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.

 

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

Practicing Christian…believing Christian?

I was recently at a retreat where our presenter, Jane Vennard, talked about the way she described herself in the forward to her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive. Her description intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about the meanings of the descriptions she used.

She describes herself as a “practicing Christian” rather than a “believing Christian.” A first response might well be, “Then how can she describe herself as a Christian?” But as I’ve thought about those words, the more sense they make…and are words that I want to claim as my own descriptors.

While others might have different reactions to the choice of words, here’s how they strike me.

Describing oneself as a “believing Christian” has been the default for many of us for many years–and is perhaps the simplest way of defining oneself. That means that there’s a specific list of beliefs that we agree with. It doesn’t necessarily require anything other than saying, “Yes, I believe that…I agree with that.” It allows me to sit comfortably in my pew (or chair) on Sunday morning, nodding my head in agreement, and then going back home until the next time the church doors are open.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to identify as a believing Christian…but I think it’s incomplete.

To be a “practicing Christian” is harder. It’s not that there is a specific list of beliefs that I have to agree with. Rather, my focus is on trying to emulate the example of the one we call the Christ…being with people…listening to them…bringing healing when possible…sharing good news…and all the other things that Jesus did when he walked on this earth. Beliefs may (or may not) grow out of these actions–but if I am working at being a practicing Christian, then my relationships with the people I meet will certainly have more in common with the kinds of ministry Jesus brought.

Ideally I can be both a practicing and a believing Christian…if my beliefs call me to actions that emulate the One whose name I claim. But if it comes down to a choice between them, I will choose to be a practicing Christian because I think that is much more in line with the challenge given to us in Matthew 25:31-46 (this is The Message version):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

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.”

Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: 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.”

Sounds of silence…

When I was in college, I loved a song by Simon and Garfunkle–“The Sounds of Silence.” In it, silence was presented in a negative way…as a cancer that grows…as something that separates people.

But silence can also be a profoundly powerful experience.

I just returned from a weekend contemplative retreat…an opportunity to use silence as a way of “going deeper” in a community that is taking a spiritual journey together.

We had opportunity to come together and share with each other verbally–but we also had significant time to choose not to have to speak. That didn’t mean we ignored each other…far from it! We discovered there are other ways of communicating, ways that often say more than our words do.

When we did talk, we discovered that taking time to intentionally consider our words meant that what we did say had the opportunity of being more meaningful.

But perhaps more importantly, we had the opportunity in the silence to listen for the voice of God…a voice too often drowned out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

And we heard that voice in many ways…in the songs of the birds…in the gentle breeze…in the smiles and hugs we shared with each other…and yes, even in the words that came to our minds as we intentionally listened for them.

 

Easter Monday prayer

Risen God–
We have just celebrated a day of new life…new hope…
of love…unconditional love.

And yet…
around us we see hate…
fear of “the other”
that says it is fair and right
to murder and destroy.

The risen Christ
says that life conquers death…
that love conquers hate.

Give us strength
to live that way…
to be living examples…
to bring comfort to those who mourn…
and peace to a war-torn world.

Help us be Easter people.
Amen.