Come, look. See? Go!

As we are nearing Holy Week, I thought I’d share with you some of my Easter sermons, edited mostly to make them somewhat shorter for your reading here. I’m starting with one I first spoke about 13 years ago: Come, look. See? Go!

Come, look. See? Go! Matthew 28:1-10

Some of you may remember the early school reading books that were popular when I was learning to read. They taught us to read using very simple words. Come, look Jane. See Sally and Spot. See Puff run. Go, Puff, go. I understand these books have not been used in a long time. I was reminded of those early reading books as I read the text for this resurrection Sunday. Because in this text, I see God’s world changing power described by these simple, basic words: Come, look. See? Go! These four basic words that we learned in our pre-reading primers, when used in the context of the greatest story in all history, announce amazing, world changing power. Come, look. See? Go! show us the movement of the two Mary’s, who were, in Matthew’s account, the first witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. Come, look. See? Go!, simple words that provide us with all that we need to understand the great power of that resurrection that is still at work in our world.  Let’s walk with the two Mary’s.

The first thing we see is that the two Mary’s went “to look at” the tomb. In Matthew’s version they were not coming there to anoint Jesus. They were not trying to figure out how to roll away the stone at the entrance of the tomb, as in Mark’s version. They didn’t come because they were planning to do anything to the body of Jesus. They didn’t come looking for a Messiah, because they knew Jesus was dead. The one who they had walked with and talked with, who claimed to be the Son of God, had been killed in an excruciating manner by the religious leaders and the Romans, and had died on that cross and was buried in the tomb, and as far as they were concerned, that was the end of the story.

But they came. They came not because he was the victor that we know him to be, but because of what he meant to them when he lived and walked and talked with them. One of the women was Mary Magdalene. He had healed her by exorcising 7 demons from her. She knew he was dead, now. Still, she came, drawn to his tomb because she knew what he had done for her. Her love for him could not be contaminated by what the world did to him. The other Mary came with her because she had followed Jesus with the other disciples, too. She probably had decided that Jesus he was not the Messiah that he claimed to be, but she knew for sure that he was a great man. She was drawn to his tomb because he was a man who loved the people around him, a man who taught what was right and good, and who had great power that he always used to help others.

You see, they remembered that Jesus taught them that they were to love and care for each other. Jesus taught them the two highest commandments, love God and love each other. Jesus taught that the meek and the poor were blessed. They remembered the Jesus who walked with them and talked with them, and made them feel whole and alive and blessed and wonderful. They loved him for who he was, and that love could not be taken away from them by the evil in the world. They were drawn to come to the tomb by the goodness of Jesus that they knew was true love when he was with them.

We are drawn to come, too, by the goodness of Jesus.  As humans, we are drawn to what is good unless we’ve been warped by the evil in this world. The good helps us know right from wrong. The good gives us a sense of fairness. The good is what makes us cry when we see other people suffer, and laugh when they laugh. The good calls us to both give love and to want love, to help and not hurt others. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that puts cravings in our hearts for something right, true, better than this world has to offer. We come to find some purpose for our being in this world, for some hope for our futures, for joy and for peace. We come, like the two Mary’s, drawn to Jesus even without fully understanding what it may mean for our lives. We are drawn to come, knowing somewhere deep in side of us that good is the right thing to seek. That’s the prevenient Grace of God, whispering into our ears this one simple word that will take us on a life changing journey: Come.

When the Mary’s followed their hearts and came to see the tomb, they found an Angel there sitting on the already rolled away stone, who tells them Jesus is not there. He has arisen. Look, says the angel, at the place where he had been, but is no more. Look, he is not dead. Look, he lives. Look, what you thought was defeat is in fact victory. Look at what Jesus has done.

