Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

UnknownNo teaching on prayer has more powerfully impacted the Christian Church than the “model” prayer, what I prefer to call “The Disciples’ Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-15). The Lord’s Prayer is slightly inaccurate since our Lord never prayed this prayer but rather taught us to pray it. It is both a prayer to be prayed and a model to follow in all we offer to our Father in regular prayer. We both worship and petition when we follow this model. One of the three petitions we offer is for our “daily bread.” Have you ever wondered what this really means? Why should we still ask when God has promised to provide for us? What difference does our asking really make?

On Sunday, August 17, I preached a sermon, in a series on this text that the pastor has followed this summer at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Bloomingdale, IL. You can listen to this sermon on our ACT3 website via the link below.

Click here to listen to the sermon.

 

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Love Alone Is Eternal (Part Three)

The thesis of the book I am currently writing is grounded in this point – divine love is a mystery. The mystery is this  there is an infinite God who loves us eternally. This mystery is given only to those who hunger and thirst to live in his presence actively waiting upon him. We will “see” this reality, the reality of God’s eternal love, by remembering him and casting out in childlike faith into the depths of his goodness and grace. Difficulties and doubts will meet us along this way. But we must make it our daily experience to “ask . . . search [and] knock” if we would experience God’s love.

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11, NRSV).

Paradox and the Art of Unknowing

The most common sources of doubt have perplexed human beings for as long as we have lived. We express faith in statements that seem paradoxical, if not outright contradictory. We struggle to reconcile some things we see revealed in Scripture and confessed by the church. For example, Christians believe that God is one yet also three. We confess that God is all good (love), yet he allows evil to exist in the world at the same time. We say that Christ is truly man but then confess that he is also fully God. We believe that we are free persons yet we also believe that we are dependent upon an omnipotent God. We are mortal but we believe that we will also survive death. Our body will die and return to the dust but we will rise whole persons at some future point in time. “How can reason cope with such paradoxical beliefs? How can we believe in them and remain rational?”

9781590303047-2These questions are not rebellious or distrustful. They are normal if you are a thinking person at all. They come to skeptics but they also plague the most devout believers. Indeed, these kinds of questions have been the material stuff of Christian theology for twenty centuries. Irma Zaleski (Who Is God, 72-73) suggests:

The source of most of these controversies or “heresies” that have caused so much dissension in the early Church lay precisely in the desire of some Christian theologians to get rid of the paradoxical nature of the truths of faith and choose only one side of each paradox (italics are mine).

Take Arianism as one example. This ancient and persistent error teaches that Jesus cannot be fully God. Why? Swimming in the waters of ancient philosophy Arius and his followers thought it impossible for God to change. If God could not change then how could he truly become a human person who was, at the same time, fully divine? How could a man have both a fully divine nature and a fully human nature, without mixing the two into some new nature, and yet still be God? Before you rush by this one pause and consider just how powerful this question really is to the thinking process. The contradiction of this very paradox prompted Arius to deny the divinity of Christ. The church said this was a heresy. And a mighty struggle for the mind and soul of the church ensued.

 

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Love Alone Is Eternal (Part Two)

41OgkFEL3qL._AA160_When we know that we are loved, and truly believe this with all our heart, all of life takes on new meaning, purpose and joy. This seems to be why Paul wrote:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love ( 1 Cor. 13:12-13, NRSV).

The story is told of an American Zen master who became a Buddhist as a young woman. Her friends and family were having a hard time reconciling themselves with her religious decision. They kept asking her the kind of questions you would expect, including: “Do you at least believe in God?” One day, when they asked her this question for the umpteenth time, she answered with exasperation: “And who is God?”

This is the way Zen masters deal with what are called metaphysical questions. Instead of answering the question directly this teacher redirected the questioners to a more fundamental problem. In Zen Buddhism the disciple is expected to find the answer themselves. The goal, in most cases, is to help the practitioner realize that they cannot solve such problems by thinking. Why? Because the best answer lies beyond thought.

Irma Zaleski, who recounts this story about the American Zen master, says this response initially irritated her. It did me too when I read the story, at least until I began to explore the meaning of God without all of my simple, formulaic  answers. Zaleski writes:

But I soon became convinced that all of us ‘believers’ would do well to ask ourselves the same question very seriously at least once in our lives.” But why you ask? It is important to admit that, if we are honest with ourselves, we do not really know how to answer this question in a way that a would satisfy our own minds, let alone a Zen master. We do not know who God is. We cannot prove God’s existence or explain God in words (Irma Zaleski, Who Is God? The Soul’s Road Home. Boston: New Seeds, 2006, xiv).

