Browsing the blog archives for May, 2011

The Sword of the Lord – Transforming the Experiences of Fundamentalism

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

In speaking engagements around the country I hear stories of those recovering from the wounds or abuse of fundamentalist Christianity. In his new book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family, Andrew Himes offers a path to healing and transforming those experiences.

In the telling of our stories a spiritual pathway of connecting stories is revealed. As we listen with attentiveness to our own story and those of others we are on sacred terrain in which the Holy is revealed through connecting stories.

I am a friend and admirer of Andrew Himes’ work. In The Sword of the Lord he offers a lavish invitation to discovering the Holy in our stories and experiences of fundamentalism that may have caused us to believe in a harsh, unforgiving and dour God.

Himes’ invitation comes through telling the stories of his own family who were formative leaders within American fundamentalism.  Among them is his grandfather John R. Rice whose opinions expressed in his weekly paper named The Sword of the Lord exerted more influence on twentieth century fundamentalism than any other single person.  

The book is an eye-opener in revealing the crucial role that fundamentalism played in much of American history from the Civil War and Reconstruction to Civil Rights. If love is the only commandment offered by Christ and justice is its expression you will leave this book wondering where love and fundamentalism intersect for those who are not part of fundamentalism’s restrictive and harsh interpretation of Christ’s teachings.

The arc of Andrew Himes’ story is the captivating glue of this book. As he journeys away from the fundamentalism of his own family to explore other teachings and traditions Himes travels a journey to a fuller, more expansive and generous love of the Holy.

As he enters into a mutual telling and listening to stories with members of his own family you feel privileged to be present for experiences of hearts cracked open to one another. It is in these powerful connecting stories that you experience the transformation of hearts and lives.

On one level this book is a must read for anyone seeking to understand or make sense of American fundamentalism. For any of us who have been shaped, formed or disfigured by fundamentalism The Sword of the Lord is an invitation to take some next steps on your own journey of healing.  

For anyone interested in the power of storytelling and the pathway that connecting stories offer on our journey to becoming fully alive and fully human this book is filled with wise, compassionate and  deeply engaging examples of how to authentically make such a journey.

If you buy The Sword of the Lord today on Amazon you will help make it on to the top ten best seller list of the day. Whenever you buy it and read it, it will become a familiar companion of hope, transformation and generous radiant living.

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Queer Crusade: Christianity Run Amuck in Uganda

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexual Bill is a Christian crusade dressed up as legislation. If enacted it will represent a triumph for Christian fundamentalists and open the floodgate to further violence against LGBT people in Uganda.  The theology motivating the bill’s proponents is in stark contrast to notions of love, mercy, justice and compassion.

The creation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill followed the 2009 seminar sponsored by Uganda’s Family Life Network to “Expose the Homosexual Agenda.” American evangelicals Scott Lively and Don Schmierer partnered with the Family Life Network in promoting the view that LGBT people are recruiting children to their cause and destroying the family structure.

Rick Warren from Saddleback Church is quoted by leaders of the Queer Crusade in Uganda as saying that “Homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right.” Warren’s comments put him at odds with the Obama administration’s decision in 2009 to sign the United Nations declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Under pressure Warren, Lively and Schmierer have attempted to separate themselves from the bill’s harshest measure which calls for the death sentence for “repeat offenders.” In a Christmas video to Ugandan’s Warren tried to have it both ways by claiming that “While we can never deny or water down what God’s word clearly teaches about sexuality, at the same time the church must stand to protect the dignity of all individuals.” Warren ignores that Christ said nothing about homosexuality and very little about human sexuality. His nuance obfuscates his case that Christ would not have wanted homosexuals killed. 

The Queer Crusade in Uganda is widely believed to have led to the January 2011 murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato. A Ugandan tabloid published Kato’s photograph, along with photos of 100 other supposedly gay Ugandans, under the headline “Hang Them.” Several others identified in that publication have been attacked or stoned.

