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Chicken: Free Speech or Justice?

I didn't mean to step into the Chick-fil-A brouhaha but I did. The following is a comment I posted at Rebecca Hamilton's blog, in response to her post, It’s Eat a Chicken Sandwich for Freedom of Speech Day ! « Public Catholic.


I've been thinking about this post off and on over the last several days. Perhaps, it's because I keep getting notices that someone else has commented. More likely it's because of my discomfort with my last response. I think it was incomplete.

Image from
New Columbia Heights blog.
This is indeed a free speech issue when mayors and others in elected or bureaucratic positions seek to keep a legitimate business from operating in their city or other jurisdiction. People also need to learn to talk with one another civilly. We do too much screaming and not enough listening.

The owner of any business has the right to express his own religious and political views. Whether he was asked or not is irrelevant; he chose to state them. At this point those with differing perspectives have as much right to express their views as Dan Cathy. He may spend his money how he chooses but as an outspoken business leader he can expect some to choose not to support his business. They may also exercise their constitutional rights to protest in a variety of ways.

This becomes a justice issue when he expresses opinions and spends $5 million on oppression of a minority. Some of that money has been spent on a program to "fix" people who are GLBTQ. That is, he denies that their sexuality is God-given. It is a gift just as my heterosexuality is a gift from God.

Mr. Cathy goes further, though, and seeks to deny the rights of those with whom he diminishes. He tells my child, my friends, and my human kin that because of their sexuality -- which hurts no one -- that they are not worthy of the right of visitation as family when their beloved is hospitalized. He tells them that they must pay higher taxes because they are not legally married and so cannot file jointly. He tells them that their loving relationship is less valuable than someone who is married to someone of another gender. He implies that they are less than the beloved children of God.

I am saddened by the display of Christians lining up to eat chicken in the name of free speech that hurts so many of our human kindred. Though, I fully support their right to do so it is hard for me to comprehend why this issue which gets marginal treatment (even if interpreted as condemnation) in the Bible, rallies so many to eat chicken. The biblical witness is chock-full of the importance of hospitality and welcome of the other. Jesus is persistent in his call for us to reach out to the poor, the marginalized, and the despised of society.

The body of Christ is not about hatred. It is about love. My friends and family who are GLBTQ do not feel loved by the Christians who went out to eat chicken.



For some time now, I've been cross-blogging all my posts between Blogger and my Wordpress site. Soon, I will stop the cross-posting. When I do you can find me at http://beingtim.wordpress.com or type in http://www.timgraves.us and you will be forwarded.


Letting Go: Yep, We Need to Go that Far

Mindi Welton-Mitchell writes that the church needs to "let go of the building" in Letting Go. She builds her case well but stops short when she states, "I’m not suggesting everyone go out and sell their buildings."

I disagree. We need to go that far.

Until we give up our property, the church will continue to be viewed as -- and in fact be --  hypocritical. When Jesus called his first disciples, "immediately they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:20 NRSV Read in context.) They left the security of their fishing business.

They left security and control behind to follow a scruffy messiah who didn't seem to know how royalty should act. Jesus was the President without secret service protection or Air Force One. He took on tasks considered beneath royalty. Jesus washed the filthy feet of guests, went to the outcast, ate with them, touched the untouchable, and in the process gave hope to the oppressed.

He did not build a synagogue and call people to him. He walked among the people.

The cost of discipleship to Jesus is ceding control to God. Following Jesus requires disruption of our lives of consumerism to seek justice in a world of unjust actions and systems that oppress. Leaving our safety nets behind, we hear the Spirit along a path that branches away from material security.

Followers walk among the people, learning from and with them. Though we sometimes fail, we strive to be God's loving, empathetic presence in a world of indifference. The church, however, is too often about security. The institution of the church itself possesses capitalism's symbols of success: property and financial investments.

Property has become Christians' idol that keeps us from God.  We feed our property-god with new roofs while people sleep under bridges. We slash Educational ministries, missions to those in need, and even Evangelism budgets when our golden calf demands new paint, carpet, or stained glass. With every expenditure we fear opening our doors to those in need will spoil the splendor we've created.

The time has come for the church to leave our nets and business behind and risk it all for the One we claim to follow.


The War on the Poor

My wife and I recently downsized to pay-as-you-go dumbphones. I'd like to say that our movement toward a simple lifestyle is the primary reason. (See Emptying Barns for posts on our journey of letting go of possessions.) But, if I'm honest we've done so to save money. With my continuing non-paid lifestyle, we can use an extra hundred bucks a month.

This photo by Rudy Costanza of the Times-Picayune
 created a stir in New Orleans and the Internet.

