Finding safe places

The news a couple days ago had a tragic story about an extended family who apparently got caught in the middle of a war between drug cartels in a rather remote area of Mexico. They were traveling in three SUVs on their way to a wedding–but instead, they are now planning funerals for three women and six children. Several other children survived and were flown to hospitals in the United States for treatment.

The family members were dual citizens of Mexico and the United States and had lived in the area for decades. They are part of a fundamentalist Mormon group that had had issues with drug cartels in the past–but this was like nothing they had experienced.

There has been an outpouring of anger and sympathy over the incident. Anger that innocent women and children could be gunned down like this…sympathy for the family members left behind and for the children injured.

It’s understandable–and appropriate to want to ensure that this family and the surviving children find safe places and healing.

However…what about the families and children who are not United States citizens who live in similar circumstances? Do they not also deserve similar concern? empathy for their desires to find safe places and healing?

Or do we only do that for families with white skin? and United States citizenship?

I am aware that sounds harsh. But I cannot help but wonder. Yes, I know there are children needing help in the United States…and I know we need to take a good luck at our immigration policies.

But when I look at the families–and their children–who are living in tent cities…or whose children have been separated from them and put in cages in detention centers or, even worse, given to potential adoptive parents without their biological parents’ consent or knowledge…can we not have empathy for them?

Many of them are fleeing situations that are every bit as bad as this American family experienced. They fear for their children…and hope for a better future.

Do they not also deserve safe places? Even if it’s not in this country, can we not help create safe places in their homelands? or at the last, treat them with dignity while they are waiting to hear about their future?

In my theology, every human being is created in the image of God. And my scriptures tell me that the way we treat other human beings is the way we treat Jesus, whom I worship as God-in-the-flesh.

This same Jesus was a refugee with his family as a baby, fleeing genocide, according to the Bible. He deserved–and found–a safe place.

So do all people.

Hope is the thing with feathers…

This is one of my favorite of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sometimes recently it’s been difficult to have hope. I turn on the news…and hear yet more lies…more insults and name-calling…more negating the humanity of those who are “other”…and it is deadening to the soul.

I find myself wondering what I can do. I am only one person–a not very significant person in the political world–and so what power do I have? But then I am reminded of the comment attributed to Margaret Mead that a small group of committed citizens is the only thing that can change the world…and I know there are others out there who feel the same way I do. We just need to find each other and work together…

In her poem, Dickinson didn’t say that hope would just be around when the going was easy. It sings sweetest in the storms–and I believe we are in the middle of tremendous storms in the world right now.

So hope keeps showing up.

It shows up when I am reminded of Anne Frank’s belief in the innate goodness of people…a belief that in some ways seems naïve, given what happened to Anne and her family. But it’s the only way to keep going.

It shows up when I am reminded of comments like this from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”

It shows up when I remember Mother Teresa saying “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”…and a saying attributed to her: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

And most of all, hope shows up to remind me of what Jesus said in Matthew 25…that when we give a cup of water…visit the sick and prisoner…clothe the naked…welcome the stranger…we are doing it to him.

So…I am one person. But I will continue to do what I can…and bring hope to those who wonder if there is any reason for hope.

Yes, we are in a storm–but the bird of hope still sings as long as there are those of us who are listening to our souls.

Being prophetic is hard!

I’ve been thinking about the biblical prophets recently…and am discovering I have a lot of sympathy for them!

They were rarely liked–or believed–while they were alive, although we now tend to honor them (mostly…although I’m not sure how often we really read them).

Just think about what they did…

They challenged those who were in power…telling hard and inconvenient truths that those folks didn’t want to hear.

They called people to repent for behaviors they liked doing…and had to put up with people saying things like “Who do you think you are, telling me what to do??”

They sometimes spent days (or even years) in the same smelly clothes…definitely not wearing what the “in” crowd wore!

Although their main focus was not on foretelling the future, they warned people of problems that would be coming if they didn’t change their ways.

No, it wasn’t any fun being prophetic.

It still isn’t.

In my faith tradition, we believe that God continues to speak to us as a body through our leader. Among the things that we have accepted as scripture are these, given to the church in 2007:

God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Among other challenges in that same scripture are these statements:

…Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God….

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.

These are not comfortable statements…but they are prophetic. And…like the biblical  be prophets, if we choose to really live them, we will find ourselves uncomfortable in the world around us. We will not be liked…we will not fit in…but we will be doing our part to plant the seeds of a better world.

Among the redwoods…

I spent last weekend at a retreat out in California–at a retreat center among the redwoods. The retreat was focused on spiritual formation…extremely intense, but a wonderful experience.

Part of our activities included focusing on four core spiritual formation practices: the prayer of examen, lectio divina (praying the scriptures), centering prayer, and holy attention.

Holy attention calls us to awaken to the reality that God is present wherever we are. It acknowledges that everything in the universe is sacred.

We had time to go out among the redwoods…to find a place to sit (or walk) and pay attention to what we saw, smelled, felt, heard…. We were invited to journal if desired–or just to sit and pay attention.

There was a place that had been calling to me ever since I had arrived at the campground, so that’s where I headed. As I sat (for a while) and took in the scent of the trees, the quiet (and noise) of the surroundings, I felt that the redwoods were singing to me…

The Song of the Redwoods

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Come play with us—
                Frolic in our branches.
                Bask in the warmth of the life-giving sun.
                Learn the songs of our noisy friends.

Then—
                Allow yourself to be nurtured,
                                Connected to our roots.

And then,
                refreshed…
                renewed…

Go into your world
                to start a new grove.