It appears to me that Western Christians have lost the ancient, and deeply Christian, idea that God is the Ultimate Reality, the Source of all being – a Mystery that human reason cannot penetrate nor can words express adequately. But there is clear biblical warrant for recovering this approach to God: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” 1 Cor. 13:12, NRSV). The word translated “dimly” in this famous text means “obscurely.” In fact the NRSV includes the marginal translation “in a riddle.” Compared to seeing Christ face-t0-face, which will happen in the future, we currently see the truth “in a riddle” or “obscurely.”

An entire book on theological method could be written based upon this single verse. I’ll leave this immense task to others. What I urge you to do is less ambitious but not less important: do not try to “solve” the Mystery. We cannot write a perfect theology of God, his nature and being. I was trained in a tradition that taught me that we could do precisely this if we simply and faithfully followed the Bible and interpreted the text properly. (We identify this one method of interpretation and then form entire denominations, schools and movements around our differences in using this supposedly plain method!) But lets be really honest about this – we cannot even explain how “God is love” without asking a thousand other questions. Some of these questions will occupy our attention throughout this book. But at the outset it is important that we can open ourselves up to this Mystery. We cannot receive it, or learn anything about it, unless we allow our thought process to take us into the inner core of our being, through what the Hebrews called “the heart.”

But to say “I don’t know” is scary. It requires a reorientation that few of us are prepared to make. It will require a patient, hard and intense efforts to let go of our certainty and illusions in order to truly know. “It means being prepared to stand silent and unknowing before the Mystery of God and to place all our trust in his mercy and love” (Irma Zaleski, Who Is God?, xvi).

I am persuaded that the knowledge of God to which Christ calls his followers is never achieved through study. If study were the key to such knowledge then some of the greatest Christians you and I will ever meet are great scholars. But I know many great scholars and this conclusion does not add up. Some of these scholars seem lost in their own thoughts and disciplines and know very little about God. No, we do not come to know God through study, as valuable as study can be for our personal development. We come to know God when a vision is given to the heart. The mystery of faith is given to those who are meek and humble. It is given to those who search with all their heart.

 

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Love Alone Is Eternal (Part One)

Before the foundation of the world there was love. Love existed from all eternity. In God, who is Trinity, there is a vast ocean of love that can never be drained, a great energy of love that will never be used up. Excellent truths have been spoken and written about faith but even great faith loses its excellence when compared with love. In fact, the glory of true faith will always be that it leads the believer to God, who is love. Faith is only temporary but love is forever. God seeks us in love in order to bring us into the depths of his eternal love. The great end of all creation is love! Why? “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

My own religious tradition celebrated great faith. We honored those who believed  the gospel and had the courage to express the faith, especially in acts of public witness that took courage. But long before anything was created, faith was unneeded. And long after faith becomes sight love will still reign supreme. “Faith (in general) is the evidence of things not seen.” Faith (in particular) is trust in the promises of the living God to save us through the person and work of Christ. We need faith, even small faith. It seems to have been common for the apostles to ask Jesus to give them faith. On hearing him speak about forgiving the same person multiple times (70×7) they were amazed and pled with him:  “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:5-6, NRSV). We need faith for sure but we need love even more. Love alone will last forever. Why?

Unknown“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16, NRSV). These words express with remarkable clarity the heart of Christian faith. The apostle John underscores the link between God’s essence and love when he says: “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT). And, he adds, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love” (1 John 4:16a, NLT). Pope Benedict XVI says John provides for us, in these few verses, “a summary of the Christian life” (Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2006, 7).

I believe he is spot on. This is the God who is and the God who is, is eternal love! The word love, which I will seek to explain in my book Our Love Is Too Small as clearly as my words allow, expresses the essence of God.

The word “essence” in philosophy refers to the attribute, or the set of attributes, that make something what it fundamentally is. When we refer to the essence of something, or someone, we speak of who or what it is by necessity. This means that without this the person or quality we are describing loses its identity. So if God’s essence is love we are saying that unless God is love he is not God!

Without love God is simply not God!

It is a comfort to know that the God who is invites us to trust him is the same God who created us. It is a far greater comfort to know that the one who invites us to know him deeply cares for us, and redeems us, at great cost to himself – all because he is love.

