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.

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.

 

 

 

Who are we…really?

I thought I knew.

I mean, I knew that we have had some ugliness in our history–starting with how the first white settlers treated the native inhabitants. They came to this country fleeing persecution and seeking new lives for themselves and their children–but frequently and brutally mistreated the people who were already here…determined to wipe them out.

And we had the ugly stain of slavery, when we again chose to see people of a different color and religion as somehow “less than” those who had power and control. We even fought a war over that–but we are still struggling with the impact of those relationships.

Let’s not forget the lynchings that grew out of the post-war period–when slavery proponents were trying to find ways to keep former slaves “in their place.” Those lynchings aren’t ancient history. The last “official” lynching took place in 1968, although 30 years later, the death of James Byrd by being dragged behind a truck could fit the definition of lynching. And it wasn’t just men who were lynched. Women were as well–as was 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose “crime” was to whistle at a white woman.

We’ve also had the time when we were happy to have Chinese immigrants here to help build the railroad…to do the laundry of those trying to make their fortunes by digging gold. But we didn’t want them to be part of our society–not really.

There was also the time when we allowed our fears of “the other” to make it “permissible” to force Japanese-Americans into internment camps, simply because of their background, not because of any verifiable concerns.

And at the same time, we denied asylum to thousands of people fleeing genocide in their country of Germany because of their religion…and yet, we “adore” Anne Frank’s diary. Her father had tried to get his family to America for safety–but we made that impossible through our immigration restrictions.

I had thought and hoped that perhaps we were past that…that as we looked back at our history, we could see how ugly that was and we could move closer to what we have held up as our ideals.

But as I have watched these last few years, it sometimes seems like we have learned nothing from our history.

Yes, we have had our first African-American president–whose hopes and goals were blocked by individuals who made no secret of their intention to block anything positive that he suggested. And he and his family were subject to racial epithets that came directly from the time of slavery.

And now we have an administration that has called people of color names that no one should be called. People of a non-Christian faith have been demonized and refused entry. Others who are fleeing persecution–just as many of the early American settlers did–are being denied a hearing and, in fact, are often being forced into internment camps.

And most recently, critically ill children who were brought to this country legally are now being told that their permission to stay here is withdrawn–without any medical evaluation–and told that they must leave or be forcibly deported. The medical care they need is found only here–and forcing them to leave is sentencing them to death.

Is this who we are?

Really?

We have taken pride in considering ourselves as a leader of the free world…as a “light on a hill”…as a place of safety and asylum. But our actions in the past have said otherwise…and our current actions definitely say otherwise.

So who are we, really? I’m not sure I know any more.

Conservative friends, I don’t hate you!

I disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It simply means that we are looking at things from different perspectives.

I know that makes it difficult in this polarized political climate–but often, when I post questions, it truly is in an attempt to understand you…or to try to help you understand me.

I want desperately for us to find some common ground, because I know we both care about people and about this earth we live on. And we have to find common ground somehow, or neither of us will survive.

Sometimes you’ve gotten angry with the things I post. I understand that. Sometimes I’ve gotten angry at the things you post as well. But again…that doesn’t mean that I hate you.

Sometimes you’ve thought that I’m being judgmental about your faith. No, that’s not what I mean. I simply don’t understand how to put together your stated belief in One who spent time with the marginalized and oppressed–and your support for an administration that seems determined to do all they can to harm the already marginalized and oppressed. I am trying to understand…I really am. But it’s difficult.

I know many of you have a strong belief in the Divine. And I know you do a lot of good things. I’m grateful for both of those things I know about you.

But here’s where I struggle…and this is what keeps us apart so much of the time. Please understand that I really am not trying to be judgmental. I’m just confused because this is how I see some things:

You say that fiscal conservatism is important, that we need to be careful about our spending. Yet it seems that you are okay with proposed cuts to programs that provide safety nets for the vulnerable in order to pay for big tax cuts for the wealthy.

You care for the environment, yet this administration seems to be gutting policies that protect the environment.

You say that all people are important and created in God’s image. Yet if they appear different from us (in color, gender or sexual orientation, religion), it seems to be acceptable to treat them differently…to separate families and treat their children in ways we would not want our own children or grandchildren to be treated. I am not talking policy here–just how we treat people as they are “in process.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ communities have been incredibly marginalized and persecuted in the past. Fairly recently there have been laws and policies that provide them the same rights heterosexuals have–but now those laws and policies are being withdrawn…and they are again vulnerable and marginalized.

You have taught me values–values of morality and good behavior. Yet you support a president who boasts about sexual assaults…who has cheated on his multiple wives…who mocks those who don’t agree with him and encourages his supporters to violently attack them…who consistently lies…who ignores the Constitution and has attacked our allies while supporting those who run their countries in ways that we were appalled at in the past. None of that behavior would be condoned by the values you taught me.

I don’t hate you. Nor do I hate President Trump.

do hate how we have allowed ourselves to be so divided that it is difficult to even raise these issues with each other to try to find common ground.

I hope we can talk.