Wednesday, April 28, 2021

practice grace

 


I believe the road of true holiness is the pathway of love. Since God is love, we can only be loved into the way of becoming more like God. A harsh rebuke does little to change anyone. A judgmental spirit only makes matters worse. Love has a gentleness about her. She is companionable. She knows that growth takes time. We do not become mature by cold fiat, impersonal declaration. Friendship transforms us.

God is our friend. If I can be a friend, I will be more like God. You might say, “Yes, but sometimes a friend needs to say hard things to their friend.” And that is true. But if the hard sayings of friendship begin to outweigh the simple acceptance and affirmations of friendship, I dare say it will not be long before you will lose the friendship. If history teaches us one thing, it teaches us this: judgment is so destructive because it is addictive. Once we start, it is hard to stop.

God is not like that. God is not some frowning person always reminding us of how we are constantly falling short.  If that is your image of God, it is not an accurate image. God is the one who not only loves us but God is the one who /likes/ us, imperfect as we are. After all, we are God’s children. How could God not like what God has made?

Because God is love, God is patient with us as we respond to the ways in which God is inviting us to grow. As one author puts it: God has "a surplus of warmth" towards us. God believes in us; that is what Jesus showed us. Jesus showed us that “sinners” become “saints” not by condemnation but by grace, acceptance and true friendship.

“I no longer call you servants…Instead, I have called you friends,” Jesus said. This is an appeal to those who desire to follow Jesus. Let God renew within you this way of grace…not only towards others but also towards yourself. God does not bring down the hammer on you. Let’s not bring it down on others. Practice the way of grace.

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 practice grace

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Josue Michel via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

the critique of a funeral

 

Prince Philip’s funeral was held yesterday and millions watched it, thanks to the wonder of broadcasting. And today I am disturbed by the kinds of comments many people are making about it, some of whom claim to be Christian.

If I may, I would like to log this request in advance for when I die: if you attend my funeral, please don’t critique it on social media, with your friends, your family, or even in your heart and mind. Better still, just don’t critique anyone’s funeral. And don’t compare, either.

A life has been lost. Different people have different ways of marking the significance of this. Respect those differences. Honor and esteem others, even if you would prefer your funeral to be different than theirs.

And, please, please respect the particular faith tradition represented. You may not share the same faith, but this does not mean the faith of others is any less deep and truly in touch with the heart of God.

Just be a space-holder for those who are most keenly affected by loss. We do this through reverent, gracious presence. Space-holders know that these special times of remembrance are, in fact, the holy ground of eternity. A funeral is no time to analyze and evaluate. It is a time to pray for the hurting, to just be with them. Though it is fine to offer a few words of comfort, it is also good to keep in mind that words tend to fail. Just be present. Your presence is enough. Look and listen with love.

 

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the critique of a funeral

reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady  

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday: Jesus is arrested, crucified, and buried

It seems strange that so many Christians would refer to this day of Holy Week as “Good Friday” when this was a day of injustice, torture, and death for our Lord. How could such ugliness be called good?

Perhaps Christians refer to it as good because this is the day we remember that there is no evil which can overcome the greatness of God’s self-giving love, shown to us in the life—and death—of Jesus. This is the day we remember God’s humility; though Jesus could have “powered up,” he instead chose to “let go.” This is the day we remember that God truly did become one of us, identifying with us even to the point of suffering and dying. This is the day we remember that God grants forgiveness, a grace which we all need, a grace that gives us all the opportunity to start again. This is the day we remember that God’s love binds us together in new ways, as Jesus entrusts his disciple John and his mother Mary to care for one another as family. And this is the day we remember the promise of future deliverance even in the face of certain death, as Jesus assures the criminal being crucified beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Maybe Christians call this day good because it is a day when God shows that nothing is beyond the reach of God’s redemption. Ultimately, it is a mystery how the horrific events that took place on this day so long ago can be called good. And that’s what faith is for. Faith is the response that is perfectly suited for such mysteries and is itself a mystery…like love.

The video below tells the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trials, crucifixion, and burial. If you are watching this with children and they become upset, you may want to read to them the rest of the story in John 20:1-18. After watching the video, I invite you to take some time to wonder and reflect:

  • I wonder who you would be in the story if you had been there?
  • I wonder what you would have thought or felt at various points?
  • I wonder what Jesus was thinking and feeling at different times?
  • I wonder what the most important part of the story is?
  • I wonder how you might respond to this story today?








