Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Christian Persecution. Not.

This whizzed by on my Facebook feed yesterday:

Apparently, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called out whining first-world Christians to "grow up" and stop referring to themselves as a "persecuted minority":  
"When you've had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely," he said. "Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. 'For goodness sake, grow up,' I want to say."

I don't agree with everything Williams said or did as the ABC and there are a few things I think he could have done much better.  But in this he is spot on.  

Christians in the United States have it pretty darn good.  And by "pretty darn good" I mean that we are not barred from government jobs because of our religious status, we can choose where, when and with whom we'd like to worship, we can be fairly certain that our religious preferences will be noted and respected while we are in the hospital, we can more or less trust that our families will not be killed in their beds because we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  

I get the sense that for the whiners that inspired Williams' harsh but totally deserved comment, having the postal worker say "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is some sort of religious oppression.  And not allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed at the county courthouse is rather like being publicly flayed in the Roman square.  

Several years ago, I traveled to Burma/Myanmar, which, at the time, was still a military dictatorship and had a <2% Christian population.  Our goal was simply to enjoy the company of other fellow Anglican Christians there, to let them know that they were remembered and to make the world just a little smaller.  We were told not to bring Bibles or prayer books in case our luggage got searched.  We could wear crosses but be prepared to hide them in case it became a matter of personal safety.  One afternoon, the local police showed up at our hotel to make sure we were actually doing what we said we'd be doing.  They checked every passport.  It was frightening and thought provoking but ultimately, we knew we would go home, to a place where we could wear our crosses, carry our Bibles and even preach on a street corner if we wanted.  Our persecution was limited in time and in scope because we were North Americans.  

Our Karin friends there lived well below the poverty line because government jobs were closed to them so long as they remained professing Christians.  In the city, violence toward them had abated in the recent decade but suspicion had not.  They often found themselves cast out, followed and questioned, meager homes searched and tossed, friends pestered, kids taunted and bullied. The stories we heard were not horror stories, but the situation was unsafe, frightening and relentless.  The power of their faith and their ability to continue to proclaim it, on the other hand, was inspiring.  

I have no idea if I could sustain a life of faith under such circumstances, especially with children to care for.  But my experience in Burma/Myanmar has left me with little tolerance for those in our country who play victim because their cream doesn't always rise to the top.  
Dethroning the entitlement of those who believe that the world owes them something special because of their faith beliefs and practices doesn't smack of persecution to me.  Nicely done,  Rowan.               

p.s. I have no idea why this post is randomly highlighted in white.  Sorry. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

self-definition and struggling with the Gospel

In the last couple of weeks, Luke has given us Jesus' walk toward Jerusalem and all the difficult teachings therein.  I've always had a love-hate relationship with the "where your treasure is" teachings.  I'm not much of a "stuff" person, really.  I want a car that gets me there, safely, but past that, I don't care much.  I don't get really excited about clothes and I LOATHE shopping.  I do love a good gadget, but I've had the same iPhone for 2 1/2 years and don't really care for an upgrade.  My beloved laptop is seven years old and I refuse to admit that it is ancient by technological standards.  It still works, after all.

But I don't really live simply.  I can be easily convinced that I "need" something and my messy house is a testament to all the things my family and I "need".  It is easy for me to imagine that Jesus didn't need stuff because Jesus didn't have kids.  Kids are ridiculous stuff magnets. First it is carseats, strollers, diapers and multi-part bottles, now it is socks and shoes, Legos, backpacks and art supplies.  Jesus can talk about lilies and ravens because he didn't have to carry a diaper bag.  And my kids are not really "stuff" people either.  They actually don't ask for much.  But we do seem to have scads of stuff lying about.

I can bluff and say that our hearts are not really with all this daily detritus.  But one glance at my four-year-old in the corner howling because she can't find THE-SHOES-I-WANT-NOT-THOSE-THE-OTHER-ONES-WITH-THE-STRAPS and my stomping around the house with WHO MOVED MY PHONE? and you'd call my bluff immediately.

Implicated.  No matter how I look at it, my heart is divided.  It is, admittedly, more divided now that I have kids.  So much of my baggage (literally and figuratively) contains things to keep them safe, occupied, fed and happy.  But as I get older, I am less excited about "making do" with a spoon when what I really "need" is a new stand mixer.  "Making do" is no longer a challenge or adventure, but a drag.  And so: more stuff.

So what to do with this placement of my heart?  What to do with this Gospel?  This time around, I'm thinking about stuff and self-definition.  How do I want to be known?  How do I want to know myself?  Am I "the mom who lives in the green house with the big addition on the back"?  "That priest who drives the Highlander"?  "That lady over there with the great shoes"?  When I die, will they say, "Oh wow, this stand mixer makes me think of Mom.  She sure loved this mixer."?  Ugh.

In an attempt to heal the divide of my heart--slowly and over time, of course-- I'm working on rearranging my list of definers.  I'm working towards moving "beloved child of God" to the top.  "Forgiven, loved and free" should come shortly thereafter.  Then maybe after that, my community connections: mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend... because it is through each other that we get to know God.

Eventually, the list will by necessity contain my hobbies, favorite ice cream, where I live, what I drive.  But my intention in reordering my list is to slowly convince my heart that it needs to be more firmly rooted in those primary definers.  Beloved, forgiven, loved, free.  I need to convince my heart that the stuff-- Highlander, Legos, iPhone-- while convenient and helpful at their best, are not even tertiary on my list of worth.

Hear me now:  I'm not going ascetic.  You probably won't even see the difference in my everyday self.  The difference is in my own head, how I value myself by trying to believe in the value that God puts on me, a value far greater than the stuff I surround and define myself with.