Bethel AME Choir

Wow. This choir. This song. Pretty amazing.

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On November 9th, 2016

I needed these reminders today:

  1. I’m reminded to look outside of (white) evangelical Christianity for a truthful witness about the USA.
  2. I’m reminded that loving my neighbor often requires a broken heart.
  3. I’m reminded that none of America’s electoral accomplishments satisfy deep justice.
  4. Most importantly, I’m reminded that the time of fulfillment has come (Luke 4:16-21).

What has helped you make sense of this election?

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An Open Letter to (White) Evangelicals on Voting

Dear sisters and brothers,

Although it’s sometimes difficult for me to know where I belong these days, I thank you for always including me and being such warm mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers in the faith. We have shared one another’s tables and sat in each other’s living rooms. We’ve had unforgettable times of worship and communion over the years. So many embraces of joy, laughter, and healing. I treasure your wisdom and feel pride for all of the gifts I’ve received from so many of you who would drop everything to help a friend. And yet today I have something kind of challenging to communicate–it’s about your support for Donald Trump.

Just to be clear, I’m not going to suggest that you vote for Hillary Clinton or that anyone should act against their conscience. In fact, that’s my main objection to folks like us participating in this circus. Yes, a vote for Trump (or your favorite candidate) may offer certain Christians some political power. But God hasn’t called us to rule the United States or any other form of government. Frankly, my wish for us Christians is that we would abstain from the polls altogether. How cool would it be if we expressed our allegiance to God’s kingdom alone rather than leading others to vote for someone who is personally indefensible.

I’ve chosen to focus on Donald Trump’s candidacy since many leaders in the white Evangelical family have gone public with their support (Wayne Grudem, Dutch Sheets, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell Jr., etc.), not to mention recent data indicating that “nearly seven in ten (69%) white evangelical Protestant likely voters” express support for Donald Trump. I suppose many of my arguments could also apply in a broad way to progressive-leaning Christians who will vote for Hillary Clinton, but that’s for another time and a different audience. Here I have chosen to write about what is familiar to me in my personal upbringing and church tradition.

One of the most annoying things about this whole election is the friction it causes between personal relationships we treasure. As I read comments and have had conversations about highly politicized positions (more than I can remember), I’m struck by the difficulty of moving beyond our own perceptions. Someone who I disagree with may write about God or their favorite candidate with amazing gusto and patriotism, meanwhile I only tend to hear their ideas as suspect. Likewise, I may share some of my sincere convictions about God or peacemaking only to find that these same words unwittingly shut down our conversation. So it seems, during this election especially, we have turned away from Christ and “put our trust in princes” to persuade those we oppose (Psalm 146:3). It really should not be this way for Christians who follow a crucified messiah.

Jesus could have done many things to alter the course of Jewish or Roman politics, but to the surprise of almost everyone he allowed himself to be executed as a criminal. He refused the people’s call to be their King and taught his disciples to serve instead of rule over one another. Ultimately, he gave up popular opinion for a path toward forgiveness that was almost universally rejected. His was a “kingdom of nobodies”. The scary part is that Jesus began calling regular folks like you and me to a similar cross-shaped future. Nobody then (or now) votes for a national leader like him.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating passivity. Silence does not equal peace. Neither do polite words. Each one of us are called by faith to comfort and accompany our travailing world through its birth pains. So I continue to resist the society that causes God’s beloved creation to groan (which is another way of being political). And yet I still worry about how things will turn out. It’s hard not to feel confused and sad for our loss of witness and integrity.

Contrary to campaign slogans, these political movements have no time for our stories. They simply want our votes. Indeed, each party promises security and prosperity in exchange for my vote. And every candidate claims their messiah-like plan is the best one around. Yet wishing for some powerful leader to “make us great again” is in direct conflict with the peace of God. The scriptures call it idolatry. Governments obviously matter and their decisions will affect you and me. Yet our votes do not somehow increase God’s willingness to protect and care for those who are most vulnerable among us. His kindness and upside-down justice have already “brought down the powerful from their thrones” and “filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). Instead of paying my tribute to a wrathful executive office, I pray we honor the Human One who handed over his power to forgive both the terrorist and imperial soldier without condition. No election is necessary to begin this work. And no election is worth giving up such an amazing story.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s hard to be honest with you. And it’s clear we have a tendency to fight about politics. So I really didn’t want to spoil the mood by commenting too much on your candidate. But then I reconsidered my reluctance because Donald Trump has insulted my friends and family members. I cannot ignore, for example, his scapegoating of “illegals” or his contempt for women and still be a Christian. Is it naïve to think that we might have this conversation in a peaceful way? Either way, please take this letter as my invitation to discuss things out in the open. I leave you with my sadness and grief, but also my joy and these reflections on how we can be in step with God’s kingdom.