Friday, March 26, 2021

Centering the Dialogue: reflections on gender, race and religion

 


On March 18, I issued an appeal to white evangelical men in light of the mass murder that took place in Atlanta on March 16. A friend asked why I directed my thoughts to such a specific audience, calling attention to the question of racism and the shooter’s denominational background. I replied that I would have to get back to him and I am finally getting around to it. Since our conversation has been shared publicly, I wanted to share my thoughts with you all here. I pray it is helpful.

With love,

Troy

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My friend,

Thank you, once again, for sharing your thoughts on my appeal to white evangelical men.

You wondered—with good reason, I feel—to what extent it is helpful to view this incident through the experience of being 1) white, 2) male, and 3) evangelical. Since the perpetrator confessed to being a sex addict who wanted to eliminate temptation, isn’t it far-fetched to assess this incident on the grounds of gender, race, and denominational affiliation? Implicit in this is the question: “Why address only ‘white evangelical men’? After all, lust cuts across all genders, races and denominations.”

I do think you are correct that “white evangelical men” are not the only people who struggle with lust. I do wonder, however, whether the perpetrator’s lust may also be viewed in the light of racism, misogyny and his denominational background. Thus, I would like to share with you why I addressed “white evangelical men” in this instance.

Since we are sharing this conversation publicly, I will clarify something for other readers which you already know about me: I myself am a white man and I am familiar with the evangelical sub-culture as an insider. Consequently, I am myself included in whatever critique I offer. I also want to say that I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I do at least want to share from where I am in my own learning journey thus far.


Centering the conversation

To begin, I want to pause and establish a center. I want to do this because it’s critical when discussing race and gender relations to establish whose experience is being “centered” in the conversation.

I’ll give an example of this: when a woman is raped by a man, it is common for the man to center the incident on his own experience. Typically, he does this as he offers the excuse that the woman tempted him, and it seemed to him that “she wanted it.” If we center the incident on the woman’s experience, however, we get a very different picture. It is the truth, in fact: she was attacked and coerced.

The reason so many men get away with rape is not only because there may be a lack of compelling evidence against them but mainly because so many people are prone to doubt the woman’s account. It is really a failure to “center” the incident upon whom it should be centered: the woman. It is a failure to see what happened from her perspective and to believe her.  

In the case of the Atlanta shooting, the question is: whose experience should we look to as our center? Is it the perpetrator (who happens to be a white man) or is it the experience of the Asian American community, and especially the voices of the victims?

My answer to this may sound shocking to some because, precisely speaking, neither group is at the center of this question for me. As a Christian, I want the heart of Christ to be my center.

And right in the center of the heart of Christ are the suffering ones, the ones who have been crying out for deliverance from oppression. He hears the voices of the marginalized and his life showed us that he was partial to the oppressed because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He is the one who teaches us how to listen to them and heed their cries, to be compassionate and to identify with their suffering.

And, so…as I try to attune my heart to the heart of Christ for the suffering ones, I first need to listen to what he wants to say to me through the voices of those who are suffering.


A long history of race-specific abuse

When I listen to those voices of suffering, I hear them crying out against a long history of race-based oppression…by people just like me. I hear how they have been treated by white people all throughout our country’s history. And, in every instance, I hear their outcry as (time and time again) their mistreatment is explained away by white people in terms that enable them to deny their deeply entrenched racism.

One example of this is when Asian Americans were sent to internment camps in the United States and white people described the imprisonment as a way to PROTECT Asian Americans from harm. This little twist of logic was sick in that it was perpetrated under the guise of helping a vulnerable community while (in reality) Asian Americans were being robbed of their own livelihood and treated as the property of white people, controlled and subjugated. This logic was, in fact, used as a cover-up for the sinful spirit of white supremacy, plain and simple.

Lest we label this atrocity as “ancient history” and something we can now leave behind as “a thing of the past,” I like to keep in mind that just a few years ago I was able to sit across the table from someone who had lived in one of those internment camps. Far from ancient history, this is still living history in a very real sense. It is nothing short of a miracle that the woman seated across from me was able to tell her story to someone like me who looked a lot like those who imprisoned her—another white man. It is a testament to her perseverance and grace alone that she could do such a thing in a spirit of equanimity.

