Dissent and criticism

Dissent and criticism of leaders and the status quo is not un-American. In fact, one could make a case for the fact that they are very American values, since the United States was forged out of dissent and criticism. We were birthed in dissent and criticism of the status quo of being an English colony…and it was not an easy birth. Harsh words were thrown at those who did not agree with a particular viewpoint…and some were literally forced from their homes because they did not agree with actions that were being taken.

We tend to forget that. Our history in some ways has whitewashed the whole process, making it seem inevitable. But it wasn’t. And the founding fathers of the United States were not always nice or polite with each other. In fact, if you read some of the letters and newspapers, they were downright brutal!

And dissent and criticism of the status quo have been a significant part of who we are ever since. Opposition to slavery…those who fought for religious freedom…individuals who fought against the treatment of Native Americans…those who supported the rights of individuals to come to the United States to find freedom and new hope…pacifists…women who fought for the right to vote (and to control their own bodies)… The list could go on and on.

Dissent and criticism of leaders and the status quo are woven into the very fabric of who we are.

And for those who claim to be inheritors and followers of the Judeo-Christian heritage, dissent and criticism are also part of that heritage. The Hebrew scriptures are full of sermons and challenges from prophets who challenged the status quo…who called both the leadership and individuals to be better than they were…to live up to what they said they believed.

Jesus himself challenged the status quo. We have often tended to forget just how radical his teachings and actions were. He challenged not only the leadership of Rome but also the religious (and political) leaders of his own people. He didn’t hold back either:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! (Matthew 23:23-24)

Scribes knew the law and could draw up legal documents. Pharisees were religious leaders (and were also legal experts). Jesus didn’t seem to have much use for their focusing on the letter of the law while ignoring the things that mattered more.

So when we accuse critics of the status quo as somehow being un-American or un-Christian, we’re just plain wrong. We need to hear those voices that challenge us to be our better selves…to live up to what we claim to believe.

We can disagree with how to get there–but we need to be reminded that at one point in our history, people in other countries saw the United States as a place of hope…a place of new beginnings. We took pride in what Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883–and what is mounted on the Statue of Liberty. Those who dissent and offer criticism of what we have become do so because they want us to live up to these words of hope:

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!”

 

Jesus wept…

The shortest verse in the Bible (in some translations) is just two words long: Jesus wept.

Why? Why did he weep at this time?

Jesus had some devoted followers–male and female. Some provided financial support…some shared his message…some gave emotional support…and others provided a place where he could pause and be refreshed.

Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, seemed to be among those who provided a place for renewal. And Lazarus had died. We don’t know what caused his death. But the Bible shares an interesting point–when Jesus had gotten word that Lazarus was sick, he didn’t hurry off to the house. He waited two days.

When he arrived, Martha and Mary scolded him for not coming earlier, and also heard their friends asking why he didn’t do something? He wept–and then he went to the tomb…where he returned Lazarus to life.

In our English language, “weeping” carries deeper connotations than merely “crying.” It implies a reaction to an experience that has reached deep inside us–that has touched our hearts and souls.

So…Jesus wept. He wept for the loss of a friend…for the inability of friends to trust him.

But this wasn’t the only time Jesus wept.

He had also wept right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, earlier in the week.

Why? People had acclaimed him as the messiah…had cheered him and flocked to him. So why weep?

Luke says that he wept because the people of Jerusalem didn’t really understand who he was…didn’t realize what they needed to do to bring / have peace. He wept because he saw the devastation that would come upon them. His soul was touched in deep sorrow for the people he wanted to reach–but who didn’t understand.

And I wonder…today, is Jesus weeping?

When there are children separated from parents and kept in cages without even basic sanitary supplies…

When children of God are called by vile and hateful names simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity…

When other children of God are seen as “vermin” to be exterminated because of their ethnic origin or country or skin color…

When the rich become obscenely richer while the poor struggle for food and shelter…

When we ignore climate change because we don’t want to make necessary changes to slow it–because those changes might make us uncomfortable…

When so many innocents are caught in war-torn nations with no hope of a better future…

When politicians are more concerned about being re-elected than about working together to deal with real problems that affect real people…

When gun violence continues to take lives and all we offer is “thoughts and prayers”…

When words of division, hatred and violence have become the default political language…

When we are unable to see the face of God in everyone we meet…

Then yes, I think Jesus is weeping.

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.

 

Words and actions…

As I’ve been watching and listening to the news this last week, I’ve found myself pondering the difference between “merely words” and “words with actions.”

We’ve all known people who can say the “right” words, but whose actions contradict what they’ve been saying. And unfortunately we’ve been seeing a lot of that recently–in my opinion!

If you’ve read my blog at least semi-regularly, you know I don’t like Donald Trump…for a variety of reasons. But his tweet at the beginning of June–the celebration of Pride for members of the LGBTQ+ community–struck me as a perfect example of someone saying one thing when his actions are a complete contradiction. His tweet said this:

“As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great Nation, let us also stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals…. ….on the basis of their sexual orientation. My Administration has launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality and invite all nations to join us in this effort!”

There are many problems I see with that, but a big one is what I would identify as hypocrisy! He (or his administration) are trying to take credit for “stand[ing] in solidarity” with members of that community while

  • putting in place policies that allow health care professionals to refuse medical service to individuals who are LGBTQ,
  • allowing businesses to refuse to serve members of the LGBTQ community,
  • banning transgender members from serving in the military,
  • removing information about the rights that LGBTQ Americans have from government websites,
  • rescinding nondiscrimination protections for transgender students in schools,
  • removing protections for transgender individuals at homeless shelters,
  • not speaking out against violence experienced by members of the LGBTQ community,
  • choosing and supporting justices who are openly anti-LGBTQ,
  • cutting federal funding for HIV and AIDS research,
  • making it difficult for individuals fleeing violence and danger to request asylum,
  • supporting dictators and rulers who are among those who “punish, imprison, or even execute individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

Unfortunately, his actions have emboldened others to join in negative words and actions toward members of the LGBTQ+ community–including a mayor who recently said that the only “cure” he sees for the “disease” of homosexuality and being transgender is to kill all of them! (Yes, I know he issued a public apology later…but the fact that he even said that originally is appalling.) And a number of “Christian pastors” continue to call for harsh punishment towards members of the community.

Because I am a follower of the One called Jesus, I want to state very clearly that these “Christian” pastors do not speak for me. Nor do I believe that their words are supported by the scriptures they say they believe in. I am reminded of a couple of quotes from the Bible they are so fond of using to attack members of the LGBTGQ+ community:

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… (Galatians 5:22)

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 25:36-40)

Pretty words without actions are just pretty words. So…one final thought:

When deeds and words are in accord, the whole world is transformed. (Zhuangzi)

Let’s do what we can to transform the world for good!

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