God is Good, God is Better…

If I believed that we were born in total depravity, then I would have to believe that I am more mature than God. That is a horrific thought. No — I believe — I must believe that God is greater than I am, that God is more mature, wiser, kinder, gentler, more patient, and better in every way than I am. After all, I do believe that I am made, that we are all made, in God’s image. No, I don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation stories, but I do believe that we are made in God’s image, that we carry God’s Divine spark, the ruach – the Divine wind, within us.

But being made in God’s image does not make us God. We are not the original. We are the copies. We are not as good. We are striving to be.

So I do not believe that we are born in total depravity. I am a Universalist. A capital U Universalist and a lower-case U universalist.  I believe that God never gives up on us. Never. Not ever. Which already makes God better than me.

Because right now – and a lot lately, I find that I am just this close to giving up on humanity.  It’s not just this election, or any election. It’s the general level of nastiness that we are showing one another.  The rape culture that is being condoned and excused. Rush Limbaugh, the poster boy for the total depravity argument, on 12 October, 2016, allowed as how those on the left would call any sexual contact that didn’t include consent as rape. Um…yes. By definition! That’s exactly what rape is! You can read his statement here if you haven’t just eaten.

A man thought it would be appropriate to dress his son in blackface as a Black Lives Matter activist for Halloween. Because his son wanted to go as something stupid. And then he posted the photo proudly on Facebook. I weep for this child – for the way he is being brought up.

A seven-year-old was beaten up by other children on his school bus in North Carolina. Because he is Muslim. On his school bus. Where an adult is present, driving the bus. The family is now moving back to Pakistan, because they don’t feel safe in the U.S. Let that sink in for a moment. They are moving back to Pakistan, where they feel safer.

And today, on the 287th day of the year, as I write this, 843 people have been killed by police so far in the U.S. this year.  That’s just about three people every single day. Every. Single. Day. And yes, police do get killed in the line of duty. They aren’t all killed by people, but police do die in the line of duty. So far, in 2016, 99 police officers have died in the line of duty.  And there were 130 police deaths in 2015, and 146 in 2014, so fortunately, that number is trending down. (The average daily death toll for civilians killed by police in 2015 was about the same as it appears to be trending now).

So I see all these things, and many more things, and I get discouraged. I say “Black Lives Matter,” and someone says, “well, I think all lives matter!” And I get tired of explaining that all lives can’t matter if we’re erasing the black lives.

I take a stand against rape culture, and someone says, “can’t you take a joke?” I can take a joke. Having agency over my body isn’t a joke. And I get tired of explaining to men, and sometimes even to other women that my body isn’t here for your amusement.

I say that I want to learn about other faiths, that my way isn’t the only way it is one way, and someone says, “but they can’t be trusted, they could be terrorists.” And I get tired of pointing out that terrorists abound in every flavor, and that while we sit and cower in the corner about terrorists, the poor are still poor, the hungry are still  hungry, many people still don’t have adequate healthcare or education, and so much more.

We spend so much time looking for ways to hate each other. We spend so much time looking for the things that divide us.  If you don’t love the way I do, you must be broken. If you don’t eat, worship, think, look the way I do, you must be broken/wrong/inferior.

So I think that God must have infinite patience. I think there must be so much more that we are capable of. Because I cannot bear to believe that we are totally depraved. This is my prayer. That God grant me the strength to continue the work. That we will come to know how to be better humans. That we will continue to build the kingdom. To repair the world. It is the only way. God must be greater than all of us. Let us find our way to God.

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.



Fred Phelps is Dying and 1 Corinthians 13

Oh, Fred Phelps. We do love to hate him, don’t we? I mean, it’s pretty easy. The man founded The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) (this is a church only in the loosest sense) – founded, it seems, on the belief that God hates homosexuals (only Phelps doesn’t say homosexuals) and Jews.  It’s a church made up almost exclusively of members of his own family, and they earn their living by setting up very small protests — at funerals and schools — at which they hope to provoke counter-protesters into violating their civil rights, and then they sue. Three or four of them show up, each carrying between four and six signs saying things like “God hates fags” or “Thank God for dead soldiers”, and often hundreds of counter-protesters show up.

So what’s the big deal now? Well, it seems that Fred Phelps is dying. He’s 84 years old, and he’s in a hospice in Topeka, Kansas. The members of his extensive family (he has 13 children) have apparently been keeping the 20 members of the family who’ve fled the WBC over the years away from the patriarch – whom they’ve excommunicated, by the way. That’s rather ironic – the founder of this hate-filled church has himself been excommunicated from it by his own family. No word as to why.

I have to say that the first thoughts that came into my head when I heard that Phelps was dying were not charitable thoughts. They were, in fact, snarky thoughts. “Hmm…I wonder if this is God’s punishment for being so hateful?” “Could it be that God hates the Westboro Baptist Church?”  May God forgive me for the snarky thoughts.

The next thoughts that came into my head were, “That’s just not right. It makes me no better than he is.” Phelps is a hateful, nasty, hurtful man, but he is a child of God, and I am a Universalist. As a Universalist, I am compelled to believe (and I do), that God never gives up on anyone, that everyone has the opportunity to be reconciled to God.

Further, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13. Now, a lot of people like to use this passage at weddings because it’s about love and it sounds all romantic, and that’s fine, but it’s not about that kind of love. It’s about loving one-another in the church. Loving the difficult people in the church. You know who they are. You do. If you don’t, well, um….moving on….

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is telling us that we have to work hard to love each other in the church.  Let’s look at verses 4-7, specifically (this is the NRSV translation): “4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Oh boy. So being smug about Fred Phelps is probably right out. Love endures all things. Wow. That’s a tough one. Now, it’s supposed to go all ways. I mean, the WBC is supposed to love us back. Fred Phelps is supposed to love us back. But we can’t stop being the people of God just because Phelps’ church doesn’t understand what it means to be the people of God.

As it happens, I’m also in a position to understand what his nurses might be going through. That’s because before I was a pastor, I was a nurse. I’ve had to take care of people who were mean and nasty, and I still had to give them good care and make them feel human and dignified. Even if they didn’t return the favor. Because it wasn’t their job to return the favor.

So this is what I can do right now. I can pray for Fred Phelps’ nurses. I can pray that they are able to give him compassionate care, even knowing who he is and what he’s done. I can pray for his family – that they may be reconciled to each other. For regardless of their sins, they’re losing their patriarch and are deeply broken. And perhaps I can pray for the soul of Fred Phelps – that he will come to see the error of his ways. That he will allow himself to be in the presence of God. That he will allow himself to find peace.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite. May God’s eternal love surround you.

Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church Founder, Is ‘On The Edge Of Death

Fred Phelps, Founder of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, is on the ‘Edge of Death’