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.

It’s that time of year again…

So…it’s that time of year again. Time to put away the winter clothes and pull out the summer ones. But not completely.

The weather forecast is calling for a chilly night again tonight (about 39 degrees), although it’s supposed to warm up again–at least somewhat–next week.

I’ve almost done this several times, but every time I was about ready to, the forecast called for a return to more winter-like weather.

But I decided that today it was the right time of year.

I put away almost all of my winter clothes…just kept out a few items that can work for either cool spring days or winter. I kept out a few jackets as well that will work just about any season. So hopefully I’m ready for the next few days.

For many of us, we’ve also just recently celebrated a time of putting away the old and entering into the new. Last week was Easter–a time that acknowledges death and yet rejoices in the power of life over death. In some ways that sounds so easy…after all, we see it happen every spring as trees and other plants bud out again and the grass turns from its seeming death into green.

But it’s not.

For life to triumph over death, something has to die. Our old way of seeing…our old expectations and hopes…sometimes even loved ones.

It’s not easy to let go of all that.

But every time I seasonally change my closet, I’m reminded that there are things I have to let go of…they no longer fit…I no longer like them…I don’t need them. And the same is true of my life.

It’s that time of year again. Time to let go…and time to be reborn!

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.

 

“What is truth?”

It’s Lent…a time when those who follow Jesus take time to prepare for the journey to the cross and through into Easter Sunday.

For whatever reason, part of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate has been on my mind lately. It takes place after Jesus has been arrested…taken to the high priest for questioning and then sent to Pilate. There is a brief conversation between the two about whether Jesus is a king or not (as Pilate understands kingship). Jesus says he is a witness to the truth–that anyone who cares for truth would recognize his voice. And then Pilate asks the question: “What is truth?”

Is that a serious question? a rhetorical one? a cynical one? The story doesn’t say. Pilate just immediately moves back to the crowd…tells them he didn’t find any reason to put Jesus to death…and ultimately caves when the crowd accuses him of not kowtowing enough to Rome.

But it’s an important question. What is truth?

Today there are lots of ways that “truth” is being defined. But I think that the truth that stood in front of Pilate was truth then and is truth for us now. And that truth can at least partially be described this way:

  • All people are of worth! It doesn’t matter what their political status is…their wealth…their religion…their background…their lifestyle. Jesus mingled with everyone.
  • We show God’s love by the way we treat others. Again, it doesn’t matter about political status…wealth…religion…background…lifestyle. Do we treat them like we would want to be treated ourselves? If we don’t, then we’re not truly showing God’s love.
  • There are always more questions than answers. Sometimes the questions are uncomfortable–Jesus put people on the spot. And sometimes the answers are uncomfortable. But if we’re not willing to ask those questions–and listen to the answers–then we are like Pilate. We ask the question…but don’t really want to know the answer.
  • Truth is demanding. It calls us out of our comfort zones.

If I’m honest, there are times in my own life when I’m like Pilate. I ask the question–but then walk away from the answer. But how do we remember Pilate today? Not how I’d like to be remembered!

I’d much rather try to live like Jesus, who has influenced our world for 2000 or so years. Yes, I know there are many groups/people who claim to be like Jesus–but I want to be like the one standing before Pilate as “truth with flesh on.” It’s not going to be comfortable…or easy…and I’m not always going to succeed. But it’s the Jesus people need to see…in order to know they are of worth and are loved.

…of one heart and mind…

There’s a phrase in the scriptures of my faith tradition that I’ve always loved: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”

The words could be interpreted a number of different ways–and have been in the various faith groups that call these words scripture. Even in my own, understanding them has been a growing process.

I like the words because of what they say about community.

“Zion” is another name for the kingdom of God as lived out on earth–the kind of community that I believe the early followers of Jesus experienced.

The challenge is found in the words “were of one heart and one mind.” Sometimes that’s been interpreted to mean that the members of the community all believed the same things. But I don’t think that’s what it means at all. In fact, I don’t really have any interest in living in a community where everyone believes the exact same thing…lives in lockstep, as it were. I like diversity!

So what do I think those words mean? As I’ve been thinking about it recently, I think it can be interpreted in light of what Jesus called the two great commandments–to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If that is our focus, then we will be of one heart and one mind, even if the way in which we express and live out those beliefs vary.

If we do that, then we would be living in righteousness–living rightly…in accordance with high ethical principles.

And if we do all of that, then there would not be any poor among us, because we would be willing to share with each other. We wouldn’t be so worried about accumulating “stuff.”

Is this way of living even possible? I believe so–but it asks us to be vulnerable to each other…to be willing to live in understanding that none of us has all knowledge or all truth…to learn to see each other through the eyes of the One who created us…

Is this way of living possible? I believe it is–and not only possible, but absolutely essential.

 

Prayer for the New Year

God of all peoples—

This last year has been so difficult for so many…
                wars…
                loss of loved ones…jobs…homes…
                words of hatred and division…
                for many, a loss of hope.

But now—
                an opportunity for a fresh start…
                new beginnings.


New starts are never easy.
Stepping into a new future is frightening.

But without taking those steps
                we find ourselves stuck…
                                repeating the past.

God of all peoples—

Help us to truly see each other…
                to see past the ways we label “the other”…
                to see our shared humanity…

Help us to honor Mother Earth…
                to be wise stewards of all she has given us…

Help us to live out our beliefs…
                not merely talk about them…
                                letting them be words on a page…

Help us to be who you call us to be…
                brothers and sisters…
                united in love and hope…
                delighting in our diversity.

God of all peoples—
                May it be so.

Amen.