Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

5/20 2015

Deflate-Gate and Christian Ethics

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Last week the National Football League handed down a four game suspension for Tom Brady of the New England Patriots for his part in deflating footballs before a playoff game this past year. The team was also penalized $1 million and 2 future draft picks. If you turned on ESPN recently you saw all kinds of debates in response. Is this fair? What really happened? Is the evidence strong enough to warrant this response? What will happen in the appeal? Tom Brady has frustrated many as he has not really admitted or denied the accusations. This will certainly be a news story for many weeks to come.Tom_Brady_Desktop_by_virtuedestroyedx

Everybody is sharing opinions on the matter on social media and in conversation, but I will not be sharing mine. Instead, I want to point out four ways that the discussion on ESPN and in the news is distinct from the way Christians should approach ethical discussions. I am not arguing that the debate should be done from a Christian perspective in those contexts. I think, however, that Christians need to think critically about the differences.

  1. God cares about means and ends. The excuse has been made that since the Patriots beat the Colts so soundly the ball pressure did not influence the outcome and so the ball pressure does not matter. This is a popular argument—to say that if you do something unethical for a good reason or if you do something unethical that does not result in a problem that it is acceptable. This is not a Christian argument. God cares about what you do and the results that you have. Remember that Jesus even cares about what happens in your mind before you even take action. (Mt 5:28)
  2. God sees and cares about who you are and what you do when no one is looking. Christian ethics are not about not getting caught or about definitive proof. Christian ethics are based on doing the right thing no matter who else sees or catches you because God is always with you and sees what you do in secret. (Mt 6:4, 6, 18) The question is not, “What can I get away with?” The question for Christians is, “How can I be more Christ-like in every area of my life?”
  3. Christian ethics care about truth and confession. One of the key truths of Christianity is that the truth will set us free. (Jn 8:23) There is also something freeing about confessing the truth. If you did something wrong then say so. If you did not do anything wrong then say so. Or, as James encourages, we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. (Jm 5:12) I don’t know what Brady did or did not do, but I wish he would be very clear about it publically. Honesty goes a long way in Christian ethics.
  4. Christian ethics are not ultimately based on human fairness. This is the big question of this story—is the penalty fair? When the world says that, they are talking about human opinion. When Christians evaluate behavior we do so based on the righteousness of God’s own character and not on what people think is fair. And even then we don’t get what we deserve, because Christ takes the punishment we deserve. There are still consequences for sin, even under grace. We feel the results of our sin just as we set up laws and punishments to keep society in order. God even does this in the Old Testament. My point is that the ultimate evaluation for Christian ethics is not a human understanding of fairness but the righteousness of God’s character. The criteria for Christians is higher.

I do not expect that the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell, ESPN, or even Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to be living or talking about Christian ethics. My worry is that Christians will not think critically about the distinctions between the world’s ethics and God’s ethics and will bring the world’s ethics into the church. For us, the standards and the discussions are different. Confusing them can be dangerous for the church.

Jordan Rimmer ’12 is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Brighton, Pa. He earned his Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently working on getting his Doctor of Ministry. Before moving to Pittsburgh, he was the director of outreach and youth ministries at Glenwood Methodist Church in Erie, Pa. He is a husband and father of four children. Jordan blogs at jordanrimmer.com and tweets at @jrimmer21. His sermons are available for download on iTunes or at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com.

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5/18 2015

Gentrification Conversation: Part Two

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Photo by Wagner T. Cassimoro

I didn’t notice any trouble until he called the police–I was too distracted by the sunlight. Our kitchen windows are six feet tall, and on sunny afternoons like this one, the yellow walls gleamed, the dirty dishes on the counter shone. Thump, thud. It was still early spring, and the windows were closed, muffling the clanging, banging, and thumping coming from across the street.

I looked out. Two men were loading our former neighbor’s belongings into a pickup truck. Her house had sat vacant for a year after she moved into a senior building, now her appliances were heading out the door. “I tried to talk to them,” my housemate said, “and they blew me off. The cops are on their way.”

“Oh,” I said, “oh, I see.” He walked out to the porch to see what would happen, and I sank down on the kitchen stool, staring at the floor. Calling the police was complicated. We couldn’t just sit by and watch while our neighbor’s house was emptied, but they would know who called–the white people, again–and what if the men were rude to the officers too? “No one get shot, no one get shot,” I prayed as I peeked out the window.

No one got shot. The police arrived, they talked, the next door neighbor came out, and soon everyone was laughing amiably. As the cops drove away, embarrassment settled in, hard. “I hate this,” I thought, “Why are we always the ones to overreact? It’s the middle of the day, of course they weren’t doing anything wrong.” My housemate came back in and noticed my discomfort.

“I’ll take care of it,” he said, and disappeared into the basement, returning a moment later with two bottles of beer. Clink, clank, he marched out the door. Peeking out the window again, I watched him approach the men, somewhat in awe at his nerve. He was talking, they were talking, he handed them the beer, and he walked back to our house. “Whew,” he shut the door, “Turned out they were family of a neighbor, everything’s alright. Glad I apologized.”

“They took the beer,” I said, still a little surprised. “Yeah,” he shrugged, grinning, “Sometimes a beer can turn an enemy into a friend. They’re good guys, just a little surly at first.”

