Trust: The Currency of Peace

"Trust is a function of two things: Character and competence.  Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people.  Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, and your history."~Stephen MR Covey in The Speed of Trust

"The moment there is suspicion about a person's motives, everything he does becomes tainted.~Mahatma Gandhi'

"What's important, though, is that at last we're confronting the issue of declining trust in our culture.  As trust declines, we quit believing in each other; we don't feel safe because we trust no one."~Cecile Andrews in Living Room Revolution

Romans 13:3-4
For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. (NLT)

The single most important asset in any community is trust.  Trust is simply the ability to have confidence in a person, group, or institution.  As leadership expert Stephen Covey states, our ability to trust is based upon the perceived character and competence of the person or institution.  Social Scientist Richard Boyatzis takes this concept a little further by saying that research shows we will only follow people whom we trust and whose behavior, values, and beliefs are aligned.  In fact, "we only trust people whom we do not constantly have second-guess", (Boyatzis, Reasonant Leadership).

It is this understanding of trust and its centrality for civility that needs more attention in the discussion and analysis of the conditions involving law enforcement and people of color.  At the time of this writing, numerous cases involving people of color dying at the hands of law enforcement have lead to nationwide and even international protests.  Social media is abuzz with ill-informed, polarized rants without a goal of understanding, reconciliation, or civility.

Basically. Law enforcement  must be trustworthy.  It has a unique position in civil society where it is granted trust. The Greek scriptures (New Testament) speak of law enforcement as having innate respect and trust.  This trust is based upon the assumed moral character and competence.  The assumption is that as civil servants, law enforcement officers are devoted to  the protection of all citizens and the implementation and execution of laws that are themselves fair, impartial, and just.  Any threat to the integrity of this devotion, causes significant distrust.  This distrust undermines everything.

Statistically speaking, in many predominantly African-American communities, there is reason for distrust in the law enforcement agencies in their community and the legal system in general.  The statistics showing a greater risk of being killed, being arrested, and serving longer sentences are impressive.  This does not mean that all or even most law enforcement officers in African-American communities are racists, corrupt, or use excessive force.  But it means that the Law enforcement agencies have a responsibility of earning the trust of its community.  That trust can no longer be taken for granted nor can it be requested from the community.  It must be earned.

So how do law enforcement and governmental authorities earn trust?  Here we go:

1. Demonstrate respect for the community and the law:  When communities are treated disrespectfully then they refuse to respect the authorities.  Give dignity and you will get it.  Law enforcement should never be above the law it enforces.  Law enforcement officers are human and make mistakes like everyone else.  Keeping themselves accountable speaks volumes to its community.

2. Create processes for transparency: Things like cameras and open hearings allow a sense of transparency that directly yields trust.  Secrecy is a trust killer.

3.  Make Amends when possible: When Law enforcement agencies commit crimes, there must be justice and amends made when possible.

4. Confront Reality: If there are systematic injustices that are expressed in discriminatory displays of excessive force, arrests, and unfair sentencing, then admit it and deal with it.  Again, one need not be a racist to participate in racialized systems .

5. Clarify expectations for the community: Demonstrate how you are using resources to enhance their security, not to diminish it.

6. Extend Trust: Law Enforcement must listen to the communities in which they serve and extend the courtesy that community members are on their side.  This is done by inviting community members into law enforcement, developing specific community-law enforcement liaisons and regular forums. Booker T Washington is correct when he says "few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him."

I leave you with this quote:

"Democracy means trusting in the people.  Without democracy we will not survive becasue continuing with "Every man for himself" ultimately means "last man standing".~Cecile Andrews

I pray that trust is earned so that civility can be established.

God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Discipline or Abuse: Adrian Peterson's situation

Proverbs 13:24

He who spares the rod hates his son,

but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. 

Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed!"
~Allstar Football player Adrian Peterson explaining the wounds his 4 yr old son received

This past week, one of the most popular NFL players, Adrian Peterson, was arrested for child abuse.  His 4 yr old son, was noted to have lacerations and bruises to all of his extremities as well as his genital area.  The response among football fans was varied.  Some were appalled while others noted that using a "switch" for discipline, is common practice in particular cultures.

The basic question in this situation is whether this episode represents severe discipline that is culturally defined or whether it represents abuse.  I want to share a couple of principles that we need to consider before we can understand what is happening in this situation:

1. Abuse is defined by the experience of the victim, not the intentions of the abuser.  The CDC defines child maltreatment (including abuse and neglect) as:  Any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.  The parent need not be malicious in order to abuse a child.

2. Culture often defines acceptable practices as well has parental roles, responsibilities, and relationships.  However, cultures can often cover pathologic practices and behavior.  I often laugh at the fact that I will often choose to go to a movie theater that is not mostly African-American in attendance.  Not because I am afraid or worried about my safety, but because of the time-honored, cultural practice of yelling at the screen and having full voiced conversation during the movie.  I asked someone several years ago if they could quiet down, and he responded "man, you know how we do?".  Although some practices are culturally acceptable, it doesn't mean that they are healthy practices.

3. Physical discipline such as spanking, standing in a corner, etc are not wrong in themselves.  While many child advocates will say it is never appropriate to use spanking, the fact that it was an essential practice in child rearing in most cultures since antiquity makes it somewhat normative.  I know that people argue that it is a primitive response that promotes violence in children, but I think that is very contextual and subjective, depending on  how the physical discipline is administered.

I recognize that most African-American families have a history of the acceptable use of physical discipline.  Because most African-American families were influenced by the African-American Church which was very conservative in its theology, and fundamentalistic in its practices.  Physical discipline was not only encouraged but was considered Biblical!  

However, in this case, the child was wounded including lacerations on his genitalia.  This is not only harmful physically but traumatic both physically and emotionally.  This does not mean that Adrian Peterson is a horrible person and parent, but that these practices that may be intended to discipline his child are actually causing significant injury and harm.  He. like many parents, need to develop healthy strategies for discipline and to understand that discipline is different than "punishment".  Here are several strategies for disciplining our children:

Age appropriate discipline: Don't lecture a toddler or spank a teenager.  Children are not "little adults" but have developing understandings of behaviors and ever-changing motivations.  We wouldn't discipline our 3 year old son who in his attempt to use the potty like daddy, makes a mess.  We applaud his attempt to be a "big boy" and give him directions.  However, if our 17 yr old son is making the same mess, he may be called to clean it up and an appropriate discipline may be cleaning the bathroom everyday for a week.  The action and the age (developmentally) are important in determining discipline.

Believe in your child:  Believe it or not, our children desire your approval and are not conspiring against you.  I know it may feel that way, but study after study has shown that children are highly motivated to please their parents, even through teenage years.  This is the difference between discipline and punishment.  Punishment often results in demonizing the child, (they are bad, evil, angry, attitudinal, etc) and the act of punishment has no redeeming value other than having the child experience pain.  When we give our child the benefit of the doubt, we still seek to discipline them to improve their behavior or understand the consequences of that behavior, but we are not trying to inflict pain for the purpose of inflicting pain.

Consistent Conditioning yields the greatest results:  In my practice, the greatest problem with discipline is that often parents are inconsistent.  They draw the line and then move the line, and then re-establish the line, and the child's behavior is not impacted.  A 9 yr old is told that he must do his school work before he can play video games.  3 days into the rule, the child does half his work but begs to play games.  He is allowed and then 6 days after the rule, his mother receives a note that his work at school is incomplete.  His mother then tries to re-establish the rule on day 7 and the child doesn't complete the work and the mother out of frustration, gives the child a different form of discipline.  The child is conditioned to understand that the rule is arbitrary and not important.  The more consistent your discipline is, the more effective a child's behavior is conditioned.

Does this action cause damage?: If you are hitting a child with objects or your hand that causes bruises and scars, you are causing damage.  This is absolute!  If  your words are personally hurtful (you are stupid, you are horrible, you are just like that loser father/mother, etc), then your are injuring your child.  Allow a few minutes to pass before you discipline.  Respond, but do not react.  If you are angry when you discipline, the more likely significant injury can occur.

I pray for Adrian Peterson and his children.  I believe that his son experienced abuse and that Adrian, like all parents, needs help to develop healthy forms of discipline as opposed to damaging punishment. I believe that the government is acting on behalf of his children in a way that seeks to protect these children.   In the same way that it takes a village to raise a family, it takes a community to develop parents.  Communities and cultures must model healthy ways of discipline and speak out against abuse in the multifaceted manifestations.

