Is this how the dream dies?

Over 200 years ago, a nation formed with a new dream–where government was going to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was going to be a government where all people had opportunity to succeed…where dreams could come true.

Did that ever completely happen? No…but the dream was always there, always providing the foundation.

There were problems. There were times when some people were considered “less than” others…times when some who looked different or who spoke other languages were not welcomed….

But people kept trying. They kept hoping…kept working…and challenged each other to be better than they had been.

They were given the gift of a statue with part of a poem inscribed on it–a statue and hope that encapsulated the dreams of both the people who were part of that experiment and others who wanted to be part of it.

While there were sometimes leaders who pandered to the worst instincts of people, most of them encouraged the people to try to live up to the dream. They also realized that for the dream to truly be a reality, they needed to take care of their land…to try to make sure that everyone could stay healthy.

And in doing all this, they began to be a symbol to other countries of what could be. They worked together with other leaders to try to make the world a better place for everyone.

They didn’t always succeed. But they kept trying.

Until now.

And now I’m afraid that dream…that great experiment…is dying.

It has been dying for some time; many of us just weren’t aware of how sick it was. But it’s clear now.

This great experiment said that there needs to be checks and balances between the three parts of government–but that has failed.

We have a leader who has signaled that he believes he can do anything he wants–and nobody in government has the right to stop him. We have a leader who has ignored people with expertise in a variety of fields in favor of “yes” men and women. We have a leader who has cozied up to dictators while tearing apart our relationships with those who have been our allies. We have a leader who has openly mocked people with disabilities…who has boasted of sexual assault…who has supported individuals and policies that have further marginalized and put in danger those who are already marginalized…who has made it acceptable to be racist and xenophobic. We have a leader who lies so frequently that it has become impossible to tell when (if) he is telling the truth. We have a leader who has claimed to be a Christian but whose words, actions, and policies are in direct opposition to what Jesus asked of his followers.

We have an administration where those who are holding various leadership positions are openly hostile to the responsibilities of those Cabinet positions…and/or have actively fought against them in the past. We have an administration that has given tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that provide safety nets to the less fortunate. We have an administration that has rolled back protections for the environment that have made it safer for individuals…and that is opening up protected lands to activities that will destroy them for short-term interests.

Many of us assumed that this dream–this experiment–could not be destroyed…that it might change, but that it would last. And so we are also to blame for what is happening because of our complacency.

Can this dream be revived? I hope so…for the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But it’s going to take all of us–and we have to be willing to work together.

“I threw the world away…”

hands throwing globe

Recently I was playing catch with my 6-year-old granddaughter. She was using a ball with a map of the world stamped on it.

As is often the case with youngsters, the rules of the game are flexible and quick to change, along with the number of participants. At one point, the rule became that the ball could not touch the ground as we tossed it back and forth.

When it did, Ladybug decided she was out of the game…but one of the other participants tossed the ball back to her. As it came towards her, she said, “I threw the world away…but someone threw it back to me.”

That’s a simple phrase, but it also struck me as quite a profound one.

How many times have I thrown the world away because I’ve been mad at somebody or something?

How many times have we thrown the world away…because of our lack of care for her? because we decided that what we wanted was more important? because we didn’t know better?

And how many times has someone thrown it back to us for another chance?

I’m grateful that someone has cared enough to give me another chance…has cared enough to give all of us another chance. But I also find myself wondering…how many more times can we throw the world away before someone quits throwing it back to us?

 

 

What are your core values?

A few days ago I was at a meeting at a church that is not part of my denomination. We were looking at how they use technology to enhance their worship. That part was interesting, but what really caught my attention was something the primary presenter said early on.

They want to make sure that the technology doesn’t become more important than the worship…that it is used to enhance the worship. And in order to ensure that, they have five core values related to their ministry.

  1. They value excellence over perfection. Perfection is not attainable by human beings–but excellence is. While I don’t think I’d thought of it in those terms, I’ve always said that if you are doing the best you possibly can, then you are bringing ministry.
  2. They value worship over performance. This one is a big one for me. When I’m sitting, and listening to someone sing / play / preach, I can tell whether the focus is on providing / leading worship…or whether it’s on “Look at me and what I can do / say.”
  3. They value engagement over observation. In other words, are members of the congregation taking an active part in the worship experience? Or are they being preached at or sung to?
  4. They value content over style. This one is an interesting one in light of so many battles that are fought today over whether a church should use hymns, praise songs, classical songs, etc., etc., etc. For them no style is off limits. If the content fits and speaks to the worship experience of any given service, then it’s usable.
  5. They value integrity over ability. At first glance, this one may make one go “Huh?” But for me, it’s tied in with the first one. When one uses a lot of volunteers–as this church does–they pair young people with adults who can help them learn. They provide practice materials as well as physical practice times–and they expect those volunteers to be committed to doing what they agreed to–and to practice so that they can do the best job possible.

There are a lot of different ways values can be expressed. My own faith tradition has what we call Enduring Principles.” These are principles that describe the “personality” of who we are…and they also provide the foundation for how we worship and–hopefully–how we live in community.

But I love these core worship ministry values and think that whether they were to ever be officially claimed by my faith tradition, they are still valuable for every individual involved in worship planning to consider and hold to.

And perhaps not just worship planners and leaders…but all of us in our attempts to build and live in community.

Do we ever really know someone?