When a young woman meets the man of her life she knows she is loved. Her life changes forever. Everything in her life looks different and everything she will experience is radically enhanced by being truly loved. She feels like a new person through and through. But, “Infinitely more powerful is the experience of the Christian who comes to a more profound understanding of the truth that God is love” (Chiara Lubich, complied and edited by Michael Vandeleen. Essential Writings: Spirituality, Dialogue, Culture. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2006, 55).

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Why Do Churches Not See the Mission Right Next Door?

Matt-239x300My son, Matthew Armstrong, directs a ministry that began over fifteen years ago when a Christian businessman developed a plan to reach children in public schools. He invited my son to lead this effort which is now called Crossroads Kids Club. I am often in awe of this ministry and of my son, not because Matt is my son (which is enough in itself really) but  because the ministry is so effective and so powerfully connected to the church and her mission to kids without hope in this world.

Recently Matt sent a letter to friends of the ministry that included the following:

We are in a very interesting place. If things come together in the next few days and weeks, we could have 30+ clubs. Likewise, we could end up losing ground from last year. I am someone who is a doer, and I have done all that I can do. I don’t see anything I could do differently or better, but simply we need God to intervene. Here are some very specific things I would like to ask you to pray about. Some of these will be shared tomorrow with the prayer list, but others will not.

[There are] . . . two Milwaukee schools [that] have Christian principals and are very open to clubs there. We need churches! Our club developer has been working on this for months. Please pray for things to come together and for churches to see the amazing opportunity. I find it so hard to believe that churches would not want to take advantage of the opportunity to share Jesus with children.

It is this final sentence which both astounds me and grieves me. I am not making this up friends – churches do not deeply desire to put aside their programs that do not reach needy children, especially from poorer homes, when they are shown how they can actually reach kids in their own community at very little financial cost. The issue, in other words, is not money or opportunity. The issue is desire and focus. Sadly, desire and focus is generally not present in local congregations.

After sharing about another few clubs Matt then adds:

Speaking of leaders, [another Chicago area school] is wide open. We have had a club there for two years, but the leaders have decided to step aside because of family issues. At this moment, the church behind this club does not have a leader, and there will be no club there. Thus we now have [four] churches that need a leader to step up to take charge of a club in their area.

Another [Chicago area] church was just rejected by the principal at a specific school so we are seeking an opening at another school (a second choice school) so this church can start a Kids Club there.

I feel like things are spiraling out of control. We have open schools with no churches. Then we have churches with no leaders, and we have leaders and a closed school. We need the Lord to move mightily. And so I am pleading with you to pray please. Thank you!

Reading this letter reminded me of how deeply the church needs to recover Christ’s mission to the world, not just to a program to provide for children and people who already come to church. Emil Bruner said, “The church exists for mission as fire exists for burning!” If this is true then why is it that when most churches are shown how they can easily reach into the lives and homes of children right next door to their church, and yet these children are outside their present church family, will not become involved? Thank God some do but why are there so few?

Matt concludes his letter saying: “Trusting that he is good, that he loves the children and has a plan, Matt.”

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Evangelism, Gospel/Good News, Missional Church, The Church | 1 Comment/Like

Personal (Non-Scientific) Reflections on Millennials and the Church (Part Two)

UnknownYesterday I shared seven observations that I’ve recently made based upon personal experience and conversation with leaders in the Millennial generation. These reflections are not all rooted in scientific social data but most that I say here can be seen in this kind of data if you look at it carefully.

