For the children

I am a follower of the one who is called the Christ. He was someone who love and spent time with the marginalized…the outcast…those who were considered “less than”…and that included children.

One of his strongest statements about children was this (as stated in Luke 17:1-2):

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (NRSV)

“He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a millstone necklace and take a swim in the deep blue sea than give even one of these dear little ones a hard time!” (The Message)

I’ve been thinking about that the last few days…and have been reminded of a question often asked: “Is it good for the children?”

As we look around ourselves today, are our actions good for the children? Not just the children in our own homes…our own communities…our own nation…but all the children in the world.

What kind of environment are we leaving them? One in which they can breathe? in which they can delight in the diversity of creation? in which they can be safe? Or are we destroying the world around them?

What lessons are we teaching them? To cherish each other and to see each other as brother and sister? or to be afraid of someone who looks, speaks, loves, or worships differently from them?

Are we teaching them the importance of peacemaking and conflict resolution? Or are we teaching them that “might makes right”? that hatred is the strongest force in the world? that their lives are less important than vengeance…or oil?

We’re not going to be perfect. But we have the power to do better…and we must. Otherwise there will be no world for our children to inherit.

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.

…a little child shall lead them.

This is a phrase from the description in the book of Isaiah about the peaceable kingdom…a place where

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

There are other places in the Bible where it talks about our need to have a child-like faith. Not a childish faith, but a child-like one.

As I’ve been watching the news recently, I’ve found myself pondering what it means to have that child-like faith.

Children tend to believe they can do anything. The words we adults use often encourage that belief.

  • If you want to do it badly enough, you can.
  • You can be (or do) anything you want.
  • Whether you think you can’t or think you can, you’re right.

And so for them, nothing is impossible.

We adults are often jaded. We are tired from the struggle. We see that life is not as simple…not as black and white…as we thought when we were younger. And so we often find that some things are impossible.

But we need the energy and “impossible” faith of youth. They are the ones who force us to face our fears…who challenge us to make our world better. They don’t take “no” for an answer…and because they don’t, we discover that the “impossible” things really are possible.

Who are some of these children who have challenged us?

  • Joan of Arc – led an army to free her country during the Hundred Years War. She was just 19 when she was killed.
  • Sophie Scholl fought against the Nazi regime and was killed when she was 22.
  • Anne Frank – kept a diary while in hiding from the Gestapo that has become a haunting memoir of both the evil around but also a faith in the goodness of people. She died in a concentration camp when she was 16.
  • Ruby Bridges – was the first African-American child to enter a segregated elementary school when she was 6.
  • Hector Pieterson – fought against apartheid in South Africa and was killed when he was 13.
  • Iqbal Masih – escaped from forced child labor in Pakistan and fought against child labor and for the right of children to receive an education. He was killed when he was 12.
  • James Chaney (21),  Andrew Goodman (20), and Michael Schwerner (24) – three civil rights workers who were killed as they were helping African-Americans to register to vote
  • Malala Yousafzai – defied the Taliban to campaign for the right for girls to be educated. She was shot in the head when she was 15 but survived and has become an advocate for human rights.
  • Greta Thunberg – has become a global leader for environmental issues, leading protests against global warming at age 16.

We need their passion…their energy…their hope for a better future.

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.

 

 

We have lost our soul…

We have never been a perfect country…no country is. Nor have we ever been perfect people…none of us are.

But we have been a country with ideals that we tried to live up to–even imperfectly.

Those ideals have been enshrined in a number of documents.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

From the United States Constitution (a living document, because as needs have arisen, it has been modified):

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

From the poem by Emma Lazarus, placed on the Statue of Liberty (called Liberty Enlightening the World–and which Lazarus called “Mother of Exiles”)  which was one of the first sights many of our ancestors saw as they came to this country:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But that door has now been slammed shut…and we have barred and locked it.

We have lost sight of the ways in which our diversity has strengthened us…and become fearful of differences instead.

We have become the world of Animal Farm, where “all animals are equal…but some are more equal than others”…a world where “might makes right”…a world where “whiteness” gives power and control over those deemed non-white…a world where what passes for Christianity is far too often non-Christian in its actions.

And in so doing, we have lost our soul.

Can we gain it back? I hope so.

But we can’t sit quietly and just hope. We have to work…to write letters…to protest…and most importantly, to vote! We have to live out our words.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be controversial.

But it’s essential if we are going to regain our soul.

 

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.