After we’ve been drawn to the good through the prevenient grace of God, we are called, just like the two Mary’s were called by the angel, to look. When we follow the longing in our hearts for more good in our lives, we are called to look for Jesus, who represents that good. We look for Jesus by studying the stories about his life and teachings that are in our Bible. Not just reading, but studying with people who are trained to share with you the history and context of the stories of the Bible for deeper understanding.

We look for Jesus by talking to people whose lives have been changed by his presence. We look for Jesus in other people who are called to the good just like you. A part of what it means to be in the church is to help each other strengthen our knowledge of Jesus and what that means for our lives. The search for Jesus is a continuing exercise, calling us to study Jesus and at the same time examine our hearts to make sure that we living in ways that are pleasing in Jesus’ sight. When we look, we will begin to see Jesus more clearly, to see his goodness and his righteousness. To feel his love, his mercy and his grace. When we respond to his call to come, when we look at him, we begin to change. When we look, we find that goodness we’ve been longing for and begin to feel the peace and joy that life with God offers to us. Seek, and you will find.

Come, the angel said to the two Mary’s, look. See what he has done! He is no longer dead, he is alive. Then the angel told them to go and tell the others. And the women ran. Can you imagine how they must have felt at that point? I think they were probably filled with more fear than joy. They went to see the tomb of a dead man who they loved. Instead, they saw the angel and the empty tomb. How were they going to tell that to anyone else? How would they get the others to believe them? Jesus lives ?! They were both excited that it might be true and afraid at at the same time because it seemed so impossible. How will they tell the others? How could this be?

That’s when Jesus showed up. To make sure that they really understood what was happening, to make sure that they could stand up to the challenges and scoffs that they were surely going to receive by the other disciples when they told them that Jesus had arisen from the dead, Jesus decided to come to them himself. Isn’t that just like Jesus? He wanted them to see for themselves, so he came to them.

Can you imagine these two women, already full of fear and joy, looking at Jesus standing there? They fell before his feet, still trying to wrap their minds around the idea that he really was alive. But when they saw him, they got it. Seeing is believing. See, what I have done. See I have risen from the dead. See, the stone is rolled away. See, I really am the Messiah that you knew in your hearts was true when I walked with you and talked with you. See, I have power that you didn’t know that I had. See, I live! Now these two women of faith know for sure, and have no doubt. They know that he lives, because he came to them himself.

Come, look. See? When you begin to look for Jesus, he will find you. When you search for him in your heart, you’ll find that he’s already there. When you begin to understand more about who he is and what he is able to do, you will begin to understand better and better the great power that is his, that same power that he offers to you. When you begin to see. When you begin to get it. When you begin to understand the power of God by seeing
Christ for who he truly is, you will begin to feel the changes happening in your own life.

See how Jesus’ power of forgiveness can overcome that sense of unworthiness that lurks in the dark places, telling you that you’re not worthy of God’s love. Jesus lets you see that God loves you no matter whatyou’ve done in your past. See Jesus’ power to turn your sorrow and sadness into joy just by his presence. See the hope that floods your heart and gives you new possibilities for your life. See his power to defeat the things that continually want to break you down, drawing you to anger, depression, guilt and shame—all designed to kill your spirit. See? Jesus wants you to have a real life, with real joy that will give you life and not take it away. See– with Jesus that all things are possible for your life. There is nothing too big for Jesus to conquer. See? He can roll away all the stones that continually block you from the success you deserve in life.

See that Jesus has conquered even death, so that there is no longer any fear. Jesus, the on who represents the good, has won the victory! Didn’t he promise us that he is waiting for us, that he has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where he is we will be, too. Death has been defeated by the mighty power of love, of God, of Jesus. See? Oh Death, where is your victory! Where is your sting? See, there is no longer anything to fear on this earth, if you only believe. Seeing is believing. Good has won the victory. There is still evil in the world, but the victory has been won for us, because the darkness does not understand and cannot withstand the light! See?

Come, look. See? Go! Go tell the others said the Angel to the women. Go and tell the others said Jesus. Now that you have come, looked and now that you see, I have a job for you to do. Go and tell the others that Jesus lives.

