Thoughts and prayers are not enough…

I can’t believe that I’m writing about another school shooting. There have been so many this year–have we become numb to what’s happening?

We are hearing again “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims”…but I’m tired of hearing that. Not that thoughts and prayers aren’t important–they are. But that’s not enough.

We’ll hear again “It’s too soon to talk about what can be done”…but for those who lost their lives, it’s too late.

And what’s frightening…what’s appalling…is that one of the survivors of the shooting in Texas wasn’t surprised. She figured that sooner or later it–a shooting–would happen at their school. Not because she had any particular insights into her fellow students, but because it’s become so ubiquitious.

Folks, these are our children and grandchildren we’re talking about. Do we have to wait for something to happen to our flesh and blood before we take action?

More guns aren’t going to solve the issue. More thoughts and prayers aren’t going to solve the issue.

We need to talk together…to listen…to decide that our children’s safety is paramount…to take common sense actions that will help. Will those actions stop all shootings? Probably not, but they certainly would help.

When I hear people in leadership saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with you”–but then sit back and take no action…even action that the majority of Americans want–I’m reminded of something that Jesus said, and I think it’s an appropriate statement to share, since so many of those who talk about thoughts and prayers claim to be followers of his. This translation is from The Message (Matthew 7:21-23), because I think it helps us get the vehemence with which Jesus spoke:

“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Our children need and thoughts and prayers, yes. But they also need us to put actions with those thoughts and prayers–to act as the adults whose responsibility it is to protect them, to nurture them, to help them grow up.

And right now, we’re failing.

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Love…death…holes

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable, and we’re not good at that. We want to be in control…because so much in life is out of our control.

But life without loving is also difficult. It isolates us…keeps us locked inside ourselves.

Both giving and receiving love is important. We sometimes love with conditions, but there are times when love is completely unconditional…and that often occurs with our pets.

Rascal

Rascal was a member of our family for about 12-1/2 years. He came to us already named–and we laughed about the fact that he often lived up to–or down to–his name. But he crept into our hearts. He knew when we were hurting, knew when someone needed a hug. He was independent–but willing to lay down that independence when someone in his pack needed him.

At his last checkup, we discovered that he had potential heart problems. We could have had more testing done–but even if we had found out for certain that there were problems, there wasn’t anything that could have been done at the time. So we knew we were looking down the road at the end of our time with him, but we thought it would still be a while.

That wasn’t to be, though.

Friday night he started having breathing problems–and Saturday morning at 7:00, he crossed the rainbow bridge.

I’ve been grateful that he was with us all night…and that he was snuggled up next to me when he took his last breath. He was not alone…he was with his pack.

But now there’s a hole. We keep looking, expecting to see him snuggled in his blanket on the couch…or sitting in the chair, watching and ready to bark at intruders who enter “his” space…or looking at us when we leave, waiting for us to say, “It’s okay, boy, we’ll be back in a little bit.”

The house feels empty.

I know the hole will fill…down the road. And I know we have lots and lots of memories of fun times with him. But we still feel the loss. He is not the first fur baby we have lost…just the most recent.

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable. But, as Anatole France said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” Without loving, without both giving and receiving unconditional love, we are not whole.

 

Church? When?

I grew up at a time when life was–in many ways–less hectic. And there were some times that were sacrosanct…kept free. Wednesday nights and Sundays were reserved…for church.

And the blue laws were still in effect. For those too young to remember, that meant that stores weren’t open on Sundays either. If you’d forgotten to buy something on Saturday that you were going to need on Sunday, that was too bad. You’d have to improvise!

But time moved on…and religion began to take a less important place in our lives–at least, in some ways. And sports began to take a bigger part. There were more and more opportunities for kids…and because more kids wanted to take part, the times when sports were scheduled began to expand…and moved into those previously sacred times.

So here we are now. Often there are rehearsals on Wednesday nights…and games on Sundays.

And yet, we seem to do church the same way we did all those years ago. And it’s not working…not well.

So…what do we do?

Yes, there are many people for whom Sunday morning church still works. I’m not advocating doing away with it, because I know that time and experience are still important parts of their schedules.

But there are many, many others for whom “traditional” church and traditional church time don’t work. Maybe because of jobs…maybe because of school activities…maybe because of sports or dance or other activities that their kids are involved in.

So can we look at some new possibilities?

  • Does church have to be on Sunday morning?
  • Does it have to be formal?
  • What if we set up some meetings in homes (house churches)?
  • What if we didn’t actually have a sermon?
  • What if we did a “chat and chow” activity?
  • What if we met at a bookstore? a Starbucks?
  • What if we met in the evening?
  • Could we create online communities of worshipers?

I’m sure there are other possibilities…I am still tied enough to traditional understandings of church that I find it a bit difficult to think outside the box. But I think it’s important to, because there are a lot of folks who are searching but not finding a spiritual home in our Sunday morning services.

I still love those services–they meet many of my needs. But I’m also excited about the possibilities that are out there…and trying to listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us (me…) to go.

Music…sacred time

This last weekend was busy. There was a funeral visition, a baby shower, watching the news coverage of the “March for Our Lives”…and I attended three concerts in three days. Not something I normally do, but  the music just happened to fall that way.

They were three different concerts. The first was an organ concert on a new organ. The second was a symphony concert with Yo-Yo Ma as the guest soloist. And the third was a choral concert of film music.

All three were enjoyable. All three had moments that touched me.

But there was one moment that reminded me that music can create sacred space and sacred time…and brought me to tears.

One of the selections in the symphony concert was by Leonard Bernstein, whose music I enjoy. However, this was music of his that I had not heard before–“Three Meditations” from Mass, arranged for cello and orchestra. The conductor gave us some background, both of Mass and of these specific pieces–that are the reflective times as the mass celebrant is struggling with a faith crisis…when all he has known / believed is being shaken.