  1. Most churches tell Millennials, at least by their actions: “We have a program for you. Get married and have a family and you will find a place to join in with our community.” Given the large numbers of single Millennials, and the large number of Millennial couples who do not have children, this message pushes Millennials away from the church more and more. Large numbers of Christians who are now single young adults have left the church and have no plan to return. Thinking they will come home like previous generations is a huge mistake in my view.
  2. Millennial Christians would rather not start another “generational” church but this will inevitably happen because of the reality of what I stated above.
  3. Millennials can be reached but very few will be discipled well unless and until the church realizes that the mission of Jesus has profoundly changed in North America. The gospel is the same joyful good news but the way in which we reach and teach must change. We have moved from a religious, denominational, Christendom culture to a post-Christendom, post-denominational culture. Until we see this and embrace it missiologically we will fail.
  4. Millennial leaders generally do not have the patience to put up with “what’s happening now” in the church culture so they will go where they find meaningful friendships, even if these friendships are not church-connected friendships.
  5. Churches cannot fix these problems by “reaching out to Millennials.” Congregations must become communities, and this means more than starting and running small groups. Large churches, at least mega-churches as we’ve known them since the 1980s, will not be the same in the next two decades. Many large buildings will not be church buildings in my lifetime or slightly beyond. Again, very few current leaders are willing to address this problem before it overwhelms them.
  6. Denominations and church groups desperately need to become ecumenical in every practical and possible way. Millennials are not going to embrace a fractured and divided Christianity the way my generation did. I believe there is growing evidence that they will embrace mission and unity if they see how the two are related in Christ’s teaching (John 13-17). This is why I believe even more deeply in the vision that God gave to me for the church back in the early 1990s.
  7. Millennials hunger for silence, space and nature. They may be connected socially but they desire even more to be connected incarnationally. They hunger for significance in human relationships that reflect real diversity and true openness to all people; even to the whole of the biosphere on this planet.
  8. Millennials have a strong and growing sense that they want to make a difference. It is more than interesting to see how they have voted. Now they seem to have “buyer’s remorse.” They will likely fall away from the political process in even greater numbers in the coming years, underscoring why the culture wars can not succeed in any meaningful way. The only way to change culture is to disciple leaders who create new structures, or renew old ones.  This can only happen if we who are older listen and embrace the young leaders who are speaking to us boldly at the present moment.
Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Culture, Current Affairs, Evangelism, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, The Church, The Future | 2 Comments/Likes

Personal (Non-Scientific) Reflections on Millennials and the Church (Part One)

Time_MillennialI have had my fair share of engagement over the last few years with the Millennial generation (born since 1982). I am quite sure that most church leaders have very little understanding of this generation. Large numbers do not see the importance of what is transpiring in terms of the religious beliefs and practices of the majority of young Americans.

Here are a few observations I’ve recently made based upon personal experience and conversation with leaders. This is not all rooted in scientific social data but most of it can be seen in this data if you look at it carefully.

  1. Millennials really are leaving the church in a way unlike any other generation in my lifetime. The rise of the “nones” (no-religious preference or church) is not being overly exaggerated in the least. In fact, Millennials may be leaving the church faster than any previous generation in our history except perhaps those who were young adults between the years 1790 – 1810. (An awakening began on college campuses during this period that many feel turned the tide in America’s early years as a republic.)
  2. Millennials are moving into the urban centers of America in greater numbers every year. This will likely continue. It will mean that the church in the city either adjusts or dies. Massive empty church buildings could play a role in reaching new younger adults but few such churches have a vision of mission and the future.
  3. Millennials are not marrying and beginning families like their predecessors. One reason might be their personal experience with family life. Large numbers (a majority?) of them come from broken-homes and openly choose to live together and/or never consider marriage and/or having children. You can debate why all this is true but do not miss this point – it is true!
  4. Millennials care about many issues but they have, at least so far, not invested much of their income in mission at all. While they will invest time they will not (generally) invest much money. This split is dangerous. While I teach Millennials, and count many as good friends, few of them support ACT3. This is what it is and I am not sure what changes it.
  5. Millennials do not have any loyalty to denominations or tribal groups. They clearly rely heavily on relationships with their peers but they also seem quite open to relationships with older adults who will invest time in them. Much of what I know about Millennials is what I’ve learned by simply being with them as a friend.
  6. Millennials are not impressed by what you know or where you’ve been. They care about how you respond to them in the moment. If you reject their friends, many of whom are gay, then they will not respond well to you as a person. This is true for most Christian Millennials, whose views on friendship are far more open and affirming than anything I’ve experienced previously.
  7. Millennials try the church, sometimes for a few months or years, but they give up when they find out that the church offers them programs, not a place to serve and be included in the church life and community.
Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Culture, Current Affairs, Evangelism, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, The Church | 2 Comments/Likes

The Growing Desire for Silence in the Church – How Shall We Respond?

cover090814v2Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, recently said that at a time when young people are bombarded by noise and distractions, especially from the social media, there is a “deep desire” for silence and personal encounter with Christ. (The Tablet, July 12, 2014).

While I am not sure there is enough hard data to support this sweeping conclusion my own anecdotal experience says he is right.

