God did it…

A number of years ago, there was a comedian (Flip Wilson) whose signature line was “The devil made me do it!” We laughed at him–sometimes ruefully–because I think many of us wished we could blame problems / bad choices on something / someone outside ourselves. For many of us, it wasn’t serious. Yes, we acknowledged that there is evil in the world, but many of us did not believe that there was a devil with horns and a pitchfork holding puppet strings on us and making us do bad things.

Fast forward to today…

Instead of “the devil made me do it” we are hearing far more often “God did it!” That statement is often in reference to our current president–that God put him in place.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that any more than I did “the devil made me do it.”

God didn’t create puppets. We are created with minds to use…to think and to make decisions ourselves. And we then face the consequences of those decisions.

Yes, God can–and does–use flawed human beings. There are plenty of stories about that in the Bible. Those names–David, Solomon, Samson, Jonah (and others)–are often held up as examples, and I believe they can be. Just not in the way many people like to use them. They were human beings who made some lousy choices. Despite those choices, when they were willing to allow God to use them, God could.

But did God put them in place? And make them make those decisions?

Nope.

No more than God is sitting somewhere “up there” looking down on us and deciding that this person should be president and that one should not. I believe that God works with us and tries to guide us into making wise choices…but not that God removes our freedom to make choices…or our living with the consequences of those choices.

“God did it…”? No. We did it (whatever “it” we are talking about)…and it would be wise of us to acknowledge our responsibility in creating the kind of world we are living in…and our responsibility for cleaning up the messes we have made.

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We need to talk…

In my family, the words “We need to talk…” tend to signal something serious–some kind of issue that needs to be dealt with…a clearing of the air. That’s not always true, but I have to admit that when I hear (or say) those words, my gut clenches a bit and I begin to wonder “Uh-oh…now what?”

So let me say them to you. “We need to talk…” I hope your gut doesn’t clench, but there are some issues we need to deal with…some air that needs to be cleared.

I am alarmed at much of the rhetoric I am seeing and hearing. We’re not talking with each other…we’re talking past each other–and we’re so focused on making sure that we get our say in, that our responses are well-crafted, that we’re not listening. That alarms me for our future–and for what our kids are learning from us.

I’m not saying that we can’t disagree. We can…and I think we must, because we need to hear a diversity of viewpoints. After all, we come from a variety of backgrounds…we’ve had very diverse experiences as we’ve grown up and as we’ve interacted with others. So why shouldn’t our viewpoints be different?

But somehow we need to be able to see that diversity as a strength. We have been blessed through the years with foods and words from different cultures…with stories and spiritual practices from different faith traditions…with knowledge that has been saved because past cultures thought it important.

Please hear what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that we cannot / should not stand against injustice, division, hate. I believe we must. But we must do that in ways that are not hateful themselves. Is that difficult? You bet! But I believe that we have examples that we can follow that show it’s possible.

In the movie Gandhi, there’s a scene that makes me shudder when I think of it. Gandhi was leading a protest against the policy of forcing India to buy salt at high prices from England…he mobilized literally hundreds of people in a march to the sea to make salt–where they were met by English soldiers. They marched four abreast towards the sea…were clubbed down and carried away by those waiting to help…and the next group stepped forward. There seemed to be no end to the people who were willing to take a non-violent stand against injustice–and the policy was changed.

I also look at the pictures from the Civil Rights movement–when individuals marched peacefully in protest, meeting water cannons, snarling dogs, and words of hate. Eventually things changed–not as much as we would have hoped, but people began to think.

I hear people talking about the possibility (probability?) of a “soft” civil war–a war of words. Words are important–and the way we use them can either help lead us to finding ways of working together or they can lead to violence.

We can disagree on ways to reach goals…we can even at times disagree on what those goals should be. But what we shouldn’t disagree on is the need to see “the other” as human, as brother and sister…and the need to use our environment wisely so that all living things (human and otherwise) can do more than just survive but can have abundant life.

