The Dangerous Games We Play

Sally comes to church with an obvious black eye, covered with make-up. “Are you okay?” I ask. Fighting back tears, she says, “Yes,” and sits in a back pew. Tom yells at and then strikes his three-year-old daughter, who doesn’t want to get out of her car seat in the church parking lot. I hear her sobs through the window of my office.

Andrea confides that her husband comes home drunk and beats her regularly. She is terrified of him but will not leave because she has no job and no place to go. Most distressing, she often believes that she is causing the violence. Five-year-old Sam is frightened of being around any adult males because his father regularly beats him. He won’t come to Sunday school if the teacher is a male. I’ve seen the tragic effects of domestic violence. Every pastor has.

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Ray and Janay Rice’s lives will never be the same. Video released last week showed former Baltimore Raven’s running back Rice bashing then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator last February in an Atlantic City casino, knocking her unconscious. As if it were not enough that their private life was exposed to the entire world, Rice’s $35 million Ravens contract was terminated a week ago, and the National Football League changed a two-game suspension to an indefinite ban.

Rice’s embarrassment and public humiliation was accompanied by the uncovering of a pervasive culture of denial and downplaying cases of domestic violence in the NFL, not to mention an open floodgate of women contacting domestic violence hotlines. Oh, the dangerous games we play with ourselves.

• We blame the victim for our choice to engage in violence.
Domestic violence is one of the best kept secrets in American life. Usually, it’s men physically abusing their wives and/or children, but not always. The excuse that the perpetrator is incited to violence because of the victim’s behavior is simply that, an excuse.

• We believe that if domestic violence is inflicted upon on us, somehow we deserve it.
Victims are NEVER to blame for their partner’s violence. Violence is never justified, no matter how intense the argument. Janay Rice tried to defend her husband by acknowledging her role in his decision to deliver a knock-out blow. Physically harming Janay was Ray’s choice, however. It takes a tremendous amount to courage and support for victims to admit the abuse and refuse to accept guilt for the violence.

• We make jokes about domestic violence.
Commenting on the video footage showing Rice savagely flooring Janay in an elevator, then pulling her out on the floor and simply standing there, the host of Fox News’ Fox and Friends morning program, Brian Kilmeade, said, “The message is, take the stairs!” Host Steve Doocy followed with, “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.” Women don’t joke about such matters.

• We haven’t been too concerned that the NFL seems more interested in penalties for marijuana use, excessive touchdown celebrations and uniform violations than for domestic violence.
After investigating the April incident, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games. Since last week’s outcry over the NFL’s laxity around domestic violence, Commissioner Goodell announced a six game suspension for the first domestic violence incident and a lifetime suspension for the second.

• We naively insist that that glorifying violence through the games we play, whether video games, football, boxing or ice hockey, does not affect the culture of violence and guns in our nation.
Our collective American heads are in the sand. Why is football the most popular game in America, a game where men are paid millions of dollars to hurt other each other and are idolized for their brutality?

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Why is gun ownership such a sacred cow in our country? Why is a nine-year-old girl allowed to learn how to shoot a fully automatic Uzi machine gun? The recent tragic death of her firearms instructor in Arizona because she could not handle the kickback of an adult weapon should remind us of the shadow side of our national obsession with guns.

• We use violent images in our speech without hesitation.
I cringe every time I hear someone say, “He deserved to be shot” or “Why doesn’t someone beat some sense into her?” One time I even heard a male preacher say in a sermon, “God wanted to slap me upside the head.” Imagine what kind of God he thinks he serves. Violence usually begets more violence.

• We believe it’s okay to verbally abuse others as long as we do not physically harm them.
Shaming, taunting, humiliating and bullying are all forms of violence that demean others and can cause lasting psychological damage.

