I’m just not sure what to say any more…

As I watch the news every day, I find myself shaking my head…wondering if I’m in a bad dream that I will wake up from…wondering if I’m caught in a time warp…wondering if I’m the one living in an alternate universe…

And I’m just not sure what to say any more.

Sometimes I’m not even sure what to do–or what I can do…

  • When facts become labeled “fake news”…
  • when individuals who loudly proclaim their support of family values find nothing wrong in supporting an administration whose policies tear families apart…
  • when those who say they follow Jesus–the same Jesus who said “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”–when those followers see nothing wrong with causing incredible trauma to little ones by separating them from parents who are seeking a better life for their children….
  • when those whose skin is a different color…or who worship differently…are demonized and considered “less than”…
  • when those who have fought in defense of long-held values are told that their injuries are not particularly serious…when this comes from a commander-in-chief who used bone spurs to keep from serving himself…
  • when those in need of health care cannot afford it–or die because they cannot afford their prescriptions…
  • when tax cuts harm the poor in order to benefit the rich…
  • when people of color find themselves targeted for simply “living while black…”
  • when those who are LGBTQ find that the laws that have protected them are systematically being rolled back…
  • when the incredible diversity and beauty of this world is being destroyed to build walls…being destroyed for mining…

How can I respond? What can I do?

Some mornings I’m just not sure. But then John Pavlovitz reminds me that there are things I can do…

So today, instead of looking to the sky and waiting for a pastor or a politician or some invisible force to come in and dramatically beat back the darkness—you wield the brilliant light in your possession.

Maybe you’re the hero you’ve been waiting for.
Maybe you’re the answer to your urgent prayers.
Maybe hope isn’t in the sky.
Maybe it’s in the mirror.

Do we have eyes to see?

I have often wondered at what appears to have been the willful blindness of many who lived in Germany in the 1930s. How could they not have seen what was happening in front of them? How could they later say that they were not aware of the slide into facism that seems so clear in retrospect?

And now I find myself wondering the same thing in my own country…in my own time.

There are organizations that have studied how facism develops and they have created a list of warning signs:

  • Powerful and continuing nationalism – “my country first” and making the country great again…use of the flag everywhere
  • Disdain for human rights – the security of the country requires that some human rights can be ignored for the “greater good”
  • Identification of enemies / scapegoats – specific groups are identified as being the cause of many (if not all) of a country’s problems
  • Supremacy of the military – the military gets a disproportionate amount of the budget, often at the expense of domestic needs
  • Sexism – there are rigid gender roles and the government is the “guardian” of family values
  • Control of the media – the government either directly (by regulation) or indirectly (by using sympathic media spokespersons) controls what is shared in the news
  • Obsession with national security – the need for security is fueled by fear
  • Religion and government are intertwined – government leaders use religious language even when the actions they take are in direct opposition to the religious beliefs and tenets
  • Corporate power is protected – the government supports industry and business, often at the expense of the average person
  • Labor power is suppressed – labor unions are seen as detrimental and actions are taken to weaken them
  • Disdain for intellectuals and the arts – education is seen in a negative way and the arts are attacked
  • Obsession with crime and punishment – police are given power to do almost anything to keep order without any recourse for the average citizen
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption – government is made up of friends and family and people who will support whatever the ruler wants with no accountability
  • Fraudulent elections – smear campaigns against individuals are common as is legislation to control voting boundaries

Do we have eyes to see? Or will we be among those who say “I had no idea”…?

 

Is this how the dream dies?

Over 200 years ago, a nation formed with a new dream–where government was going to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was going to be a government where all people had opportunity to succeed…where dreams could come true.

Did that ever completely happen? No…but the dream was always there, always providing the foundation.

There were problems. There were times when some people were considered “less than” others…times when some who looked different or who spoke other languages were not welcomed….

But people kept trying. They kept hoping…kept working…and challenged each other to be better than they had been.

They were given the gift of a statue with part of a poem inscribed on it–a statue and hope that encapsulated the dreams of both the people who were part of that experiment and others who wanted to be part of it.

While there were sometimes leaders who pandered to the worst instincts of people, most of them encouraged the people to try to live up to the dream. They also realized that for the dream to truly be a reality, they needed to take care of their land…to try to make sure that everyone could stay healthy.

And in doing all this, they began to be a symbol to other countries of what could be. They worked together with other leaders to try to make the world a better place for everyone.

They didn’t always succeed. But they kept trying.

Until now.

And now I’m afraid that dream…that great experiment…is dying.

It has been dying for some time; many of us just weren’t aware of how sick it was. But it’s clear now.

This great experiment said that there needs to be checks and balances between the three parts of government–but that has failed.

We have a leader who has signaled that he believes he can do anything he wants–and nobody in government has the right to stop him. We have a leader who has ignored people with expertise in a variety of fields in favor of “yes” men and women. We have a leader who has cozied up to dictators while tearing apart our relationships with those who have been our allies. We have a leader who has openly mocked people with disabilities…who has boasted of sexual assault…who has supported individuals and policies that have further marginalized and put in danger those who are already marginalized…who has made it acceptable to be racist and xenophobic. We have a leader who lies so frequently that it has become impossible to tell when (if) he is telling the truth. We have a leader who has claimed to be a Christian but whose words, actions, and policies are in direct opposition to what Jesus asked of his followers.