When we see, we will humble ourselves before him, just like the two Mary’s did. We will humble our hearts and through the humbleness allow him to work in us. When we open our hearts to be changed by the power of Jesus’ presence, he will give us our marching orders. And when that happens, we are ready to go.

Just like Jesus needed the Mary’s to go tell the others, Jesus has a message and a job for each and every one of us who are called into his service. Come. Look. See? Go! Tell somebody who Jesus really is. Tell them that Jesus lives in the hearts of all who believe in him. Tell somebody how your life has been changed because of your belief. Go! With excitement and joy. Go! Allow the power of the only one who could defeat death to move you from the living dead to abundant life.

Go! Take the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for those in prison, help the others who are still blind to see the goodness of God through your words and actions. Go! Speak truth to those in power in high places so they will know right from wrong. Go and help the people Jesus sends you to so they will see your good works and know who Jesus is. Go, be the lights of the world and the salt of the earth, so others will both see and taste the good that is Jesus. Go! all the while giving God the glory and praise that only God deserves. Go! in peace and joy. Go! in power and truth. Go! in love and thanksgiving. Go!

Come, look. See? Go! Jesus lives! Go out and tell somebody, Jesus lives! Show that you know he lives because he lives right there in your heart. Let them see your good works and inspire them to come and look for Him themselves. He will be with you when you go, telling you where to look, helping you to see others as he sees them, everywhere that you go in his name, because He lives!

 

A New Year’s Prayer for Your Blessing

The phrase “shock and awe,” as we most often use it, was generated in a military setting. It describes a military tactic that is so devastating that the “enemy” immediately recognizes their inability to defend themselves, so they surrender immediately. This usually involves some form of large-scale brutal slaughter of people all at once, like the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I believe that Jesus’ coming into the world was God’s “shock and awe” tactic, intended to help the world move to a better place. Not that the world is God’s enemy—but just the opposite, “for God so loved the world” (John3:16). The shock God gave us is the proof of God’s unfathomable power through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the awe is that it’s all about God’s unfathomable love. Through Jesus, God offers us a love so complete that we still have a hard time grasping it. The awesomeness includes a grace that is so amazing that it pierces the hearts of all who accept it.

The change that God’s shock and awe tactic seeks is for the purpose of world dominance, but it’s not for world destruction. We’re doing a pretty good job of destructing the world ourselves without God’s help. God’s tactic is designed to make the whole world more wholesome, more healthy, by helping the people in the world to become more loving, caring and peaceful. God intends to change us one by one, helping us to understand the depth and breadth of God’s love, moving us closer to God’s goodness. A more wholesome world for all the inhabitants will be the result.

Too many Christians don’t really believe some important teachings of Jesus, because they just seem so radical. Things like “love your enemy”, “do good to those who would hurt you” (both in Luke 6:27) and “give to everyone who begs” (Luke 6:30). Too many of us don’t really accept that we are to give up some things we desire in life so that others might have better lives (Philippians 2: 5-11). Too many of us don’t believe that Jesus’ radical forgiveness from the cross that still shocks and awes us is the same forgiveness that God expects us to share with others (Luke 23:34). Too many of us see Jesus as our personal savior, and are very thankful for that, yet we see the rest of the world as not our problem.

Our job as believers is not to just talk to people about Jesus. Our job is to share the radical, powerful and unrelenting love that Jesus brought, taught, and showed us, so much so that people will be shocked and awed into believing, and be changed.

So here is my prayer seeking blessings for your new year:

May you find abundant opportunities this new year to shock others with the love of Christ through your acts of loving kindness. May you discover new ways to share the awesomeness of God-like forgiveness and grace with those who need to receive it from you. May you be strong and bold in your faith in the teachings of Christ, standing against injustice with justice, unrighteousness with righteousness, hate with love, discrimination with inclusion and war with peace. May your heart sing with God’s joy, which this world can neither give to you nor take from you. May your soul feel the rich satisfaction of peace that comes from knowing you tried your best to follow Christ. May your mind find new ways to share that same joy and peace with those who God puts in your presence.