I thought of this when I heard that an internet bitch session has begun over a photo of a poor child with an iPad. Can you hear the uproar? "I can't even afford an iPad and I pay for people on welfare to have one!" Embedded in this comment and others like it is a judgmentalism about the poor. The poor are lazy, the poor are manipulative, and live in luxury on the back of hardworking taxpayers, goes the judgement.

Until our contracts were complete with the big corporate phone company, we did not have the choice to downsize to affordable phones. Though our finances dictate that a pay-as-you go basic phone is the wise choice, until earlier this week I carried an iPhone. If you knew my income and saw me with an iPhone you might ask yourself, "Where'd he steal it?" or "I can't even afford an iPhone and I pay for someone on welfare to have one!"

Or you would if you perceived me as a poor person.

We have a disdain for those who are poor in this country. We blame the victims of this complex social issue. When we oversimplify it, we oversimplify the role that personal responsibility plays. Yes, personal responsibility matters but poverty has far more to do with oppressive systems within our culture and economy.

Having spent decades in educational and social service agencies, I have known some people who skirt ethics and legalities. Some of them have been poor. Most have been from middle-class or upper-class socioeconomic groups. This is to say we are all human with our faults regardless of our income.

Judging another by an object they own (or simply possess) is dubious. I have had my eyes opened more than once as I visited the homes of children's families who were poor. I'm not convinced I wouldn't spend a tax refund -- that might be better spent -- on an iPad for my child if I raised her in some of the hope deserts I've visited.

But, for those who profess to follow Jesus, none of these facts are the reason to refrain from our harsh, disdainful judgment of the poor. Never mind that pesky little ol' passage about not judging others (See Matthew 7:1-5), the Gospels (and the Old Testament, too) are chockfull of passages about how we treat the poor. Many argue convincingly that Jesus has a preferential option for the poor.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [God] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor." Luke 4: 18a NRSV (Read in context.)

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22 NRSV (Read in context.

‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42 NRSV (Read in context.)

Just & Loving God,

Soften our hearts,
   open us to your love,
      that we might breathe it in and,
          breathe out its compassion, empathy, and
             burning desire for justice.

May we leave judgment to you,
   and exude your extravagant love for the poor,
      in our actions and words.



Related Reading

The author of the original Times-Picayune article discusses the reaction in a newspaper column.  An interesting discussion of what the poor deserve as explanation for the reaction can be found here.


Zen Ice Trays

Any drink is improved with ice. I put ice in my drinks in the hot summer, the warm spring, cool fall, and even the cold winter months. At least a couple of times a day the ice trays in my fridge need refilling. 

Turning the tap on to a fast, steady stream does a poor job of filling the trays, it not only wastes water as it splatters, but I get wet. There is no fast way to fill the trays.


Instead of whining and complaining about my lack of an icemaker, I've turned this time into a spiritual practice. I pause as I approach the sink, turning the faucet on to a near-drip.

I breathe in and I breathe out. 

The water we rely on to live, fills each compartment of the ice tray one drop at a time. I focus on the yellow-green ice tray, the water, and the task at hand. If my mind wanders to other thoughts, I redirect it to the source of life, water. If my emotions shift to impatience,

I breathe in and I  breathe out. 

 Spiritual practices do not have to include incense, candles, or chanting. They have their place but small, daily practices are what help me to be centered. Filling the ice trays helps me to be present in the moment.  I strive in my faith journey to focus on being, rather than doing. My particular challenge is to define myself by who I am rather than what I do. It's challenging in our noisy culture; I don't always succeed. 

But, I breathe in and I breathe out for a few minutes everyday as I pause to fill the ice trays.


It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's God! No, That's My Wife.

No, I'm not really suggesting that my wife is a god. That heresy is even beyond me. I suggest that it is in deep love that we glimpse the nature of the divine.

This is our double-trinity anniversary. My beloved, my imzadi, my soulmate and I were married thirty-three years ago today. In our three decades + three years the following are ways in which I've glimpsed the one I call God in our relationship.

Presence. Since the day we committed ourselves together Maggie has been present. When not able to be physically together she is within me. Even during my seminary years when we were separated by 350 miles and weeks, she would text me about little things in her day, seek my empathy, to check on something with which she knew I struggled, or to rejoice in my successes!

Unconditional love. Maggie's love for me is unconditional. Even when I don't deserve it, she offers me grace. Though, sometimes she must cool down, her love for me never wavers. The slammed car door as I drop her off unsettles me but not to my core. This is because I feel the depth of her love even when she's angry with me.

Sustaining love. In the 70s, Harry Nilsson sang "I can't live if living is without you." The love that Maggie and I share sustains us. Her love transforms me. I am not the person I would be without her. I could more readily give up food than the love of my beloved.