I pray that we make a difference

Dr. Mike

The Story of Noah: A Pastor's Review

This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. (Genesis 6:9 NLT)

The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”

– A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit Of God

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch "Noah" staring Russel Crowe as Noah.  It was a well produced, and well directed fictional account of the Biblical story of Noah.  By now, I have read and heard various well meaning Christians speak about the horrors of such a film: The conspiracies to undermind the Biblical truth; The conspiracies to promote pro-ecological agendas; The "Hollywood" mindsets to be anti-God.  I get it and understand the reality of those trends and how deeply troubled and threatened Christian communities are when there is a re-interpretation or manipulation of the Biblical narrative as it literally is "living and active".  I have a very high regard for scripture and accept its teachings as the paradigm for truth but more importantly, it is the revelatory narrative that connects to the living God and His mission for His creation.

I mention my understanding and regard for scripture as the backdrop for the following observations about the movie and the Christian community:

1. The Biblical narrative on the details surrounding Noah is quite sparse.  We have no idea of Noah's personality, his interactions with his wife, his parenting skills, his experiences growing up, his experiences in the ark, etc.  We understand his character to be "righteous" or in a right relationship with God, but that can express itself broadly.  I personally, did not like the character of Noah as developed in this movie because he was very nihilistic.  His emphasis was on God's judgement and he could not understand God's grace, for which he himself was a sign and an agent.  However, its very realistic for a servant of God to misunderstand His mission and calling, even in the midst of doing it.  Overall, the liberties that they took in his character were believable because they are rational and consistent with the responses of other Biblical characters in the Biblical narratives faced with the kind of catastrophic event and global calling. (You can not help but to see the Director's ingenious comparison of Noah's willingness to kill his family due to his perceived calling and calling of Abraham and his sacrifice in Genesis 22).

2. The Biblical narrative is unclear regarding the role of angels, giants (niphillum), and supernatural beings in the story of Noah.  In the movie, these beings take a surprisingly prominent role.  Interestingly, the angels in the story remind me of the way J.R. Tolken uses the "Tree herders" in the Lord of Rings. It brings an understanding that the world, humanity, and our stories are not the only things that God, the creator is involved in.  

3. There are obvious departures from the Biblical narrative that are mostly not important to the overall understanding of the big picture.  The biggest was the failure for wives of his two sons, and the presence of the evil king on the ark.  However, mostly, they were not important.

4. Most importantly: The movie was very pro-God, pro-faith, and pro-redemption.  I believe that it expresses themes of trusting God, grace in the face of judgment, and glaringly, the promotion of God's life agenda.  

With that, I would not be afraid to suggest for someone to watch it.  It makes a great discussion piece for the greater narratives and themes of scripture.  I, myself, found myself looking up the timeline for Methusalah, only to realize for the first time, that Methusalah does die in the flood (check it out yourself).  

Lets look at this story as a means of drawing closer to God and understanding all of our roles in the Biblical narratives and inviting conversations with those with different, alternative, and conflicting word views.

God bless and I would love your thoughts

Pastor M Traylor

Wearing Shame

As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11 NIV)

“What is shame?

You are:





-Edward T. Welch in Shame Interrupted.

In western Christianity, there is a tremendous emphasis on dealing with guilt.  Guilt is that feeling or understanding that you have done something wrong or trangressed a particular standard.  Guilt is associated with something one does, or sometimes something that one does not do.  Guilt is a universal emotion that is culturally defined.  Culturally defined because the standards that produce guilt are defined and re-enforced by one's community.

However,  shame is a much more insidious and opppressive emotion. While guilt may speak "I have messed up"; shame screams "I am a mess".  Guilt may impair our actions and outlook, but shame distorts and perverts our identities.

Guilt is often related to shame in that shame may result in our pathological ways of dealing with guilt.  I have seen children who make mistakes in my office (spilled a drink, responded incorrectly to a question, etc.) literally be called "Stupid", "dumb", and "retarded".  Those descriptions are not describing the action, but the actor.  Particularly in childhood, when parental words and actions help us form our identity, these reactions imbed shame deep into our understanding of ourselves.

Its interesting that throughout scripture, God's focus is not only to deal with our guilt but also to release us from our shame.  Shame that is brought on from our own actions and attitudes as well as those dumped upon us in our life journey.  Look at the following text from the earliest of scripture:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” .....The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:9-11, 21 NIV)

Notice that Adam's response to the presence of God was not guilt, but shame.   He could have responded "I am sorry that I ate the fruit that your forbade."  That would have been a response coming from his sense of guilt caused by his disobedience.  However, he responds according to his nakedness.  Nakedness is a state, not an action.  His nakedness was a badge of shame.  Interestingly, his understanding of nakedness as a sense of shame was created by his own desire to define what was respectable and what was not (God made him naked and did not feel it was shaming and Eve received him naked and also felt no shame (Gen 2:25).

The fascinating aspect of this story is God's response.  While he judges the guilt (Adam, Eve, and the Serpent all receive consequences for their wrong doings), he covers their shame (Gen 3:21).  This is a window in which all of the rest of God's interactions, including the sending of his son, with humanity can be viewed.  

This brings me back to the original point.  The emphasis of Christianity, as expressed by many churches, is not to deal with our shame but merely relieve our guilt.  We are concerned about being right, but God is concerned about making us rightous and respectable.  This is why so many feel like their faith is sterile and impotent.  They know cognitively that their sins have been forgiven and that their actions have been atoned for, but they remain living in their shame.

God sent his son to develop a relationship with us that fundamentally changes our identity.  We are no longer defined by our failures, our abuses, or our indescretions, but our relationship with God and His mission.  

If you are a follower of Jesus, relinquish the burden of shame that declares you are not good enough, not beautiful, or a failure.  Refuse to act out a script written for you by others pain and brokenness. Understand that Jesus calls you metaphorically "His bride" that he presents you "without blemish".  This is a description of who we are in his eyes.   

I pray today that you will go deeper in your faith and you will not settle for a faith that merely takes away the guilt.  Start this year with the understanding that Jesus wants to take away your shame and lead you to a full, abundant life.  Delight in the fact that no one who puts their trust in him will "ever be put to shame".

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Tragedy: Part II 

Our society's obsession with media violence does not show that human beings are naturally violent.  Instead, it demonstrates that our society is ill.”

– Paul k Chappell in Peaceful revolution

“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation”

– Jonathan Sacks in The Dignity Of Difference

Don’t envy violent people or copy their ways. Such wicked people are detestable to the Lord, but he offers his friendship to the godly. (Proverbs 3:31, 32 NLT)

This is a continuation of a series of reflections on the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death and its implications for me personally, and the broader society.  In the first post, I spoke about the clear racialization that initiated the process and how that racialization destroys the possibility of true community.  Regardless whether you believe George Zimmerman's accounting of the events or not, I think we can all agree that Trayvon's death was senseless and that his family is justified in feeling a sense of injustice.  If we stop for a moment and seek to empathize with the Martin family, we can begin a process of support and even see a glimpse of possible means of redemption of this horrific event.

It is the lack of community that leads to paranoia and profiling.  No ethnicity has the market cornered on paranoia, mistrust, or suspicion, but it is the attempt to have authentic community which lowers the fences of misunderstanding and yields an openness to accept and identify with people who are culturally dissimilar.  It is easier to kill and maim that which is a thing than that which is truly human.  It is easier to kill and maim that which we feel is evil and malicious than that which has similar motives and relationships as our selfs.  Relationships reduce violence.

So this brings me to a polarizing topic that I need to just get out in the open.

The presence and access of a loaded firearm not only led to a senseless killing but emboldened Zimmerman to stalk and confront Trayvon in the first place.

The defense maintained that Zimmerman was a physically weak man who is not capable of physically matching up with Trayvon. (I personally do not believe that, but for the purpose of this blog, lets assume there is truth in what he said).  If George Zimmerman was intimidated by Trayvon Martin, then what explains his zealousness in tracking him and confronting him, despite law enforcement counsel not to follow?  The answer is simple: He had an equalizer, a loaded gun on his person.

The presence of loaded weapons in public spaces has not led to people being safer.  There are no statistics, when analyzed objectively, that demonstrates the presence of guns as a deterrent to crime.  Everyday, 13 children and young adults between the ages of 10-24 will be fatally shot today.  By the way, much of those fatalities are not planned shootings but accidents and negligence.  

The constitution did not give us the unconditional right to bear arms everywhere and anywhere.  It actually granted the right of a well armed militia, which we all have now in the national guard.  It has been expanded most recently (1987) to understand the second amendment as the right for people to carry firearms.

