A prophetic challenge for our time

Recently I have seen a number of posts suggesting that because Donald Trump is president, we should all be supportive of him as president and should uphold him in prayer…that even if we do not agree with his policies, hopefully we will learn to be kinder and more accepting as a result of (or in response to) his policies. I wish I could be that hopeful.

Some have also suggested that ministers should keep politics out of what they preach or post or share. While I agree that overt politics have no place in preaching (i.e., suggesting that everyone who is listening should vote a specific way), I cannot ignore the prophetic call within my faith tradition that says this:

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.

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.

This challenge came to us in 2007…but it seems even more appropriate today. I am a minister, and I am both frightened and appalled by what I am seeing happen in this country that I love.

I see an administration whose policies do not bring restoration and reconciliation…whose policies divide people and nations…that calls other children of God by hateful names…that has no empathy for mothers and fathers who are trying to find a better future for their children.

I see an administration that is rolling back environmental protections…overturning policies that have helped Mother Nature begin to recover from our greed and conflict. We are reaching a point of no return…and I am afraid that we are not willing to make the necessary changes before it is too late.

And so yes, I will  pray for the president and his administration. But at the same time, I will also call out those “cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God.”

And I will continue to “pursue peace”–God’s peace of shalom that brings wholeness, healing, and reconciliation.

I met God today…

I met God today…and God didn’t look at all like I expected!

God smiled at me…in the guise of a small child playing on the playground.

God asked me for help…as a homeless man standing on the corner of the intersection near my home.

God challenged me…in several disguises:

  • as a protestor challenging unjust policies,
  • as a policeman trying to create a safe environment,
  • as someone at church whose political beliefs are very different from my own,
  • as an immigrant struggling to speak English,
  • as a young woman wearing a hijab,
  • as a drag queen reading stories to children in the library,
  • in an angry person, afraid of losing the privileges they have grown accustomed to,
  • as a white supremacist,
  • as a military veteran.

God needed me to stand with her…as a scared young woman who needed to tell her parents she was gay.

God asked me to share in rejoicing…as a same-sex couple committing themselves to each other in marriage….

God asked me to read other books of scripture in which God has shared Godself…telling me that each book of scripture is incomplete because none of us understand God completely.

God asked me one simple favor…to open my eyes so I can see God in every person, because each is created in God’s image.

 

What would I do?

I sit here in my comfortable, safe home–with enough money to pay my bills, enough food to provide me the nutrition I need, clothing that is suitable for my needs.

I have children and grandchildren whom I love dearly. They are able to attend school and learn in safety. They are not afraid to go out and play…they do not have to fear gunfire in their neighborhoods.

I know that there are other areas around where I live where that is not true. I am aware that there are many who are homeless. Some have mental health issues. Others are on the streets because of unwise choices they have made in the past. Some are there because they choose to be.

I also know that there are neighborhoods that are not as safe as mine–where children are in danger from gunfire, even in their own homes. There are neighborhoods with gangs that make it dangerous.

And yet…

There is not the same systemic type of violence and danger that many of those who are trying to get to the United States are fleeing. There is not the same kind of systemic poverty that causes parents to despair of being able to keep their children alive with proper nutrition.

If I lived in one of those countries–a country where my children were in danger of being kidnapped and killed so their organs could be sold…a country where my entire family was in danger daily of being killed by gangs…a country where my daughters were daily potential rape victims…a country where I saw my children dying because I could not give them the food they desperately needed–what would I do?

If I knew there was a country where there was the possibility of a new life where my children could grow up safer than where they now were–even with the problems in that country…what would I do?

If I knew that there was a country that for years had welcomed people fleeing danger–even though their acceptance was not perfect–and if I knew that that country had a symbol with a poem that said this:

“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!”

–what would I do?

If I knew that the trip was incredibly dangerous and there was a chance that either I or my family…or all of us…would not make it, would I still try it? I don’t know for sure, because I don’t live in those conditions. But I think I would. I think I would try my hardest to save my children…to give them opportunities to live and learn.

And so, while I am aware that there are conditions in my own country that need fixing, I am appalled at the way we are treating those who are trying to find something better for themselves and their families. We (our government) bears some responsibility for creating the conditions that have destabilized their countries and caused the situations they are fleeing. We cannot close our eyes to that.

My faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us, not just individually, but as a church. Revelation that was shared with the church in 2007 seems particularly appropriate for today:

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.

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.

 

Pursue peace.

In my faith tradition, the two words in this title are part of our contemporary scriptures. “Pursue peace.”

That sounds so simple…but what does it really mean? I’ve thought a lot about that recently, especially in light of (1) the lectionary scripture for this last weekend in May and (2) the fact that this is Memorial Day weekend in the United States.

Part of the lectionary scripture says this (John 14:27): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Memorial Day–while often the “kick-off” celebration for summer in the United States–is actually a memorial for those who have died in the service of their country.

And so, as I think of these two things–and “Pursue peace”–I wonder. What does Christ’s peace mean?

I appreciate those who have served in the military. My husband was in the Navy during Vietnam. Two grandsons also served in the military–one a Marine who is now buried in a veterans cemetery, and the other in Afghanistan in the Army. They did what they believed needed to be done to try to bring peace.

But does it?

How many wars have been fought to try to bring peace? And how long has any of those times of “peace” lasted?