The archbishop added, while speaking at a July 4-6 Catholic UK discernment festival:

Today there is so much noise, with social media, we don’t understand the value of silence. We go away from it, from ourselves. In silence . . . we encourage ourselves, and God. There is a desire for silence, desire for spirituality [amid] the problems of society. If we take time in silence we find the answer to this desire.

In the same issue of The Tablet, the leading Jesuit magazine in the UK, several Catholic bishops suggested that the Mass has become “consumerised.” Alan Hopes, the Bishop of East Anglia, says this attitude is making it much harder for those who cannot receive communion. He poignantly says, “People at Mass have a view – ‘What do I get out of this?’,” he said. “We have shifted to a practice where everybody gets up for Communion and makes it awkward for those who can’t go to Communion.” Bishop Hopes said “we expect Communion at every Mass, and the Mass has become the most prevalent service. But we have a rich liturgy and this is something we should look into.”

What is the answer to this problem? The Bishop of East Anglia says Catholics need to encourage greater participation in all forms of worship and a deeper knowledge of what happens in other expressions of the faith. Each member has a unique role and they should understand this role is if they would enter fully into the faith of the church.

While many evangelicals might think these problems are limited to Catholics, and others with a higher and more ritually-based liturgy, they would be wrong to conclude that this is the real truth if they did their own study of this growing problem. In most churches I believe there is a deep need for silence, and a burning desire for personal encounter with Christ. This is especially true among younger Christians. But we keep giving them programmatic responses that fail. We have turned church gatherings into simplistic rituals without care for the inner needs of those who attend and these attempts feed into consumerism. The answer is to step back and enrich the way in which we seek God and true faith as a community. We need more silence, more reflection, more honesty.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Contemplation, Current Affairs, Personal, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality, The Church | Leave a comment

The Abuse of Women and Our Response (Part Two)

Unknown-1The case of Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice’s assault on his fiancé in February of this year underscores a major problem in the NFL and our culture in general – women are still being abused and many institutions (mostly those led by men) cover it up or deny its importance. They do this by being “tone deaf” to the deeper issues involved in this problem. I suggested yesterday that the NFL represents a larger problem in our society, a problem that extends into the leadership of our churches. Let me explain.

The Baltimore Ravens consider Ray Rice an important leader on their team and to their organization. Their response to this assault has been to address the whole nightmare as a public relations problem. They had Janay Rice sit beside her husband in front of a Ravens backdrop for a press conference after his arrest. This strikes me as major “damage control.” They were attempting, suggested Phil Taylor in the August 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, “to repair their star running back’s image.” This press conference even included an apology from Janay! She referred to “my role that night” in deflecting the intense negativity focused upon her husband. The problem with this approach is obvious to anyone who has dealt with the abuse of women. She may have spoken in ways that angered her man that evening but she bears no responsibility for the beating she took. He had the power to not hurt her and he alone acted in a way that is despicable and abusive beyond words. She should not have to admit anything, much less be placed at his side in a public press conference held by a football team.

It has been reported that Janay Rice met with commissioner Roger Goodell to plead for lenience for her husband. If this intervention had anything to do with Goodell’s decision about Ray Rice it only underscores his complete failure to understand the nature of this problem. Anyone who knows anything about domestic violence understands that victims often defend their abusers for a variety of reasons. A major one is fear! Janay Rice’s standing by her man should be understood in this broader context and thus it should not factor into what her husband did or how he should have been punished. Period, end of story.

Yesterday I made the point that the church needs to learn from the Ray Rice story and the bad response of the NFL in assessing punishment for such actions. What did I have in mind?