All that to say, is this tragedy begs us to consider our gun laws.  The presence of a gun in this tragedy enabled George Zimmerman to boldly pursue Trayvon Martin.  According to NRA logic, the answer to this would have been to have Trayvon Martin with a concealed weapon as well.  That way, he would also feel emboldened and safer.  Gun access leads to more death and destruction.  It equips hatred with potency.

Simply adding guns to fractionated communities of suspicion and mistrust is a recipe for disaster.  Its interesting, that we can understand that any legitimate right, such as the right to bear arms, comes with responsiblities.  Our children are dying at unprecedented levels because America can not responsibly have such access to guns.  Paraphrasing peace activist Stanley Hauerwas, we can only begin to study and approach peace once we have decided that violence is not necessary or inevitable.  

This tragedy should move us to look at the role of guns in our society and how they often escalate tense enviornments.  In this case, Zimmerman's right to bear arms took Trayvon Martins's basic right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I will be working with advocacy groups such as the Children's defense Fund to work to protect children and young adults and to reduce gun access.  This, makes us all safer and reduces the probability of reading about more senseless deaths and mourning families.  I want to encourage you to make a difference and to look at the role of guns, not only in this tragedy but in the ongoing violence that is robbing the futures and dreams of our communities.

God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Tragedy: Part I

"There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members"
     -Eric Hoffer, Philosopher and Presidential Medal of Freedom writer

"It's clear that an essential way to stop the violence and the despair in our culture is to engage in activities that bring us empathy and conviviality."
     -Cecile Andrews, in Living Room Revolution

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
     -Romans 12:14-16 NIV

The entire tragedy of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident and trial is almost too large to behold, too deep to describe, and so personal that it is hard to control the emotions that it provokes.  It has been several days since the verdict of not-guilty was issued and I have read some superb blogs and commentaries regarding the legal issues, the reasons for the verdict, and analysis of almost every part of the crime, from the crime itself to its implications for our society.

I want to take a couple of days to unpack the pain that I am experiencing and its implications for our society and culture at large.  I recognize that I come to these issues from a distinct socio-cultural-historical view point and that my perceptions are influenced by my faith, age, ethnicity, parental status, and personal history.  We all have such baggage in analysis.  However, I hope that readers can appreciate that these things also can help us have insights that may not be apparent to many.

When I began my medical training, I began in Psychiatry.  I recall reading a study out of New York where a psychiatrist made the simple observation that psychiatrists often perform significantly more detailed evaluations and assessments when the patients were ethnically, socio-economically, and culturally similar.  This has been proven over and over again (For a fantastic review of cultural bias in mental health, read the article from the American Journal of Public Health in 2003 ).  There is a sub-conscious degree of empathy and compassion that is present when we are with people we think we can identify with.  This is not necessarily a negative thing as it helps to build community and bolster cohesiveness.  The flip side of this is that we also have a tendency to stereotype, often negatively, those who are culturally, ethinically, and economically different from us.  As quoted above, we often perpetuate and justify our stereotypes based upon the worst individuals of that group, not the actual peoples or connections we have had.

So, my first reflection is how this case shows the disintegration of community.  George Zimmerman could not see Trayvon Martin as part of the community, nor could he identify with him or his family as one of the tenants in his neighborhood.  He literally, instantly assessed him as a threat to peace (by his own admission) and could not fathom that he was the child of one of the people he was trying to protect.  There was nothing in Trayvon's behavior, his dress (he was wearing a hoodie because it was raining), or his location that would alert and warrant such suspicion.

Regardless of the many attempts by many to suggest that racial profiling was not involved, it is clear that George Zimmerman stalked Trayvon because he was an African-American walking were George Ziimmerman did not think he should be.  When you listen to George Zimmerman's statements, you will see that there was curse-filled stereotyping to the 911 operator based upon appearance, not behavior.  It is this stereotypical assessment that began a series of actions that led to the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death.  Racialization began the avalanche of the poor decisions that spun out of control.

Its interesting to me how subtle this identification can be and how powerful its implications are.  We see it at work in the jury. One juror, spoke of the "riots" in Sanford after his death, but there were no riots.  That misinformation informed her understanding of the nature of the African-American community from which she saw Trayvon's family as part.   When asked by Zimmerman's lawyers to describe what she knew of Trayvon, she simply said "He was a boy of color".  During her post-trial interview, the same juror called George Zimmerman as "George", demonstrating a personal tie.  She stated that she felt "George's heart was in the right place". There was no evidence of those sentiments, those were value judgments based upon her identification and projection of George Zimmerman.  She then states that "I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him". Again, there was no evidence presented that proved that. She also felt that the prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel, had "no credibility" because the juror perceived that she "felt inadequate towards everyone because of her education and her communication skills.  I just felt sad for her.".  Once again, the value judgement of credibility rests on cultural differences, not the truthfulness of her statements.  I could go on and on, but what I want to express is how the crime and the trial were biased by racializing processes.

It comes down to our understanding of community.  Racialization and racism represents processes which destroy a sense of community and prevent the creation of a safe, democratic, and civil community.  It prevents, what Martin Luther King Jr. called, the "beloved community".  It may  not be the overt racism that was televised in the civil rights attacks in the 1960's, but it still leads to the dehumanization and degradation of those who we perceive to be "the other guys".

22 years after Rodney King asked "Why can"t we all get along", we are still asking that question.  I am worried that my son, and my future grandsons can be stalked, attacked, and killed without any protection from our communities.  I mourn that people refuse to talk about the racial aspect of this trial and I pray that we see this tragedy as an opportunity for dialogue, deeper understanding, and the possibility that we all have some George Zimmerman fear within and all have some Trayvon Martin victimization that is possible.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, "A threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to injustice everywhere".

Take time today to interrogate your own stereotypes about others that are dissimilar.  Pray for our communities that we get beyond that "us-them" mentality and begin to come together for activities in our communities that develop a deeper sense of empathy and a celebratory sense of conviviality.  It is our desire to know others who are different that gives humanity, dignity, and value.

More to follow,

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

My take on the History Channel's: The Bible

"This series endeavors to be true to the spirit of the Bible"
Disclaimer before each episode of History Channels "The Bible"

"All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God will be thoroughly equipped for every good work"
II Timothy 3:16-17

Earlier this month, the History Channel began to air a highly anticipated and highly promoted 10 part, 20 hour series called "The Bible".  This long awaited series was promoted in many evangelical Christian circles as one of the most up-to-date attempts to capture the essence of the Biblical stories.  It has been promoted in the most widely used Bible app (Youversion) and Youversion has become the "official" Bible app of the series.

I want to begin by saying that such an undertaking to render an authentic telling of the Biblical Narrative is daunting enough without the limitation of only having 20 hours to tell it.  The writers, editors, and advisors had one of the most difficult tasks I can imagine.  Trying to figure out in a limited scope, which stories to include and which to exclude depends on cultural, theological, and cinemagraphic frameworks that are often varied and expansive.

I am genuinely appreciative of this attempt of bringing the written Bible into visual imagery that people  since the1960's prefer. The History Channel brings credibility to this series through its reputation for using scholarly work in its products, and "The Bible" is no different.

I believe that the response to "The Bible" has varied within the Christian community due to the diverse opinions regarding the nature of Scripture and the relatively common phenomena of Biblical illiteracy. Personally, I have a high regard for Scripture as the word of God and that in itself flavors how I understand "The Bible" and why I have been somewhat critical.

A couple of thoughts as I have watched 2 episodes:

1. There are numerous errors (direct contradictions with Scripture) in the depiction of the stories.  Abraham rescues Lot with just his men as opposed to the Armies of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham is seen looking back at the destruction of Sodom but not destroyed.  Samson's wife is raped instead of simply married off to a Philistine.  All little distortions that are minor, but easy to fix. There are more but each tends to glamorize and market the characters in a way that is not the tone or the spirit of the texts.

2. Most of the chosen Bible stories feature important and well known characters whose depictions are often exaggerated with gratuitous violence.  Now, the Bible stories are often incredibly violent and "The Bible" has been very accurate with most of them.  However, we see the Angels performing ninja-like, Samarai moves in Sodom (In the Bible it says that they blinded the men of Sodom) while causing the eyes of the men of Sodom to bleed profusely.  We see Abraham, not as the participant with an army to liberate Lot, but as nearly a single handed warrior who is a deadly killing machine.  Samson's portrayal in "The Bible" does not show him as the compromising, manipulative judge that scripture reveals but exaggerates the offense against him by the Philistines in order to set up a redemptive violence scenario that is equal to contemporary Rambo motiffs.  These edits are done to glorify the characters as opposed to supporting a contextual reading.