They’re powerful pieces–and Yo-Yo Ma presented them with soul and passion.

But…and this is the sacred experience…as the last one quietly ended, leaving questions hanging in the air, there was a moment, a breath, and then the ‘cello began the “Prelude” from Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite #1 in G Minor .

There was a hush in the hall…a sacred hush.

When the piece ended, I think everyone recognized that we had experienced something special…a sacred time. And it somehow seemed sacrilegous to break the silence with applause…although we eventually did.

We shared in moments of questioning…of, perhaps, our own faith crises. We had seen young people asking–no, demanding–help in creating safer places. Much of what we have known in the past doesn’t seem to hold true any more, and there seem to be questions…more questions…and yet more questions, perhaps without answers.

Yet in that sacred time in Helzburg Hall in Kansas City, Yo-Yo Ma and Bach acknowledged those questions–and responded with a prayer…the music of hope.

Unity IN diversity…

Unity…diversity. Those two words seem to be complete opposites, and putting them together an oxymoron. In fact, if we were to try, most of us would probably try something like “diversity in unity.” That version might make at least some sense…

But to reverse them? to say “Unity in diversity”? How is that possible?

I’ve been thinking about that because of a class I just recently taught…and because one of the emphases in my faith tradition is just that: “Unity in diversity.”

So what does that mean to me? It’s difficult..but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If we separate the two words, my thoughts might go something like this:

  • Unity – working towards the same goal; being whole.
  • Diversity – being different

And when I look at those ideas, it’s kind of challenging to see how they might go together.

But there are other aspects to their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Unity –  a totality of related parts; an entity that is a complex or systematic whole
  • Diversity – composed of different elements

When I look at those ideas, then the concept of “unity in diversity” becomes much more possible and makes more sense.

We–as a society/church/group–can be unified when we recognize that we are part of a complex system, made up of related parts. But all the parts make one. Diversity recognizes that multiplicity of those related parts.

And when we put that together as a concept of “unity in diversity,” I can acknowledge our differences in background, life experiences, understandings, and even beliefs…but at the same time recognize that there is something as the foundation of that diversity that makes us a whole.

Hard to understand? You bet!

Hard to live? Oh yeah!

There are times when it seems impossible to achieve agreement, but at those times, we need to commit to ongoing dialogue–to really work at listening to each other and not talk past each other. And at those times, it is important for us to acknowledge that our inability to agree on issues that affect each others’ lives is hurtful–both to humanity and to all of creation.

But it can happen…it can be lived, if we allow the Divine to work within us.

 

A place at the table…

“For everyone born, a place at the table…”

That’s a line from a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray that’s become one of my favorites. There are some challenging lines in it as well, because it calls us to consider how we interact with each other as have connect in so many ways.

The hymn is a call for justice for all…for clean water and health–those things that ought to be available to all people. A call for equality…a call for the right to live without fear…to be able to speak out and be heard. Most of all, it’s a call for building communities of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

do believe there’s a place at the table for all people. But–and this is an important “but”–I do not believe there is a place at the table for theologies of exclusion, discrimination, hate…

All are welcome at my table–and I do mean all. I welcome those whose perspectives I agree with as well as those I disagree with. I enjoy learning from those whose understandings are different. In the process, I may even change my own mind! At the very least, I become more clear in my own mind what I believe and why.

But while all people are welcome at my table, all theologies and political beliefs/policies are not. Theologies and policies that tell people they are somehow “less than” and not welcome because of their race, sex, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender attraction, country of origin are not welcome. If you hold to one of those theologies or political beliefs, you are still welcome–as long as you allow others a place at the table as well.

In 2007, scripture was brought to my faith tradition:

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. 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. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

There is a place at the table for all who wish to work together to create a community of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

The young will lead us…

The young will lead us. Those of us who read the Bible recognize that Isaiah acknowledged that fact in his description of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah 11:6:

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.”

We’ve been aware of that in the abstract…but when children/young people step up to lead us, we tend to think that they really can’t. They don’t know enough—but they do. They don’t know that what they want to see happen is impossible—they believe what we’ve told them: that they can accomplish anything they want to.

We can go back into our own (USA) history to see that kids have had an impact on our society.

We think of the leaders of the American Revolution as being grown adults. Some of them were—but a lot of them were teenagers/young adults.  A complete list is here, but a few of the better known names include these:

  • Deborah Sampson was just 15 when she disguised herself to fight in the Continental Army (and eventually became the only woman to earn a full military pension).
  • The Marquis de Lafayette was 18 when he joined in the battle for American Independence, helping to draw French resources to the colonial side.
  • James Monroe was 18 when he became a military leader in the American Revolution.
  • Nathan Hale was 21 when he was captured by the British and executed as a spy.
  • Alexander Hamilton was 21 when he joined Washington’s staff.
  • Betsy Ross was 24 when she sewed flags during the Revolutionary War.

In our own lifetimes, young people have had a major impact. Barbara Rose Johns was a high school junior who organized a strike with her classmates at her all-black school, a school that was horrendously overcrowded and underfunded. She and her join companions (114 of them!) petitioned the NAACP for help, and their suit became one of the five cases that went to the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education which mandated desegregation in 1954 in the United States.

Although Rosa Parks became the spark for the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, Claudette Colvin (16 years old) and Mary Louise Smith (18 years old) refused to give up their seats to white passengers, setting the stage for the later boycott.

In 1963, 3,000 young people joined a protest in Birmingham, Alabama. They were blasted by fire hoses and menaced by police dogs, yet they were a significant part of the battle for civil rights.

So yes…the young people from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are following in a significant tradition—it’s time again for us adults to listen and follow them in their quest for justice and their desires to create a more peaceable world.