Arc Benders

I couldn’t help but cry when I listened to the news reports of President Mandela’s death.    th-2He deserves the reward he will receive for a life well-lived, and I’m really happy that he has transitioned to the Better Place. But I will miss his presence–it somehow comforted me to know that such a wonderful soul was still living among us.

I fully appreciate President Obama’s recognition that President Mandela had helped to bend that evocative moral arc of the universe further towards justice. I was also pleased to learn that President Obama had participated in TransAfrica’s year long March against Apartheid in front of the South African Embassy, led by another great voice for justice, Randall Robinson. Some of you may recall that many notable people were arrested in those daily protests.  I was one of the many unnamed people who marched but were not arrested.

President Mandela’s life and legacy speaks volumes to the world about hope–the impact that can be made by of one person of faith dedicated to a just cause. It’s encouraging for the world to be reminded of his great victory in freeing his people from a racist, cruel and evil system. Yes! We can make the world a better place!

Being reminded of President Mandela’s life achievements is the third of three major arc-bending happenings during the last week or so. The first was Pope Francis’ pointed attack Pope Francis delivers Angelus prayeron economic injustice and capitalism. Here’s a quote from the Pope in an excellent commentary in The New Yorker: “While the earnings of the minority are growing exponentially, so, too, is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. The imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” Right on, Pope Francis!

I believe this powerful statement made the Pope, who holds moral persuasion over millions and millions of people, did much to move that moral arc towards justice.

And so with President Obama’s speech just this week, saying that income inequality is the “defining issue of our time.”  From an Associated Press Article: “President Barack Obama th-3prodded Congress to raise wages and secure the social safety net as he issued an overarching appeal Wednesday to correct economic inequalities that he said make it harder for a child to escape poverty. “That should offend all of us,” he declared. “We are a better country than this.”  Our president calls for more funds for children in poverty-stricken public schools, increasing the minimum wage and other specifics that will make a great difference in the lives of the poor here in America.  Another powerful voice speaking volumes to millions of Americans and to the world, moving that moral arc towards justice. You  rock, my President!

I believe that when people like Popes and Presidents use their power to help those with little power, change begins to happen.

But their voices are not all that is needed.  Behind President Mandela’s lifelong odyssey was the African National Congress, millions of unnamed Africans who stood against Apartheid for many years, as well as grassroots people from around the world, unnamed folks like me who marched against what seemed like immoveable power.

There are millions of folks with good hearts who speak volumes by their every day work to help this world better reflect the good God who created it.  They, too, are moving the moral arc of the universe towards justice.

The hearts of all of us unnamed heroes and sheroes are encouraged when we hear such powerful calls for justice from leaders like Pope Francis and President Obama. And our hearts are filled with hope when we ponder the success of those truly brave and faithful ones who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of goodness, like President Mandela.

Do you think it’s possible that our world might one day rid itself of the idea that poverty is inevitable?  Yes.  We can!

 

 

 

 

 

Better than Black Friday Shopping

black-friday-crowd1No, I’m not out shopping ’til I drop today!  I did not rush out from the Thanksgiving table to battle crowds of people trying to save money by spending it.  Instead, I’m thinking about hope and feeling good about doing this rather than that.

I’m thinking about the the kind of hope that derives from success.  I wrote about City Gate last week.  One of the success stories of this non-profit can be seen at Savoy Elementary School on the Southeast side of Washington DC, where one of the 3rd grade classes is taught by Chris Bergfalk (Lynn Bergfalk’s son). Most of the children in Chris’ class were not reading up to grade level at the beginning of the school year–some were still reading at kindergarten level.

City Gate runs an after-school program at Savoy and provides support for a new in-class program that Chris initiated, which bodes well for replication. It’s called “blended learning”– a computer program that helps students improve in reading and math on their own.  This program provides easy and fun (cartoon-like) activities, measures performance, highlights difficulties and provides instructions on how to help when a student gets stuck.

Chris shared with us a chart showing his students’ performance using this system.  Barely 3 months into the school year the results show that most of the children’s reading levels improved impressively. A few who began near grade level are even reading above grade level. One thing that’s making it work is that the program provides the necessary steps for someone to help when a child gets stuck, so volunteers in the after school program can help them and the teacher doesn’t have to try do it all.

While we were visiting, City Gate’s Deputy Director and another staff member were there helping with some of the computers. City Gate provided recycled government computers, the technical support to get the computers up and running, and volunteers to help students in the after school program.  That’s what’s making it work for this class.

