Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black Friday kills

I just read my first report of a Black Friday murder for 2013, here.

It seems to happen just about every year. This time it was a young man from Queens working at a Walmart in Long Island, NY. He was 34 years old and a temporary employee--maybe he needed a little extra income, or maybe he had been looking for any work he could get, I don't know. But now he's dead, trampled to death by a stampede of shoppers forcing their way through the store's doors. Even with the anonymity of the news article, the facts are heart-breaking.

I don't understand why we haven't done whatever it's going to take to protect people from this greed-fueled madness. "Greed" sounds like a harsh word, but what else can we say about an impulse to save money and acquire toys or gadgets that is so strong that it makes other people invisible to us, invisible to the point that we could fight with someone but forget her the moment we've wrestled the merchandise from her hands--already focused on the next objective--or even trample someone to death?
Greed, covetousness, avarice, sin, evil--no word is too strong for this.

But why haven't we done what it takes to prevent this? Why aren't there special, Black Friday entrances  at Walmarts which only allow one body through at a time, and if anyone tries to push or run through, they're removed from line/arrested/tasered--something? What about rules that no children are allowed for a certain period after the doors first open, to protect them and keep them from seeing some of the dark realities festering inside of humanity? What about spreading out the sales over a week or more, to diffuse the one night of hysteria?  How many people have to die to justify rethinking and totally revamping "Black Friday"? Surely, surely, it's not more than one. Surely one life is already too many, more than any holiday savings or making budget are worth?

If our society can't remedy this, then we're faced with one or two terrible possibilities. First, we're unable to conceive of an alternative. Our imaginations are paralyzed in the face of this situation, and there doesn't seem to be another good option. If that's what it is, then the obvious solution is to do away with a brick-and-mortar Black Friday altogether.
Or second, we're unwilling to seek an alternative. The current system seems to maximize profits, and you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. If that's what it is, then the Christian response is to name sin and demand change. We're not interested in saving blood money or elevating anything above the well-being of our neighbors, because we love them.

But something has to happen. We can't just forget about this in the upcoming weeks of escalating 'Christmas' festivities (can it really have anything to do with celebrating Jesus if we're willing to sacrifice other people's lives?) and then await the heart-breaking refrain next year, when someone else is killed. The Church has to demand a change that will safeguard people's lives, and we have to show the world a different way of life that includes a different way of shopping and a different way of celebrating Christmas.

Because holiday shopping is not worth this.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

this lady pastor is making waves

It seems like everywhere I turn in the last month I've been hearing about Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, and her new memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint.

Bolz-Weber is not your average mainline clergywoman. She wears a collar, but often sans sleeves, to show off the tattoos covering both arms. She tends to cuss, and she's very open about her history of what you might call 'dissolute living'. In a nutshell, she's transparent--and more colorful on the inside than a lot of other transparent clergy-folk.

And blog after blog has been covering her lately, as well as a nice piece yesterday in The Washington Post.

Colorful clergy are nothing new. Plenty of Non-Denoms and other evangelical Christians have seen their share of ministers with tattoos or earrings, or the abrasive, in-your-face style. Sometimes this seems like sick pretense, sometimes it seems like refreshing honesty. The reason I felt like sharing about this particular lady is simply that I was struck by two lines from the WP article.

One is also found on the HFASS webpage: this church, they say, is "anti-excellence/pro-participation." At HFASS they try to take the focus off of the minister, off of any worthy or 'excellent' individuals, and  emphasize instead the whole Body. Bolz-Weber will preach and lead the prayer during the Communion liturgy, but otherwise the congregation leads every part of the service, even the music (it's a cappella)! Whether or not you like that way of doing things, I love seeing a place where you don't have to be anybody special to be deeply involved in worship--you don't need to be excellent, just to come and be a part of the Body.

The second bit that reverberated with me was a personal remark of hers. Nadia Bolz-Weber is afraid that a lot of mainline congregations have turned church into just another non-profit organization or community club, 'the Elks with Holy Communion'. She hopes HFASS can paint a different picture of the Church. Religion, she says, should be “something that’s so devastatingly beautiful it can break your heart. Instead it’s been: ‘Recycle.’ And ‘Don’t sleep with your girlfriend.’ ”

And I'll just leave you with that one.

Have you ever felt like you weren't good enough--or others thought you weren't good enough--to participate in some part of the life of the church?
When have you seen something truly beautiful in the Church or an individual's faith? What do you think could make your congregation and ministries more beautiful?