We need to talk…

Questions…and more questions…

I have struggled with trying to figure out how to say what I want to say, because I know some of the words I use will turn people off…will convince them that my mind is already made up…will be offensive to some. But I don’t know what other words to use. So I’m just asking you to please be willing to suspend your preconceptions of who I am and what you think I’m going to say…

Over the last few days I’ve heard and seen a lot of comments attacking parents who have crossed our borders illegally…asking how they could put their children in danger…suggesting that those who have been protesting the current administration’s policies don’t care about the children in the United States who are separated from their parents who are in the military or in jail…asking where the protestors over the last few administrations were when some of these same issues were a problem.

I can’t answer all of those questions. All I can do is share what I understand.

Right now I don’t really care who started the policy. I can spend a lot of breath in the blame game—but at the end of the day, families…and vulnerable children…are still hurting. My brothers and I sometimes got into arguments and—when our parents got tired—we pointed fingers at each other. “He started it.” “No, she did.” That wasn’t important to our folks. What WAS important was this: “It doesn’t matter who started it. It’s time to stop it.”

I do know there are children who are in foster care in this country because of choices their parents made or who are separated from the families because of military obligations. I know they hurt as well, and I wonder if we can’t find a better way to help them as well.

But what probably bothers me the most are the comments questioning the parenting of fathers and mothers who have made dangerous trips to try to get to this country with their children. “How could they risk their children’s lives?” I really struggle with this. It feels like those questions are coming from a position of privilege. I don’t mean that as an attack on anyone.

Let me try to phrase it a different way.

I’m a mother in a country whose government has no real control…whose officials are steeped in corruption. I cannot trust the police—they are controlled by the local gangs. My husband did his best to support us, but there is no real work unless you are part of the gang. He refused to go along with what they wanted, and one night he was attacked and killed. I know who did it, but even if I went to the police, nothing would happen because the gang pays the police to turn their backs. I’m afraid to go to the police, because when you do, you get killed as well—and then what will happen to my children? That happened to my neighbor.

I have four children—two girls and two boys. The boys are 4 and 6. They are good boys and I want them to have a good life. But the gang is already after them. They want them to be runners. If we refuse, they will kill the boys. That is what they do to tell others not to refuse. My girls are 9 and 11. They are beautiful girls, and that scares me. I cannot let them go out on their own, because if I do, they will probably not come home. The leader of the gang is demanding that I send them to him. I know what happens to girls who are taken by the gang. They are raped…again and again. And when they are no longer “useful,” they are killed. But if I tell him “no,” they will be killed.

There is no hope for us here. I cannot stay. I have heard of men who will help us get to a safer place, to a country where we can start again. It is expensive and will take everything I have. And it is dangerous…but it cannot be any more dangerous than it is to stay here. Perhaps my children and I will die on the journey. But we will die here if we stay.

I’ve never had to live like that. I can’t imagine what it is like. But I CAN understand the fears of that mother and her hope and desire for a better future for her children.

My heart aches for them—as it also aches for ALL families and children who are separated from each other, regardless of the cause.

But finger pointing and playing the blame game doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution. We have to listen to each other, because there ARE valid concerns being expressed. So how can we resolve the issues in ways that can hopefully help bring healing to situations that are so difficult to deal with? I’m not sure what the answers are.

One thing I do know, though. We are ALL human beings, people of worth…created, I believe, by the same God I worship, in the image of God. If I can see the image of the Divine in each person, maybe…just maybe…that’s where we can start trying to find answers.

Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

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.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.

 

Whose church is it?

In Germany in the 1930s, Christianity had in many ways become a partner to the Nazi movement. Many pastors agreed with the Nazi ideology and supported laws and statements that were issued by its leaders. A major focus of this partnership was a reinterpretation of Christianity as an Aryan religion that had no Jewish influences–and that there were “undesirable elements” that weakened the country and should be removed for the “greater good” (i.e., mentally and physically disabled, members of the LGBT and Romany [Gypsy] communities, Jews).

There were others who watched this co-option of German Christianity with horror, and at Barmen, representatives of various Protestant leaders came together to create a declaration now known as the Barmen Declaration that defined their opposition to any interpretation of Christianity based on racial theories. This placed members of their churches in direct political opposition to the government.

Today there are leaders of American Christianity who see a similar need. Far too many who claim to follow Jesus are supporting statements and actions that are in contradiction to what the Jesus of the gospels preached and how he acted.

In response to this concern, a number of American church leaders gathered in a retreat during Lent 2018 and have created a declaration for this time and this political environment. It is a call to the followers of Jesus to think again about what it means to truly live as his followers.