The problem in many city public schools is that there aren’t enough computers in the classrooms or sufficient help to provide the children the support they need.  One class out of the thousands around the city may not sound like much, but it’s a start.  And starting is what matters.

Why do people like Dr. Bergfalk and the others who work at City Gate work so hard to help these children?  Lynn said he was drawn to this type of mission work as a way to “practically live out the mandate that we are to love God and our neighbor in the broader community.”   To me that sounds like living love just as Jesus commanded.

Success stories like this help me to know that we have the ability to change things. We can help our children succeed.  With faith, we can defeat the monstrous for-profit prison system by standing in front of our children to keep them out of it.

Success stories like this make me believe that with enough faithful people working together on all necessary fronts our nation can even begin to eliminate poverty. You may remember in one of my earliest posts, “Is Poverty Inevitable?” I said that  “For us as a people to believe that we should try to eliminate poverty, we have to embrace the idea that all people are beautiful children of God, all worthy of our true love. We have to believe that every child born has a right to live safely, to adequate medical care, and to an education that will nurture their gifts.”

The work that Dr. Bergfalk has started gives me hope that one day we’ll get there. Sooooo much better than shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving!

 

Rebounding Hope

I was 17 years old.  We had just come out of gym class, and while heading for the cafeteria for lunch, I saw people crying.  In the cafeteria, many more were crying.  I had no clue what had happened because the announcement hadn’t reached the gym class. President Kennedy had been shot and killed.  I cried.

“If a free society cannot help the
 many who are poor, it cannot save
 the few who are rich.” 
John F. Kennedy inaugural address, 
January 20, 1961

My 17 year old heart felt that evil had triumphed, and that was hard to take.  We all loved the President and his beautiful family.  He had given us so much hope–I felt like he was so modern and cool and that he was really a good person and that things would get so much better for black people with him as President.  Who would do such a thing?  I don’t guess I’ll ever be convinced that such a perfect shot to a moving target from so far away was not the act of an expertly trained professional hired for political purposes, whether it was Lee Harvey Oswald or someone else.

Hope really felt dashed for me the day President Kennedy was killed.  And even more when Dr. King was killed less than 5 years later.  But one thing about hope is that something will always bring it back — and another thing is that you can find hope in lots of different places.  So I want to share with you a new hope that I’ve recently found.

City Gate is a non-profit charitable organization serving children and families in the Washington DC area. I was looking around to find out who’s working with children here, and City Gate grabbed my attention for two reasons–the broad reach of its programs and the steadfast faith of the founder and Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Lynn Bergfalk, Pastor of Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church in DC.

City Gate was formed in 2000 to extend and expand the kind of programs being run at Calvary Baptist Church, where Dr. Bergfalk was then pastor, into the larger community.  From 2003 – 2006 their central location was in the DC Baptist Convention Johenning Community Center in Southeast. When they had to move, what seemed to be a big defeat turned out to be a great blessing. City Gate found a new home in a local housing development, and through the success and the connections made there, City Gate expanded the after school programs to several housing developments and schools in Southeast and in other parts of the City and nearby Prince George’s County.  City Gate operates right where the people live, and the people have received them well.

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Last week Dr. Bergfalk was gracious enough to take me and a new volunteer to visit one of the school sites and some of the after school sites. The after school activities include homework time, STEM clubs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), recreational activities and also dinner for many of the children. Most important is the attention these children receive from caring professionals who help to provide life skills, a safe haven and long-term positive and caring relationships with children who need it. A major focus of the after school programming is to improve the children’s performance in school.

This is intended to directly address the fact that if children are not reading by the 3rd grade, the “accumulated baggage of low performance,” as Dr. Bergfalk calls it, builds up from year to year, and they are likely to end up failing, and also likely to end up in the prison system. See my earlier post for a more detailed discussion about this.

And City Gate is successful. I’ll have more to say about some of their success stories next week.  While this front line work is absolutely necessary in the war against imprisoning our children, help must come from other sources as well.  Non-profits like City Gate need sure sources of funding to keep operating. Schools in impoverished neighborhoods need more funding for computers, specialists, social workers, and others to deal with the “accumulated baggage” these kids carry. We need national, state and local policies that help and support our children, rather than punishing them for what is essentially not their fault.