Meanwhile, during this same period (and even prior to it) American men overseas had been stoking the flames of the sex trafficking industry in Asia due to our country’s military presence there. In an essay for the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, Sunny Woan speaks to how these historic evils play out in real situations today, as in the case of the incident in Atlanta this week. Specifically, the essay describes how Asian women have been (and continue to be) sexualized by white men in America. Woan explains:

“White men's fascination with Asian women in pornography stems from early nineteenth century Western imperialism. To colonize the Asian nations, countries such as the United States flooded Asia with military forces. As an inevitable result of military presence, prostitution centers consisting of local civilian women sprung up to cater to the White servicemen. With these sexual experiences as their main, if not only, encounters with Asian women, White servicemen returned home with the generalization that Asian women are hypersexualized and always willing to comply with White man's prurient demands. This germinated even more interest in Asian women as sexual objects. To sustain this increased interest, the Asian sex tour industry developed. Asian sex tourism further perpetuates the stereotype of Asian women as hypersexualized and always willing. If Asian women are perceived as hyper-sexual, it understandably follows that sexually explicit materials, pornography for example, would include a preponderance of Asian women.” (293)

And, this is, indeed, the case. In her essay, Woan cites a study conducted in 2002 in which it was shown that, of thirty-one pornographic websites that depicted the rape or torture of women, “more than half showed Asian women as the rape victim…” (292)

Based on the research of the noted social activist Helen Zia, Woan asserts that there is, indeed, “a direct connection between racial-sexual stereotyped pornography and actual violence against Asian women.” (292-293)

In this light, it is easy to see the race-based connection to the recent incident in Atlanta. It is all-too common in the United States for white men to view Asian women as sexual objects subject to their control. In this instance, the control exerted by yet another white man extended even to the point of life-and-death. Certainly, this is a scenario that is tragically familiar to the Asian American community (from one generation to the next) here in the United States. The outcry which I have heard from my Asian-American friends tells me that this story of oppression is long-standing. Enough is enough!

It is important to notice here that even the pornography industry is not an equal opportunity business. It targets specific populations in specific ways to keep them under the thumb of oppression. In this instance, white men are particularly prone to feed on the stereotype of the sexualized Asian American woman through their consumption of pornographic material that is inherently racialized. This is why I invited white men in particular to reflect on how race and gender played a role in the incident.

Of course, it could also be noted that lust, generally speaking, is a form of spiritual violence to the sacredness of any human being. At its core, lust dehumanizes not only the object of one’s lust but also oneself. In this instance, the perpetrator chose to focus his lust on Asian American women, and then he chose to “eliminate the temptation.” Notice how his words dehumanized them!

The question is: Why did the perpetrator target this particular group? Is it just because of some general form of lust? Was his violence taken out on a group of people at random? Was it like, “Oops! I didn’t even notice all those people I went to kill were Asian! I’m colorblind, after all.”

Even if he was unconscious of this, I suggest he didn’t choose those three massage parlors according to mere random selection. Given the history of racism towards Asian Americans in this country, it is certainly worth talking about the race factor. One thing is certain: if we do not think about or talk about race as a factor, it will just stay buried under the surface, perpetuating the pattern over and over again.


Excuses, excuses…

My invitation to white evangelical men to put some more thought into all this has to do not only with how there might be a link to the shooter himself (which seems apparent, given Woan’s thesis) but also how white men are prone to respond in ways that deflect attention away from questions of race and gender.

It is telling that, whenever violence like this is done to people of color in the United States, so many white people always seem to find a ready supply of reasons to explain the violence in a manner that deflects attention away from the racism inherent in it all. Excuses abound, such as:

  • ·        the victim had a police record; or,
  • ·        they were on drugs; or,
  • ·        they shouldn’t have resisted arrest; or,
  • ·        what were they doing in that place, anyway?; or,
  • ·        it was just an unfortunate accident; or,
  • ·      “they” do this to “themselves” too, you know—it’s not just white people.

The point is: every time abuse like this is explained away in terms like that, the pain cuts deeper—the heart of Christ floods to overflowing with the tears of the wounded. And, yet: the excuses abound.

The sad news is: it is the deflection that “they do it to themselves” which I hear most frequently from evangelical Christians. And it is this excuse that, I do believe, hurts the most. It is particularly hurtful because it is a subtle way in which the oppressor tries to turn the oppressed against themselves. More than just shifting the blame on the victim, they would place the blame on the whole community and tear them apart from the inside. In light of this, I can only imagine that Christ’s heart floods today as in the days of Noah as he joins in the cries of all those who are suffering at the hands of such callous actions and rationalizations.