3. The show seeks to honor the spirit of scripture but accuracy is secondary.  I think it is trying to express the generalities of each story which gives a license to take liberties.  Subtle liberties lead to subtle misrepresentations which is not a big deal. except that people are so hungry for spiritual information that they are willing to base entire theologies on misunderstandings and misrepresentation. Keep in mind that most  major heresies began with a misunderstanding based often on a subtle change.

4.  The Bible stories are often edited to remove stories of failure We see no record of Abraham multiple failures of faith prior to his willingness to sacrifice his son; or Mose"s near refusal and clearly shaken faith in going back to Egypt, or the role of Israel's idolatry in God allowing the Philistines to oppress the  Israelites in the telling of Samson's story.  These edits give an unrealistic portrayal of the characters and I think are actually discouraging to the average person who is flawed and would likely be under the impression that God only uses special, highly gifted and powerfully motivated people.

5. Lastly, the Biblical narrative is a story of the development of a people of God.  At the core of the work of Jesus is the development of community and communion between God and humanity, and humanity to itself.  Much of the Mosaic law is focused on how a community lives.  Yet, there is very little on the development and desire of God to shape a community.  In western society (the Bible is written in much more a eastern understanding), there is an emphasis on individuals and that is reflected in "The Bible" but is not necessarily Biblical.

So overall, I appreciate the effort and anything that brings attention to Scripture I am generally in favor.  I find "The Bible"  as a polished "hollywood" collection of biopics that seeks to tell Biblical stories in a way that is favorable to most themes in the Bible, but manipulates the narratives to promote a version of the story that is far more "acceptable" and "heroic" than the texts actual suggest.  I hope that most faith communities use this series to discuss its themes, its manipulations, and its faithfulness to the text.

I would love to know what you think,

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Towards a deeper Valentines Day

"Why is it so hard to keep in mind that our purpose is more important than our purchasing power?

"Our pervasive addiction to consumerism does not stand out in society as a problem, but rather as a sign of success"
Jennifer D. Crumpton in A New Evangelical Manifesto

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Mark 10:25

We are a week away from Valentines Day.  This day, above others is devoted to celebrating the deepest and most profound reasons for living: To receive and express love.  It should be a day where we slow down enough from our hectic paces and busy lives to say, express, appreciate, and demonstrate the people who love us as well as the objects of our love.

Cards, flowers, perfumes and chocolates are all very nice but if they are the ultimate expression of our love then we have a sentimental, but superficial love.

Modern day marketing approaches shower us with images that romanticize the consumption of products in ways that equate consumption with satisfaction, success, and wholeness.  Let's not deny that purchasing products can enhance and supplement our pleasure and provide us levels of comfort unimaginable in previous eras.  However, modern marketing goes beyond suggesting that various products can help you.  They suggest that your identity and your wholeness and happiness are inexplicably tied to your ability to consume products.  In this mythic narrative, success is  the possession and consumption of excess.  It is a self-centered existence where your greatest goal is life is not love, but possession of products that simulate love and satisfaction in life.

Love is most authentically expressed through sacrifice towards another that does not seek reward.  It is not consumption but generous.  Love does not seek but simply gives.  Interestingly, it is the giving itself which is the reward, not the response that it provokes.

While I am not against expressions of love that include flowers, chocolates, and the like, what I am encouraging is a deeper expression of love this Valentines Day.  Not through further consumption and the trap of marketing, but celebrating the loves of your life by recognizing the acts of love that you have experienced and the sacrifices that you gladly make on behalf of the objects of your love.  Flowers, cards do not make you a better lover, giving more of yourself does.

I pray that you experience true intimacy in this celebration of love!

God Bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Guns in America: A critical test for Christians

Our ingenuity for self-deception is inexhaustible
Hannah Moore

Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, 
Proverbs 3:31

As 2013 unfolds, I am shocked at the polarizing effect of gun control debate.  In light of tragedy after tragedy, we still have discussions focusing on political viability, constitutional interpretations, and the prevalence of mental illness.  According to the Children's defense fund, 3721 American children die every year due to gun violence.  We have an epidemic in the United States that is not only treatable, but more importantly preventable

In a nation where we have more gun dealers than McDonald's and more distributors than gas stations, we need the clarity and the fortitude to admit that we have a gun saturated culture that mythologizes gun violence by covering it with constitutional language and the moralistic trappings of redemptive violence.  I do not wish to bemoan the point, but our infatuation with guns and our persistent celebration of gun violence (think movies, media, and our heroes) is not a sign of strength, but of insecurity and sickness.  

I want to make a couple points for your consideration in this manner, particularly for those readers who profess to follow Jesus.

1. The Constitution is a secular document and not sacred.  Although I have a great deal of respect for the constitution and as a law abiding citizen in America, advocate for the enforcement and implementation of  the constitution, I recognize that it is a flawed document and does not come from God or a divine source.  For Christians, we must realize that teachings of Jesus are superior to the guidelines and principles of the constitution.

2. The Second Amendment was written to provide for arming state based militias, not individuals with killing machines.  The understanding of individuals with the right to bear arms was not the interpretation of the second amendment until 2008 after a 1939 ruling gave some expanded rights beyond militias.

3. The rights conferred and inferred at the time of the constitution can not be considered automatically ethical or natural.  At the time of the constitution, citizens could own other individuals.  We would later understand that inferred right as unethical and flawed.  Just because something was conferred as a right does not make it right.  Time and context often have a way of influencing the morality and feasibility of such things.

4. All Rights have responsibilities and limits.  For instance, the first amendment gives the freedom of speech but that is framed by the right of the government to censor speech when national security is at risk (for instance, an Army general can not share military strategies publicly as it endangers the public wellbeing).  The right to bear arms, even if it is seen as a constitutional right, must have responsibilities.

5. The rationale behind the slogan that guns do not kill people, but people kill people is wrong.  The fact is that people with guns are killing people in an epidemic pattern.  People are not killing people with knives, clubs, sticks, poisons, or cars with this kind of prevalence.  Guns are the tool of choice for killing in America.

I share this because I truly believe that how our society deals with gun violence is of critical importance for our future.  If we can not civilly discuss measures of improving our safety and ridding our neighborhoods, schools, malls, movie theaters, and Colleges of potential weapons of mass destruction in the hands of emotionally and mentally stressed individuals, then we demonstrate the ineptitude of our democracy.

We are truly self-deceived as a nation if we ignore our illness and our culture of gun violence. Proof of this is that many among us believe that adding more guns to our streets and neighborhood will make us safer. (Studies have shown that guns in America are 11 times more likely to be used for homicide/suicide than for protection).  As follower of Jesus, we are not to envy the violent and to understand our role as peacemakers.  That peacemaking role was modeled by Jesus and was not demonstrated through violence.  I understand that nearly 2000 years have passed since Jesus uttered his blessing on peacemakers, but his teachings are timeless.  He was living in an oppressed society where violence was an everyday realty.  He understands what it was like to live under a constant threat of violence and death.

I am asking that if you identify yourself as a follower of Jesus that you take time to study his teachings on violence and consider your role as a peacemaker.

Just keep in mind, that every year that you choose not to act to end gun violence, another 3721 children die.

Its time to be the peacemakers we were destined to be!

I pray that you experience a peace that transcends understanding along with a thirst for righteousness and justice that is the authentic mark of God's people!

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

The Problem with Evangelical Politics

"We've mixed politics and religion so completely that many simply opt out of both; apparently they are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don't want the political one that comes along with it~Eric Weiner, New York Times

No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer. (II Timothy 2:4)

I began reading a collection of essays in a book called "A New Evangelical Manifesto" and came across an arresting essay by Brian McLaren entitled "The Church in America Today".  In this essay, he identifies three characteristics of the predominant Evangelical political expression of the past twenty years.

Even before I read the essay, I have had an uneasy feeling anytime evangelical Christianity was mentioned in the same breath with any type of politics.   Although I recognize that within the broad evangelical Christian community, there is an incredible diversity of political leanings and actions, the politics most often identified with Evangelical Christianity is often self described as conservative, right-winged or regressive politics.  It is this unique connection of evangelicalism and conservative politics that has caused a significant public resentment and community polarization.

McLaren describes three characteristics of the Evangelical-Conservative Politcal fusion:

1. It is Nostalgic:  It beckons to a bygone era and romanticizes the conditions of the past.  While yearning of the family values of 60 years ago, it looks through the lens of the powerful and the comfortable.  The inequities and exploitation, both social and economic, that allowed the powerful to have a wonderful quality of life are often minimized.  This has had the effect of disenfranchising those peoples and groups who were not allowed to participate in the American dream for any number of reasons.