And that’s why we need people who really care for victims of poverty in places of leadership.  When people like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama reach the White House, hope for the poor rebounds.  And when politics and political maneuverings dash our hope, we must  be involved to keep hope alive. I still have hope that the Democrats in Congress can figure out how to provide the support that our President needs to move forward with programs that bring some sense of caring for the least in our country. And I’ll continue to urge people of faith to speak prophetically to power about caring for the poor, then to get involved and help those who are doing the caring.

The Cost of Global Warming

Typhoon Haiyan may be the largest and most devastating typhoon in recorded history.  Reports of the chaos that this epic storm has caused are heart-wrenching.

Keith Bradsher reported in the New York Times on Monday that  “Screaming people bobbed in the water — many grabbing for floating debris, but not all succeeding….. Some of them were able to hold on, some were lucky and lived, but most did not.” He also reported that  Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said that a Red Cross aid convoy to Tacloban had to turn back on Sunday after it stopped at a collapsed bridge and was nearly hijacked by a crowd of hungry people.

Nancy Snyderman, NBC News Correspondent, reported yesterday that in small city Tanauan,  a group of doctors called Mammoth Medical Missions, is running out of supplies after performing more than 100 surgeries in three days, and will have to turn patients away if supplies don’t arrive.  She reported “…throngs of the desperate waited outside to be seen amid the smell of rotting flesh and stagnant water. Inside, doctors cut one dressing into 24 pieces to stretch out the meager supplies. Desks served as examining tables….’It’s like war,’ one surgeon said. ‘I’ve never been in a war but this is what I imagine it’s like.”

NBC News Correspondents F. Brinley Bruton and Becky Bratu, reported today from Tacloban, the worst-hit city: “The mayor said the options are bleak in Tacloban: ‘The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies.”

I applaud all those first responders who give their time and energy, their hearts and souls to helping in such desperate situations.  I also applaud all those who share their wealth and prayers in times like this.  I hope all who are able will find a way to help.  The New York Times provided today a good list of organizations that are on the ground and can use our donations and so does NBC World News. Samaritan’s Purse and CARE  are a couple of others that I didn’t see on either of those lists.

It’s important for us to help and to contribute when people suffer from such tragedies.  But there’s more we can do.  We need to open our awareness to what may be causing such devastating storms.  The fact that hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons are becoming more frequent, stronger and deadlier is no longer to be doubted.  The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory has been tracking hurricanes since 1891. Information collected from them and others by Wikipedia shows on one chart that four out of five of the largest hurricanes (by gale diameter) ever observed in the Atlantic basin all occurred within the last 12 years. Another chart shows a clear increase in the number of named storms and hurricanes per year from 1851-2012.

Could it be possible that global warming is the cause of this dramatic  increase in weather-related devastation?  The answer is clearly YES! If you have any doubts, please read this report by Damian Carrington of the Guardian.

Tragedies like this typhoon ought to make all of us think more deeply about how our lifestyles may be contributing to global warming and how we can help to reverse it.  We’ve become so used to using oil-related products like gasoline and plastic that I can’t imagine what life would be like without them. But we have to ask whether the convenience of maintaining our lifestyles is so important that we won’t change even if it means saving people’s lives.  Can’t we bring our own cloth bags to the grocery store if it will mean saving people and their homes from being swept away by enormous floods? Shouldn’t we get off our comfortable couches and take on the big oil companies to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, demand that we stop fracking, and demand government to put more money into research for renewable energy resources if doing so will keep kids from drowning?

For those of us who are Christians, we need to think more carefully about what Jesus taught….he told us that there is no better proof of love than to be willing to give up your life for your friend.  He says we are his friends if we do what he asks us to do, and above all, he asks us to love others as he has loved us.  ( See John 15: 12-17) If Jesus was willing to give his life in order to save us, how much of our conveniences, our comfort, our time and our resources would he expect for us to give up in order to save the lives of others?

When we get this part right, then we can go out and share the good news.

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Friend of God

I’m preaching at Simpson-Hamline United Methodist Church this Sunday while the Pastor is on vacation.  Bill preached last Sunday, and he started his sermon by singing “My Tribute” in his wonderfully deep and resonate baritone, then went on to give a powerful testimony about God’s saving grace.  So he set the bar pretty high for me to follow up this week!