I take some comfort in the fact that Christ hears these cries, even if we don’t. God forbid, however, that I would use that reality as an excuse to remain ignorant of another’s pain. No, if I am going to draw nearer to the heart of Christ, I cannot relegate the ministry of compassion to Christ alone. His heart must become my heart. I am compelled to listen to their cries.


The policeman’s excuse

In the instance of the Atlanta shooting, the excuse given by a white police officer was that the shooter just had “a really bad day.” He added the words “and this is what he did” to this excuse, presumably to warn others about what can happen if they or someone else they know has “had a bad day.”

It is this same police officer who, just months earlier, had purchased a t-shirt that described the coronavirus as “imported from Chy-Na.” He posted it to his Facebook account to get a few laughs without a single thought as to how hurtful such a sentiment is to his fellow Asian American citizens.

His inability to de-center the “white American” experience when doing something as simple as choosing an article of clothing is plausibly related to his inability to de-center the white man’s experience when being interviewed about the shooting incident. Simply put, he was unable to hear his own words through the ears of the Asian American community. If he had, he would have heard how thin of an excuse he offered to them and how (with his excuse) he had intensified their trauma, revictimizing them.


The perpetrator’s excuse and the sin of white supremacy

This inability to de-center the “white American” perspective could really be called “white supremacy.” It is the view that the primary perspective is the white perspective. It is telling that most white people, when hearing this expression, will cringe and will tend to dismiss that “white supremacy” is even real.

To be forthcoming, I interpret such a denial as evidence that it is, indeed, very real…and very personal. I say this because our inability to do even a little soul-searching can only reinforce our sense of supremacy. If we refuse to look at it and talk about how it manifests itself in our lives, it will continue to rule our hearts.

I bring this up now because it should be noted that all the excuses which merely dismiss the racial realities intrinsic to the incident itself are experienced by communities of color as yet another example of white supremacy. It is the way people like me fail to see how race is entangled in it all.

Simply put, white supremacy puts white people in the driver’s seat. Here in the driver’s seat, we can easily control when, how and by what route we will reach our destination…and we can even define the destination itself, not to mention the starting point of the journey. In this instance, white people have a peculiar ability to use different methods to get to the same destination: a place called “It’s Not Our Fault.”

Thus, the perpetrator himself gave a different excuse than the policeman, but both ended up at the same place, shifting the blame to some other source, while avoiding at all costs the indisputable fact that the locus of hatred was centered on the Asian American community. But anyone who takes even just a little time to listen to the cries from this wounded community cannot deny that they have experienced this as yet another attack on their sacred humanity specifically as Asian Americans at the hands of white people.

God, grant us courage to look deep inside to see our pride and plead mercy in a spirit of brokenness and humility. That is what we need right now instead of just more lame excuses that overlook the heart of it all. Lord, humble us. Attune our hearts to your heart. Attune our hearts to the cries of those we have hurt by our action, by our inaction, by our silence, and by our excuses. Amen.


What of evangelicals?

If we can accept the links in this case to white male dominance in our society, we next need to ask, “What of the evangelical factor? Why, specifically, did I ask white evangelical men to do some soul-searching? Shouldn’t this include white men of other denominations, too?”

I suppose part of the reason I did this is because the perpetrator himself had an evangelical background. Another reason is that I am familiar with the evangelical sub-culture. And over the years I have heard them again and again making the very same excuses I listed above. I cannot tell you how many times I have lamented the fact that the people who are supposed to represent Christ to others resemble Him so poorly.

To this, I often hear Christians reply, “Christians aren’t perfect; just forgiven.” And to this I can only imagine how the passion of Christ quickens as yet another excuse is manufactured in an attempt to let white evangelical men off the hook.

Of course, Christ doesn’t want us to just be forgiven. He wants us to be transformed.

So, in this instance I have to wonder 1) how the perpetrator’s evangelical background may have contributed to the incident, and 2) how facets of our evangelical sub-culture only make matters worse.   

I will leave those questions to another essay, which I hope to share in a few weeks. For now, this provides enough to chew on, I feel.

In any case, thank you for your good questions. I hope this has been helpful so far.

Peace,

Troy