I write today in honor of my deceased friend and known criminal, Louise Flippen. Louise died on the 15th of this month in McAllen Texas. I first met her in 1998. I took my first international mission team into Mexico that year. There were 23 of us who went to work with an organization called CUPS (communidades unitas por salud)—communities united for health.
CUPS devoted itself, primarily, to the building of clinics and schools and digging wells for water. Our team worked in the tiny fishing village called “Mano de Leon”. It was about 100 miles inside the border and passed the second checkpoint—the place where the Mexican government tries hardest to combat the drug trade. Getting through that checkpoint is scary.
Mano de Leon had no electricity and no running water—they collected rain water and used generators for what little electricity they needed in the community. The homes were bricko block construction. The people had very little.
This was just one of the missions Louise and CUPS developed. She was a large woman who chain smoked Marlboros. As we worked hard under the scorching, Mexican sun mixing concrete and building walls, Louise would sit on a nearby chair watching the proceedings and barking out encouragement. She was not physically able to do any labor. But she was an angel, nonetheless. The people there revered her as a saint. She had done more for them than anyone—including the Mexican government.
This was a labor of love for her.
I mentioned she was a criminal. Let me explain. There was no end to the need of the people there. They had no medical doctors for many miles—only a handful of women who tried to learn as much first aid as they could (one year we took a case of books called “Donde Es No Doctor”--Where There Is No Doctor—so they could have some guidebooks for basic treatment of injuries.) Anyway, there being no medical equipment stores for hundreds of miles, Louise began smuggling stuff across the border. Crutches, wheelchairs, all manner of medical supplies. She got caught at the border any number of times with this “contraband”, but she always managed to talk her way out of trouble. She was a known criminal—and deeply loved.
I think of her this week because of the impact the news of her death had on me. But also because this week we celebrate another “smuggler” and His criminal son. God smuggled this baby right under Herod’s nose. And that child would grow up to be the source of light and love for the world—only to be crucified as a common criminal.
Makes me want to look more closely at those we label “criminal” to see if something else might be going on. Today I celebrate my criminal friend, Marian Louise Flippen. Rest in peace, Louise. You did an awful lot of good down here.
Now, More Than Ever:
PEACE ON EARTH
Something very troubling to me happened last week at Liberty University. Liberty U. is the largest Christian-oriented school in the country with over 100,000 students in all programs. Their President is Jerry Falwell, Jr. His father founded the University. At a convocation designed to address how Christians should respond to recent terrorist attacks, Falwell is quoted as saying,
“If the people in that community (San Bernadino) had had what I have in my back pocket right now . . .” (he stopped that sentence and then continued) “If more good people had conceal carry permits then we can end those Muslims. I just want to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let’s teach ‘em a lesson if they ever show up here.”
It is well-documented that hate speech normally precedes violence against whatever group is being discussed. For the first thousand years of Christianity, the relationship between Christians and Jews was tense and there were occasional acts of violence, but not on any large scale and not "sanctioned” by the church at-large. In the 12th century this began to change. A shift occurred in the church’s understanding of the Passion of Christ. Before, the emphasis was on the divine nature of Jesus and His triumph over death. Because of that, there was no emphasis on his killers. However, this began to change as the church started focusing its attention on the humanity of Jesus and His suffering and the pain of crucifixion. And before, his killers were almost always portrayed as Romans; now the killers of Christ were portrayed as Jews (maybe partly because Rome was the seat of the papacy?). The first large scale acts of violence coincided with the change in speech.
There were numerous other accounts from that time of large-scale attacks on Jews by Christians—the latest of which was by Adolph Hitler.
It is deeply troubling to me to hear of any Christian brothers and sisters, in the name of God, suggesting that the way of Jesus is to summarily kill other people. I can’t imagine that this is what Falwell had in mind when he said what he did, but he also has not walked those statements back.
I am even more troubled by the idea that this was a message to 18 to 22 year olds. Jerry Falwell, Jr. is entitled to his opinion. He seems to believe that all Muslims are enemies and that the way to solve our problem is to shoot them—in order to “teach ‘em a lesson.”
There is a growing sense of fear around us. This kind of fear has a tendency to take on a life and a momentum of its own.
Here’s the point—I find myself wanting to just stay quiet and say nothing. I don’t enjoy the idea of confrontations with those who profess to believe as I do. I don’t know how to have a conversation about how we differ without it all devolving into a shouting match. And so I worry that it takes its toll and causes me to stay quiet.