As in the Barmen Declaration, there are six specific declarations in the document titled Reclaiming Jesus. You can read the entire document at the link, but a short version of the concerns and responses follows below:

  1. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.
  2. We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class….Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.
  3. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself….Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.
  4. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives…Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.
  5. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination….Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
  6. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community….Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

The creators of this document call us to think again about whose church it is that we belong to…and what it means to go deeper into our relationship with God and with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines–and deeper into our relationships with those who are the most vulnerable.

Many of us believe that we are living in a time of darkness–but we also have hope in the one whom John calls “the light of the world.” This declaration calls us to share that light…and to live in response to the commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

What will we do?

 

Thoughts and prayers are not enough…

I can’t believe that I’m writing about another school shooting. There have been so many this year–have we become numb to what’s happening?

We are hearing again “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims”…but I’m tired of hearing that. Not that thoughts and prayers aren’t important–they are. But that’s not enough.

We’ll hear again “It’s too soon to talk about what can be done”…but for those who lost their lives, it’s too late.

And what’s frightening…what’s appalling…is that one of the survivors of the shooting in Texas wasn’t surprised. She figured that sooner or later it–a shooting–would happen at their school. Not because she had any particular insights into her fellow students, but because it’s become so ubiquitious.

Folks, these are our children and grandchildren we’re talking about. Do we have to wait for something to happen to our flesh and blood before we take action?

More guns aren’t going to solve the issue. More thoughts and prayers aren’t going to solve the issue.

We need to talk together…to listen…to decide that our children’s safety is paramount…to take common sense actions that will help. Will those actions stop all shootings? Probably not, but they certainly would help.

When I hear people in leadership saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with you”–but then sit back and take no action…even action that the majority of Americans want–I’m reminded of something that Jesus said, and I think it’s an appropriate statement to share, since so many of those who talk about thoughts and prayers claim to be followers of his. This translation is from The Message (Matthew 7:21-23), because I think it helps us get the vehemence with which Jesus spoke:

“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Our children need and thoughts and prayers, yes. But they also need us to put actions with those thoughts and prayers–to act as the adults whose responsibility it is to protect them, to nurture them, to help them grow up.

And right now, we’re failing.

The young will lead us…

The young will lead us. Those of us who read the Bible recognize that Isaiah acknowledged that fact in his description of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah 11:6:

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.”

We’ve been aware of that in the abstract…but when children/young people step up to lead us, we tend to think that they really can’t. They don’t know enough—but they do. They don’t know that what they want to see happen is impossible—they believe what we’ve told them: that they can accomplish anything they want to.

We can go back into our own (USA) history to see that kids have had an impact on our society.

We think of the leaders of the American Revolution as being grown adults. Some of them were—but a lot of them were teenagers/young adults.  A complete list is here, but a few of the better known names include these:

  • Deborah Sampson was just 15 when she disguised herself to fight in the Continental Army (and eventually became the only woman to earn a full military pension).
  • The Marquis de Lafayette was 18 when he joined in the battle for American Independence, helping to draw French resources to the colonial side.
  • James Monroe was 18 when he became a military leader in the American Revolution.
  • Nathan Hale was 21 when he was captured by the British and executed as a spy.
  • Alexander Hamilton was 21 when he joined Washington’s staff.
  • Betsy Ross was 24 when she sewed flags during the Revolutionary War.

In our own lifetimes, young people have had a major impact. Barbara Rose Johns was a high school junior who organized a strike with her classmates at her all-black school, a school that was horrendously overcrowded and underfunded. She and her join companions (114 of them!) petitioned the NAACP for help, and their suit became one of the five cases that went to the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education which mandated desegregation in 1954 in the United States.

Although Rosa Parks became the spark for the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, Claudette Colvin (16 years old) and Mary Louise Smith (18 years old) refused to give up their seats to white passengers, setting the stage for the later boycott.

In 1963, 3,000 young people joined a protest in Birmingham, Alabama. They were blasted by fire hoses and menaced by police dogs, yet they were a significant part of the battle for civil rights.

So yes…the young people from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are following in a significant tradition—it’s time again for us adults to listen and follow them in their quest for justice and their desires to create a more peaceable world.