2. It is Nativistic: The vision of the Evangelical-Conservative movement is focused on keeping the predominant power structures in place.  The rise of people of color, women, and non-Christian peoples in politics, industry, entertainment, and academia is often viewed with fear and loss, rather than progress or improvement.  Feelings of reverse-discrimination, victimization and "take back our country" identify this nativistic impulse.

3. It is Negative: The general tone of the movement is often to be "against something".  The platform and rallying points are often against abortion, against Gay marriage, against expansion of Healthcare, against any domestic social programs, etc.  While any movement or platform can be described in negative terms (for example, pro-education can be described as anti-ignorance), the Evangelical-Conservative movement rarely chooses to identify itself in positive terms.  Most of the ballot initiatives and congressional bills are directed at eliminating,or  restricting current programs or certain activities.

When you look at these three attributes, you can see how there is significant suspicion and resentment to the Evangelical-Conservative movement.  The suspicion and resentment is often interpreted theologically as the "persecution" that comes with speaking the truth as opposed to legitimate critiques of policy.

This is why the role of the church must be outside and independent of predominant political movements.  This is not advocating for Christians to withdraw from the American political process, but that we must not allow any particular political agenda, whether conservative, progressive, libertarian, anarchist, or socialism to co-opt the church.  Its role is to be a prophetic witness to government, advocating the kingdom of God agenda above and beyond any secular political agenda.

I realize that this is too simplistic to carry out.  Christianity, particularly protestant Christians, employ a vast spectrum of hermeneutics (approaches in interpreting the meanings within scripture) in discerning the will and agenda of Jesus.  This means that sincere and devout Christians often have significant disagreements about the purposes and callings of the church.  Yet, the alternative community that Jesus inaugurated has anti-dotes to the "3 N's" of the predominant Evangelical-Conservative movement:

1. Jesus provided hope.  Instead of focusing on returning to the past, the Kingdom of God inaugurated the a focus of a better future.  The gospels record God's intervention through Jesus in order to reveal a preferred and possible alternative reality.  This is the nature of hope: God will faithfully intervene to promote human flourishing.

2. Jesus promoted Diversity.  Jesus mission to provide salvation meant the healing of the world.  It was not a "Jewish" salvation but a universal response.  The kingdom agenda revealed a global inclusivity as part of its credibility (Rev 7:9).  It is constantly empowering the poor, the marginalized, and the weak to participate in the life of the Kingdom.  

3.Jesus prescribed creativity: Jesus literally challenged every religious and political assumption of his day.  Although he respected tradition, he was not limited by it.  He was constantly providing alternatives solutions to every impossible situation and his approach was completely unconventional.  

It is my hope that Christians would understand that the Kingdom movement is one of hope, diversity, and creativity.  It cannot be co-opted by nostalgic, nativistic, and negative movements.  This is not an indictment of the values of Evangelism or Conservatism but a challenge to promote the Kingdom Agenda as our primary allegiance.  Remember, Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it, and we have the privilege of joining his mission to provide hope, diversity, and creativity!

May God bless you

Pastor M Traylor

Principles of Social Media Civility

"If you say something offensively, people will react defensively"
Rick Warren on Twitter, 8/11/12

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. 
Proverbs 12:18

The amount of access that we have to one another has literally exploded with the global use of social media.  I now have regular facebook, twitter, imessages, instagram and email interactions with people from all over the world and in all types of social circles.  While many bemoan the explosion as it shows a deference away from face to face contact, I would submit that many of the people that I have interactions with solely via social media are people who I would never have the ability to actually meet face to face.  Therefore, social media acts as a access extender that allows me to connect with many more than I would have naturally.

With that being said, I want to state that wherever there are people-people interactions, there will be pathology.  Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of writing some social media posts and blogs that received a significant amount of attention due to the fact that they were about socially provocative topics.  This means that the responses were often, oh how to say this, disrespectful and offensive.  I do believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion but I also believe in civility and respect in our approaches.

I want to give you 6 principles that guide my social media interactions, including what I allow to be posted as comments on my walls and tweets.

1. You have the right to freedom of speech but just not one my social media account.  In other words, you can not just say anything about everything and anyone on my account.  Disagreement and offensiveness are two different things.  If your tone and content are offensive, I will remove the post.

2. Social media connection (friends on FB, followers on Twitter and Instagrm for instance) are privileges, not rights.   You do not have the unlimited right to my social media forums.  Irresponsible posting, offensive words, etc results in the suspending of that privilege.  

3. Social media is can be a public persona and/or a personal expression.  I am a Pastor, Pediatrician, Parent, Browns Fan, High School Football Junkie, etc.  My church has an official web page, my clinic does as well.  When I want to use a twitter post that is official Church business, I use the Church's twitter account.  While I am a representative of the church, what I post on my personal social media accounts are not the official positions of my church, my clinic, the Cleveland Browns.  While I recognize that anything that is seen on my personal accounts may reflect upon my associated entities, it is important that friends and followers know the difference.

4. I reserve the right to limit access to my social media accounts.  Everyone needs time of contemplation and focused interactions.  That means there are times in which I decide that I simply do not wish to have ongoing interactions for a period of time.   Even Jesus controlled who had access to him and he kept it to about 12.  Its unreasonable and unhealthy to think we can be open and accessible to hundreds or thousands of people all of the time.

5. Civility and positive interactions breeds intensified interactions.  Even if you disagree with a post or comment and you can express yourself in a civil tone or constructively, you will find that I will encourage further comments and be more likely to interact with you on your social media accounts.  

6. My social media accounts are not tools for your political and social agendas.  While I enjoy political, religious, and socially provocative posts, some people respond with the same superficial rhetoric and unwitted propaganda that ultimately drives a particular agenda.  I have some FB friends who will make any post I have about abortion.  It is disrespectful and I will suggest that you develop your own social media accounts for that development.  It does not mean that something like abortion is not important, but that my social media accounts are not the forums and tools to exploit for your causes.

Lets use social media responsibly as it has tremendous power to impact and influence.  I pray that our words will be seasoned with grace.

May God bless,

Pastor M Traylor

Protecting our children, Promoting our Parents

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
― Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, and a leader in the post-WWII investigation of war criminals.  He speaks from experience of the complicity of silence with evil to produce the most horrific conditions and consequences.  His experiences, and that of millions, thunders aloud the responsibility of  members of a society to advocate for victims of injustice and against individuals, groups, laws, institutions, and systems that create and sustain injustice.

Part of the problem with fulfilling the moral mandate to advocate for justice is understanding and identifying what constitutes injustice.  Additionally, prioritizing which injustices demand our attention is a difficult task for groups as each injustice can extract differing convictions and burdens.

In my medical practice, I had the unfortunate experience to meet a early adolescent who after learning she was pregnant, for the 3rd time informed me that she planned to go and have the pregnancy terminated "just like the other ones".  I inquired about her parents and encouraged her to discuss a decision of such magnitude with her parents.  She informed me that her father has never been involved in her life and that her mother works two jobs (6 days/wk) and that her pregnancy is "none of her business".  She told me that she is going to a local agency where she will have the termination and that her mother will never know.  I inquired about how she will pay for the procedure and she informed me that medicaid will pay for it.  I felt overwhelmed with pain for her.

It is incredible to me, that in the state of New York, a 14 yr old can not open a bank account, can not drive a car, can not consent to the superficial coloring of the skin (i.e. tattoos) but we feel that they can give informed consent for a surgical procedure.  In New York, a 14 yr old can not only have an abortion without cost, but there is no obligation for parental consent or notification.

I want to argue that the laws meant to empower adolescents actually encourages violence against them.  Sidestepping the volatile debate of whether fetus represents life, the idea that most minors can truly give informed consent to an invasive procedure is highly doubtful, which is why all other elective surgical procedures require parental consent.  Parents, who are undoubtedly the best advocates for their children, must give schools written permission for the school to give Tylenol to their children, but the State feels that the parental input is not necessary for surgical intervention.  Without specific parental advocacy, minors are at risk for exploitation, battery, manipulation, and a variety of other types of violations.

In the state of New York, we must protect our children.  Offering pregnancy termination for adolescents without the advocacy of parents is immoral.  It is an act of injustice.  I would ask that we consider:

1. Take time and consider the morality or immorality of elective abortion in the first place.

2. Advocate for our children by insisting that the informed consent and parental consent is absolutely essential for all elective medical therapies.

3. Talk to your state senators and representatives regarding the use of taxpayer funds for elective terminations.

4.  If you are a parent, to advocate for your child by intensive involvement in your child's life and interests.

I pray that you will not remain silent!

