Praying–and working–for peace

Since December 3, 1993, my faith tradition has joined millions of others around the world who pray for peace on a regular basis. The short Prayer for Peace service has taken place every day, praying for peace in general but also specifically with a focus on an individual country each time. Yesterday I had the privilege of again playing for the service, and the hymn that we sang really spoke to me.

It was written by Geoffrey Spencer, a former leader from Australia (and a friend)…a man who in many ways spoke prophetically and was ahead of his time. His words were not always appreciated, but they were often prescient.

As I look around our world today–and especially what is happening in my own country–this is one of those times when I think his words provide a challenge for us all.

Why should the earth disclose a face
distraught by pain and anguish?
And how can hearts that beat with ours,
in tortured bondage languish?

Should men despair, or women weep,
in cruel deprivation;
or haunted eyes in children mock
the bounties of creation?

Oh, may our hearts be tuned to hear
their cries of quiet weeping,
and may the echoes of distress
disturb our restful sleeping.

The rich resources of the earth,
a table set for sharing,
are bread and wine for humankind,
a sacrament of caring.

The word made flesh in Christ declares
our lives belong to others;
so let us take our stand beside
our sisters and our brothers.

Let heart and hand reach out across
the walls of tribe and nation,
till every voice on earth shall raise
a hymn of jubilation.

As a follower of the Carpenter who came to change the world, the fifth verse especially speaks to me. He never said that following him would be easy–in fact, he indicated it would be difficult…and many would say that what he asked is impossible. But if we want a better world for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren…we really don’t have any choice but to see others as sisters and brothers. We have no choice but to find others who want peace as well, regardless of whether we call the Divine by the same name…or look alike…or worship alike…or have the same political beliefs.

Is it going to be easy? No. But is it possible? I believe so…because I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead…and because the small group that followed the Carpenter shows its truth:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Creating a place where people want to work…

There’s a weekly column in our area Sunday paper that I’ve read with interest for a number of years. Its focus is on job-related issues, but much of what is discussed there can relate to any situation / organization in which two or more people are involved.

Sometimes the topic has been in an area of interest to me; sometimes it’s not.

But I’ve sometimes thought about what I would write–if I were ever asked to write a guest column. The chances of that happening are pretty slim, so I decided I’d do it myself!

From the perspective of a couple of different work-related experiences I’ve had, here’s what I think I would say:

Have you ever looked at those articles that list “the best places to work”? and wondered what it would take for yours to be listed there? It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money. Money is nice, but it doesn’t solve the issues I’ve experienced.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Treat everyone with respect. That means everyone, from the person who is highest on the totem pole to the lowest.
  • Listen to your employees. You may not be able to do what they would like to see done, but they often have good ideas. Don’t dismiss them out of hand because you (as a supervisor) “know better.” Your employees are often the first line of contact with your customers, and they often have a really good grasp of issues and concerns that need to be taken care of.
  • Share with your employees. Yes, I know, there is sometimes information that cannot be shared; I don’t know of any employee who doesn’t understand that. But sharing as much as possible helps employees buy-in to what you are wanting (and / or needing) to do.
  • Acknowledge the work that your employees do. Yes, a monetary bonus is always nice. But when that’s not possible, there are other ways of acknowledging how important your employees are. Perhaps an extra day off…a public acknowledgement in the company newsletter…a personal letter (not a template with the name filled in)…a certificate of appreciation…
  • Work to create an environment where all are seen as essential. Too often there’s an “us / them” attitude. It can be described as “bosses / peons”, “that end of the hall / everyone else”, “us / them”…or any one of a number of ways. If that’s the feeling in your workplace, you’re missing out on relationships that can enhance your company.

There’s a lot more that could be said. But it’s not really important. It’s really kind of like what happened when someone came to Jesus and asked him what the most important religious law was. There were a lot of them that Jesus could have picked from. But he only chose two: (1) to love God with all one’s being, and (2) to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Two of the Gospels says that he continued by saying that all the rest of the law and prophets hung on those two.

