I am saddened…

While I am concerned for my family and myself during this pandemic, since several of us are in the higher risk category, I find myself more saddened than worried.

I am saddened at the number of people who refuse to take simple actions to help protect others…who are determined to protect their freedom at any cost.

I am saddened at the number of people who refute any scientific fact that disagrees with their cherished beliefs.

I am saddened at the number of people who believe that their faith will protect them when they flout orders against large gatherings and decide that gathering in face-to-face worship will somehow keep them from getting–or spreading–COVID-19.

I am saddened at the number of people who are using this pandemic as an excuse to attack “the other”–whether that is an undocumented immigrant, a person who appears Asian, or any other definition of “the other.”

I am saddened at the number of people who believe that the economy is more important than people’s lives. I do understand that many are dealing with significant loss of income, but to consider possible deaths of the elderly and vulnerable to be “collateral damage” that is necessary in order to focus on the economy is a sad commentary on our humanity.

I am saddened at the number of people who have bought into conspiracy theories and who believe that the necessary actions that are being taken to try to stop the spread of this virus are somehow plots to take away guns…to stop Christians from believing in or sharing their faith…or any of the myriad other conspiracy theories that are out there.

I am saddened at the number of people who continue to believe the lies perpetuated by this administration in the face of factual evidence that tells the truth.

I am saddened that many people I like–and have respected–fall into one or more of these categories.

When we get through this pandemic–and we will–how will we come out the other side?

And who will be the survivors? Those who selfishly care just for themselves? or those who see a communal responsibility?

A somewhat recent scripture in my faith tradition says this:

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…

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.

 

 

Is this how the dream dies?

Over 200 years ago, a nation formed with a new dream–where government was going to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was going to be a government where all people had opportunity to succeed…where dreams could come true.

Did that ever completely happen? No…but the dream was always there, always providing the foundation.

There were problems. There were times when some people were considered “less than” others…times when some who looked different or who spoke other languages were not welcomed….

But people kept trying. They kept hoping…kept working…and challenged each other to be better than they had been.

They were given the gift of a statue with part of a poem inscribed on it–a statue and hope that encapsulated the dreams of both the people who were part of that experiment and others who wanted to be part of it.

While there were sometimes leaders who pandered to the worst instincts of people, most of them encouraged the people to try to live up to the dream. They also realized that for the dream to truly be a reality, they needed to take care of their land…to try to make sure that everyone could stay healthy.

And in doing all this, they began to be a symbol to other countries of what could be. They worked together with other leaders to try to make the world a better place for everyone.

They didn’t always succeed. But they kept trying.

Until now.

And now I’m afraid that dream…that great experiment…is dying.

It has been dying for some time; many of us just weren’t aware of how sick it was. But it’s clear now.

This great experiment said that there needs to be checks and balances between the three parts of government–but that has failed.

We have a leader who has signaled that he believes he can do anything he wants–and nobody in government has the right to stop him. We have a leader who has ignored people with expertise in a variety of fields in favor of “yes” men and women. We have a leader who has cozied up to dictators while tearing apart our relationships with those who have been our allies. We have a leader who has openly mocked people with disabilities…who has boasted of sexual assault…who has supported individuals and policies that have further marginalized and put in danger those who are already marginalized…who has made it acceptable to be racist and xenophobic. We have a leader who lies so frequently that it has become impossible to tell when (if) he is telling the truth. We have a leader who has claimed to be a Christian but whose words, actions, and policies are in direct opposition to what Jesus asked of his followers.

We have an administration where those who are holding various leadership positions are openly hostile to the responsibilities of those Cabinet positions…and/or have actively fought against them in the past. We have an administration that has given tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that provide safety nets to the less fortunate. We have an administration that has rolled back protections for the environment that have made it safer for individuals…and that is opening up protected lands to activities that will destroy them for short-term interests.

Many of us assumed that this dream–this experiment–could not be destroyed…that it might change, but that it would last. And so we are also to blame for what is happening because of our complacency.

Can this dream be revived? I hope so…for the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But it’s going to take all of us–and we have to be willing to work together.

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.

Not called to “Christianity nice”

I think many of us grew up in a time when a popular statement was “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” That applied in all of our relationships–including our spiritual ones.

I don’t disagree with that statement. I think it is important to look for the positives.

But…

Sometimes that statement is used to shut down dialogue–dialogue that it is important to have. And I find that happening in too many of our faith traditions. We want to have “Christianity nice”–to not have to grapple with the kind of real-world issues and challenges that I believe we are called to face.

M. Scott Peck, in his book The Different Drum says that organizations have to deal with those challenges. Otherwise they get stuck in “pseudo-community”–where everyone plays nice…where issues get swept under the rug and never dealt with. He says that getting to true community requires organizations to go through chaos and emptiness on the way–and that’s not an easy process.

My faith tradition believes in prophetic leadership given to the church pretty regularly. In 2007, this was the counsel given:

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation….

The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

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.

Jesus did not shy away from confronting injustice. And neither should we…even if that means being uncomfortable

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.