God bless,

Pastor M Traylor

Can you feel the pain?

"Leadership begins with identifying with the pain of the people you trying to lead"
John Perkins in "Follow Me to Freedom"

"Matt 9:36-37
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (NLT)

Movement: Collective, organized, and sustained challenge to the status quo (Predominant culture, beliefs, and practices)

Pain is natural.  It is a God-given sensation and awareness that something is wrong.  Without chest pain, we wouldn't know our hearts our sick, and without heart pain, we often do not know our emotions are wounded.  Pain often trumpets the warning that damage has been and is being done.  Its a call to change, rest, restore, or even move.

John Perkins, the transformational leader and founder of the Christian Community Development Association, takes the bold step of understanding that leadership and awareness of pain are an essential link.  What he, and many other cultural architects have understood is that one of the primary motivations of humanity, is simply to relieve pain.  Physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, relational pain: every sphere of life, we are simply seeking to relieve pain.

Jesus himself tied leadership (shepherding) with pain (confused and helpless) as he understood that to truly minister to people is to minister to their pain. The vision that He casts ultimately speaks to the abolition of our pain and the wrongs that cause them (Revelations 21:3-4).  It was this pain that launched Christianity from being a sect, to becoming a movement.  A movement does not develop to sustain peace, but to gain it.  It exists only to challenge what is perceived to be injustice and pain resulting from an existing context.  Once that context is changed so that injustice has been replaced with peace, or pain with healing, the movement loses its fuel.

One of the major flaws in contemporary American Christianity is the failure to minister to people's pain. Not only do we often fail to minister to their pain, but we absolutely reject identifying with it.  Systemic pain such as that found in poverty, addictions, victims of violence,  are often seen as more as manifestations of evil brought on by bad choices in which have nothing to do with us.  Jesus, our leader, chose to identify (Live with, advocate for, speak with, give dignity to, etc) with the poor, the condemned, and those in pain.  Interestingly, Jesus does not allow his morality to flavor his mission or ministry, but simply allows his mission to inform his morality and ministry.  Jesus obviously did not agree, accept, and encourage thoughts and actions that were outside of the will of God, but clearly saw the Kingdom of God as a response to pain. (one of the dimension of the Kingdom of God, it is much richer that this narrow definition)  The pain of the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan motivated ministry, not the goodness or moral character of the wounded man.  

Jesus warns us in Matthew 25:31-46, that many people who think they are following him will be disqualified by their unwillingness to identify, as He did, and minister to people in pain.  Its really that deep!

Want to be a great leader?  Want to be part of a movement and not just an institution?  It begins with identifying with the pain of others.

May God bless you as you enter the pain of others.

Pastor M Traylor

Gay Marriage: A Pastor's thoughts

" I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," 
President Barak Obama

As Pastor of a wonderful congregation (, I have been asked numerous times "What do you think of Gay marriage?".  I have been lobbied by Godly people who feel strongly for and Godly people who strongly oppose Gay marriage.  I have talked with congregants who feel this is the single most important issue of our era, and with those who feel this is merely a distraction in the church's mission.  I share that to say that church is not monolithic in its approach to this issue and I recognize that Godly people may respectfully disagree with what I am about to say.

From a Biblical perspective, I have written extensively that healthy sexual intimacy is always from a perspective of marriage.  Sexual intimacy before marriage or outside of marriage is clearly prohibited in scripture, both the old and new (For a sweeping review, consider reading my blog series called Jesus and Sexuality).  For those who do not know me or my theological bent, I have a fairly high regard for the authority of scripture in describing orthopraxy (literally, the right ways).   In the Bible,  the Genesis narrative defines marriage as the cleaving together of a man and woman.  There are no sanctioned same-sex, sexually intimate relationships in all of scripture. So the idea of same-sex marriage would have been an oxymoron as same-sex and marriage were incompatible in the typical Hebrew/Jewish worldview. The focus of marriage was not friendship, happiness, mutual satisfaction, or erotic pleasure, but procreation and legacy.  Although married couples experienced love in antiquity, that love is often described as more of a deep loyalty and sacrificial devotion than the emotional affection that is the foundation of many modern day marriages.  (For a wonderful review of the changing meaning of marriage, check out Andrew Cherlin's book, Marriage-go-round).  Because the marriage emphasis in Biblical times was procreation and legacy, it made no sense to define same-sex relationships as marriage as there was no chance for heirs.  Even in the Biblical record, we see the bitterness caused by marriages where children were not conceived (I Samuel 1:1-15 is a great example).  Scripture does not say those couples are evil or disobedient, but from a marriage perspective, they are not fulfilling the purpose of marriage in the Biblical era.

Yet, we do not live in the Biblical era! While Jesus reinforced the Hebrew understanding of marriage in his day, the Apostle Paul clearly shows that the emphasis was no longer procreation and legacy, but the demonstration of Godly love towards one another as a witness to God's love for us (Ephesians 5).  Our understanding of the purpose of marriage has changed from simply procreation and legacy, to the culturally driven goals of companionship and mutual satisfaction.  Using the contemporary practice of marriage, is it possible for members of the same sex to enter into an exclusive bond for the purpose of companionship and mutual satisfaction?  The answer is yes! But this is the wrong question.  The answer is not Biblical because the marriage emphasis of Biblical times is not the marriage emphasis in contemporary American culture.

I would argue that the concept of marriage focusing on companionship and mutual satisfaction is not wrong or evil, but merely found wanting.  Contemporary American culture has made marriage into a consumer defined commodity where participants enter into marriage based upon their own desires and satisfaction.  The problem is that when marriage partners become unsatisfied, they leave to look for satisfaction elsewhere.  This is why the divorce rate in America is so high.  It is this focus of marriage that has turned contemporary marriages into a scandal.

I believe that the purpose of marriage is not simply mutual satisfaction and companionship, although those things should be part of a healthy marriage.  I believe the marriage, as defined in scripture, is to be covenant relationship that pledges unconditional love as a witness to the love of God and the faithfulness of God.  Despite our current marriage practices, we are not free to redefine marriage or its purposes, without-destabilizing the purposes and roles of families in general.  Theologian Miroslav volf has done a wonderful job in his collection of Essays: Against the Tide: Love in times of Petty Dreams.  He demonstrates that the focus of American lives has shifted from honoring God, to honoring nation, to honoring causes, to our current situation of honoring self.  This shrinking of the vision has been mirrored in contemporary marriage and that's why its a mess.

All that to say this:

1. The Christian institution of marriage has been Biblically defined as a covenant between a man and women to honor God through a sacrificial and exclusive devotion, where the legacy is not necessarily children, but a legacy of love that mirrors the love of God as demonstrated through Jesus.

2. Gay marriage is not Christian marriage in that the institution of same sex marriage is never sanctioned in scripture and there is not even the slightest hint of this provision.

3. Words are important in this discussion.  It is important for Christians to understand that what is being described as Gay marriage is actually a same sex civil union.  As discussed above, there is no such thing Biblically, as same sex marriage.  When the church speaks of marriage, it must use the scriptural definition as opposed to the secular definition.

4. Civil unions, where same sex couples commit to one another for life-long fidelity, support, and even spiritual growth, should be recognized by the government in the same way the government honors non-religious civil unions between heterosexuals.  The United States of America is not a Christian nation and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) citizens make up a sizable minority.  I believe that this in no way challenges the institution of Christian marriage, but simply acknowledges that in a pluralistic society, there are multiple expressions of what would be considered family.  Christians are not being asked to support homosexuality as much as recognizing that tolerance has to be given if it is desired.

5. The Church should feel comfortable in strengthening, honoring, and promoting Christian marriage while co-existing with civil unions.  The greatest thing that the Church can do to demonstrate a credible witness to the love of God is foster loving marriages.

6. The Church should feel comfortable in understanding marriage as a faith-based covenant that is supported by the secular government.  The foundation of Christian marriage is faith.  The role of the church is not to authorize unions, but to ordain marriages.

7. Civil unions are a reality of participating in a secular nation.  There is no such thing as a civil union in Iran, because it is a religious state.  This is not the case in the United States, nor is it desired.

8. The judgement of whether a couple should be in a union and their right to be in a union are two very different things.  This is regardless if it is a heterosexual or homosexual relationship.  While scripturally, one can argue whether it is right, prudent, wise, or sinful to be in union, however the  right to union has been given without prejudice (we do not make qualifications for adults to be in relationship with one another, but feel its their right to do so).

9. In all things: Love.  The ethic of the authentic church is love.  The mission of the church is to demonstrate love to the world in practical ways.  The challenge of the Church is not whether homosexuality is a sin, but how to demonstrate the love of God to all of us who are broken spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, socially and sexually.