May our lives continue to bless all our neighbors, both enemies and friends, in Jesus’ name.

Peace,
Jason Winton

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“This is the way they will survive”

Another great quote from Jayber Crow:

“As the [Branch] boys grew older, they made do with old cars and old farm equipment as they earlier had made do with old bicycles and outboard motors. This is the way they will survive–by being marginal, using what nobody else wants, doing well the work that nobody else will do. If they aren’t destroyed by some scientific solution to all our problems, they will go on though dynasties pass.” (p. 313)

 

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An invitation to the “third way”

When I gathered people last year to have a conversation with Tim Otto about his book (Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships), I was a little shocked with how distressing his approach would seem to both the affirming and traditional folks involved. The gathering went well in the end, but that was after a lot of tilling (and anxiety) on my part. Throughout the whole process Tim encouraged me to simply persevere and stay centered. He is a great pastor and writer for folks like me who doubt the messaging of exclusion or false unity.

Most conservative churches seem to cloak their exclusionary policies with a welcoming message up front, only later to make it clear that same sex partners will not be allowed to do x, y, or z. In most liberal churches where the institutional exclusions have been removed, the general message is about a blanket affirmation based on the assumption that giving one’s approval will heal and restore the wounded LGBT community. To my mind, this often seems a bit too one dimensional. What it doesn’t take into account is that many folks feel more than one way about themselves and their relationships, especially when it comes to Christianity. While organizational policies aimed at stigmatizing and excluding sexual minorities smacks of the worst things in Christianity, communion that rests on getting one another’s approval (or affirmation) seems to lead to a false sense of “us.” By contrast, offering Jesus’ acceptance (not contingent on anyone’s approval) and a real embrace takes a much greater measure of empathy and courage.

This acceptance must have a finite manifestation for sure, but the internal markers are best known and appreciated within free relationships of mutuality and honesty and trust. And it cannot be manufactured by a doctrinal or position statement.

I highly recommend Tim’s response to this last weekend’s Orlando massacre that took place on “Latin Night” in a gay nightclub: An Invitation to Empathy.

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What to do with anger?

From our Tues. night bible studies…

Mark chapters 1-3 seem especially important (and timely) as we approach the November elections with all the hostility and scapegoating rhetoric that is taking place even now. Anyway, here are my reflections:

1) The Synagogue: The synagogue Jesus first entered in Mark 1–casting out an unclean spirit–appears to be the same one from Mark 3. Imagine the conflict that took place in that first interaction: there’s someone–perhaps even a person of authority–who is speaking from an unclean spirit. That might be a little surprising, right? The synagogue was a communal place to gather and, among other things, read torah. Yet how long had this man suffered? How long had he been speaking accusations to others like he did to Jesus? Wouldn’t it be strange for a newcomer like Jesus to be the one who suddenly calls him out and gives him his freedom? In any case, Mark tells us that the people who saw this liberation thought Jesus embodied real authority in sharp contrast to the non-authority of their teachers.

2) The Trap: Then, in Mark 3, as Jesus returns a second time to that synagogue, he finds that some folks were anticipating his arrival and sought to trap him. Imagine the energy in the air as Jesus walked through the door. It must have been hard for people not to look at him. Maybe he even made eye contact with his accusers. In any case, no one could be sure what he would do next. It’s no wonder that they saw him as a controversial misguided dangerous teacher. Perhaps they hoped he would simply fail the test (by healing on the sabbath) and then go away. Perhaps they saw themselves as responsible to “restore order.” But what about the man with withered hand? Ironically, the suffering person right in front of them had somehow become a weapon to solidify the crowd against Jesus and scare his brand new followers into submission.