Reciprocal love. She needs me as much as I need her. I don't know why; it makes no sense to me. In the giving to her, I find a boundless supply of love. There's nothing I wouldn't do for her.  I know that the same is true of her love for me.

Knows me & sees me. Maggie's love, like that of God, is inexplicable. She loves me not despite my faults and annoying habits but through them and, because of them. What is more inexplicable than that?

Calls me out. Because Maggie knows me at the soul-level, she also knows when I'm taking the easy path. She sees when I've been sleeping, she knows if I'm awake, and knows if I've been bad or good. She's also not afraid to make it crystal clear that I need to be the person I'm capable of being.

Takes my side, protects me. When the world hands me lemons, Maggie makes the lemonade for me. I know that no matter how bad a day I've had she will take my side. She will wrap me in her arms and hold her fist to the world at the same time.

Never gives up on me. Ask our kids. We've been known to have some metaphorical "knock down, drag outs" in our time as a  married couple. Throughout it all, Maggie doesn't give up on me. She can sometimes get pissed -- beyond pissed -- but we always reconcile our differences and do the work necessary to heal our conflict.

So, though my imzadi is not God, it is within our relationship, within the nature of her love for me, that I so often glimpse the extravagant love of the One.

Related Posts

The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In


Sacred Ground

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ Exodus 3:5b NRSV (Read in context.)

My mother taught me that God is everywhere.  Most Christians would agree with her; the One we call God can meet us anywhere. Indeed the sacred surrounds us, enveloping us. Each human being even reflects the divine (Imago Dei), according to most followers of Jesus.

We often co-create sacred spaces with the divine, the one I call God. In churches and other places we invoke the spirit with candles, prayers, or incense. (I often burn incense and light a candle to remind me of God's presence. They help me to remember that my gifts are from God.) Some indigenous people burn cedar or sage. Most faith traditions of which I am aware have ways to draw our distracted human minds to focus on the One, on the sacred. These rituals are not limited by location.

But there do seem to be places in which God's presence is palpable. As I've been hiking the Columbia River Gorge this year, I have happened upon places that draw me in, call me to prayer and meditation. Some of these places are simply pretty spots where the artistry of the Creator's brush compel me to awe.

"Some of these places are simply pretty spots where the artistry of the Creator's brush compel me to awe." Photo by Tim Graves
Others have been co-created by human beings. Another person has felt compelled, for reasons I am unaware, to modify the location. The zen rocks along the Coyote Wall trail, for example, demand a sabbath along the journey to the peak.

The Coyote Wall Zen rocks are flanked by Mt. Hood. Photo by Tim Graves
Sometimes the sacred ground I encounter is long, narrow, and winds through Mother Earth's majesty. The experience of putting one foot in front of the other -- of the journey -- is itself holy. Being present on that trail as it wanders through the forest, meadow, or along the river, the One walks with me.  The God who loves extravagantly heals me, prods and challenges me, and reminds me that the majestic unfolding realm of God includes each of us.

Photo by Tim Graves

Note: As I begin the long-term project of creating a spiritual guide to various trails within the Columbia River Gorge, I will be highlighting Sacred Ground that I encounter on my hikes.


Idolizing the God of Moderation

 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 26-27 NRSV (read in context)

Living closer to nature, we live closer God. By slowing down, we see the subtleties of creation. We see the nonstop transformation of the world. There are deaths and resurrections all around us. Dry creek beds, surging waterfalls, ice storms and debilitating heat all come to an end. The Divine energy  pulses and vibrates throughout it all. (This is also reflected in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.)

We experience and observe the resurrecting nature of the One I call God in Creation. It is where we can take our rightful place as one creature among many. We are called to practice a dominion over the earth that reflects the image of God (Imago Dei) within us. That god does not control us. The One who loves us with abandon and feels our every emotion creates and transforms with us. Without pausing, God prods us to reflect God's loving creating nature.

Nature is filled with death and resurrections. Photo by Tim Graves

Responding to this call requires empathy. Empathy with the salmon struggling upstream and with our kindred humans fighting for dignity and justice. Without empathy we fail to reflect the Imago Dei.

Yet, we idolize a god who does not feel or transform. We isolate ourselves from the opportunities to empathize and love.

In our modern world of air conditioning we forget that a little sweat is a good thing. Instead of feeling the warm summer blowing on our face, we insulate ourselves. If we feel moisture on our skin with the thermostat set to 78, we sequester ourselves at 72 degrees. We live in a world insulated from the nature of God and one another.

Moderation and comfort are our idols. But without the highs or the lows, the anguish and the exuberance, we do not experience the One who is always creating, the One who dances in joy and weeps in despair with us, the God of the ancient Hebrews who heard cries and responds in mercy. The God who grows through the crack in the asphalt demanding that beauty win, that love win.