Finding safe places

The news a couple days ago had a tragic story about an extended family who apparently got caught in the middle of a war between drug cartels in a rather remote area of Mexico. They were traveling in three SUVs on their way to a wedding–but instead, they are now planning funerals for three women and six children. Several other children survived and were flown to hospitals in the United States for treatment.

The family members were dual citizens of Mexico and the United States and had lived in the area for decades. They are part of a fundamentalist Mormon group that had had issues with drug cartels in the past–but this was like nothing they had experienced.

There has been an outpouring of anger and sympathy over the incident. Anger that innocent women and children could be gunned down like this…sympathy for the family members left behind and for the children injured.

It’s understandable–and appropriate to want to ensure that this family and the surviving children find safe places and healing.

However…what about the families and children who are not United States citizens who live in similar circumstances? Do they not also deserve similar concern? empathy for their desires to find safe places and healing?

Or do we only do that for families with white skin? and United States citizenship?

I am aware that sounds harsh. But I cannot help but wonder. Yes, I know there are children needing help in the United States…and I know we need to take a good luck at our immigration policies.

But when I look at the families–and their children–who are living in tent cities…or whose children have been separated from them and put in cages in detention centers or, even worse, given to potential adoptive parents without their biological parents’ consent or knowledge…can we not have empathy for them?

Many of them are fleeing situations that are every bit as bad as this American family experienced. They fear for their children…and hope for a better future.

Do they not also deserve safe places? Even if it’s not in this country, can we not help create safe places in their homelands? or at the last, treat them with dignity while they are waiting to hear about their future?

In my theology, every human being is created in the image of God. And my scriptures tell me that the way we treat other human beings is the way we treat Jesus, whom I worship as God-in-the-flesh.

This same Jesus was a refugee with his family as a baby, fleeing genocide, according to the Bible. He deserved–and found–a safe place.

So do all people.

We must plant seeds…

Something a friend said today made me think about the importance of planting seeds. Not just the seeds that provide beautiful flowers and the food that we eat…but seeds that impact life.

Sometimes seeds were planted long ago…and have very long roots. They have sunk deeply enough into our DNA that they are difficult to eradicate. We have to want to eradicate them in order to do the hard work necessary…and sometimes it just seems easier to leave them alone.

But when we do, that only makes them stronger.

We may stomp them down for a while…but if we have not pulled them by the roots, they will come back up. We are seeing that in our society currently in the United States…the seeds that slavery planted have very long roots. We have tried to ignore them…tried to just stomp them down…but until we are willing to acknowledge the racism that has grown from slavery, the impact of those seeds will continue.

Yet there are other seeds that have been planted more recently and are just beginning to take root…seeds planted by people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malala, and–just now–Greta Thunberg.

We want those seeds to sprout quickly…but they need time to grow. If they grow too quickly, they will not have the strength they need to survive–and to crowd out the things that divide us.

Sometimes we wonder if they will survive or if the plants from the angrier, more negative seeds will be the winners…Darwin’s survival of the fittest in action.

But I believe that eventually the lives grown from seeds of love and care for the planet and each other will survive. Maybe that makes me a cockeyed optimist…but I’d rather live in hope than despair.

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Hope is the thing with feathers…

This is one of my favorite of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sometimes recently it’s been difficult to have hope. I turn on the news…and hear yet more lies…more insults and name-calling…more negating the humanity of those who are “other”…and it is deadening to the soul.

I find myself wondering what I can do. I am only one person–a not very significant person in the political world–and so what power do I have? But then I am reminded of the comment attributed to Margaret Mead that a small group of committed citizens is the only thing that can change the world…and I know there are others out there who feel the same way I do. We just need to find each other and work together…

In her poem, Dickinson didn’t say that hope would just be around when the going was easy. It sings sweetest in the storms–and I believe we are in the middle of tremendous storms in the world right now.

So hope keeps showing up.

It shows up when I am reminded of Anne Frank’s belief in the innate goodness of people…a belief that in some ways seems naïve, given what happened to Anne and her family. But it’s the only way to keep going.

It shows up when I am reminded of comments like this from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”

It shows up when I remember Mother Teresa saying “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”…and a saying attributed to her: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

And most of all, hope shows up to remind me of what Jesus said in Matthew 25…that when we give a cup of water…visit the sick and prisoner…clothe the naked…welcome the stranger…we are doing it to him.

So…I am one person. But I will continue to do what I can…and bring hope to those who wonder if there is any reason for hope.

Yes, we are in a storm–but the bird of hope still sings as long as there are those of us who are listening to our souls.

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.

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.