Last Sunday morning our congregation held a memorial service for one of our congregational “characters” who died last Christmas Eve.

She was known as “the can lady” because every time she came to the congregation, she hunched over her cart which was filled with cans to donate to our fundraiser.

She was deaf…gruff…cantankerous…stubborn (she refused to let anyone give her a ride anywhere and walked all over town in all kinds of weather, hunched over her cart)…but she considered our congregation her home church.

We didn’t know much about her. We knew she was a hoarder because we helped move her after she had been evicted. We knew she had been homeless. We knew that when she married a few years ago, it was in many ways a marriage of convenience for both her and her husband–but that it also brought joy to her. We didn’t know if she had any other family. We knew that our congregation meant something to her and that she wanted to give in return. We knew that we missed her when she had to move into the nursing home.

At the service, there were folks who shared from the nursing home she had had to move into as well as the community center she had gone to as often as she could…and we found out more about her because each group knew something a little bit different about her.

We learned where she had been born…where she moved with her family…why she ended up in our part of the country. We discovered she had gone through four years of college (although we don’t know where or what she studied for sure). We learned she had worked at one point as a CNA–and that she had gone on disability about 35 years ago with extremely severe scoliosis. She had had back surgery for something else and it never took, so she was living with constant pain. We learned that because of her evictions, she was not eligible for subsidized housing, so she had to pay rent from her disability income. Her income was only about $1200 a month and rent and utilities left her only about $350 to live on. One month she lost even that, and so then she carried it in quarters–figuring no one would steal that bag of quarters because it was too heavy! But that also explained why she wanted so much of the extra food we were able to provide to those who needed help, courtesy of a local grocery.

But we also learned that when you were able to connect with her–which took time and perseverance–you were a friend forever. We learned that there were things that really tickled her…and that occasionally she would just let go and laugh in joy. We learned that she loved going to devotions and Bible study…

And so by the time the service ended, we realized how much she had touched others…and how much we had been touched. We learned something important as well…we never really completely know someone else…and grace is important!

 

“Miracle at Midnight”

We watched “Miracle at Midnight” on Disney+ last night…and I had trouble sleeping.

Told basically through the eyes of one family, it’s the story of the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 after plans were made for mass arrests and deportations beginning at midnight on the start of Rosh Hashana. It’s an incredible story–and resulted in the survival of 99% of the Danish Jews.

It’s a Disney movie…so while there is violence that is an integral part of the story, the violence was not what kept me awake.

No, what kept my mind stirred up were questions of how I would have reacted. Would I have had the courage this family (and the many other families) did? To have risked the lives of my loved ones in order to shelter someone I didn’t know?

I hope so.

In some cases they were friends…neighbors…business associates…teachers. But in many cases, they were strangers–taken in because that was the right thing to do.

They weren’t demonized as faceless “others.” It didn’t matter that they believed or worshiped differently. They were part of the community.

Those who took the Jews in and hid them until they could be moved to safety did so because they believed in living out their faith. They took to heart the words in their sacred scriptures (Matthew 25:35-36):

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

Could I have done the same? Can I?

 

Time for a change…

 

See the source image

There’s a song by Natalie Sleeth that I have loved since I first heard it as a children’s choir anthem. It seems particularly appropriate right now–I have lost two friends at far too young an age and will be using this at yet another memorial service this coming weekend.

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter 
there's a spring that waits to be, 
unrevealed until its season, 
something God alone can see.

There's a song in every silence, 
seeking word and melody;
there's a dawn in every darkness 
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season, 
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing; 
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, 
something God alone can see.

Words © 1986 Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188

But it also seems appropriate at this time of year–when everything seems dead and gone…the days turn into darkness too early…there’s sickness around…

And it seems fitting as well in this political climate–when there seems to be so much darkness and I find myself wondering when (or if!) things will change before it is too late.

It’s a song that gives me hope…hope that even in the darkest times and situations, there is yet new life that will spring forth.

It gives me hope in Anne Frank’s words: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

And I am also reminded that it always seems the darkest right before the dawn.

I don’t know how soon the dawn will come. I don’t know if I will still be around to see it–I hope so!

But this hymn helps me walk in faith…in trust that the ultimate source of life that I call God will bring new life–perhaps in ways and forms I cannot now imagine. But the new day is coming!

Following Jesus … no turning back

Something I’ve been thinking about for myself and all of us who claim Christianity…

Jesus said “Follow me.” Not just when it’s convenient…or easy…or when everyone else agrees.

He said “Love your neighbor.” Not just when they’re easy to love…or when they’re the same background / race / religion / ethnicity / gender identity…

He said “Take up your cross…and follow me.” Sometimes I don’t want to follow him–because I know it may lead to persecution…or death. Sometimes I don’t want to follow him because I want my life to be easy. I want to get along with all the people around me.

But if I say I am a follower of Jesus…if I claim the mantle of Christianity…then I am called to challenge the status quo…to stand up for and with the marginalized…to speak out against injustice and violence…no matter what.

There’s a song in my denomination’s hymnal that goes like this:

I have decided to follow Jesus (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The story goes that it was sung by a man in India who came to know Christ and left the head hunter tradition of his tribe. He was challenged to deny his faith or face execution. He stood firm–even though his wife and children were killed in front of him before he too was killed–and left this song as his testimony.

May it also be mine.