I am saddened that some of my Muslim friends feel a pressure to denounce every terrible thing that fringe groups or individuals do in the name of Islam. I don’t recall anyone ever asking me to speak out against the Westboro Baptist Church or the “Christian” who just shot up an abortion clinic. Westboro Baptist and groups like them are not representative of my faith. Neither was the lunatic who shot up the clinic. Nearly all rational people know this to be true. Likewise, there are over a billion Muslims in the world. They are not “one size fits all.” They are not all enemies.
Maybe what bothers me the most about Falwell’s speech is that it is a pitiful, scared man passing down that fear like an inheritance. Fear is contagious and it is capable of poisoning the Body of Christ just the same as it can poison any other group—so long as too many of us stay silent.
For the record, I defy ANY Christian leader to refute that love is the most powerful force in the universe and we know this because love was—and is—the way of Jesus.
The hope of a terrorist is that creating fear will accomplish two things: to either change us or to silence us. If and when we do either, the terrorists win. The Church knows what it has always known: “Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer.”
PEACE ON EARTH
My heart is heavy today as I suspect yours is. In San Bernadino, CA another act of terror from a religious extremist. 14 dead and 21 injured. It was a holiday party. The irony in this can’t be ignored. A religious extremist commits mass murder at a party celebrating the best of religion.
The drum beats are growing. How do we protect ourselves from such people? There used to be an idea about “rules of engagement”. These rules were first conceived by none other than St. Augustine, who imagined such a thing as “just war”—the idea that sometimes war is unavoidable and if it is, then there are ways to conduct it that are humanitarian.
The religious extremists are conducting a campaign that appears to have no rules of engagement. Innocent civilians are not only NOT avoided, but they are targeted as “high value”. The enemy we face lurks amongst other innocent civilians and uses them to provide cover—they know we are reluctant to indiscriminately attack a general area without regard to who is in that area.
More and more we are hearing talking heads suggest that we should throw off the old rules and behave in a like manner toward these extremists. Our frustration threatens to inform our decision-making.
During this season when we honor and worship the birth of The Prince Of Peace, it would be wise for us to consider who we are as a people—who we are at the very core of our being. We would be wise to re-examine the values that gave rise to our greatness as a people. Let’s be clear—none of us wants to live in fear. Up until September 11th, 2001, we were insulated from these kinds of attacks. Since then, the enemies of God—trying to convince the world that they commit such atrocities in the NAME of God—have waged a campaign of hatred.
However, we ought to ask ourselves if what we want in the end is to become that which we claim to despise? If we try to satisfy our own “bloodlust,” we become what we despise.
This is a time to grieve and to enter into a season of prayer and deep reflection. Where is God at work in all this? I believe with all my heart that God is near in these events.
We might be wise to keep our eyes and ears open to what God is up to.
This week, Jim's Place brings a special message from Joanna Cummings.
The words to one of my favorite hymns, Here I Am Lord, echo the cry of my heart this week: “Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.” God has called me to a new mission with the children, families, and community of The Village United Methodist Church, a new church plant in the Lenox Village/Nolensville area where we live, and I am following God’s call to join their staff as their children’s minister.
I share this with you with a heart that feels both sadness and gratitude. It is a strange feeling. You have been my church family for six and a half years and who I am today as a minister has a great deal to do with you and what you have taught me. I am thankful to you for so many things! I am grateful that you took me under your wing as a seminary student and new children’s minister. You took a chance on someone young and eager to learn and you supported me, loved me, and showed me so much grace. You have uplifted me and encouraged me as I have grown in ministry. You have built confidence in me and what God can do through this quirky, very type A, always learning, young woman in ministry. You have cared for me as a person through sharing life with me, through walking with me in my grief in the loss of my father and through pushing me to be who God has created me to be. You have been my friends and partners in ministry. I feel so honored to have been a part of God’s Kingdom work together with you!
To the children, you have taught me the most! Your eagerness to serve others and God’s church, your joy and wonder in faith and life and your questions push me forward in faith and have brought me closer to God. Because of you, I view the world differently and my faith has been deepened. You have so much to give our world and our church right now and I pray that you always remember that you are God’s beloved children. I love each of you and I am proud of you.
I give God thanks for you, for each of you! I will remain with you through Christmas and will start my new adventure in ministry in January. I ask that during this time of transition you pray for and support the children, families and educational ministries here at Forest Hills UMC. If you have gifts that can support these ministries, I hope you will share them. These ministries will continue the mission of discipleship only with your support, energy and care. I urge you to share your time and gifts in this effort.
Let us continue on together, creating disciples in the name of Jesus Christ and transforming the world with the good news of God’s great love for us. I love you all and I will continue to hold you in my heart and in my prayers.
With Grace and Thankfulness,
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.