The text I’ve chosen, John 15: 12-17, is a part of Jesus’ farewell discussion with his disciples.  I’m focusing on verse 14-15, where Jesus calls his disciples friends.  He no

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longer calls them (us) servants, he now calls us his friends. I’ve been fascinated by my deep study of this text.  One of the things that happens when you delve deeply into a text to understand it more fully — I call it “deep sea diving”– you come up with many treasures, usually more than you can recount effectively in one sermon (although many preachers are too inclined to try). So don’t worry, if you come to Simpson-Hamline this Sunday (service begins at 10 am)  this blog isn’t usurping my sermon. The reason I’m sharing this with you now is that I really haven’t been able to focus on anything else that I want to share here, so I decided to stop trying and just let you know what’s on my mind.

The other thing I’ve been doing this week is reading comments from a LinkedIn group, “Interfaith Professionals,” where comments  are being posted by persons from different faiths on the question “Why does God let people suffer?”  The responses are interesting, as you might expect.  People wrestle with this question a lot, and it has caused many to challenge the goodness and/or the reality of God.

All of this brings me to the question for today:  If Jesus — God — is really our friend, why do we still have to suffer?  Since we understand that God is all powerful and can do anything, then why would God-our-friend ever allow pain and difficulties into our lives? Why doesn’t God just step in and stop whatever it is–all the time?  Why wouldn’t God save the lives of many good and God-believing people from the horrible typhoon that is hitting the Philippines right now? Wouldn’t God stop a Christian woman from being raped or tortured? Wouldn’t our friend Jesus always carry us through the storm, away from harm, as the above picture depicts?

Many of us know from personal experience and testimonies from others that God does intervene, God does save and God still works miracles in this world.  But that does not mean that we won’t ever have to suffer, because we will. And we have no way of knowing when or why God will save some and not others or when the storms will come into our lives and we will find ourselves suffering.

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What kind of friend is someone who has the power to save us from pain and sorrow and doesn’t do it?

I believe the best kind of friend.  Not because God wants to us to suffer–I believe that God cries right along with us–but because God wants us to be better people than we would be without suffering. We could never understand what it means to have love and compassion if we weren’t required, from time to time, to open our hearts to others who are living in or going through difficulties.  We’d never know how important it is to have friends unless we had a need to lean on someone else every once in awhile–and that includes our friend God!

Humanity grows intellectually, deepens spiritually and gains wisdom from searching for the causes of suffering and figuring out how to relieve them.  So that’s the job that we’re given by the challenge of human suffering–to wrestle with the things that cause suffering and fix them.  That’s what people are called to do, and it involves everything from helping people to experience the God of love to researching the causes of diseases, from offering a meal to a homeless person to enacting legislation to create affordable housing and living wages, from being a friend to an at-risk child to working to overcome poverty and to dismantle for-profit prison systems. The added benefit is that these are the kind of works that make life truly meaningful for us.

That’s the call of God on all of us, all of humanity, to use all that we are to help each other– hearts that care, minds that study, hands that help, strength that endures and souls that understand the importance of rejoicing through it all. When we do these things, we’re helping to accomplish God’s purposes in this world, and that’s when we become friends of God.  You see, friendship is a two-way street. You can’t really have a friend unless you are a friend.  Sooo….you want Jesus to be your friend???

The New Look of Faith

Okay.  I’m about to show my age again….I remember when I was a child, how the women
wore white gloves and hats to church.  And on Easter, oh my!  All the children got brand new clothes, even down to our socks.  We wore our Easter bonnets proudly.

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You remember the song “The Easter Parade?”  It really was like that.

Church was different in my parent’s time.  Now that I’m a grandparent, I know that the church I became comfortable in, with lots of gospel music and social activities, seems old to many of the Millennials and the Gen X’s.

One constant about Church is that it changes, which, I believe, reflects God’s movement through human generations.  These changes happen usually with a lot of kicking and screaming,  especially over the music, but churches will change.  Each generation has it’s own way of reflecting belief and faith in God.

Many of you know that more Americans claim to be unchurched now than at any time in our history, and this is especially true of the 20-30 year age range. From a 2010 study done by the Pew Foundation: “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated [with a faith tradition] than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s).”

But that does not mean that they do not have some expectation of what it means to be Christian. Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence:  How Christianity is Changing and Why, identifies some of the new ways these younger generations are reflecting faith:  “…the new faithful began to meet among themselves and hold worship services among and with those of like spirit.  The house church movement began and then quietly boomed, as did such outre things as pub theology and bowling alley masses.  In time, of course, some of these gatherings would grow into nondenominational churches.  …. Other gatherings of emergents have no site at all and roam from public park to football stadium to Seventh-day Adventist churches to high school gyms, as the case may be in any given week.  Some others, from time to time, fall heir, for a song, to old and abandoned church buildings which they occupy but feel only slight need to ‘fix up’ in the traditional sense.  All, however, share one shining characteristic: they are incarnational.  Not only is Jesus of Nazareth incarnate God, but Christian worship must be incarnate as well.  It must involve the body in all its senses and take place among people, all of whom are embraced equally and as children of God.”

