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!”

 

Jesus wept…

The shortest verse in the Bible (in some translations) is just two words long: Jesus wept.

Why? Why did he weep at this time?

Jesus had some devoted followers–male and female. Some provided financial support…some shared his message…some gave emotional support…and others provided a place where he could pause and be refreshed.

Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, seemed to be among those who provided a place for renewal. And Lazarus had died. We don’t know what caused his death. But the Bible shares an interesting point–when Jesus had gotten word that Lazarus was sick, he didn’t hurry off to the house. He waited two days.

When he arrived, Martha and Mary scolded him for not coming earlier, and also heard their friends asking why he didn’t do something? He wept–and then he went to the tomb…where he returned Lazarus to life.

In our English language, “weeping” carries deeper connotations than merely “crying.” It implies a reaction to an experience that has reached deep inside us–that has touched our hearts and souls.

So…Jesus wept. He wept for the loss of a friend…for the inability of friends to trust him.

But this wasn’t the only time Jesus wept.

He had also wept right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, earlier in the week.

Why? People had acclaimed him as the messiah…had cheered him and flocked to him. So why weep?

Luke says that he wept because the people of Jerusalem didn’t really understand who he was…didn’t realize what they needed to do to bring / have peace. He wept because he saw the devastation that would come upon them. His soul was touched in deep sorrow for the people he wanted to reach–but who didn’t understand.

And I wonder…today, is Jesus weeping?

When there are children separated from parents and kept in cages without even basic sanitary supplies…

When children of God are called by vile and hateful names simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity…

When other children of God are seen as “vermin” to be exterminated because of their ethnic origin or country or skin color…

When the rich become obscenely richer while the poor struggle for food and shelter…

When we ignore climate change because we don’t want to make necessary changes to slow it–because those changes might make us uncomfortable…

When so many innocents are caught in war-torn nations with no hope of a better future…

When politicians are more concerned about being re-elected than about working together to deal with real problems that affect real people…

When gun violence continues to take lives and all we offer is “thoughts and prayers”…

When words of division, hatred and violence have become the default political language…

When we are unable to see the face of God in everyone we meet…

Then yes, I think Jesus is weeping.

Keeping promises

Quotes About Keeping Promises

What is a promise? The dictionary says it’s “a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen.”

We all can remember when someone promised us something and followed through with it. It made us feel loved…made us happy…made us feel that we could really trust that person.

By the same token, we can probably all remember when someone promised us something and didn’t follow through. Those experiences made us less likely to trust that individual and–sadly–sometimes made us wonder if we could trust anyone.

Promises aren’t just made by individuals, though. They’re made by corporations–although those are sometimes implied promises. And they’re also made by governments.

When those promises are broken, there can be serious consequences…both for the corporation or government and for the people who believed the promises. We begin to wonder if we can trust them…begin to doubt…begin to become cynical about everything. And sometimes there are even more significant consequences that impact the very lives of individuals.

Promises aren’t just words. They’re commitments.

We are facing a plethora of broken promises today…from promises made between individuals to promises made by governments to individuals. And we’re paying the price of those broken promises–disbelief…cynicism…and possible torture and death for individuals.

Is that really who we are? I hope not. I think we are better than that…and we must be, to make a positive future for everyone.

Quotes About Keeping Promises

Not an enemy of the people

“Enemy of the people.” That’s a phrase that has become a favorite of Donald Trump when he doesn’t like something in the news…and it’s a phrase that should concern each of us.

A free and open press is not the enemy of the people. In fact, it’s the opposite. We might not like what someone reports–but without the ability to question…to challenge…we are limited to what any particular administration wants us to know. And that is not democracy; it’s what authoritarian governments do.

Do I think that all reporters are neutral in their questioning? No. They’re human beings like the rest of us–with biases and warts. But by and large, they are doing their best to help us (the people) know what’s happening in our government…how our tax dollars are being spent…the stories behind the decisions that we hear about.

You can find a list of what are considered the most credible and least biased news stories here. It’s a long list–and there are probably a number of them that you’ve never heard of. I know that’s true for me.

I also know that I don’t have time to go through all of them. So I try to at least be aware of the perspective of the news sources I do look at–and try to look at the news from different sources in order to get a more balanced view. Here’s a graphic that might help:

But I think it’s extremely important for all of us–whatever our political leanings might be–to push back whenever we hear newspapers and other news media being called the enemy of the people. That’s the phrase of someone who wants to be able to do whatever he/she wants without being held accountable to we, the people–and that’s not democracy!

I met God today…

I met God today…and God didn’t look at all like I expected!

God smiled at me…in the guise of a small child playing on the playground.

God asked me for help…as a homeless man standing on the corner of the intersection near my home.

God challenged me…in several disguises:

  • as a protestor challenging unjust policies,
  • as a policeman trying to create a safe environment,
  • as someone at church whose political beliefs are very different from my own,
  • as an immigrant struggling to speak English,
  • as a young woman wearing a hijab,
  • as a drag queen reading stories to children in the library,
  • in an angry person, afraid of losing the privileges they have grown accustomed to,
  • as a white supremacist,
  • as a military veteran.

God needed me to stand with her…as a scared young woman who needed to tell her parents she was gay.

God asked me to share in rejoicing…as a same-sex couple committing themselves to each other in marriage….

God asked me to read other books of scripture in which God has shared Godself…telling me that each book of scripture is incomplete because none of us understand God completely.

God asked me one simple favor…to open my eyes so I can see God in every person, because each is created in God’s image.

 

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.

 

I can’t fix it…

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I’m a “fixer.” I don’t like it when people are hurting–whether it’s as a result of their own actions or something else. I don’t like to see people in conflict. I want everything to go well for everyone.

But I’ve also come to realize that I can’t fix everything or everyone.

Sometimes it’s just not possible. The situation may be so complex that it takes more than simply my efforts to untangle it. Or death may have made it impossible for there to be reconciliation. Or…sometimes…people don’t want to be fixed. They’re comfortable in their victimhood.

I do understand that. I went through a time in which I felt un-listened to…felt devalued…and felt that my legitimate concerns were not listened to. And in a rather perverse way, it felt comfortable to complain loudly about all the ways in which that was happening.

I eventually changed–not because anyone “fixed” me, but because I got hit over the head with a metaphorical 2×4 and realized that if I didn’t change, I would not longer be able to provide a ministry that I wanted to.

But during that time, there was someone who was “there.” She didn’t try to fix me; she was just present. She let me know that she cared–and she gently probed behind the quick and facile answers I gave others who asked about me.

And so I’ve come to realize that instead of trying to be a “fixer,” my responsibility is to be a companion…to be present with those who are hurting. That’s not easy–I still sometimes find myself wanting to fix situations that aren’t working for people I care about. But I can’t.

All I can do is walk with them…