Have a Blessed and Happy New Year!

Vanity

I woke up the other day with this song in my head:

If I Can Help Somebody

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,

If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

Chorus:

My living shall not be in vain,

Then my living shall not be in vain

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,

If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,

If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

mahalia_jackson

This highly favored hymn/gospel song was written by little-known composer Alma Bazel Androzzo in 1945, later made famous by Mahalia Jackson, Tennessee Ernie, BillieEckstein and others. You can find all kinds of versions of it on the web (click here.)

I don’t know how that song got into my head.  I hadn’t heard it in a very long time.  But it is full of meaning, isn’t it?  It reminded me of how I ended up in the ministry.  I had a healthy career, working on a job that I liked, was making good money and had gained considerable expertise in my field.  My second son was graduating from college.  A comfortable life as a tax attorney, with the freedom to do pretty much what I wanted and when I wanted, was just over the horizon.

About that time my call to ministry became undeniable. The thought had been nagging at me for years.  I had a hunger that could not be satisfied with money, comfort or freedom. The thought that finally brought me over was “Life is too short.”

Life is too short not to dedicate it to something meaningful.  Life is too short to spend it chasing after material comfort at the expense of at least trying to make a positive impact in the world.  Life is too short not to give it your best to do what you know you ought to do. Life is too short not to fear living in vain.

The fear of living in vain can easily be pushed aside while we’re striving to make it in this world. Survival is important, but we can become mesmerized beyond surviving to wanting all that we see. Then, when we see the end of life approaching and begin to realize that living in vain might be a real possibility, we find ourselves searching frantically for ways to prove to ourselves and others that we’re here for some purpose beyond self-indulgence.

As the Teacher proclaims about life without meaning in Ecclesiastes 1:2, “All is vanity.”

This one life is all that we have.  Each of us is absolutely unique, which makes our lives all the more precious– and yet we are only temporary, which ought to give us a sense of urgency.  We have this one chance to do something with the precious gift of life that we’ve been given.  Just one chance to get it right, and we don’t know how long that chance will last. Life is too short, however long it may be, and it may be shorter than we hope.

If you believe like I do that our gifts, talents and opportunities are bestowed on us by God to use to make this world a better place, then you will agree with me that life is too short to be distracted by the material things of this world, which can be to us like that fruit on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden that seemed too good for Adam and Eve to resist.

This wonderful song helps to remind me that when we reach the end of our journeys, more than anything else, people will remember how well we did or did not love them. It helps to remind me of what’s really important–loving God enough to try to obey God, loving each other enough to do for others what we’d want someone to do for us.

If I can just stay focused on that, then my living shall not be in vain, no, my living shall not be in vain.

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

Lessons I’m Still Learning From My Brother John, R.I.P.

I recently came across the obituary for my brother John, who died in 1991 at age 47.  I surely miss him. John was the 4th of my 5 older brothers, the middle of seven children.  He used to say “The middle child gets all the aches, the middle child gets all the breaks”–and I don’t think he meant the good kind of breaks!

brother johnJohn was my buddy. When sibling rivalries and competitions broke out, John was always on my side against my brothers Bill and Robert. (My two oldest brothers, Hosea, Jr., and Donald, were too old to be involved with our games, and the youngest, Rick, came along much later.)

John was a mentor for me my first year at Southern Illinois University– he was a senior when I was a freshman. When he got married, he and his wife became a part of the regular crew who used to party with us in Chicago during the 70‘s. I could count on him to help me out with the children after I divorced, before he moved to New Jersey.  After his two failed marriages, he was here in Washington DC with me, both of us divorced, helping each other out with the kids. His son stayed regularly at my house and vice versa. We played tennis together and sometimes he would even attend church with me.