This new Emergent Church is, according to Dr. Tickle, the next great movement in the church, equal to The Great Reformation (when the Protestant church broke from the Catholic Church) and the Great Schism (when the Eastern Orthodox Church broke from the Roman Catholic Church). The thing about these great changes is that they do not destroy the previous form of faith, but they do create a vibrant and new way of living out faith.

What does this new way of living out faith look like? According to Wikipedia: “Members of the [Emergence] movement often place a high value on good works or social activism, including missional living … [S]ome in the emerging church believe it is necessary to deconstruct modern Christian dogma. One way this happens is by engaging in dialogue, rather than proclaiming a predigested message, believing that this leads people to Jesus through the Holy Spirit on their own terms. Many in the movement embrace the missiology that drives the movement in an effort to be like Christ and make disciples by being a good example. The emerging church movement contains a great diversity in beliefs and practices, although some have adopted a preoccupation with sacred rituals, good works, and political and social activism.”

I had the privilege of meeting with a few folks last week to talk about some ways the young generation of African Americans are drawn to faith. Two young ministers gave us these insights about this generation: They do not want to be judged, but accepted and challenged.  They want to feel comfortable, to be able to come as they are (certainly not having to dress up to show up). They prefer the services to be less regimented, more casual, with opportunities to engage in dialogue.  They may be biblically illiterate, but are inclined to be involved in helping the poor and addressing social issues. Use of social media would be important to reach out to them.

The thing for me is that I like what they like–except the biblically illiterate part. So I guess I’m not that old after all! I have great faith in the movement from regimented and dogmatic religion to being involved in discussion and service for Christ.  I do believe this generation is leading all of us in a good direction.

They are our children, let’s help them lead the way.

 

 

Making Hope Happen

In a February post this year, Washington Post columnist Paula Dvorak wrote that there were some 600 kids living in homeless shelters in our nation’s Capitol.  The good news is that she received a plethora of responses from folks wanting to know how they could help. Here’s what she concluded in her follow up article:  “This is a complex crisis that will take a multifaceted approach to solve. It’s more than an increased budget, a cot or a single counseling program. But we can do it. We have to do it because at least 600 kids are counting on people who care. And from the response I got, there are many who do.”

She is convinced that we can do it because she was encouraged by the people’s heartfelt responses to such dreadful news.

She referred those who responded, as a place to start, to one of the many organizations that are working hard to help kids here in DC,  The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which describes itself as a “nonprofit group that provides play space, toys, books, school uniforms and unconditional support and love. It does everything from teen tutoring to baby cuddle time.”

And there are other groups of good folk who are doing good work to help the neediest kids in DC.  I found these easily just searching the web:

Stand Up for Kids-DC:  “ensures that young people in this city have the basic human rights of shelter, food, and security. Our most powerful contributions are in forming supportive relationships with homeless youth who have no place to turn, preventing vulnerable youth from entering the cycle of homelessness, and gaining the assistance of the entire community to keep our youth safe, sheltered, and supported.”

Kids Konnection-DC:  “ministers to 1,500 children a week from DC public housing meeting a variety of the children’s needs.”  One of their programs is a Sidewalk Sunday School:  “Sharing GOD and HIS LOVE – teaching a moral value system – providing role models for the boys and girls – home visitations – one on one counseling – intervention in abuse or neglect situation – substance abuse prevention – sharing life skills: etiquette, banking, filing out job applications, and community service – helping youth make a transition from school to jobs or college – changing lives…”

Located in Southeast DC at Stanton Elementary , People, Animals, Love (PAL) is “helping ensure all children begin life with a solid academic foundation and meet or exceed national No Child Left Behind standards. The after school program and summer camp are offered in partnership with DC Public Schools Out-of-School Time Office, which provides space, security, janitorial services and coordination. PAL Club runs after school during the school year and PAL Camp is held for four weeks during the summer.”

There are plenty more, great opportunities for church groups to get involved and to help these at-risk children out as mentors, tutors or in whatever capacity they might be needed.