I pray today that this issue would invite further discussion, deeper understanding, and a higher expression of the love of God!

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

The Shifting Purposes of Marriage

"What if the purpose of marriage is to make you holy, not to make you happy?"
Gary Thomas, Author of Sacred Marriage

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin at John Hopkins University eloquently documents the changing role of marriage in his book, Marriage-go-round.  He notes that the purpose of marriage has changed historically and often mirrors the greatest value of the time.  Pre-modern (prior to the 1700's) marriage focused procreation.  Marriage was not necessarily for friendship or personal satisfaction, as it was towards legacy.  Modernity brought the understanding of friendship and camaraderie as the central theme.  Post-modernism (1970's onward) marriages are focused on self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment.  Contemporary suitors for marriage are often concerned chiefly whether a potential partner can meet their needs, desires, and dreams.

This is not revolutionary.  Many cultural commentators, such as Yale professor and theologian, Miroslav Volf, have discussed the the American shrinking vision.  He notes that early Americans identified God or a divine calling as the primary motivator life (Think Puritans).  By the mid-nineteenth century, that huge God-vision, was narrowed to a national vision (think Civil War).  By the 1960's, the primary motivator was not national interest, or even regional interests, but self and self-expression.  Unfortunately, despite the age of the marriage institution, it simply changed and adopted to the interests of the age.

Marriage has been in a crisis for sometime, and the idea of Christian marriage is suffering with divorce rates approaching 50%.  A couple of things to ponder:

1. Christian marriage was to be the context for spiritual growth:  Marriage was not to be easy, casual, or even comfortable.  It was designed to cause the couple to grow through learning patience, forgiveness, gentleness, self-control, etc.  I contend, that marriage will show you more about yourself and your spiritual state than any other experience you can know.

2. If you enter into marriage with the idea that it is your spouses job to make you happy, keep you entertained, and provide every physical desire, you will be disappointed.  No person can fulfill you in that way.  Christian marriage asks you to focus on your spouses need, while working on your development, not the other way around.  If you have an unrealistic understanding of the role of your partner, you have set the marriage up to fail from the start.

3. Christian Marriage is centered and focused on God, not one another.  This is the failure of our age.  Marriage is to be a covenant between a man and a woman and God.  It is to be done to honor God and to model His love for humanity (Ephesians 5).  I find that God as very little to do with most marriages other than lip service paid to what church the ceremony will be held at.  Jesus told his disciples that without him, they can do nothing (John 15), yet we often attempt to marry without any thoughts of Jesus.

4. Self-worship is a form of idolatry which destroys marriages.  Self-idolatry is revealed in the need to have  your desires met and to have your agenda prioritized.  It places yourself and your desires (not necessarily bad or evil desires) on the throne and simply asks your spouse to worship it.  Marriage is the humbling of your agenda to a new agenda that is formed and promoted by God.

As I have conversations with people considering marriage, I find that the most important thing to discuss is not the ins and outs of marriage but the definition of marriage for a solid foundation.  Praying that you will honor God in your relationships!

May God bless you today,

Pastor M Traylor

The Power of Words

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." 

Matthew 12:36-37

"But dehumanizing the victim makes things simpler
It's like breathing with a respirator
It eases the conscience of even the most conscious
and calculating violator
Words can reduce a person to an object,
something more easy to hate
An inanimate entity, completely disposable,
no problem to obliterate"

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in "Language of Violence"

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy are a 90's conscientious rap group that almost no one heard of, led by Michael Franti.  They are one of my favorite groups of all time because of their creative ways of challenging injustice.  In their song, Language of Violence, they tell the story of how physical violence is often preceded by dehumanizing words.  They spoke in the formative years of the hip hop culture but their lyrics show a prophetic view that speaks to us today.

At one point in the song, they wisely challenge their listeners to:

"The power of words, don't take it for granted
when you hear a man ranting
Don't just read the lips, be more sublime than this
Put everything in context"

I have been actively listening to the words that are used in popular media.  The words are used to convey a message, a culture, even agenda's.  Its not that I am paranoid, but that we all  participate in this process. We use words, images, and metaphors to try to shape a preferred precept or concept when we communicate.  Our words are loaded with meaning, not just literally, but culturally and symbolically.

Every week, I talk to young men and women who are shaped and guided by the language used in the hip hop culture.  Interestingly, these are not young adults of one ethnicity or socioeconomic background, but young adults from across the spectrum of ethnicity, nationality, and economic status.

The "cut to the chase" concept:

When you regularly use the language of violence and degradation, you soon become participants in its degradation and pain, whether as victim or perpetrator. 

Using degrading words, such as B***ches, N**ga's, Hoes, etc is not only an act of violence but paves the way for more extreme forms of violence.  Here's the cycle:

1. Calling a group of people or an individual a derogatory name first creates Psychological violence.  In Rwanda, before the tragic genocide of 1994, it was important for the initiators to refer to their enemies as cockroaches.  This word, allowed them to see their enemies as less than human, without faces, families, names, and dignity.  When men refer to women as B***ches, it is a psychological construct that takes away the dignity of women.  It is never innocent or innocuous, but always indecent.  It is the first step in justified violence.

2. Psychological violence leads to moral violence.  Cockroaches are not only not-human, but have moral quality.  Cockroaches are not morally neutral but decidedly negative in character.  Therefore, violence against a cockroach is morally justifiable.  Moral violence makes the victim of our violence deserving.  A recent twit of a rapper said "Sometimes, I just want to smackdown a B***ch"(Twitter, Real Octane, April 18th).  In his mind, it is morally justified to be violent against a woman, because she is simply "a B**ch".

3. Moral violence leads to Physical, Emotional, and Sexual violence.  Because cockroaches are morally disgusting, their eradication by any means necessary became culturally acceptable.  Men and women in Rwanda were hacked with machetes, shot, raped, and tortured.  Not by mad men with twisted and perverted psyche's, but by ordinary men and women who adopted the language of violence.  The violence in communities influenced by hip hop is staggering.  Many argue that the language used in hip hop is simply a reflection of the language of violence that already exists and I will definitely acknowledge the possibility.  However, my experience with youth in Urban areas shows that the introduction of violent and degrading language is often from media/entertainment, over family.

Its time to develop an outrage against violence.  Its time that we challenge the language of violence, hate, and degradation.  Its time that we challenge artists and entertainers to a higher standard and a moral responsibility.  Too many people are hurting, wounded, and suffering because of the language and culture of violence, particularly in the hip hop culture.

My fear, in the words of the disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy is:

We won't hear the screaming until it stops
Death is the silence in the language of violence

Take a stand!

Pastor M Traylor

A Deeper Good Friday

 "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." 
Mark 14:34

Good Friday is complex.  It brings up a mixed bag of emotions for most.  The sheer horror of the torture, crucifixion, abandonment and shame are so overwhelming that even when visualized, like in Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ, its almost surreal.  The act of love that was being displayed by Jesus, willingly giving his life is equally overwhelming.  Who can put their arms around a love that suffers for that which is hostile against itself.

It is so tempting to frame Good Friday in neat theological terms.  We use words like atonement, appeasement, and propitiation to talk about sacrifice that the Son of God made for humanity.  We do our best to take the rough edges off of the gruesomeness and the horrific violence by making the event spiritual, even otherworldly.  It sanitizes, domesticates if you will, the experience of the cross.

Jesus described himself as the Son of God and the Son of Man.  Historically, theologians throughout the ages struggled to find ways of describing the nature of Jesus as being fully God and fully man, as opposed to half of each.  Jesus, fully God and fully man.  When it comes to good Friday, we fixate on his efforts as fully God to the detriment of Jesus, the man.

Jesus the man, brings discomfort.  The gospel narrative clearly demonstrate his humanity.  His suffering, his dreams, his disappointments, and his desire to live.  Jesus was perfectly obedient in God, the father in every way, which brought redemption and restoration to all of creation, but along his journey there was struggle, agony, and pain along with real joy, life-giving faith, and healing.

To celebrate our faith is to celebrate a relationship, not just events.  Faith has an object and it is not itself.  The object of Christian faith is Jesus.  Therefore, in order to celebrate him, we first need to identify with his experiences as the incarnation (God made human) was about God identifying with us.  This means embracing Jesus' humanity as well as his divinity.

So today, while you may tempted to celebrate the theological consequences of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross (which is worthy of celebration), go deeper and celebrate Jesus, the Son of man as well.  Do not gloss pass his real pain, his deep sorrow, his incredible courage in the face of horrific fear, and public shame.  I am convinced, that we can not appreciate the vastness of the love of the Son of God, unless we fully appreciate the incredible suffering of the Son of man.  Not just on a physical realm, but the holistic suffering in the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realms.