The peace that Christ promised (and promises) is not what the world expects. It’s a peace that is so much more than merely the absence of conflict! It’s right relationships… wholeness…reconciliation…completeness…wellbeing…a willingness to give back.

We’re never going to get that through force. Violence begets nothing but violence.

Pursuing Christ’s peace is not going to be easy. It’s counter-cultural. It requires us to see those we disagree with as people of value…people we need to be willing to listen to and work with the find common ground. It requires us to let go of our insistence on our own way and our confidence that we are right and have all the answers.

We don’t.

We can’t go on the way we have. Our world is hurting–desperately–and needs Christ’s peace.

Let’s pursue that peace.

Shalom is what love looks like in the flesh. The embodiment of love in the context of a broken creation, shalom is a hint at what was, what should be, and what will one day be again. Where sin disintegrates and isolates, shalom brings together and restores. Where fear and shame throw up walls and put on masks, shalom breaks down barriers and frees us from the pretense of our false selves. –Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick

What is our future?

I grew up believing that our future was hopeful…that we were on the cusp of solving many of the problems our world faced. Elected officials might (and did!) disagree with each other on how to solve some of those problems, but they were willing to spend time in serious and honest discussion, trying to find ways to work together.

Now I’m not so sure.

  • I see an increase in saber-rattling.
  • I see distrust of science–and an almost fiendish delight in ignoring science to the point that we are in danger of destroying this planet that we live on.
  • I see an unwillingness to even engage in any kind of serious discussion–by any of us. We don’t seem to be willing to try to listen to each other, much less find ways in which we can work together to solve the significant problems that face us.
  • There is an increase in “I want mine and I don’t care what it does to anyone else or to the planet.”
  • White supremacy is on the rise, with its determination that all other races are “less than” and should be destroyed.
  • The rights of women to make decisions concerning their bodies and their health are being eroded by men who have no understanding of women’s health needs or how a woman’s body works.
  • Children–our precious future–are not being given the education they need and deserve to create a future of hope.
  • We denigrate and demean those who are members of faith traditions other than our own, unwilling to even try to understand their traditions while at the same time demanding that they conform to our own.
  • Families are often being torn apart through policies that are gratuitously cruel.
  • Members of minority groups (immigrants, LBGTQ+, people of color, disabled, single parents) are losing the protections that helped provide a positive future for them.
  • While we talk about extremism in other faith traditions, we seem unwilling to recognize it in our own.
  • We are destroying our environment. Multiple species are on the verge of extinction…and we don’t seem to care. CO2 levels are at an all-time high…and we laugh it off.
  • We are afraid of our diversity.

Is there still hope for us?

I think so…and these two quotes give me hope.

First, from Howard Zinn, a historian and playwright:

To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

But perhaps more importantly, this one from Anne Frank:

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

What’s our future? It’s up to us.

 

Practicing Christian…believing Christian?

I was recently at a retreat where our presenter, Jane Vennard, talked about the way she described herself in the forward to her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive. Her description intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about the meanings of the descriptions she used.

She describes herself as a “practicing Christian” rather than a “believing Christian.” A first response might well be, “Then how can she describe herself as a Christian?” But as I’ve thought about those words, the more sense they make…and are words that I want to claim as my own descriptors.

While others might have different reactions to the choice of words, here’s how they strike me.

Describing oneself as a “believing Christian” has been the default for many of us for many years–and is perhaps the simplest way of defining oneself. That means that there’s a specific list of beliefs that we agree with. It doesn’t necessarily require anything other than saying, “Yes, I believe that…I agree with that.” It allows me to sit comfortably in my pew (or chair) on Sunday morning, nodding my head in agreement, and then going back home until the next time the church doors are open.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to identify as a believing Christian…but I think it’s incomplete.

To be a “practicing Christian” is harder. It’s not that there is a specific list of beliefs that I have to agree with. Rather, my focus is on trying to emulate the example of the one we call the Christ…being with people…listening to them…bringing healing when possible…sharing good news…and all the other things that Jesus did when he walked on this earth. Beliefs may (or may not) grow out of these actions–but if I am working at being a practicing Christian, then my relationships with the people I meet will certainly have more in common with the kinds of ministry Jesus brought.

Ideally I can be both a practicing and a believing Christian…if my beliefs call me to actions that emulate the One whose name I claim. But if it comes down to a choice between them, I will choose to be a practicing Christian because I think that is much more in line with the challenge given to us in Matthew 25:31-46 (this is The Message version):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

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.”

Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”

Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

Sounds of silence…

When I was in college, I loved a song by Simon and Garfunkle–“The Sounds of Silence.” In it, silence was presented in a negative way…as a cancer that grows…as something that separates people.

But silence can also be a profoundly powerful experience.

I just returned from a weekend contemplative retreat…an opportunity to use silence as a way of “going deeper” in a community that is taking a spiritual journey together.

We had opportunity to come together and share with each other verbally–but we also had significant time to choose not to have to speak. That didn’t mean we ignored each other…far from it! We discovered there are other ways of communicating, ways that often say more than our words do.

When we did talk, we discovered that taking time to intentionally consider our words meant that what we did say had the opportunity of being more meaningful.

But perhaps more importantly, we had the opportunity in the silence to listen for the voice of God…a voice too often drowned out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

And we heard that voice in many ways…in the songs of the birds…in the gentle breeze…in the smiles and hugs we shared with each other…and yes, even in the words that came to our minds as we intentionally listened for them.