And help is sorely needed. In a recent article posted in Democracy Now!, a for-profit prison corporation called Youth Services International, which makes money putting children in prisons, is growing exponentially, even though they have faced multiple charges of child abuse. “More than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through these facilities in the past two decades. This comes as nearly 40 percent of all detained juveniles are now committed to private facilities, and in Florida, it is 100 percent.”

Chris Kirkham of The Huffington Post also reported on this, citing some of the abuses found in the Florida youth prisons:  “One guard had fractured an inmate’s elbow after the boy refused instructions to throw away a cup, according to incident reports. Another guard had slammed a boy’s head into the floor after an argument. The prison was infested with ants and cockroaches, toilets were frequently clogged and children reported finding bugs in their meager portions of food.” Why does such a company keep getting government contracts?  Here’s how: “Slattery [the owner], his wife, Diane, and other executives have been prodigious political rainmakers in Florida, donating more than $400,000 to state candidates and committees over the last 15 years, according to HuffPost’s review. The recipient of the largest share of those dollars was the Florida Republican Party, which took in more than $276,000 in that time.”

You remember the scandal in Pennsylvania where a judge was found guilty of accepting bribes to send kids to detention for minimal offenses? These for-profit prisons are hungry for our children, and they are being well-fed. Homeless children are most at-risk of becoming fodder for them.  One ray of hope for us locally is that it doesn’t appear that the District of Columbia sends children to any of these privately-run facilities, although there are some in Maryland. If anyone knows more about this, please let us know.

While we have opportunities to help the children avoid juvenile detention by reaching out to them individually, the problem of saving our youth is more complex than any number of service organizations can solve without additional support from elected officials. It is a complex problem.  But, as Paula Dvorak surmised, we can do it.  The hope lies in people who really do care.  They will find ways to volunteer, to challenge our churches to volunteer, to challenge local leaders to provide necessary funding for children’s programs, to demand that low-cost housing become a priority in the City’s future plans, etc, etc.  All of the above are ways to put faith in action.  And that is what creates hope.

Do you know what hope looks like?  I’m sure it must look like a smile and sparkle in the eye of a homeless child who has just felt love from the personal involvement of someone who really does care.  And hope must look like that same smile and sparkle in the eye of that child’s parent who has found an affordable home because they live in a city that really does care.

We are the nation’s Capitol.  We ought to provide a stellar example  of what hope looks like for the rest of this wonderful country.

How Faith Speaks to Power

On Monday, I received an email invite from an organization that I follow online, Faithful America, that asked us to join Sister Simone Campbell who was going up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to talk to and pray with members of Congress in support of ending the government shutdown.  The event was organized by an interfaith action group, Faith in Public Life.  Sister Simone Campbell is Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby. She lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare and economic justice. During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters, including LCWR, to sign on. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act.

How could I resist such an invitation?  I couldn’t, and neither could my husband Bill. We weren’t the only ones who could not resist attending. The gathering of about about 150 people included religious leaders from different faiths, people of faith and people who were suffering because of shutdown.  The group was impressive.

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We met Jewish priests, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, representatives from the Salvation Army and United Methodists and others.  And there was at least one Baptist, that is one American Baptist, and that would be me.

We held hands as people of faith, sang a Jewish song “Of Love and Justice I will Sing” and then Sister Simone prayed for our country.  As we walked down the hall of the our nation’s capitol congressional office building singing “Amazing Grace,” my eyes welled…inspired by being among this wonderfully diverse group of religious leaders gathered with common purpose in God’s name. This is really faith in action. Here is a link to an article in the Nation ezine that has a video of us moving out to visit the Congresspersons.

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We stood in the hallways singing quietly while Sister Simone met with various members of Congress.  She was to meet with some who supported sending forward a clean continuing resolution (which would stop the shutdown) as well as with some members who opposed it (the ones keeping the government in shutdown mode).  Some of them were friendly enough, like Representative Frank Wolf  (northern Virginia), who came out to greet the religious leaders….he supports ending the shutdown.  Others met with her.  Still others, like Eric Cantor (also of Virginia) weren’t available.

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My favorite moment was when the Jewish Priests, who spent time talking to Eric Cantor’s receptionist, ended the discussion by blowing a Shofar, a traditional Jewish horn like the one that Joshua used in the battle of Jericho. That’s what I call making some noise! Another favorite moment was a conversation I had with one of the security guards, who had a time trying to get the group to keep a path down the hallway and not sing too loud.  He was walking beside me when he said he loved to sing in his church choir.  I told him he could sing along with us–he said he shouldn’t because his voice was so loud that they always put him in the back of the choir. Then, as we headed down the stairs, he broke out singing with us–and yes, he has a nice voice.