We have an administration where those who are holding various leadership positions are openly hostile to the responsibilities of those Cabinet positions…and/or have actively fought against them in the past. We have an administration that has given tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that provide safety nets to the less fortunate. We have an administration that has rolled back protections for the environment that have made it safer for individuals…and that is opening up protected lands to activities that will destroy them for short-term interests.

Many of us assumed that this dream–this experiment–could not be destroyed…that it might change, but that it would last. And so we are also to blame for what is happening because of our complacency.

Can this dream be revived? I hope so…for the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But it’s going to take all of us–and we have to be willing to work together.

Following Jesus … no turning back

Something I’ve been thinking about for myself and all of us who claim Christianity…

Jesus said “Follow me.” Not just when it’s convenient…or easy…or when everyone else agrees.

He said “Love your neighbor.” Not just when they’re easy to love…or when they’re the same background / race / religion / ethnicity / gender identity…

He said “Take up your cross…and follow me.” Sometimes I don’t want to follow him–because I know it may lead to persecution…or death. Sometimes I don’t want to follow him because I want my life to be easy. I want to get along with all the people around me.

But if I say I am a follower of Jesus…if I claim the mantle of Christianity…then I am called to challenge the status quo…to stand up for and with the marginalized…to speak out against injustice and violence…no matter what.

There’s a song in my denomination’s hymnal that goes like this:

I have decided to follow Jesus (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The story goes that it was sung by a man in India who came to know Christ and left the head hunter tradition of his tribe. He was challenged to deny his faith or face execution. He stood firm–even though his wife and children were killed in front of him before he too was killed–and left this song as his testimony.

May it also be mine.

Blessed are…

Yesterday the theme suggested for use in my faith tradition was “Light shines in the darkness.”

As I was thinking about that, it dawned on me that in order for that light to shine, those of us who follow Jesus are called to be mirror images of his life and ministry. But how?

In my journaling last night, I felt a strong sense that the answer to that question lies in the part of scripture that is commonly called “The Beatitudes”…the “blessed are…” verses.

I’ve read them before…heard them. Yes, they’re nice words. But what do they really mean? So I decided to read them in a different way. Rather than using the traditional translations, I wondered how they would read if they were being spoken today. Would they make more sense?

There are a lot of modern translations and versions. In this case, I decided to see how they read in The Message–and wow! did they pack a punch! I’m going to have to spend some more time unpacking these words–but I think they’re going to be my challenge for this year. Here’s Matthew 5:1-12:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” 

What are your goals in 2020?

I know this is the time of year when many of us decide on New Year’s resolutions. We have the best of intentions…but it doesn’t seem to take too long before we get behind…or life intervenes…or we decide they were just too difficult…or we’re too tired…or (whatever you want to add here)…and they fall by the wayside.

I think that this year, instead of resolutions, I’m setting goals. They seem to be more doable…more measurable…because they are more short-term and can then be revisited, revised, and renewed.

It’s still kind of scary to put them out here, because then I know I have to focus on them…because there are friends who will keep me accountable for them.

So what are my goals for the first three months of 2020?

  1. I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruits and I will drink at least 16 ounces of water each day.
  2. I will tidy up the house before going to bed.
  3. I will take 30 minutes each day of intentional quiet time for meditation / journaling / spiritual focus time.
  4. I will speak out regularly (whether through letter writing, posting, or blogging) on behalf of those who are being marginalized by this administration.
  5. I will enter financial expenditures on a weekly basis.
  6. My faith tradition has a prayer that I will pray each day, listening for where it leads me: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

What are your goals?

What’s it all about, anyway?

The Birth of Jesus - Luke 2:1-20

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

A number of years ago, there was a popular song that said “What’s it all about, Alfie?” That question seems appropriate at this time of year. What’s it all about, anyway?

I struggle sometimes with what to post…especially now. It’s a time of year when everyone wants to feel good…to enjoy the season.

But not everyone gets to do that.

And I’m not really sure the season is all about making us feel good.

After all, the child whose birth we celebrate came to shake the world up…to turn the existing expectations on their heads.

We’ve tended to sanitize that…to romanticize it. And so when someone posts a picture that makes us uncomfortable, we tend to want to immediately ignore it…or cry “foul!”

But what if we could all step back a minute…perhaps step into our time machines…and think about what was going on then? What would we see?

We would see a young pregnant woman, making a difficult journey with her fiancé to meet the demands of an occupying government. We would find them in the middle of a chaotic situation, desperately trying to find a place to stay…a quiet and at least somewhat secluded place where she could give birth.

We would see shepherds…unclean, unkempt. While the Bible positively acknowledges the shepherding background of some of the more famous individuals, shepherds didn’t have a good reputation generally. They were often considered to be thieves…and at the least were on the low end of society. And yet they were the ones the angels appeared to.

Later we would see magi–students of the heavens–coming and asking about this child, not knowing that their questions would trigger the deaths of innocent children by a frightened king.

We would see a family fleeing across borders, desperately trying to find a safe place to raise their child.

It’s not necessarily a feel-good story.

And so I think that some of the contemporary nativity scenes that we see–the ones that make us really uncomfortable…and maybe even angry…are appropriate for this time of year. They are what the story is all about…questions of dealing with “the other”…desperate families seeking safety for their children…genocide…

It’s not just something that happened approximately 2000 years ago. It happens today.

And the story…ultimately a story of hope for a new world…is all about what it means to live in this world…in this time…and a challenge to us. Who are we in the story? And how will we let it impact us?

What’s it all about anyway?

Holy Family in cages