• We refuse to gently but firmly confront those who express inappropriate anger or threaten others, even in our churches.
Not holding others accountable for excessive anger is an implicit acceptance of their behavior. Nervous laughter when crude jokes are told, silence when others are slandered and inaction when bullies verbally abuse others must be addressed clearly and lovingly, especially in our congregations. Churches are no longer sanctuaries when people fear the anger of others.

• We justify spanking our children as the only way to teach them to behave.
Children model the behavior of their parents. Children who are spanked, whipped or beaten learn that it is acceptable to physically hurt others if you don’t like that they do. Many are scarred for life by verbal and physical violence, whether experienced or witnessed.

In another unfortunate incident last week, Minnesota Viking’s star running back Adrian Peterson was deactivated from yesterday’s game after being indicted in Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson admitted that he used a “switch” to spank his four-year-old son as discipline, saying that this was the same discipline he received as a child. The boy suffered cuts and bruises to his back, buttocks, ankles and legs, among other areas. Violence begets violence.

• We don’t push back when people justify domestic violence by literally applying biblical statements that since the man is the head of the house, he has a God-given right to keep his wife and children in line.
The insistence on male superiority in many of our evangelical and independent churches justifies violence as a male privilege in order to control women and children. Who will present an alternative world view by speaking up for the teachings of Jesus, who placed high value on nonviolence and treated all people as precious children of God, especially women and children?

• We accept the fact that “boys will be boys.”
More than once I’ve heard a man say to his son, “Be a man.” The implication is that men are to supposed to be aggressive and violent. Condoning domestic violence because it comes naturally to males makes a mockery of every human being’s responsibility to control their behavior. Three women are murdered every day in the United States by their spouses/partners.

• We believe that we are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior.
We may not be complicit in Ray Rice’s behavior. But what about our sons and grandsons? What about the children we teach in Sunday school, teenage boys that we lead in youth groups or athletes that we coach? Are we teaching them about healthy relationships, gender respect, equality and anger management, or do we let them off the hook because they may be star athletes? Do we ignore physical aggression or use it as a teaching tool about self-control in situations other than contact sports? Do we downplay sexualized depictions of women in video games, TV shows and movies or carefully monitor what our children and youth watch?

In many states clergy are among those professionals now specifically mandated by law to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect.

In Ray Rice’s last public statement this summer he expressed remorse, “I let so many people down because of thirty seconds of my life that I know I can’t take back.” Ray admitted that he was drinking heavily that night and has sworn off hard liquor. He also said that he and Janay decided to become born-again Christians, were baptized in March and are being mentored. Last Tuesday Rice issued a statement saying that he’s trying to “work through this” and that “we have a lot of people praying for us.”

I, too, am praying for Ray and Janay, that they will get their life together and move forward into a bright future. I am also praying that God will use this incident to increase public awareness of the dangerous games we play with ourselves when remain silent in the face of the tragedy of domestic violence. May God grant all of us the grace to create a violent-free world.

Blessings,
Laurie

Home

photo-farmAs soon as the plane touched down in Allentown, I knew I was home.  The tug of the land was profound as well as comforting.  My ancestors on both sides of my family have lived in southeastern Pennsylvania for almost three hundred years. My maternal grandmother, Mary Price, was born in 1892 on the Price Homestead, which was first built by Jacob Price in 1720 after he purchased five hundred acres on the Indian Creek.

 

Jacob Price was born in Wittgenstein, Germany and was a preacher in a religious movement called The Brethren (Church of the Brethren in the U.S.) The Brethren were persecuted by government authorities in Germany because they insisted on adult baptism by immersion and were pacifists. Hearing that the pacifist Quaker William Penn was a champion of religious freedom in the colony of Pennsylvania, Jacob Price and other Brethren sailed to America in 1719 and settled north of Philadelphia.

Only in recent years have I realized how deep my roots are in the rolling farmland of southeastern Pennsylvania. My grandfather’s business, which eventually became my father’s, was located less than a mile from the home where my grandmother was born.  Today my father lives in a Brethren retirement community not far from the Price Homestead. I grew up within miles of where my people first settled three centuries before.