I applaud Faithful America and its low-profile Executive Director, Michael Sherrard (here is the only information about him that I could find online), Sister Campbell, and Faith in Public Life, because they are truly in the business of putting their faith into action…and that’s the kind of mustard seed faith that can move mountains. Matthew 17: 20-21.

When we returned home, I learned that just about the time we were there was when Congress again failed to reach an agreement, giving the responsibility of working out a plan back to the Senate.  And as you all know by now, the Senate completed the job, those causing the scandalous shutdown and possible default were defeated, and late last evening our President signed the bill into action. God works in wondrous ways.

Yet, it is not a time for celebration. According to Elizabeth Warren this outrageous act of a few bullies in Congress has cost the American people approximately $24 billion.  I really believe these bullies are not thinking of what’s best for America and that they must have a secret agenda.  Am I the only one who thinks they’re really foreign undercover operatives whose goal is to bring down this country?  I guess I’ve watched too many 007 movies.

I just hope and pray that God gives ‘ears to hear’ to these people who are hellbent on hurting America and who claim they are doing it because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act, which, contrary to what they repeatedly say, has been amply approved by the American people.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top and you’ll see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Anti-American Christians?

I titled this blog “the hope of faith in action,” because I want to share how people of faith can come together to help the least of these–the poor, the underprivileged and all who need love, help and hope.  But history has proven that faith in action is not always a good thing, because faith can be misplaced and corrupted by selfish desires. Our country has been shut down, and the main perpetrators of this treasonous fiasco are religious zealots.

As I’ve said before on this blog, the United States of America is a wonderful country.  The founding principles gathered in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are to be applauded, especially the first Amendment’s protection of citizens’ freedom from government intrusion into religion.  While we cherish our freedom of religious belief, we are predominantly a Christian nation, and there are some very powerful “christians” who do not respect the right of others to disagree with them. They do not like to be voted down. They are not happy with the  people of the United States–this beautifully diverse body of people who call this land of freedom and opportunity their home–because they want the nation to look and to think more like they do.  We need to protect the United States from this kind of tyranny wielded by religious power.

I did not realize until recently the extent of power wielded by the many religiously based conservative think tanks and advocacy groups.  Conservative religious evangelicals have teamed up with the rich and powerful, claiming they are “the American People”– they claim to be the real patriots (which certainly doesn’t include me, and likely most of you, either).  Their actions prove them to be the ultimate hypocrites.

You’ve likely heard of many of them, including:  Americans for Tax Reform, the Family Research Council, and The Heritage Foundation with it’s political action wing Heritage Action.

I want to highlight for you today the Council for National Policy which, according to Lee Fang’s recent article in The Nation ezine, “Meet the Evangelical Cabal Orchestrating the Shutdown,”  “was once dubbed as ‘the most powerful conservative group you’ve never heard of’… a thirty-year-old nonprofit dedicated to transforming the country into a more right-wing Christian society. Founded by Tim LaHaye, the Rapture-obsessed author of the Left Behind series, CNP is now run by Christian-right luminaries such as Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins and Kenneth Blackwell.”

You really should read this article…it is eye-popping.

Fang reports that the  Council for National Policy joined with the Heritage Foundation to manage The Conservative Action Project, which “can claim large responsibility for the fact that Obama has been deprived more than any modern American president of appointing judges of his choice for the federal bench.” The Conservative Action Project is “an ad hoc coalition created in the early years of the Obama administration to reorganize the conservative movement.”

Just a few days ago, A New York Times article By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntyre, “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning”, walked through the plan this organization created to defund the Affordable Care Act, involving several of the  conservative religious-based groups, including a plan to boost the message of senators like Ted Cruz. Really! From this news report, guess who we learn is behind it all?  Our favorite friends: “The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.”

These are the groups that shut down the government of our wonderfully  diverse country.  They did it because they disagree with the choice that the people made about health care by re-electing President Obama–and because of their great dislike of our first African American President.  They can’t stand to not be on the winning side, so they came together to bully, using the power of their money and their religious zeal while co-opting the faith of their many followers and their representatives in Congress, in an effort to shape the United States into what they’d rather it be….more white, more conservative and more evangelical.  That’s not who America is, but they don’t care…they want to make us into their image.  That’s not only treasonous, it’s against the will of God. And it’s against the will of our founding fathers.  These “christians” are the ultimate hypocrites.