I really enjoyed having John living near me–the rest of my brothers were in different cities across the country.  So I became angry when he told me he was leaving DC to move to San Francisco. But my anger was about more than him leaving.

You see, he told me that he was leaving not only to take on a new job, but also because he was coming out of the closet.

He probably knew it was hard for me to take because I didn’t talk to him about it. I was angry because I thought he valued his sexual orientation more than his son.  Hosea (named after my father) was a senior in high school, and didn’t want to go to San Francisco, so John asked if Hosea could live with me, which he did, even coming home to my house during his years in college.

But now I know that I was also angry because I didn’t want my brother John to leave me. I knew I was going to miss him.  And I still miss him.

my brothers

After he told me he was gay, I realized I should have known it. John was not like my other brothers, who were all into judo and karate and the like. John played tennis. When he was growing up, the other kids used to call him a sissy. He used to hang around several others in our community who were also called sissies. He got beat up at least once that I know of.

Looking back on my anger when he left for San Francisco, I realize now that I wasn’t thinking at all about his needs. He must have been wrestling for a long time with his sexuality at a time when it wasn’t acceptable for him to be who he was. For him to live out his life as a lie to all of us all of those years must have been terribly difficult. The job in San Francisco must have been like a dream come true. He could go to a place where he didn’t have to hide or to lie, where he could be who he was.

I wish I had gotten over my anger so that we could have been pals again, so I could have met his new friends. I don’t even know if he had a special partner or not. I didn’t get a chance to tell him how I felt, because he died of AIDS a few years after he left.  I suspect he knew that he had the AIDS virus when he left, but he didn’t discuss it with anyone in the family.

What I learned from his life is that being gay was not a choice for him.  He would not have  chosen that childhood. He would not have chosen to pretend at his marriages in order to fit in. He would not have chosen to suffer with AIDS without telling any of his family.

I’ve also learned that I didn’t have the right to judge him. I should have been more compassionate. I should have talked to him, listened to his needs and his desires. I should have been there for him the way he was for me when I needed him.

The reason I’m sharing this with you readers now, with tears in my eyes, is because my brother John’s life has helped me to understand some things about how the Church ought to approach homosexuality and LGBT issues.  I’ll share more of my views about that next week.

For now, I’m comforted by believing that John knows how I feel.  He knows that I finally get it. I love you, brother!

 

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.

tears

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???

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.

Disturb Us, O Lord

Someone posted on Facebook this reading of the Prayer of Sir Francis Drake:

Boat-In-A-Storm

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

Beautiful, isn’t it?  Thought provoking.  This wonderful prayer has been reposted and used over and over by many.  You can find it all over the web.  I decided to make it a topic of this week’s blog, but when I did some research on Sir Francis Blake, I changed my mind.  You see, he was a great explorer, but he was also a slaver and a pirate, forcibly making slaves of West Africans (I can’t help but wonder if he used that castle in Ghana that I visited) and raiding Spanish ships to steal their wealth.  He was lauded for this, and knighted. Blake even “excommunicated” his ship’s chaplain for suggesting that Blake was wrong for beheading his co-commander Thomas Doughty. I couldn’t help but wonder if the preacher was the one who gave Blake this wonderful prayer!

When I found out all of this, I thought I wouldn’t post the prayer.  I couldn’t help but think that Blake was using this prayer to lead him to further “adventures” of enslaving people and stealing their lands, claiming them in the name of England. I did not want to join you or me in those kind of thoughts.

Then a Facebook posting by my friend Carolyn Lester changed my mind:

“It is not a matter of our fitness or unfitness; what we declare when we witness is the Word of another who never fails. That Word has as much authority on our weakest days as on our strongest; it is not a question of our own worthiness.” Vance Havner

This word by a Southern Baptist preacher struck me as so true that I decided to post both it and Blake’s beautiful prayer.  Because it is the prayer that is inspirational, even if Blake is not.  God can use broken vessels to accomplish beautiful purposes– like John Newton, who wrote the most loved of all Christian hymns, Amazing Grace.  He was also involved in enslaving Africans before, and for a while after, his spiritual conversion.