Home for just a few days, I walked, rode bike and drove miles along the familiar country roads of my childhood and youth. The Mennonite influence in this area (my paternal grandmother’s religious tradition) is pervasive, and I loaded up on traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods. My father ran into a high school friend and neighbor in the Mennonite grocery store, and they began speaking Pennsylvania Dutch/German. My father lamented the fact that his native language will likely no longer be spoken after his generation dies.

When I am home, I sense the presence of the “Quiet in the Land,” a term that describes the unassuming, hard-working, gentle and simple-living Mennonites but also applies to their spiritual cousins, the Brethren. The legacy of both sides of my family in the same area informs who I am today.

Relishing every moment spent with my father, siblings and extended family, I felt completely “at home.” There was no other place I wanted to be. Playing golf with my father and brothers on a beautiful course in the country on a gorgeous summer day was a “thin place” where earth and heaven met, if only for that moment in time.

“Coming home” to my family in Pennsylvania several weeks ago was very similar to the “homecoming” that took place in many of our churches yesterday. Every church I have served has tried to do something special on the Sunday after Labor Day. It’s traditionally the time when Sunday school starts, choirs return after the summer break and new ministries and programs begin. We welcome home all those who were gone for a good part of the summer, and it feels as if the family is back together. The energy is palpable.

Almost every day I hear people give thanks for their church and refer to it as their spiritual “home.” Of course, just as with families, the church is not always a source of happiness, hope and healing. There are secrets in my family that no one wants to talk about. My paternal grandmother was divorced when my father was very young, and I still don’t know what happened. Neither does my father. In the same way churches sometimes harbor secrets or experience trauma, which can perpetuate dysfunction, inhibit healthy relationships and prevent the congregation from fulfilling its mission.

At their best, however, both churches and families become “home” when they consciously exhibit these characteristics.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when love is spoken.

The world is filled with such harshness that our homes and churches need to be sanctuaries where our language is always one of humility, grace and unconditional love.  The very name “sanctuary” implies a place of safety and refuge. In fact, from the fourth to the seventeenth century, English law recognized churches as places of sanctuary where fugitives were immune to arrest. When love is spoken, we remain connected with one another despite differences in belief and practice and learn to honor those differences as gifts of God.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when all are welcome and included, no matter what.

Many families and churches have one or more “black sheep,” members who stray from the fold. Remembering the words of the poet Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” churches and families become home when they tolerate quirkiness and even tragic mistakes and never give up on their loved ones. Of course, support without accountability is never wise. That’s why healthy churches and families provide a safe place for members to admit their shortcomings and make positive life changes.

One of the most important ministries of the church is to become home for people who do not have families that love, care for and value them. Regardless of their upbringing, all people are accepted as part of the family of God.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when forgiveness is practiced.

There comes a time in every church and family when “crucial conversations” need to take place. When betrayal, pain, inappropriate behavior or jealousy tear people apart, speaking the truth in love invites compassionate dialogue about difficult issues. Jesus gives us a clear process for such conversations in Matthew 18, known as The Rule of Christ.

My own family has struggled with forgiveness and an unwillingness to let go of past hurts.  Perhaps your family has as well. I pray continually for God’s grace to lead us to a safe place where we can ask for and receive forgiveness and relationships can be restored. In both church and family it is possible to redeem the past and make the future different.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when we pull together in times of trouble.

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My great-grandfather, Abraham Price, and his wife, Susan Alderfer, were the last family to live on the Price Homestead. They had sixteen children, of which my maternal grandmother, Mary, was the twelfth (second row on the right, light-colored dress). In 1912 Abraham was kicked in the face by a horse and died in the barn before anyone could seek medical assistance. Everyone in the community pitched in to help the family with the farm.  The Price Homestead was eventually sold in 1926 after having been in the family for more than two hundred years.