If the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is passed it will allow for any person who “aids or abets” homosexuals to be imprisoned for seven years. A sibling or parent who waits longer than 24 hours before turning in a LGBT relative can be imprisoned. The expected consequence of the legislation is to tear families apart and to incite violence against any person suspected of being gay.

The bill is an aberration of human rights and violates Uganda’s constitution which assures the protection of universal human rights. Even more alarming is the Queer Crusade it will unleash in the name of Christianity.

The ethic and spiritual practice of “loving your neighbor as yourself” cannot be applied selectively.  It invites us into discovering our oneness with the rest of the human family instead of devising ways to imprison or kill in the name of religious hatred and God. There is nothing resembling Christian notions of love, justice, mercy or compassion in the legislation.

The system of apartheid in South Africa was built upon the edifice of a theology that claimed the supremacy of one group of people over another as the will of God justified by scripture. That theology turned into legislation allowed for the government of South Africa to commit deliberate and wonton acts of violence against those who were believed to be less than fully human because of their race. Uganda’s bill transposes race with homosexuality. It is as much of a scourge on the religion it pins hatred to.

International pressure has contributed to the recent delay in voting on the bill in the Ugandan Parliament. Emma Ruby-Sachs in Huffington Post reports that the bill could be voted on this Friday. Avaaz has already collected over 1.1 million signatures urging the Ugandan President to withdraw the bill. The attention and pressure might just halt the passage of this bill. 

Your voice matters as much as the lives of those Ugandans which are at risk. According to the LA Times the controversial death penalty for “repeat offenders” was removed only becuaseo f international pressure.

Each voice raised against what is happening in Uganda diminishes the potential of the new Queer Crusade, speaking instead to our oneness as members of the human family. Love, justice, mercy and compassion are best known in the coalescing of words and actions.

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Can Ground Zero be Transformative?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

President Obama has missed an opportunity at Ground Zero. Beyond the pathos of his visit is an invitation beyond the cheap closure he talks about. Is it possible that Ground Zero invites transformation from fear into freedom for compassion; transformation into a new common humanity?

ABC News correctly identifies the “flurry of emotions” around the Ground Zero meeting.  The loss suffered by the families of those killed in the attacks of 9/11 is real. Our emotions are engaged in surprising, unexpected ways in the years following loss of any kind. The talk about bringing closure makes the President sounds like our Therapist in Chief. There is never closure about any significant loss or abuse because the reality of loss never disappears. Instead the process invites learning that is transformative.

The President is missing the opportunity to be a transformative leader on this one. It is we who are each accountable and responsible for the transformative work that leads to new insights beyond grief and loss. The President can set a tone but he cannot do that work for us any more than a therapist or friend can.

The events of 9/11 have marked the national and personal psyche of many of us with two powerful forces – fear and righteousness.  Both keep us from our truest selves.

In November of 2001 I was privileged to spend time on the secure site of Ground Zero. Two images from that place of devastation speak to being transformed from fear and righteousness into life-giving responses.

The first is of body parts discovered among the rubble. Each time this happened the rescue workers halted their excavations and silence enfolded the site. The reverence for the dead and those who loved them was arresting. People from over 90 nations were killed in the attacks of 9/11 and they included people from many spiritual traditions or none at all. The reverence knew no boundaries.

Fear paralyzes us and creates a paradigm for viewing the world as a battleground between whatever construct we create of “us” and “them. The first victim of fear is usually truth – our own fears separate us from the larger human story we are part of. We then choose to imprison ourselves behind an enclosure. In the moment we do that we give power to those who use fear to stoke division, hatred and mistrust among people, nations and spiritual traditions. We become victims.

Every time we say “I beg to differ” with fear we spread the light of a candle on the murky shadows of fear. When we live in fear we give victory to those who keep us from hope and compassion. The fears represented by 9/11 do not invite us to be mushy about security or stopping terror. But they do invite the transformation of stepping beyond our enclosures into life-giving actions of compassion and hope.