  1. Male leaders abuse women in church contexts more often than many know or will admit. Some of this is sexual but a lot of it is emotional and spiritual. Some of this is not overt but it demeans and deeply harms.
  2. Male leaders are often protected in these instances of abuse. This is especially true if the male leader is a “super-star.” Females who raise questions about star leaders are often shunned and undermined by other leaders, who are mostly male.
  3. The systems many church structures have in place for dealing with these issues are often weak and out of touch. If you do not believe this then start “listening” to your sisters more carefully. In fact, if you care enough about this concern gather a group of sisters and let them describe what they have experienced under male leadership. I dare you men to do it.
  4. As I have read and listened to major stories about male leaders unfold in recent years I have become increasingly aware of how much sexual and emotional power men still exert over women inside the church. I fully realize that women sometimes falsely accuse male leaders and that this must be considered. But I also know that women are often treated as “emotional” and “untrustworthy” in reporting any form of abuse. The exception, in this case, does not prove to be the rule.
  5. Male leaders desperately need female insights if they are to lead well. While I prefer that my leadership team include women I respect churches that disagree with this position if they truly show respect for women and address abuse properly. I can also respect complimentarian leaders if they truly “listen” to their sisters deeply. I simply do not see enough of this deep listening in strongly conservative complimentarian church settings.
  6. The social media underscores this issue as much as anything I’ve see in our time. Read the remarks of some Christian men and you will be astounded if you understand the problem. It is stunning to me what men (and some women) will say about maleness and how we need to reassert it in our culture. I wonder if they’ve read the Gospels carefully and considered how Jesus treated women. His tenderness and social intimacy are striking if the Gospel texts are read carefully in their proper context. One gets the sense that his regard and respect for women were courageous beyond words!

Any system of leadership – male or female, complimentarian or egalitarian – that fosters the abuse of women in any way should be rejected. This issue is not ultimately about your view of women in church office. It is about how to treat women with the dignity and protection that honors both Christ and his Word. Will the church become prophetic and courageous or continue to cover-up the sins of its star male leaders? I pray it will challenge the culture by word and deed. There may be no more evidence of our lack of Christ’s love for more than half of those in our churches than in what we see in the way that men treat women. I am thankful for the gains women have made socially and economically. It is time that the church respect these changes and that we act in accord with the life and example of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Sexuality, The Christian Minister/Ministry, The Church, The Future, Women in the Church | Leave a comment

The Abuse of Women and Our Response (Part One)

Women are abused every day, perhaps no less so than a few decades ago when the problem was not as open for the public to see as it has been in the early 21st century. This abuse might be even less understood by the general public than it was  a decade ago, at least based on some data I’ve studied. Reports of such abuse are as common now as ever but the response to them has not improved nearly as much as we should desire. Many abusive situations are settled in ways that leave me uneasy, to put it mildly. Let me cite one story to underscore how my sense of outrage about this issue was spiked just a few weeks ago.

UnknownExhibit A – The recent ruling of the National Football League (NFL) in the case of Ray Rice. Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, received a suspension of only two games for a domestic violence incident in February. This particular incident left Rice’s fiancé Janay Palmer (who is now his wife) lying unconscious outside an Atlantic City casino elevator. The NFL’s punishment of Ray Rice sends a chilling statement to women and anyone else who cares about domestic violence in a culture where males still abuse women in significant numbers. (If the history of NFL punishment is carefully considered the league’s response to Rice is weak and sends all the wrong signals. He was banned for only two games in a sixteen game season!) Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, suspended Rice for less time than he has players for marijuana use and other lesser offenses. Phil Taylor, writing in the August 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, said, “It’s the casual attitude about the assault from the commissioner’s office” that sends all the wrong signals. I agree.

In contrast NBA commissioner Adam Silver responded to the Donald Sterling racist flap with deep emotion and then stood his ground against the owner by banning his ownership interest in the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In listening to Roger Goodell’s response, and that of his fellow NFL peers, there appeared to be nothing that conveyed any real sense of disgust. Phil Taylor asked: “How is anyone supposed to believe the league truly cares about the welfare of female fans after this?” Indeed, how?

Ray Rice pleaded “not guilty” to aggravated assault and will avoid jail time. He will also have his record expunged if he completes a pretrial intervention program. When all is said and done this whole episode underscores for women, children and uncaring men that beating a woman is nothing more than a minor slip-up. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens coach, underscored this attitude when he said, “It’s not a big deal.” Really coach? He added, about Ray Rice, “He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He [made] a mistake, all right?” To his credit Ray Rice has shown remorse for his actions and his girlfriend did marry him. (More about this later.) But the coach’s response doesn’t help me to believe the league, with all its testosterone-driven culture, cares at all about women.

Phil Taylor is right to conclude, “It’s hard to believe anyone would be so tone-deaf.” I think that Taylor, an African-American journalist, nails it. But I believe that he not only underscores a problem in our wider culture but one that is inside our churches. I am not referring to physical assault, at least in most cases. I refer to the incredibly destructive problem of emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse that goes on in the name of male leadership over women. The dirty little secret is that men still talk about women in ways that demean and destroy their confidence in their brothers. I will develop this thought tomorrow. I hope you will bear with me and keep reading.

 

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