Many times I have heard people say, “I don’t know how I would have made it without my church. They were there for me.”  We become the church when we bear one another’s burdens not only within the church but within our families and communities as well.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when we are encouraged to use our unique gifts and are challenged to grow in grace and truth.

Is there any more beautiful sight than parents and church members encouraging their youth to become all that God created them to be?  By quietly calling each other to unlock our human potential and become more than we dreamed, we empower each other to change the world.

Is blood is thicker than water?  This old saying has traditionally referred to the fact that family ties are always more important than the ties of friendship. We don’t get to choose our relatives, and we are not always as close to them as we are to our friends, but there is a familial bond that is strong and deep.

But there’s another way to look at this proverb. I wonder if it could also be said that the covenant of blood (i.e. the blood that is shed for each other by soldiers on the battlefield) is thicker than the water of the womb. This interpretation implies that a decision or promise made by choice is thicker than one forced by biology.

All I know is that family ties run deep, even when we are not always best friends with our relatives. At the same time I have found most of my best friends through the church.  Covenantal friendships with fellow Christians add depth and meaning to our relationships.

Our call as Christians is to create home for all of God’s children, whether in our families or the church. How can your family become “home” for all of your kin, not just those whom you like? How can your church become “home” for guests, members who have been estranged and for those who are not like you? How might every Sunday be an opportunity for others to come home to God?

Blessings,

Laurie

Home

photo-farmAs soon as the plane touched down in Allentown, I knew I was home.  The tug of the land was profound as well as comforting.  My ancestors on both sides of my family have lived in southeastern Pennsylvania for almost three hundred years. My maternal grandmother, Mary Price, was born in 1892 on the Price Homestead, which was first built by Jacob Price in 1720 after he purchased five hundred acres on the Indian Creek.

 

Jacob Price was born in Wittgenstein, Germany and was a preacher in a religious movement called The Brethren (Church of the Brethren in the U.S.) The Brethren were persecuted by government authorities in Germany because they insisted on adult baptism by immersion and were pacifists. Hearing that the pacifist Quaker William Penn was a champion of religious freedom in the colony of Pennsylvania, Jacob Price and other Brethren sailed to America in 1719 and settled north of Philadelphia.

Only in recent years have I realized how deep my roots are in the rolling farmland of southeastern Pennsylvania. My grandfather’s business, which eventually became my father’s, was located less than a mile from the home where my grandmother was born.  Today my father lives in a Brethren retirement community not far from the Price Homestead. I grew up within miles of where my people first settled three centuries before.

Home for just a few days, I walked, rode bike and drove miles along the familiar country roads of my childhood and youth. The Mennonite influence in this area (my paternal grandmother’s religious tradition) is pervasive, and I loaded up on traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods. My father ran into a high school friend and neighbor in the Mennonite grocery store, and they began speaking Pennsylvania Dutch/German. My father lamented the fact that his native language will likely no longer be spoken after his generation dies.

When I am home, I sense the presence of the “Quiet in the Land,” a term that describes the unassuming, hard-working, gentle and simple-living Mennonites but also applies to their spiritual cousins, the Brethren. The legacy of both sides of my family in the same area informs who I am today.

Relishing every moment spent with my father, siblings and extended family, I felt completely “at home.” There was no other place I wanted to be. Playing golf with my father and brothers on a beautiful course in the country on a gorgeous summer day was a “thin place” where earth and heaven met, if only for that moment in time.

“Coming home” to my family in Pennsylvania several weeks ago was very similar to the “homecoming” that took place in many of our churches yesterday. Every church I have served has tried to do something special on the Sunday after Labor Day. It’s traditionally the time when Sunday school starts, choirs return after the summer break and new ministries and programs begin. We welcome home all those who were gone for a good part of the summer, and it feels as if the family is back together. The energy is palpable.