3) Healing Anger: But their fear tactics backfired as Jesus simply gets fed up: “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (3:5a). Those who were supposed to lead the synagogue had become a force of oppression, both for themselves and others. What’s striking to me now is that Jesus’ negative feelings actually opened a way for a beautiful healing on behalf of this disabled man: “and [Jesus] said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored” (3:5b). So I’m left wondering: what does anger and grief have to do with God’s power to heal? I suppose if we’re honest, a lot of us feel numb or overwhelmed when it comes to our world’s suffering and the death-dealing powers at work. We might actually need strong feelings like anger and grief to wake us up! Of course, I know folks who probably have enough sadness or anger or grief in their lives (because of trauma or ongoing crises). But Jesus wasn’t angry all the time either. And this isn’t a moralistic story about Jesus trying to get everyone upset and pissed off in a distant way. In fact, he lived a very joyous life. Some of his opponents apparently considered him a wild partier. However, in this instance, Mark’s gospel shows us how he responds in a situation where the suffering man has been forgotten. Jesus felt this man’s pain. He even called him forward so that everyone could see his face and not turn away from his disability. Jesus became vulnerable with him. Jesus healed this man not in a peaceful environment where it would be welcomed and celebrated but in the midst of a trap.

4) Apocalypse of Love: In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote that we are in a real battle with a Dark Power who occupies our world: “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” So do not be surprised or intimidated when Jesus’ opponents still want to silence you. We may not have a powerful leader or even a great politician to support our message, but the rightful king is coming and will always give us the love we need to survive:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4

Knowing this we can be strengthened with God’s willingness to shake up all the false kingdoms that rule this world, especially when we have faith for healing someone in pain. Yes, God will bring a defiant healing. This is our hope, despite what happens around us. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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Iraqi Priest says, “We are never giving a blessing to war”

Iraqi priest, Father Douglas Bazi, has been kidnapped and tortured by anti-Christian elements in Iraq, runs a refugee shelter out of his parish for Christians fleeing ISIS, hosts a church that welcomes Christians from several denominations to worship together, refuses to take up arms against his enemies…

Why does this Iraqi Christian sound so much more like Jesus than most of the popular Christian leaders in the US? I feel stirred up and challenged by the Christianity Fr. Douglas is putting to the test as he cares for some of the most vulnerable people in Iraq. He makes those convictions seem normal for a person of faith. May God give us all courage to step forward into the radical surrender of Jesus and pray for our brother, Father Douglas Bazi. And may there be peacemakers who proclaim Jesus as Lord here and all over the world. May we too be willing to say no to war.

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An excerpt: “almost like he knew my fears without me saying anything”

Check out my essay “How the Gang Life and LGBT Inclusion Actually Have a Lot in Common”, published over at Hello Horatio:

The most personal and vicious verbal attacks happened in the boy’s bathroom. Any vulnerability or apparent weakness could be preyed upon with almost no consequence. I recall once deciding to use the large stall for students with disabilities instead of the open urinals, just to avoid onlookers and jokes about the size of my you-know-what. But even that resulted in a boy telling me and everyone within earshot that I must be “handicapped.”

Perhaps, then, it isn’t too surprising that in high school I started hanging out with gang youth who had themselves faced bullies and somehow still seemed strong. I wanted to be a somebody in the face of my “nobody” status. I respected their ability to overcome. They faced bullies at home (with alcoholic step-fathers), in the community (with police and other gangs), even at school (from administrators and rich white kids). As a new disciple of these “nobodies” who fought back, I learned I could threaten or intimidate a person into submission, which seemed, for a while at least, to wipe away my anxious life.

…About a year ago I had a dream about an old friend (I’ll call him Rudy) who was a gang leader. In this dream, my large and tattooed friend came walking into one of the old apartments where we used to hang out. Typically, Native American and Asian families resided in this neighborhood due to cheap rent and extended family ties along the street’s corridor. Their apartments were neat, with wall-to-wall carpeting. You would find a dozen or so modest one-story structures close to each other, embedded alongside small parking spaces and half-planted beds of dirt and shrubbery. In my dream, I sat down alone inside a home that might have been anyone’s from back then. Rudy sat down next to me on a small couch that defined the hallway close to the front door and asked how I was doing. I noticed he seemed calm and focused on me in a compassionate way, almost like he knew my fears without me saying anything and would gladly just sit there with me. Then he told me something I didn’t expect. I heard him say, “I’m trans.” No qualifications or further explanation, she just exhaled her short-and-sweet confession without any stress.

(continue reading here)

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Supporting El Viñedo Church in Lima, Peru–June 2016

Here’s a letter from Julissa about our Peru trip. It’s also an invitation for those who may want to join us…

Dear friends,

Words cannot express how joyful I feel to be writing this letter to you. It is like a dream come true for me and my family. This will be our third trip as volunteers in Peru!! Woohoo!! Thanks for your support in helping us go and please let me know if you want to join us.

