full horror of the attack had yet to hit us and most of us had not yet seen images of the scene of the attack, one of our own members, Jonathan Overall, stood during the prayer time to state he had grown up near the club and was worriedly watching his phone for updates from friends in Orlando to see who was alive and who, if any, of his friends were missing or dead.  We left church yesterday still learning of the depth of the crime committed against LGBTQ people in Orlando.

This attack strikes at the soul of our congregation, because we have chosen to answer God's call to be Open and Affirming of LGBTQ people--people who have become essential members of our congregation.  LGBTQ members of our church and those of us who are straight allies understand this violence can happen anywhere at any time, yet it is still a shock when it does occur.  It is particularly jarring that the largest terrorist attack/mass shooting since September 11 was carried out against an LGBTQ night club.

It is sickening to see politicians and religious leaders offer condolences to the victims of the massacre who regularly condemn LGBTQ people and demand the passage of laws which would discriminate against LGBTQ people.  Similarly, it is sickening to see politicians scapegoat all members of one religion because a deranged man declares he kills in the name of God.  It is sickening to watch as our nation's leaders shrug and offer empty platitudes in response to yet another mass shooting carried out with weapons created only for killing.  

Yet, we are not abandoned to our fates as a people drowning in our own disease of violence and cynicism, for God has not abandoned us!

As we grieve, as we experience anger, as we lament crying out to God on behalf of those who grieve their children, family members, friends and lovers this day, let us not be overcome by despair.  As evidenced by the spontaneous vigils popping up across our country--such as the one in KC last evening that our own Bethany Meier attended with other area faith leaders (see picture above)--the number of people on the side of love is far greater than the number of people on the side of hate.  Our work of love is not lonely work, but instead we are joined by people of many faiths and no faith who believe in pluralism, inclusion and equality.

Although we grieve and cry today; although we experience fear for ourselves and our loved ones today; we are promised by our loving Creator that death does not have the last word and hate shall be overcome with love.  Our mission as a church remains what it has been to proclaim the good news that God loves all people and that God stands with the powerless and oppressed.  We must continue our work to declare that any voice that uses the name of God to justify violence abuses the God of love who created all of us.

I invite you to stop what you are doing and pray the following prayer with me and the members of our congregation:

Our loving Creator, we cry out to you on behalf of the blood of your children shed in Orlando, Florida.
We bring to you our pain, anger and questions.
We cry out to you to offer peace to the dead, comfort to those who mourn and healing to those who remain wounded in mind and body.
Help us not to give in to despair.
Remind us that Jesus Christ demonstrated there is more power gained from loving our enemies than by responding to violence with more violence.
Help us to proclaim that you have created LGBTQ people in your image and they should be embraced rather than demonized.  Enable us to demonstrate the power of Christ's welcome to LGBTQ who have been attacked in word and deed by religious people who claim to know your will but deny your commandment of love.
Help us to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters who have been slandered by the actions of a nihilistic few who claim to act in the name of a peaceful religion.  Enable us to stand with them as they face the venom spewed by politicians seeking to divide us one from another.
Grant us the ability to trust in you for a better tomorrow, so that we might act in accordance with your will for a just and peaceful world.
Remind us that even in the face of terror and violence that love is stronger than hate, forgiveness is stronger than violence, hope is stronger than despair, joy is stronger than cynicism, hospitality is stronger than rejection.
We pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ who wept at the death of a beloved friend, who forgave his murderers and who demonstrated that God's love is greater than death.

As proof that we do not engage in our struggle alone, I have included below statements from our national officers of the United Church of Christ and the Open and Affirming Coalition of which our church is a part, and the Center for Progressive Renewal of which our Missouri Mid-South UCC conference is working with.

Grace and Peace,


Statement by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition
and the UCC's National Officers
Grieving in Orlando

Today the United Church of Christ and the Open and Affirming Coalition stand with the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida, and with all who are grieving for the victims of the massacre at a gay nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Their grief is our grief.

We pray for the families and friends of the 50 who were killed.

We pray for the many injured and for their doctors and care-givers.