Reminds me of the story in Genesis of the people who were so drunk with their own power that they wanted to make a name for themselves by building a tower high into the sky….If you don’t know the story of the Tower of Babel, read it at Genesis 11: 1-9.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top and you’ll see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Angels vs. Demons

Our country is going through a really rough time right now.  So much angst in our Nation’s Capitol: The House of Representatives’ attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act by refusing to pass a budget, resulting in an historically destructive shutting down of the federal government, the looming debt ceiling battle, which portends more of the same,  and the mayhem caused by people with mental illnesses–the woman who tried to drive her car onto the White House grounds because she lost her job and the man who used legally obtained weapons of mass destruction to kill innocent people in the Navy Yard.

I’m convinced that all of this is nothing less than an epic battle in the war between angels and demons.  What?  Did I really say that in such a public space???  Yes.  I did.  We are witnesses to a battle over the soul of our country.  Isn’t that what heavenly battles are always about, saving souls?

And the thing is, most of the humans who are being used to wage this battle think they are the good guys–believing they’re on the side of the angels, knowing that they’re fighting against the demons.  (I say most of them, because I know there are some folks, at the highest levels and most secretive places, who know that they are not angels.)  But most folks caught up In fights like this think that their side is right, and that makes them think they’re the good guys. So we need to figure out who really are the good guys.  Are we on the side of the angels or the demons?

One way to figure this out is to examine our behavior in the battle. When we find ourselves doing things that good guys don’t do, we can’t really be the good guys anymore, can we? Like when we find ourselves feeling it’s okay to cheat in order to get our way or thinking it’s okay to take away somebody else’s right to vote to keep our positions of power.  Another thing to examine is how we feel about the other side in this battle, like when we find ourselves being driven by hate rather than logic (did you see all those people who ‘chose’ the Affordable Care Act over Obamacare?) or when when we find ourselves thinking that all those people must be evil, even when we don’t know them.

Another way to determine who’s side we’re really on is to examine our priorities. Have we chosen the side we’re on because we want our lives to be more comfortable, regardless of what it means to the rest of the people? According to my reading of the bible, when our side takes the position that is most harmful to the poor, we are not the good guys. This is the most important point for me.

In Luke’s version of the sermon on the mount, Jesus pours out blessings on the poor (not just the poor in spirit, like in Matthew’s version). As theologian R. Alan Culpepper tells us, Luke was doing just what he intended to do, to make clear that Jesus came to “overturn every conventional expectation of this world” by pronouncing blessings on those who were the outcasts of society.”  Jesus made radical statements about altering the ways of the world, and when we pay close attention to God’s preference for the poor, we find it all throughout the bible. How many times do we see God protecting the weaker from the stronger, the poor from the rich and powerful, using the lowly and not the one the world favored?  LIke when God saved the Hebrew children who had been enslaved by mighty Pharoah.  Or when God helped little David defeat the Giant Goliath.  We hear Hannah singing that the Lord raises up the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap to sit them with princes.  We hear Mary sing that God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. Over and over again, we see God helping out those who are at the mercy of the rich and powerful.

Yes, when our side is the side of the rich and powerful, taking positions that will be harmful to the poor, we better watch out, because that’s not the side of the angels.  And God’s angels are always the good guys– and always more powerful than demons.

Angels? When you stop to think about it, in todays world angels are most often depicted as either sweet, little babies or gentle looking women with beautiful wings and harps.  And demons….whew!  They’re always depicted as powerfully frightening.  I don’t know how angels got to be so sweet and innocent looking in our minds, but we need to know that angels are way more powerful than demons.  Our bible tells us that over and over again. It was the demons who sent the giant Goliath to intimidate and kill the Hebrew children, but it was God’s angels who directed the rock from David’s slingshot so that it landed precisely where it needed to land. In the story of Esther, it was demons who used King Xerxes’ assistant Haman to get the king to sign an edict to kill all the Hebrews, but it was the angels who made Esther look particularly charming when she put her life on the line to go to the king, who couldn’t help but agree with whatever she asked him to do. And it was the demons working through people who put Jesus up on that cross–you know the outcome of that battle!

God’s angels are way more powerful than demons. The angels always win. Always.  So we must make sure that when the angels and demons are fighting for a soul–including the soul of a nation– that we’re on the right side of the battle. Jesus didn’t come just to turn the world’s priorities upside down, he came to turn them right-side up, back to where God always intended them to be.

May God’s will be done.