Saturday, June 27, 2009

Guns and Jesus

According to the New York Times, the pastor of a church in Louisville, Kentucky, has asked his congregation to bring their guns to church as an "open carry celebration" of "our rights as Americans!”

The pastor, Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church, is quoted as saying that "I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist."

Whether followers of the teachings of Jesus must be pacifists is a good question, but is not the question I want to address today. The question that concerns me today is whether a true Christian should allow his love of his guns to interfere or compete with his love for God, or his love for his fellow man.

The second of the 10 Commandments is that "You shall not makes for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (Exodus 20:4-5)

The principle that we should not be attached to physical objects or other worldly things also appears frequently in the teachings of Jesus. Consider these few examples from the "Sermon on the Mount" as reported in the gospel of Matthew: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (6:19), "You cannot serve God and wealth" (6:24), and "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear" (6:25). And also consider Jesus's advice to the young man in Matt. 19:16-22, which was that he should "sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." The young man "went away grieving, for he had many possessions."

I believe that God wants us to enjoy our lives, and enjoy the physical world, including our possessions. But our possessions must be tools to an end, and not an end in themselves. We use a tool as long as it serves us, and lay it aside when it does not. Our possessions should be tools we use to enjoy our lives, but should not control our lives.

So someone who enjoys wordworking can take some pleasure in owning good woodworking tools, and someone who enjoys target shooting can take some pleasure in owning a good gun. But only some pleasure. If we take too much pleasure from our tools and cannot put them aside, or if we worry about our tools, then we are addicted to the tools or are worshipping the tools.

Even if we are not commanded to shun tools of violence, we are nevertheless commanded to be indifferent to them, and to treat them as any other tool. We should not celebrate a "bring your gun to church day" any more than we should celebrate a "bring your chisel to church day" or even a "bring your iPod to church day."

But Pastor Pagano is not indifferent to guns, but (according to the Times) "passionate." He responds to critics of guns in churches with passion, describing the issue as "a crusade."

And so my concern about Pastor Pagano is not that he owns guns or enjoys shooting guns, but that he loves his guns, and that his love for his guns is distracting him from more important matters of faith. My concern is not about pacifism, but idolatry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Prayer for Friends Hospice

This prayer will need some explaining.

I serve on the board of trustees of Friends Hospice, which is a nonprofit Quaker organization that works to ensure that all peoples in Philadelphia have access to high quality, compassionate care at the end of life, regardless of ability to pay. We offer spiritually grounded, state of the art medical care and counseling to all in the Philadelphia area who are facing serious illnesses, including undocumented residents, people with disabilities, the homeless, and people with little or no family support.

I also believe in the power of intercessory prayer, because I believe that the universe will give you what you want if you clearly state and make known what you want. As Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks the door will be opened." (NRSV Matt. 7:7-8)

Since the hospice began operations in December 2007, we have provided the quality of care we want to provide, but we have had difficulty attracting the right number of hospice participants (patients), and so our staff and our resources are currently under-utilized.

At a recent meeting of the board of trustees, we agreed on what we wanted in new hospice participants, and this is a somewhat modified version of that request:

Spirit, please send to Friends Hospice Project two disenfranchised, reimbursable people at end of life who live in north or west Philadelphia, and who are emotionally available for hospice care. Please let these people be timely new referrals who can accept home-based hospice care, and who have a community of friends and family who are teachable, will be grateful for our care, and are willing to talk to others about us. Please let some of the participants come to us through an appropriate large referral source such as Project Home or Jefferson Hospital, and let us have a balance of challenge and grace in our work as a result of these admissions. Thank you.
By reading this prayer, you will have helped Friends Hospice in its mission. Thank you.