 

Reading the Bible through the lens of love

In today’s climate, there appears to be a lot of emphasis on “what the Bible says.”

There are a lot of things that the Bible says…in fact, as we’ve discovered in the past, it is possible to “prove” almost anything from the Bible. We’ve done that with slavery…with the right of humans to dominate the earth…with male dominance in male/female relationships…to deny the validity of same-sex relationships…. There are probably other topics you could come up yourself.

However, if we want to be true to “what the Bible says,” I think it might help us to revisit what a couple of significant people have said about the Bible–and how to read it.

The first one is Jesus…the focus of much of what the Bible says. He spoke about a lot of different things, but what I think is important when we think about what the Bible says came when he was asked what the greatest commandment was. According to Matthew 22:37-40 (The Message translation), he said this:

…“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Hmmm…everything in the Law and the Prophets? According to Jesus…yes.

The second person is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He felt the Bible was absolutely an essential book to read…but not necessarily literally. He was aware that there were some things in the Bible that spoke to people more than others. For him, the theology found in 1 John, especially 1 John 4:19 was the central message:

“We love [God] because he first loved us.”

He felt that it was vital to read the Bible through the lens of love.

So what would happen if we did?

It would certainly challenge us!

But maybe…just maybe…that’s what the world needs today…a people who truly live and see life through the lens of God’s love–towards all of God’s creation.

Maybe…just maybe…that’s what it will take for God’s peaceable kingdom to become a reality…if there are enough of us willing to take that risk.

What is the worth of persons?

My faith tradition believes that God still speaks–both to us individually and to us as a church. Our prophet/president brings periodic revelation to the church, and that has happened for almost 190 years. When that revelation is accepted by the highest legislative body in the church, it is canonized and added to a book of scripture.

There is a phrase that has been important to us from the beginning of our faith–canonized in our scripture and also seen as one of our Enduring Principles. Its initial presentation to the church (in 1835) expressed it this way: “…the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

More recently, as the church has struggled with articulating what is basic to our faith, it has been identified as one of our nine Enduring Principles as “Worth of All Persons.” These principles define who our faith community is–the heart and soul. The principles are also able describe our church as expressed throughout the world, regardless of the culture it is found in.

There are some brief descriptions of each principle, and this one includes these three statements:

  • God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.
  • God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
  • We seek to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community, challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth.

That sounds pretty straightforward…but living it out can be a challenge.

We have not always succeeded as a faith community…but we continue to try. And as we look back, we can see how we have grown through having difficult conversations about what this principle means.

But I find myself wondering now…are we still trying to grow into a fuller understanding? Or have we been too influenced by the society we live in–that says that some people are of more worth than others?

ALL people are of worth!

It doesn’t matter what country they’re from…what their religion is…what their ethnic background is…who they love…what political party they belong to…

ALL people are of worth.

That doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going to like everyone. Nor does it deny that some people are involved in behaviors that are harmful to themselves or to others.

It also doesn’t mean that learning to live with each other is going to be easy.

But it does mean that we have no right to call another human being “vermin”…or to call for their extermination.

Many of us are privileged to not have to worry about where we are going to sleep…or find food…or fear violence on our doorsteps. That is not true of many in this world…and we need to recognize our privilege–and use it to help create policies that will allow others to have freedom from violence…to have shelter and food that will allow them to grow up.

I believe ALL people are created in the image of the Divine. And because of that all people have value…and we need to work together to challenge those governments, systems and policies that say otherwise.

 

 

Welcoming the stranger…

I am heartsick today.

Why?

Because of the announcement from the White House that people from the Bahamas who make it to the United States–people who have lost everything and for whom the future of their country looks pretty hopeless right now…these people will not be given temporary protected status. That status would have allowed them the opportunity to live and work in the United States for a limited time frame–giving them the chance to earn the funds necessary to try to rebuild their lives. Apparently they will be allowed to live here–but not work.

This seems like just another example of this administration’s stated desire and intention to do away with allowing immigrants at all.

In fact, according to several news stories, there is under consideration a decision to completely dismantle a 40-year-old program that has admitted tens of thousands of people each year who are fleeing war, persecution and famine…or at the least to cut the numbers to 10,000 to 15,000 people, but reserve most of those spots for refugees from a few handpicked countries or groups with special status, such as Iraqis and Afghans who work alongside American troops, diplomats and intelligence operatives abroad.

All this at a time when we–and by we, I mean all governments–need to be looking seriously at how we can help vulnerable individuals.

We need to ask our leaders to consider how our meddling in other countries’ governments has helped to create the crises that individuals are fleeing.

We need to work together with other countries to find ways to help individuals whose lives have been upended by natural disasters.

We need to ask our leaders to develop policies that they are actually willing to live by–and that we are willing to accept and live by–that can help alleviate the conditions (both natural / climate and governmental) that create refugees.

But, in my opinion, most of all we need changed hearts.

Yes, there are serious issues that need to be addressed in our own country–whatever that country might be. But the world has become much more interconnected over the past decades…and what impacts one country has serious impacts on another.

We can try return to a time when we cared only for ourselves…when we did everything we could to keep the “foreigner” out. That never really worked.

Or we can open our hearts to see that the “foreigner” is our brother and sister. For those who claim the title “Christian” we can learn to see the “foreigner” as Jesus in disguise. We can learn to welcome the stranger as we would want to be welcomed.

Only if–and when–we are willing to do so will we be able to make a start on dealing with the conditions that impact us all…and create a world that will be good for all life.