Almost every day I hear people give thanks for their church and refer to it as their spiritual “home.” Of course, just as with families, the church is not always a source of happiness, hope and healing. There are secrets in my family that no one wants to talk about. My paternal grandmother was divorced when my father was very young, and I still don’t know what happened. Neither does my father. In the same way churches sometimes harbor secrets or experience trauma, which can perpetuate dysfunction, inhibit healthy relationships and prevent the congregation from fulfilling its mission.

At their best, however, both churches and families become “home” when they consciously exhibit these characteristics.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when love is spoken.

The world is filled with such harshness that our homes and churches need to be sanctuaries where our language is always one of humility, grace and unconditional love.  The very name “sanctuary” implies a place of safety and refuge. In fact, from the fourth to the seventeenth century, English law recognized churches as places of sanctuary where fugitives were immune to arrest. When love is spoken, we remain connected with one another despite differences in belief and practice and learn to honor those differences as gifts of God.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when all are welcome and included, no matter what.

Many families and churches have one or more “black sheep,” members who stray from the fold. Remembering the words of the poet Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” churches and families become home when they tolerate quirkiness and even tragic mistakes and never give up on their loved ones. Of course, support without accountability is never wise. That’s why healthy churches and families provide a safe place for members to admit their shortcomings and make positive life changes.

One of the most important ministries of the church is to become home for people who do not have families that love, care for and value them. Regardless of their upbringing, all people are accepted as part of the family of God.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when forgiveness is practiced.

There comes a time in every church and family when “crucial conversations” need to take place. When betrayal, pain, inappropriate behavior or jealousy tear people apart, speaking the truth in love invites compassionate dialogue about difficult issues. Jesus gives us a clear process for such conversations in Matthew 18, known as The Rule of Christ.

My own family has struggled with forgiveness and an unwillingness to let go of past hurts.  Perhaps your family has as well. I pray continually for God’s grace to lead us to a safe place where we can ask for and receive forgiveness and relationships can be restored. In both church and family it is possible to redeem the past and make the future different.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when we pull together in times of trouble.

photo-family copy

My great-grandfather, Abraham Price, and his wife, Susan Alderfer, were the last family to live on the Price Homestead. They had sixteen children, of which my maternal grandmother, Mary, was the twelfth (second row on the right, light-colored dress). In 1912 Abraham was kicked in the face by a horse and died in the barn before anyone could seek medical assistance. Everyone in the community pitched in to help the family with the farm.  The Price Homestead was eventually sold in 1926 after having been in the family for more than two hundred years.

Many times I have heard people say, “I don’t know how I would have made it without my church. They were there for me.”  We become the church when we bear one another’s burdens not only within the church but within our families and communities as well.

  • Healthy churches and families are “home” when we are encouraged to use our unique gifts and are challenged to grow in grace and truth.

Is there any more beautiful sight than parents and church members encouraging their youth to become all that God created them to be?  By quietly calling each other to unlock our human potential and become more than we dreamed, we empower each other to change the world.

Is blood is thicker than water?  This old saying has traditionally referred to the fact that family ties are always more important than the ties of friendship. We don’t get to choose our relatives, and we are not always as close to them as we are to our friends, but there is a familial bond that is strong and deep.

But there’s another way to look at this proverb. I wonder if it could also be said that the covenant of blood (i.e. the blood that is shed for each other by soldiers on the battlefield) is thicker than the water of the womb. This interpretation implies that a decision or promise made by choice is thicker than one forced by biology.

All I know is that family ties run deep, even when we are not always best friends with our relatives. At the same time I have found most of my best friends through the church.  Covenantal friendships with fellow Christians add depth and meaning to our relationships.

Our call as Christians is to create home for all of God’s children, whether in our families or the church. How can your family become “home” for all of your kin, not just those whom you like? How can your church become “home” for guests, members who have been estranged and for those who are not like you? How might every Sunday be an opportunity for others to come home to God?

Blessings,

Laurie