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.

 

 

 

Light in the darkness

There’s a wonderful parable that goes like this:

An old king had three sons–all good and wise men who would make good leaders. The old king wanted to ensure that his kingdom continued to succeed, but he wasn’t sure which son to name as heir.

Finally he decided that the best thing to do was to present the sons with a challenge. He called them before the court and said this: “There are no limits to what the future holds for us as we use the riches of the past and build on the foundations that have been laid for us. But a great leader must know how to make the best use of the means at his disposal to create growth and wealth and ultimately benefit the people of his kingdom. In order to determine who that leader should be, each prince will be given one bronze coin [the lowest coin in the currency] to buy what they choose to fill an empty room in my palace.”

The princes started their search. On the appointed day, they returned, ready to prove their fitness to be king. The first son had used his coin to buy empty barrels and filled them with water. He poured each of them into the room and watched as the water filled the room halfway.

The second son had used his to buy all of a farmer’s hay. The wagons rolled forward and the hay was unloaded into the room, filling it three quarters of the way full.

The third son walked into the room and stood quietly as it was cleared of the hay. He had no barrels or wagons…no boxes or carriages. The king wasn’t sure this son had taken the quest seriously and asked if he had brought anything with his single coin. The prince reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. He pulled a match out of the box and striking the side, lit a match, immediately illuminating the entire room.

Quietly he said, “Yes, I did…and I decided to fill this room with light.”

Each one of us walks in darkness at different times and in different ways. But each of us also has the opportunity to bring light into the darkness.

It doesn’t matter what has caused the darkness. Nor does it matter whether we think what will do or say will make any difference…it will.

Because I follow the One called Christ, I believe that he is the light-bringer…and that he also calls us to be witnesses and light-bringers. The Message says it this way (John 1:1-5):

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

Whether you follow him in the same way I do–or whether you follow others who have also been light-bringers–may we be witnesses, bringing light that cannot be put out into the dark places of our world.

See the source image

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

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.”

Words matter!

There was a book by the great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein that I loved to read. Methuselah’s Children was originally a story which was expanded into a novel. It was the story of an incredibly long-lived family and the struggles between them and the “normal” people who believed that the Howards had discovered a secret of long life and were keeping it from them.

Ultimately the Howards were forced to leave earth…partially driven out by the subtle use of words. The words in and of themselves were not problematic, but when they were put together in specific ways, they were weighted in a way against the Howards that built walls and created separation between members of communities.

We have found out again tonight that words matter. Twenty people have lost their lives–and more may yet die.

Why?

We don’t have all the information yet, but it seems that the young man was angry about what he saw as a Hispanic “invasion” of Texas and hated the thought of “race mixing.” Where did he get those ideas?

When the president of the United States calls people with non-white skin rapists, vermin, criminals…when he separates children with non-white skin from their parents and puts them in cages…when he calls the countries occupied by people with non-white skin “shithole countries”…when he tweets concerns about people with non-white skin “breeding”…he is setting a mood and establishing a perspective that says that people with non-white skin are somehow “less than.”

When he refuses to specifically disavow ideology that raises people with white skin to a superior position over everyone else…when he says that there were “good people on both sides” at a rally where people were killed protesting that ideology…when he refuses to shut down a chant of “send them back” towards women with non-white skin who are American citizens…he is signaling that white Americans are more important than anyone else.

He–and we–cannot have it both ways. The words that we use matter, and when individuals use our words as a reason to harass, assault, or kill any other person simply because of their ethnicity or race, gender or sexual orientation, or religious belief, it is hypocritical to then send thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims and the survivors.

Our words matter…and we have to take responsibility for them. That responsibility starts at the top, but it also includes us. If we do not speak out against those words that build walls, that raise one group of people to a superior position over another, then we are also culpable when someone takes those words to heart and decides that those who are “less than” should be killed.

In the words of a leading Jewish rabbi of the 20th century:

Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.

We can choose to make our words end in good deeds…or they can end in tragedies. Which will it be?