My feeling is that if you look at my suggestions and work to create them in your company, you don’t need a thick employee handbook full of rules and regulations. They’ll pretty much take care of themselves.

Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“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!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Compassion…to suffer with…

Sometimes there are almost no words to say. But I have to try.

Yesterday I was shocked and appalled at the current administration’s budget. But I was even more appalled to hear the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describe it as “compassionate.” Compassionate?!?

This proposed budget includes a huge increase in defense spending–with corresponding cuts to (1) climate change research, (2) foreign aid, (3) public broadcasting, (4) national institutes of health, (5) meals on wheels, and (6) after-school programs…among others. The reasons? They don’t believe in the science that has been widely accepted around the world–and, in the case of Meals on Wheels and after-school programs, they don’t see any demonstrable benefits from them.

Really?

First of all, for many of the kids (and families) who depend on the after-school programs, they provide a safe place, food, and a place where they can get help with schoolwork. Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

And Meals on Wheels provides nutritional meals for folks who may be on the border of having to choose between food and other necessities…folks who may not be able to get out…as well as providing a way for someone to check up on them to ensure they haven’t fallen (or worse). Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

I said yesterday that I believe that the GOP and I use different dictionaries to find the definition of compassion. The dictionaries I use indicate that the word comes from the mid-14th century, from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.” I do not see much suffering with those who are poor…hungry…in need.

And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

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….

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.

 

“He says what I think”

For me, one of the most frightening statements to come out of this year’s election (and post-election) is this: “I (voted for/support) Donald Trump because he says what I think.” Why do I find that frightening?

Let me make a couple of things clear. I do believe that there are legitimate discussions needed about our immigration system. There are too many people caught in limbo, waiting for years for their citizenship applications to be approved. There are challenges with border security that need to be discussed–and that needs to include discussions about the economic factors that cause people to come illegally. We live in a world where there are many, many refugees–and we need to work with other countries to create a policy that acknowledges their needs and fears and tries to find ways to meet them.

However…

When I hear people say that, it usually goes along with negative statements towards those who are seen as “other” in some way. It seems to relate to demonizing others…grouping all members of one race/religion together, while seeing nothing wrong with one’s own race/religion. I hear it in reference to statements about those who are poor and who need help to get back on their feet…those whose sexuality/gender identity is not easily understandable.

And I am reminded of something in the Bible. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is talking to his followers. Not to them alone, but after he has been asked questions by those who didn’t believe in him…who wanted to trap him. They were religious and political leaders of their day, and they found Jesus’ teachings frightening because they challenged the status quo. Jesus taught…healed…challenged.

He told those who were listening to love their enemies…to do good to all…to pray for those who abused them…to give more than they were asked to. He told them to do unto others as they would have done to them. He called on them to be merciful…to not judge…to see the hypocrisies in their own lives before calling out others.

And then…

Then he gave this response: “…it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

So what do our words say about us? What do we really think?

Do Donald Trump’s words really reflect what we think? They don’t for me…

God is Other

Several years ago I started meeting with a wonderful friend who is my spiritual advisor/mentor. Sometimes those meetings have been challenging, forcing me to confront aspects of myself that I haven’t particularly liked. Sometimes they have been comforting as I have dealt with difficult life situations. Sometimes they raise more questions than answers…but always they call me to go deeper into my relationship with God.

Much of what we talk about has been stimulated by various books we have read through the years. I sometimes think that God must have a wonderful sense of humor, because so often either the entire book–or a specific passage–is so appropriate to either my own life situation or to what I see around me. We are currently reading Ronald Rolheiser’s Sacred Fire…a book that challenges me to go beyond the basic questions of life into the questions one faces as one grows older. It’s a wonderful discussion of looking at discipleship in new ways…and more specifically, what it means to be mature disciples. The questions he raises deal with the struggle to give our lives away–just what does that mean for each of us?