And that was that. Two beers–the solution for all your cross-cultural tensions.

*****

With a big word like gentrification, it’s tempting to just talk about it at a macro-level. Government, development, public policy–all of this matters. But there is also the everyday reality of living in close quarters with people who are not ‘like me,’ and trying to get along.

This can be exhausting, and, like deciding whether to call the cops, more complicated than I ever imagined. But I suspect that mixed-income communities (or any communities) succeed or fail, ultimately, at the micro-level. In other words, can the people who live next door to one another learn to be neighbors?

On our block are middle-class working families–healthcare workers, retired city bus drivers, preschool teachers–and families who subsist on minimum wage jobs, food stamps, and Medicaid. The black folks (about three-quarters of our block) have generally lived in our neighborhood their whole lives and have family scattered about the community; the white folks are relative newcomers and have family scattered about the country.

And there are times when living together can be stressful and bumpy. There are misunderstandings and mistakes; there are awkward moments. Soon after I moved in, a well-meaning man said to me, “Don’t you worry, dear, my mother and I are glad that you’re here. We’re not like everyone else.”

And I thought, “It’s a good thing that ‘everyone else’ is too polite to say!”

However, there are also moments when I think that living where I live, and learning to get along with people who are not ‘like me’, is perhaps one of the richest experiences of my life.

One of my favorite neighbors is a grandmother who is working toward her GED while raising her grandkids. We go to church together, and her youngest loves to chase our chickens around the backyard. One day I gave her a ride to the bus stop, and as we were chatting about kids, weather, and leaking chimneys, I suddenly realized how much I needed this woman to be my neighbor.

There is a lot of talk, a lot of research, about how mixed-income communities benefit the poor–there can be increased employment opportunities, for example, and their kids tend to have higher social mobility–but what struck me in that moment, and has stayed with me since, is the sense of how much the rich (or at least the relatively rich) benefit from living near the poor.

I give my neighbor a ride, but she gives me insight I could get no other way. I watch her sacrifice for her grandkids while taking one GED class at a time, I watch her struggle, and I watch her pray. I watch her maintain faith and a sense of humor in the midst of situations that might just do me in.

She (and others) also give me financial perspective. When asked why they moved to our neighborhood, one family said, “We didn’t want our kids to think that it was normal to have a Rolex.” Having neighbors who work full time and yet struggle to buy fresh vegetables tempers my materialism. It also reminds me to be grateful at the farmer’s market. It’s not a guilt trip; it’s a reality adjustment.

Finally, speaking of reality, there is just something about living with people who freely admit they don’t have it all together. My neighbors have kids in jail, various addictions, and teenage pregnancies. While we’re all messed up in one way or another, the poor tend to wear their wounds on the outside. When I see this, and then see these same people embraced in spite of their (sometimes still oozing) wounds, something inside of me is also set free.

All this doesn’t happen in one trip to the bus stop, but over a decade or so, it begins to sink in: I need my neighbor because in the moments when I am her chauffeur, she is my teacher. This is a small step, but isn’t this the way that neighborhoods are built?

One ride,

one conversation,

one adjustment of perspective,

one mistake and one apology,

two beers at a time.

Jen Pelling ’10 is on the winding path of life-after-seminary. She earned her MDiv degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and is an elder at Valley View Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa. She writes and edits for the ‘You Are Here’ blog, freelances in her “free” time, works with other people’s children in various settings, and mothers her own two daughters with joy and frequent prayers for patience.

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5/11 2015

My Nepali Prayer

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Nepal PrayerLord God, I give you thanks and praise for my sisters and brothers in Nepal.
For their dedication to walk miles upon miles to share your love with others…
For their witness to their surrounding neighbors who do not know the depth of your grace…
For their hospitality to accept strangers into their homes and into their hearts…
For their commitment to enact justice and to heal wounds of brokenness among them…
For their confidence in your faithfulness to reach out to you in prayer.

Through the witness of my Nepali sisters and brothers, O God, I humble myself before you. I humble myself recognizing you are holy and you are love and you are power. And through your grace, I come to you, seeking to be made obedient to your will, seeking to be strengthened in my commitment to serving you with the same obedience and passion as my sisters and brothers.

Lord God, as my heart cries out with tears of joy for their loving witness and tears of sadness for the distance between us, I pray that you may continue to fill me with your compassion that I may serve you where I am. And as my tears fall upon the road I walk, I pray for others to encounter my tears and for my tears to serve as a witness to the deep, profound ways you have broken my heart for the beautiful people of Nepal, as fellow bearers of your love and grace. Please protect them and watch over them, renew their hearts day by day, give them good health and courage to continue to share your Word with others.

Lord God, I thank you for my sisters and brothers and for the continued ways in which you let me experience your love and grace, through the many witnesses around the world, and ultimately, through the death and resurrection of your beloved, Son, in whose name I offer this prayer.

Amen.

Jane Larson is a first-year MDiv student who traveled to Nepal this spring on a cross-cultural trip with the Seminary’s World Mission Initiative. Others from her team have also blogged about their experiences: The Power of Prayer and We’re All One Body in Christ.

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