St. Paul's Chapel NYC adorned with messages of hope

The second image came from the historic St. Paul’s Chapel adjacent to Ground Zero. This church where George Washington was inaugurated as President was transformed from a place of religious services into a respite center for the workers at Ground Zero. Food from New York City restaurant kitchens, cots to nap on and massage services for stressed workers were all freely offered. The balcony and pillars were adorned with hand drawn and heart-filled posters from around the world.

Instead of righteous anger or litmus tests for those who entered its doors it was a nerve center of the compassion and care that we are made for. It knew no boundaries for the religious traditions or country of origin of the workers or those killed. No one person’s suffering, trauma, grief or need was more righteous or compelling than that of another. No group of people was scapegoated. Each was real, each was honored.

We often think of the extraordinary generosity and hospitality of Americans. It is legendary. Is it simply a different expression of the same human generosity and hospitality that many of us experience across the globe?

Transformation begins when we make understand and befriend our fears and righteousness. Instead of enclosing us they invite us to understand and enter into those same reactions experienced by any person who has experienced violent loss, terror, abuse or inconsolable grief.

Transformation moves to its own rhythm in the dance of our lives. It is always inviting us in. We can choose to be transformed by the very experiences that change or upend life as we know or imagine it. Each of us can choose to be participants in saying “I beg to differ” with the imprisonment that fear and righteousness brings. This is waking up to being our truest selves – compassionate and at one with others. Is it worth the journey and the work to you?

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Cheering Bin Laden’s Death

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Have you cheered the death of Osama Bin Laden?  His death is a singularly cathartic time for Americans.  Is a more profound human cheering at play?

I joined the cheering as I sat riveted by the TV images of crowds spontaneously gathering at the White House and Ground Zero when Bin Laden’s death was announced.  I too wanted to wave my American flag.

Was I doing the unimaginable and rejoicing in the death of another human being? I am at the very least thankful to know that he is dead. I have gratitude for the calm precision and leadership of President Obama and those Navy Seals. Some may be choosing triumphalist cheering. My own desire to cheer is born out of relief. But relief to what end?

The face of fear represented by Bin Laden is gone. It is like knowing that a mass murderer on the loose in your city has been apprehended or that the sexual predator who has abused you is behind bars. Fear of imminent abusive assault diminishes when the threat is removed.

Does our national cheering reveal more about the fears that have lurked in our collective psyche since 9/11 than a desire for blood sports? As relief settles in questions about what we are relieved about will present themselves.  Is there common ground to be appreciated in the human yearning for well-being and security?

In places like Spain, Britain, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East Bin Laden’s disciples have inflicted terror on tens of thousands. In the aftermath of 9/11 every person in the world was an American in the empathy directed toward us as we reeled from the attacks in DC, Pennsylvania and New York. That empathy had dissipated by the time we declared war on Iraq.

The Bin Laden franchise operators will attempt to wreak havoc wherever and whenever they can.  A new opportunity presents itself in the collective global relief of knowing that the face of fear represented by Bin Laden is gone. It is an opportunity to rebuild the common human bonds among those who make no peace with terror by pursuing security and well-being for all. The empathy that existed after 9/11 is an empathy that lingers within people of good will.

The bridge to this new opportunity exists when our cheering is not for ourselves alone, but a cheering for the human family.

The cynical will say that political and military leaders cannot deliver on such a hope or promise. Such a response creates a new face of paralyzing fears. We have learned from the people of Middle Eastern countries over the last few months that the human yearning to be free of fear and violence can never be squashed.

Deftly mobilizing the power of social media they have taught us that the human yearnings which unite us are in our hands. Bin Laden’s acts of terror and sowing of fear were designed to alienate the human family from one another. If we embrace the opportunity that his death as unleashed it will the human family rejecting fear and insecurity through proactively seeking the well-being and security of one another.

Our American cheering is a visceral reaction – it is real and freeing. Its lasting value will be in our connecting it to the cheering on of the human family’s yearning for freedom from fear.

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