We renew our resolve as a church to work in Florida and in communities across America for the safety, dignity and freedom of our LGBTQ members and neighbors.
We renew our resolve as a church to work for sane laws that will curb the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

We now know the assailant was a U.S. citizen and a Muslim. We join with the leaders of Muslim communities in the United States who have denounced the attack in Orlando and the unreasoning hatred that motivated it.

The time has come for churches to end the spiritual violence they perpetrate against their LGBTQ members and neighbors. Preaching hate against others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity has taken a terrible toll of lives lost to suicide, and is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We call on every church to stand with, and not against, the LGBTQ community.

We are angry, but we will not return hate for hate. Hate will not stop the cycle of violence--not in this country, or anywhere in the world. And so we remember at this time the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
"Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
National Officers of the United Church of Christ
Leadership Team of the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition
Open and Affirming Coalition | United Church of Christ | 216-926-6262 | 

A Reflection on the Orlando Mass Shooting
by Rev. Cameron Trimble
CEO, Center for Progressive Renewal

Today, we pause to lament.
We lament that our nation has experienced another mass shooting without a single piece of legislation passed since the last mass shooting to even attempt to prevent this one.
We lament the tragic loss of 50 lives that dared to display joy in what they deemed as safe space.
We lament that LGBTQ pride month has been interrupted by heinous homophobic mass murder.
We lament that islamophobic slurs from a presidential candidate have interrupted the blessed season of Ramadan.
Today, we pause to lament. More than just a cathartic display of grief or sorrow, lamentation, according to Catholic nun and noted author Elizabeth A. Johnson, is "dangerously remembering the dead in solidarity with their suffering and hope of future blessing...[which] has the capacity to nurture ongoing resistance to the victimization of others." Pride may very well be the most powerful act of resistance that exists for those whose lives are constantly assaulted by bigotry and hatred. If pride as resistance can diminish the future victimization of anyone, then by all means let us soon stand and march with pride again.
At The Center for Progressive Renewal, we believe we are stronger together than alone. We believe a collective effort to heal the world is more likely to produce solutions to the world's most complex and troubling problems. We believe the human spirit can be healed, the capacity for abundant life does exist, the common good is attainable and that we all have inherent worth and dignity. Today, we grieve the loss of 50 innocent lives who lived that reality by their own acts of joyous resistance to homophobia.
If we are ever going to change the world, we are going to have to do it together - every single unique, beautiful one of us. And it starts by embracing our whole selves for everything God created us to be and our neighbor as ourselves.

We're in this together,
Rev. Cameron Trimble
CEO Center for Progressive Renewal

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recommended Reading, Listening and Watching--4-6-16 edition

Recommended Reading and Listening
On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

CCCUCC in the News
United Church of Christ in the News
  • UCC Leaders Speak Out Against North Carolina Transgender Law
  • Great story of what happened when a UCC church in OK was picketed and harassed by an extreme anti-abortion group--area Muslims, Jews and atheists came out to protect their Christian neighbors.
  • For Earth Day this year, the UCC is urging congregations to speak out on keeping existing fossil fuels in the ground rather than exploiting them and furthering climate change.  The campaign is called "Keep It In the Ground."
SJR 39 the MO LGBTQ Discrimination Bill
MORE2 in the News
Faith and the Election Season
Race and Racism
God and American Culture
  • What Dave Ramsey Doesn't Get About Poverty by Rachel Held Evans--I'm the first to admit my family uses Ramsey's financial management tools, and they work for us, but my wife and I are white and middle class. I don't think Ramsey's financial management principles are unique to him, but rather he's just better at marketing them to Christians than others. When Ramsey gets into politics, he steps out of financial principles and into an ideology that ignores systematic racism and systematic poverty as barriers to economic advancement. As Rachel Held Evans says, his "blame the poor" philosophy ignores scriptural precedent, not to mention the teachings of Jesus. We will continue to use Ramsey's tools, because they are accessible and they are working to get us out of debt, but I never have nor will I ever respect the man Dave Ramsey.
  • Persecute Me Please: God's Not Dead 2 and the Evangelical Lust for Victimhood  This nails what's wrong with American evangelicalism. It's written by a skeptic, but I feel closer to him than I do to people who turn out for awful films like this one.
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool