We have lost our soul…

We have never been a perfect country…no country is. Nor have we ever been perfect people…none of us are.

But we have been a country with ideals that we tried to live up to–even imperfectly.

Those ideals have been enshrined in a number of documents.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

From the United States Constitution (a living document, because as needs have arisen, it has been modified):

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

From the poem by Emma Lazarus, placed on the Statue of Liberty (called Liberty Enlightening the World–and which Lazarus called “Mother of Exiles”)  which was one of the first sights many of our ancestors saw as they came to this country:

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!”

But that door has now been slammed shut…and we have barred and locked it.

We have lost sight of the ways in which our diversity has strengthened us…and become fearful of differences instead.

We have become the world of Animal Farm, where “all animals are equal…but some are more equal than others”…a world where “might makes right”…a world where “whiteness” gives power and control over those deemed non-white…a world where what passes for Christianity is far too often non-Christian in its actions.

And in so doing, we have lost our soul.

Can we gain it back? I hope so.

But we can’t sit quietly and just hope. We have to work…to write letters…to protest…and most importantly, to vote! We have to live out our words.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be controversial.

But it’s essential if we are going to regain our soul.

 

Who are we…really?

I thought I knew.

I mean, I knew that we have had some ugliness in our history–starting with how the first white settlers treated the native inhabitants. They came to this country fleeing persecution and seeking new lives for themselves and their children–but frequently and brutally mistreated the people who were already here…determined to wipe them out.

And we had the ugly stain of slavery, when we again chose to see people of a different color and religion as somehow “less than” those who had power and control. We even fought a war over that–but we are still struggling with the impact of those relationships.

Let’s not forget the lynchings that grew out of the post-war period–when slavery proponents were trying to find ways to keep former slaves “in their place.” Those lynchings aren’t ancient history. The last “official” lynching took place in 1968, although 30 years later, the death of James Byrd by being dragged behind a truck could fit the definition of lynching. And it wasn’t just men who were lynched. Women were as well–as was 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose “crime” was to whistle at a white woman.

We’ve also had the time when we were happy to have Chinese immigrants here to help build the railroad…to do the laundry of those trying to make their fortunes by digging gold. But we didn’t want them to be part of our society–not really.

There was also the time when we allowed our fears of “the other” to make it “permissible” to force Japanese-Americans into internment camps, simply because of their background, not because of any verifiable concerns.

And at the same time, we denied asylum to thousands of people fleeing genocide in their country of Germany because of their religion…and yet, we “adore” Anne Frank’s diary. Her father had tried to get his family to America for safety–but we made that impossible through our immigration restrictions.

I had thought and hoped that perhaps we were past that…that as we looked back at our history, we could see how ugly that was and we could move closer to what we have held up as our ideals.

But as I have watched these last few years, it sometimes seems like we have learned nothing from our history.

Yes, we have had our first African-American president–whose hopes and goals were blocked by individuals who made no secret of their intention to block anything positive that he suggested. And he and his family were subject to racial epithets that came directly from the time of slavery.

And now we have an administration that has called people of color names that no one should be called. People of a non-Christian faith have been demonized and refused entry. Others who are fleeing persecution–just as many of the early American settlers did–are being denied a hearing and, in fact, are often being forced into internment camps.

And most recently, critically ill children who were brought to this country legally are now being told that their permission to stay here is withdrawn–without any medical evaluation–and told that they must leave or be forcibly deported. The medical care they need is found only here–and forcing them to leave is sentencing them to death.

Is this who we are?

Really?

We have taken pride in considering ourselves as a leader of the free world…as a “light on a hill”…as a place of safety and asylum. But our actions in the past have said otherwise…and our current actions definitely say otherwise.

So who are we, really? I’m not sure I know any more.

Conservative friends, I don’t hate you!

I disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It simply means that we are looking at things from different perspectives.

I know that makes it difficult in this polarized political climate–but often, when I post questions, it truly is in an attempt to understand you…or to try to help you understand me.

I want desperately for us to find some common ground, because I know we both care about people and about this earth we live on. And we have to find common ground somehow, or neither of us will survive.

Sometimes you’ve gotten angry with the things I post. I understand that. Sometimes I’ve gotten angry at the things you post as well. But again…that doesn’t mean that I hate you.

Sometimes you’ve thought that I’m being judgmental about your faith. No, that’s not what I mean. I simply don’t understand how to put together your stated belief in One who spent time with the marginalized and oppressed–and your support for an administration that seems determined to do all they can to harm the already marginalized and oppressed. I am trying to understand…I really am. But it’s difficult.

I know many of you have a strong belief in the Divine. And I know you do a lot of good things. I’m grateful for both of those things I know about you.

But here’s where I struggle…and this is what keeps us apart so much of the time. Please understand that I really am not trying to be judgmental. I’m just confused because this is how I see some things:

You say that fiscal conservatism is important, that we need to be careful about our spending. Yet it seems that you are okay with proposed cuts to programs that provide safety nets for the vulnerable in order to pay for big tax cuts for the wealthy.

You care for the environment, yet this administration seems to be gutting policies that protect the environment.

You say that all people are important and created in God’s image. Yet if they appear different from us (in color, gender or sexual orientation, religion), it seems to be acceptable to treat them differently…to separate families and treat their children in ways we would not want our own children or grandchildren to be treated. I am not talking policy here–just how we treat people as they are “in process.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ communities have been incredibly marginalized and persecuted in the past. Fairly recently there have been laws and policies that provide them the same rights heterosexuals have–but now those laws and policies are being withdrawn…and they are again vulnerable and marginalized.

You have taught me values–values of morality and good behavior. Yet you support a president who boasts about sexual assaults…who has cheated on his multiple wives…who mocks those who don’t agree with him and encourages his supporters to violently attack them…who consistently lies…who ignores the Constitution and has attacked our allies while supporting those who run their countries in ways that we were appalled at in the past. None of that behavior would be condoned by the values you taught me.

I don’t hate you. Nor do I hate President Trump.

do hate how we have allowed ourselves to be so divided that it is difficult to even raise these issues with each other to try to find common ground.

I hope we can talk.

 

 

 

The worth of all people…

My faith tradition has what we call Enduring Principles–ideals that we try to live up to. There are a number of them

  • Grace and Generosity
  • Sacredness of Creation
  • Continuing Revelation
  • Worth of All Persons
  • All Are Called
  • Responsible Choices
  • Pursuit of Peace (Shalom)
  • Unity in Diversity
  • Blessings of Community

The one that has been on my mind a lot recently is the one that talks about the worth of all persons. Each principle has some short statements related to the overall principle; the worth of all persons says this:

  • 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.
  • We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.

So what does that principle mean in our current time in history?

For me, it speaks directly to the challenges we in the United States (as well as in other countries) are facing as we deal with issues of immigration.

If I say that I believe all people have worth, then that means all people, no matter their ethnicity, origin, gender, skin color, sexual identity or orientation…or any other the other ways we separate ourselves.

It means all people, regardless of whether they are citizens of my country, legal residents, or undocumented individuals.

If I truly believe that, then I must become more understanding of those who are fleeing situations of violence…and trying to find places of healing.

If I believe that…if I believe that is part of my calling as a minister who follows Christ, then I have no choice but to challenge systems, policies, and actions that say that some are “less than” others.

If I believe that all people are of worth, that includes those I might disagree with. I still see them as beloved children of the One who created us all.

There are no exceptions. None.

I wonder what would happen if we based our lives on that belief…if we had leaders in governments who believed that. How would we interact with each other? How much different would our world be?

Some might say that’s impossible…I don’t. Difficult? Oh yes. But until (and unless) we believe that all people have worth, we will continue to struggle. Not just with issues of immigration but with all of our relationships.

I’m tired…

I am tired…emotionally and spiritually. And it’s not the kind of tiredness that can be resolved by a good night’s sleep.

It’s a tiredness that is deep in my soul.

I’m tired of our refusal to acknowledge our part in creating the hostile and violent environments that many people are fleeing, hoping to find a better future for themselves and their children…only to be met here with violence and separation.

I’m tired of all the gun violence. I’m tired of the news opening up with how many murders have taken place overnight…

I’m tired of wondering when the next mass shooting is going to take place…how many people will die…how many families will be destroyed.

I’m tired of “thoughts and prayers” that aren’t linked to a willingness to have the hard discussions about ways of making weapons less available…of common sense ways of decreasing the violence, even if it doesn’t stop it.

I’m tired of the anti-intellectualism that says that people who have studied areas of science for years somehow really don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m tired of the refusal to make changes that will help our earth heal.

I’m tired of the hatred of “the other”…of anyone who doesn’t look like us…doesn’t speak the same language we do…doesn’t worship the way we do…doesn’t love the way we do.

I’m tired of the ideologies that place one race on a pedestal built on the backs of another race…that says that only one color of people have rights.

I’m tired of women’s health concerns being negated…of others making decisions for them who have no ideas of the struggles they are going through.

I’m tired of the domination of those who call themselves pro-life…but who are comfortable cutting the programs that would help support women during pregnancy…and babies and families after birth.

I’m tired of hearing the God I worship being used to attack others…a God of love who created all of us in God’s image. I’m tired of having my faith misused by those who would claim that “God hates…” (insert any one of a number of groups there).

I’m tired…and sometimes I want to just give up. It seems so difficult to open up any kind of dialogue, because we seem to live in completely contradictory world views that don’t have anything in common.

But I can’t give up. If I give up, then I’m letting the hatred…the division…win. And because I believe in a God who gave us minds to use…a God who wants us to work together to heal the world’s wounds…a God who calls us to be good stewards of what God created…a God who has given me the choice to be a divider or a healer…I have to continue trying to build bridges.

I don’t know if I will succeed. I may never know that. But all I can do is keep trying…because I follow a Carpenter who builds bridges.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

The plain truth…

I have to admit, I always get a little worried when someone starts out a conversation with words similar to “The plain truth is…”. I wonder if we will agree on what that plain truth is.

But I’m going to try it. Please realize that this is “the plain truth” from my perspective only–but I hope it might spark some thinking and much-needed dialogue.

The plain truth is that most of us live where we live and how much clothing, shelter, food, and safety we have through no initial effort of our own. We were born into specific places–with the blessings and/or challenges that surround us in those places and cultures and we have grown up to think that what we experience is normal.

For those of us who have never needed to worry about where we are going to sleep, what we are going to eat, whether we will survive this day without being shot–or raped–or assaulted in some other way, we often find ourselves thinking that people in those situations “deserve” what they are experiencing–or that they just need to pull themselves up…to work harder, to save more. Then they could live like we do.

But what if we could think–just for a few minutes–what life might be like for us if we were born into a different family…a different culture? What if we were the ones who were afraid for ourselves…our children? What if we were the ones wanting desperately to find some way for our children and grandchildren to have a better future? What if we knew that if we stayed where we were, we were facing assault or death each and every day?

Would something–anything–sound better?

The plain truth is that any of us could find ourselves in those situations.

The plain truth is that yes, there are policies that need fixing–but we are called to work together to try to find ways to make our policies work for everyone.

The plain truth is that every person–even those who look or worship differently from us…who speak different languages from us…and yes, even those who might hate us–are brothers and sisters.

The plain truth is that until we see ourselves in “the other”…until we are able to see the Divine in “the other”…until we are willing to give up some of our abundance that others might have enough…we are living in darkness.

 

 

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!”