God’s word is pure.  It is true.  You will feel the truth of God when it’s spoken no matter how faulty the speaker may be, though it is sometimes difficult to look past the vessel of delivery.

I encourage you to look beyond the horrible wrongs that Blake did to see the beauty of this prayer for what it is, a prayer that reminds us that if we allow God to lead us, we may be blessed in ways so beyond our own vision and limitations that we could not have imagined how to ask for them. This prayer helps us to recognize that sometimes we need to be disturbed out of our comfort zones, to be shaken out of our usual patterns, to have our own boundaries challenged, and to open our spiritual eyes to the material world around us in order for us to see and be what God wants us to see and be. Allow the beautiful words of Francis Blake to bless your hearts, to broaden your horizons, to open you to the amazing breadth and depth of God’s boundless love for all of humanity and to give you the ability to dream larger and the strength to push on.

God’s truth will march on!  Maybe sometimes even through me…

If you’d like to comment on this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will 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.

Reflections on the March on Washington 50th Anniversary

My husband Bill and I were involved in a number of the many activities that took place commemorating the 1963 March on Washington.  What a blessing to be here in the District of Columbia to participate.  Here are some snapshots:

Most Moving

On Friday the 23rd, we attended an event presented by The Mamie Till Mobley Memorial & Trayvon Martin Foundations, and it was called “Civil Rights, Human Wrongs, and the Charge for Youth Leadership.” It featured a film by Keith Beauchamp, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which had been updated to include a bit about the Trayvon Martin case, followed by a panel discussion with Emmett Till’s family and the parents of Trayvon Martin.

I am aware of how awful the murder of Emmett Till was, but it wasn’t until I saw the film, which took us through the ensuing trial and release of the murderers, that it really hit home to me how horrendous life was for black people living in the South in those days.  I thank my parents for moving from their home in Mississippi to raise us up in relatively safer northern Illinois.  Even though I experienced segregation and some hate growing up, it was nothing like the deep south. I was also moved by the strength of Emmett Till’s mother, for without her willingness to display the body of her son so brutally beaten and butchered, the murder would have passed by unnoticed by most of the rest of this country.

I am absolutely moved by the grace and strength of Mr. and Mrs. Martin and their younger son as they share the case of Trayvon’s murder with the world.  They have taken up the mantle just like Emmett Till’s mother, and have helped to make it clear to this country that laws like the Stand Your Ground Laws and the Stop and Frisk laws are tools that are used to target and brutalize people of color, especially our young men.

Most Inspirational

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Bill and I had decided we could not handle being out in the sun and on our feet from 8 am to 4 pm at the Saturday March for Jobs and Justice, so we waited until about 11 am to go.  I wasn’t sure if many people would attend–I just hoped there would be enough people to make a statement.  But even at that late time, we found the subway packed with people of all ages and races still on the way. Having to stand in line to get out of the subway moved me to tears.

On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, we saw a stream of people leaving, even though the crowd coming in was much larger.  Bill stopped to ask one woman why they were leaving, and the older woman said she’d been there since 6:30 am.  I’m convinced that there were more people there that day than could be counted, because the crowds were coming and going like that all day long.

I heard Eleanor Holmes Norton, who helped to organize the 1963 march, on a radio interview say that they had no idea how many people to expect when they planned that first march. Can you imagine how the organizers must have felt when they stood on the steps of the LIncoln Memorial and saw the great crowd of witnesses pouring in? The people have spoken!