Reflective on this Good Friday.  Sadness in my heart but I have the privilege of knowing that Sunday is coming.

God Bless,

Pastor M Traylor

Not even the Dignity of a Dog

Imagine, you see a stray dog in your neighborhood.   Since you have been in your neighborhood for sometime, you are familiar with all the dogs in your neighborhood, and this dog is definitely not from your neighborhood.  While it is simply sitting on a sidewalk, your instincts for safety kicks in.  You are well aware of the dangers that  a wild, undisciplined, or even rabid dog can present to your neighborhood.  So, you call the county animal control agency, and you describe that menacing canine to them.  To your surprise, animal control does not share the same degree of alarm, but states that they will send a unit to investigate the dog right away.  They specifically ask you not to approach the dog.  The dog notices you watching it and begins to move into a yard.  You become more alarmed as the villainous vermin is now coming closer and closer to his vicious potential.  You get out of your car and the dog begins to run.  You chase the dog until it is cornered, and the dog bares his teeth.  You know, as anyone who has observed dogs, that baring teeth is a sign of aggression and hostile intent, therefore you take a stick and begin to hit the dog, hoping it will run away.  The dog begins to yelp and bark with each blow and finally lunges at you.  Luckily for you, you have a loaded firearm that you carry on your person at all times to protect yourself against the threat of wild and vicious dogs (although statistically, there are very few actual wild and vicious dogs in your neighborhood, according the the animal control groups).  You discharge your weapon and kill the dog, thus making the neighborhood safe against the threat of the menacing dog.  Just then the owner of the dog reappears as well as the police, who had been summoned due to the barking and yelping.  With righteous indignation, you claim self defense and proclaim that you were simply protecting the neighborhood.  The neighborhood and the owner mourns.

Several years ago, the nation was in an uproar of the vicious and malicious treatment of dogs by Michael Vick and his dog-fighting cronies.  There were no witnesses that actually saw Michael Vick beat, kill, or mistreat dogs, but the dog fighting occurred on his property and was backed by his money.  He was arrested immediately, charged, convicted, and even after he served his sentences, was protested against as a monster.

I am convinced that Trayvon Martin would have gotten more justice if he would have been canine.  The imaginary story above is recreated using the information that has come forth from the story thus far.  Even in the imaginary scenario, there is compassion for the dog and a pragmatic approach that says the shooter had no right to kill a dog in which he was clearly provoking.

I have a son who is 18 years old, and guess what, sometimes he wears hoodies.  He has never been in legal trouble and has academic and athletic success at a College in NY.  Yet, I look at the Trayvon Martin case, and all I can see is my own son.  All I can think is that all of his hard work, his strong character, his powerful faith would not have protected him from the suspicions and fears of a man with a gun.

In Florida, the shooter claimed self defense and according to law enforcement officers, that trumped the right of Trayvon to simply exist in that neighborhood.  The initial law enforcement officers immediately believe the shooters story, do not detain him, and do not even take his gun for evidence.  I tell you, it would have been better off for him to be a dog. (see this story for a Florida detective talking about dog law)

I know that people have strong opinions regarding this case and that an investigation by Federal and State authorities is underway as we speak, but the bottom line is that a young man is dead for no reason other than his presence provoked fear in another.  Can you imagine if Trayvon was your son, or daughter, and significant other?

Trayvon has not received the dignity that a dog would get in this situation.

Lets demand more from ourselves.  Lets demand that we see the image of God in each individual, and that while we are not naive to think that there are no evil or malicious persons, that we protect the rights of individuals to have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  These are our children after all!

I would love to hear your thoughts,

God bless,

Pastor M Traylor

Kingdom or Cross

"In regards to the gospels, we have forgotten what the main thing is."
N.T. Wright in "How God Became King"

I have begun to read N.T. Wright's book: "How God Became King".  Its premise asks a question that I have struggled with for some time.  That is, is the gospel (literally good news) of Jesus, revealed in the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that same as what we consider the gospel today?

In the classic creeds of the church, there is an emphasis on the atoning work of Jesus' death for our personal salvation and justification.  This formulation relies heavily on Paul's letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews (although the authorship of the book of Hebrews is contested).  This understanding of the gospel is thoroughly Biblical (I Corinthians 15:1-5).  It is focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus and its work to establish an eternal link to God.

The controversy, is not whether that formulation of "the gospel" is Biblical, but whether that gospel is the central theme of the life and teachings of Jesus himself.

It seems to me that we (Western, Protestant, Evangelicals) come into reading the gospels with a bias based upon the creedal understandings of the church that emphasizes his death and resurrection, but not his life or teachings.

Why is that important?   It is important because the main thing of the gospels may be different than the main thing of the church.  When Jesus described the good news in Mark 1, he describes it simply as "The Kingdom of God is at hand".  That was based upon a present reality, an in-breaking of God into the history of humanity demonstrated by the incarnational presence of the Son of God.

What I think is needed is a reconciliation in our understanding of two powerful realities: The Kingdom and the cross.  The Kingdom represented by Jesus life and his initiation of the way, the truth, and life.  The Cross representing Jesus death and resurrection, his atoning, justifying, and sanctifying work.  It can not be the cross over kingdom, or kingdom over cross, but Kingdom as manifest by cross.

I think we, like NT Wright, should wrestle with what exactly Jesus meant by the good news and how to make the main thing the plain thing, and the plain thing the main thing!

God bless

Pastor M Traylor

Racism: the man behind the curtain

Racism need not be intentional or malicious for it to be.
Monica Harrold, Coordinator of the the Race and Culture Task Force, African Heritage Network of the Free Methodist Church.

Recently, Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelist, Billy Graham openly and publicly questioned President Obama's professed faith.  He has since apologized for his questioning and backed off his critique of the President quite a bit.  He adds his voice to the hundreds of pastors, talk show hosts, and politicians who seek more to discredit and diminish this president that encourage or build up Christian people in their faith and in their mission.

Ronald Reagan, who is hailed by conservative Christians as the "Holy Grail" of presidents, never confessed to be an evangelical Christian.  Yet, few Christian conservative leaders took the time to question his beliefs, his alignment to classical Christianity, or the authenticity of his brief and relatively few statements regarding his personal faith.

I want to say something that many will find unsettling.  It may seem hard for some to swallow.  Here goes:

Many of the faith criticisms of President Obama have nothing to do with his politics, faith, program directives, or strategies, but are simply veiled expressions of racism.

Christian author Lisa Harper writes a brilliant blog looking at the failure of many White Christians to be able to see the authentic expressions of that are culturally different while being Biblically based.  Using the framework of Sociologists Emerson and Smith (Divided by Faith, 2001), she eloquently describes how many conservative evangelicals lack the ability (Emerson and Smith call it the cultural "tool kit") to understand how Biblical values are manifest in anything other than individualized, personal salvation.  There is an inability to understand the broad Biblical themes of justice, equity, and peace on systemic levels.

President Obama has confessed an evangelical faith, been part of an evangelical community of faith, and has espoused values consistent with that.  Now, in saying that, I am not saying that he, nor any person is perfect or that their faith is without blemish.  Only by the grace of God am I!  However, I am saying that the criticism of his faith, by Christians is based upon something else more insidious and ugly.  It stems from a desire to discredit him.  Why discredit him?  Its not just his politics, as Jimmy Carter was a devout Christian whose policies were disliked by the conservative movement.  The movement spent very little time trying to discredit President Carter's faith.

You see, to attack his faith, is to attack his credibility, his identity, his being.  It is the same reason that a recent Federal Judge in Montana sent out racists emails about Obama.  He admits, he does not like Obama personally.  Not his politics, not his programs, not his strategies or appointments, but him personally.  That dislike manifest itself in racism, the belief that the President's race makes him undeserving of the dignity and authority of the office.

I am ashamed of the Christian leaders who can not see their own complicity in the perpetuation of racism.  I believe that all Americans have the right to critique and challenge his policies, procedures, and strategies, but it is unprecedented that Christian people who persistently and maliciously seek to malign his name in this way.

I recognize that some people will read this a vehemently disagree but I think its time that healing begins within the family of God, and it begins by first pointing out disease and disorder.

I pray (Using David Platt's phrase from "A radical Ideal") that the people of God, in the spirit of God, equipped with the word of God, would impact this nation for the Glory of God, and that extends to my President as well.

Praying for healing today,

Pastor M Traylor