We’re almost through the book, and in our last meeting I was struck by a couple of quotes. In this particular chapter, Rolheiser talks about “ten commandments for the long haul”–something he describes as simplifying our spiritual vocabulary. Very briefly, here are the commandments for mature discipleship (which he sees more as invitations than commands):

  1. Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life.
  2. Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.
  3. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind.
  4. Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul.
  5. Forgive–those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you.
  6. Bless more and curse less!
  7. Live in a more radical sobriety.
  8. Pray, affectively and liturgically.
  9. Be wide in your embrace.
  10. Stand where you are supposed to be standing and let God provide the rest.

There is a lot that can be said about each of these–but the one that struck me especially hard was #9 – be wide in your embrace. Rolheiser suggested that we live in a time that lives up to a Chinese greeting that may be both a curse and a blessing: “May you live in interesting times!” We are facing challenges both in our faith traditions as well as in our broader communities of trying to understand what it means to be accepting…and our boundaries and understandings are being stretched almost to the breaking point.

But in this section, he quoted from a couple of writers–quotes that really made me stop and think and that I want to share. The first is from David Tracy in his book On Naming the Present: Reflections on God, Hermeneutics, and Church:

For anyone in this troubled, quarreling center of privilege and power (and as a white, male, middle-class, American, Catholic, professor and priest I cannot pretend to be elsewhere) our deepest need, as philosophy and theology in our period show, is the drive to face otherness and difference. Those others must include all the subjugated others within Western European and North American culture, the others outside that culture, especially the poor and the oppressed now speaking clearly and forcefully, the terrifying otherness lurking in our own psyches and cultures, the other great religions and civilizations, the differences disseminating in all the words and structures of our own Indo-European languages.

Rolheiser acknowledges that this is not easy. He is not calling for us to ignore our own roots, boundaries, and borders. As he says, “True acceptance of otherness and difference means something only if someone first has a strong identity, complete with real boundaries and cherished borders to protect.”

As he continues his sharing, Rolheiser suggests that we cannot avoid that which seems “foreign” to us. Our planet is too small for that. And…as a follower of the Christ, one of my major challenges it to welcome those who are other and different. All the way through scripture, God is defined as “Other”–outside what is familiar to us, beyond imagination.

And that’s why this other quote–from Parker Palmer in The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America’s Public Life struck me so strongly. It is the challenge especially before us in this place and this time:

The role of the stranger in our lives is vital in the context of Christian faith, for the God of faith is one who continually speaks truth afresh, who continually makes all things new. God persistently challenges conventional truth and regularly upsets the world’s way of looking at things. It is no accident that this God is so often represented by the stranger, for the truth that God speaks in our lives is very strange indeed. Where the world sees impossibility, God sees potential. Where the world sees comfort, God sees idolatry. Where the world sees insecurity, God sees occasions for faith. Where the world sees death, God proclaims life. God uses the stranger to shake us from our conventional points of view, to remove the scales of worldly assumptions from our eyes. God is a stranger to us, and it is at the risk of missing God’s truth that we domesticate God, reduce God to the role of familiar friend.

 

The power of love

We’ve been watching the Harry Potter films recently. We saw them when they first came out and I’ve read the books…but it’s been a while, and we were just in the mood.

I have to admit that it’s been interesting watching them as the United States has been leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. There have been a lot of parallels between the two universes…

But one thing keeps coming through…and that is the power of love.–

Yes, there are dark times in the movies–and many of us fear that the United States is facing a dark time. Harry and his friends found themselves caught up in a conflict between those wanted power for themselves and those who wanted to help others be what they had the potential of becoming. Some of us wonder if we are dealing with a similar conflict.

We have struggled with language–and yes, there is a quote from Professor Dumbledore that speaks to me about that:

Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic we have, capable both of inflicting injury and remedying it.

We have seen injury inflicted on individuals…can we find words now that will remedy it? Again, another quote from Professor Dumbledore:

We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.

So who are we? really?

Are we facing a situation like Harry and his friends when Professor Dumbledore challenged them with this quote?

Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is easy and what is right.

I don’t know.

But the power of love…that’s what will get us through. We see that in Harry Potter…and for those of us who are followers of the One called Jesus, we see that in him.

And so…as we move into a new era, I am reminded again of the power–and the importance–of love…and another quote from a wise man of our own time–Martin Luther King:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

May we live in the light and power of love.