Some of you might not know who we are as a family. I’m from Peru and Jason’s from California. Fortunately, we both speak each other’s language and love each other’s culture. As a couple, we’ve been traveling to Peru ever since getting engaged in 2003. We now have two wonderful children, Gabriela and Santiago, ages 4 and 7. They come with us to Lima for family visits and volunteering as often as possible. Our Peruvian family and friends always show us such incredible hospitality. Like good Latinos, they know how to celebrate life and make us feel like guests of honor.

Lima is the capital city of Peru, with a population size of almost 10 million. You will see a lot of poverty in Lima, including many children selling candy or gum along the busiest streets during traffic. On the other hand, there is also a lot of extreme wealth. You will see signs of that the closer you get to the beach. Those districts have fancy malls, American-looking fashion, nice cars, tall buildings, etc. The traffic all over Lima is often very congested and unpleasant. But Peruvians do not seem as bound to the clock as us Americans, so on most occasions it is ok to be “late.” Peruvian food is delicious (see “How Food Became Religion in Peru’s Capital City”). You will love the unique flavors and ingredients.

The neighborhood we plan to spend most of our time in is pretty far away from the beach. Our mission will be to serve at a Vineyard church there. They have volunteers from the church to support the children of their neighborhood through youth groups, one-on-one interaction, and creating little communities in their homes.

There is so much need and, at the same time, they already have so many willing people who do an amazing job in that community. When we were there these last two trips (see here and here), Jason was able to meet with some of their families to do mental health assessments (he is an MFT). He also spoke with a group of parents and staff from the ministry to talk about parenting. My father-in-law, Ken, led music and worship leading workshops. I primarily focused on building relationships and hearing people’s stories.

We will be going again this June 21st-June 30th, 2016. Winter over there (during our summer). The trip will last approximately 9 days: two days of traveling and seven days of ministry. That said, anyone is welcome to stay longer if they want to and we can help with recommendations on where to go. For example, some may want to travel to other parts of Peru (i.e., Machu Picchu, the Amazon jungle, or the Andes).

During this project, Jason and I will arrange for everyone’s accommodations and transportation to and from the site. Church members provide us with a room and sometimes even meals for our whole group. We make it a point to bless them along the way as well. The budget for our trip includes: air travel, taxi/bus fare, food, sightseeing, and gifts for our hosts. All in all, the whole trip can be done for around $1000 (for an individual).

We would like to plan a few meetings before the trip to get to know each other and talk more in detail about what to expect. We are very excited to start this process and will let you know about the dates and times for those meetings as we get a response from those who want to go. Again, please call or email with any questions (530-354-1312 or julissa AT hotmail DOT com).

Yours,

Julissa and Jason Winton

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Jayber Crow On Taking Naps

“One of the best things you can do in this world is take a nap in the woods. I slept soundly and without moving for half an hour. As often happens at such times, my mind woke up before my body did. My eyes opened right out of sleep, and I was looking up at the gently stirring treetops and the bright sky, with no other thought on my mind, and my body still deeply resting. It was delicious and I did not want to move.”

Jayber Crow (page 347)

This quote brought me back to an experience I had during the summer of 2000. I was in rural China with a team from college teaching English to Tibetan children. After a long week of teaching and culture shock, my fellow teammate, Jeff, and I went with our western advisor, Owen, to a remote village accessible only by walking or donkey. We arrived in a place so far from industrial cities or any “super power” that, for a moment, I didn’t know what to say. I felt in awe by what we saw: mud walls reaching above our heads, garden foliage poking over the tops, winding passageways patted down only by hoofs, carts, or humans, all this spread between ornately-carved portals and courtyards leading into places for human flourishing.

With this beauty and our cross-cultural exhaustion catching up with us, our Chinese host wisely invited Jeff and I to take a nap. This man showed us a neat room with a pad stuffed tightly with wool and covered by linen, and then opened the room’s sliding doors to the courtyard and garden. We laid down and listened to the garden speak in micro-movements and heavenly sounds of living things in communion and harmony. It reminded me of a real place to be at home and live. I don’t actually remember when I nodded off, but I do recall the feeling of rain in the courtyard. It was a sensation like earthly peace and the spirit of grace anchored in me from a village that we had been led up to and that we would leave in reverence by sleep, by non-human creatures, by hospitality, by rain.

I am grateful that Wendell Berry reminded me of something special from my 21st year, of a summer spent in China’s Tibetan Plateau. I may never return to that plateau again, but a story like this keeps my interest in sleeping outdoors and may in fact put me on the hunt for those special places everywhere I go.

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