Most Fun

On the way to the Lincoln Memorial in that first march, we found ourselves behind a group IMG_0174of United Auto Workers who were chanting and marching, so after a while we began to chant and march right along with them!  On the way back from the Lincoln Memorial, we were provided with some wonderfully jazzy music.  At one point, while waiting for the crowd to move forward, a white man in front of me began to kind of bounce, and another, older white man on the side started dancing, so I said “Let’s get it on” and started dancing, too, and so did a few of the other folks.  What fun!

Most thought-provoking

On Tuesday, we went to a panel discussion hosted by the Methodist Federation for Social Action entitled “Climate of Suspicion: The Criminalization of Race in America.” One of the panelists was Reverend Gil Caldwell, a good friend of Bill’s.  The discussion centered around the mass incarceration of people of color, so you know Bill and I were right at home.  Rev. Caldwell provided the necessary theological reflections for people of faith, Charles Thornton discussed his experience as a youth with no guidance, ending up in prison for 10 years for distributing an illegal drug before he was old enough to make a life for himself, and Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU, provided statistics and some information on actions.  This was an excellent panel, but what was most thought-provoking for me was our conversation with some of the other people there who were members of the MFSA.

We ate with a small group of them after the discussion before heading over to Asbury United Methodist church for a worship service.  We shared common concerns, with Gil helping to keep us focused on the larger moral, cultural and theological pictures.  One thought that came to me as we talked about greed being such a major cause of injustice is that maybe we ought to start being more intentional about teaching our children a better attitude towards money and materialism. Someone at that table suggested that the church is the place where that should happen.

I woke up the next morning, on the day of the commemorative march, with my mind on a phrase from our Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (which had been sung several times throughout the various events):  “lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.” Has the Christian church in the U.S. become drunk with the wine of materialism and greed without realizing it?  Food for thought.

Most Uplifting

We attended the Interfaith Service at Shiloh Baptist on Thursday morning before heading out to the commemorative march.  I was so happy to be there in a church packed with people of different faiths, ages and races, hearing from the march leaders and  blessed with star performances by the Shiloh Baptist Choir, the Children of the Gospel Choir, the Voices of Freedom, Lydia and Latrice Pace (who rocked the house with their song “There’s a King in You”) and the fantastic Angella Christie, who praised God on the saxophone in her rendition of “Total Praise” (If you’ve never heard of her, you ought to check her out).

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The discussion between Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. and his son, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III was absolutely wonderful!  The father passed the torch on to the son, symbolically climbing up stairs towards justice.  Those on the journey haven’t got to the top of the stairs, but the older ones have gone as high as they can climb. They must stop at their landing, having done much to break the bonds of racism and hatred, but now it is time for the younger leaders to move on up the stairs from that landing into the direction the stairs are leading today:  voting registration laws, stand your ground laws, mass incarceration of our youth, public school funding….you know the list.  You can see the whole of this wonderful service by clicking here.

Most Inspirational (part 2)

To our surprise again, the March on Thursday the 28th was just as packed as the first, even though the threat of rain pervaded the day. It was so packed that we decided not to wait the hours it would have taken to get through the security checkpoint.  We made our statement by attending for a while, then we went back home to watch our President’s Speech on TV. While he was inspiring, as usual, I had hoped he would provide some concrete plans or legislation that would help deal with the issues we’re facing.  But the more I thought about what he said, the more I got what he was saying.  He’s telling us that it’s up to us to make the difference that we need to make.  It’s up to the people to not only march, but to take the necessary action to make change happen, like Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders did in 1963.

We’ve spoken with our feet.  Now we need to speak through our email and internet presence, through our letters and phone calls to federal, state and local representatives, through our community activities and our continued engagement with each other. Now we must speak truth to move the “powers that be” to make this wonderful country live up to it’s Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.

Mockery

I’m spending the week in Ocean Park, Maine, where I preached on Sunday and am leading a morning discussion this week. As the name indicates, Ocean Park is right on the ocean, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful beach we have on the East Coast.  There’s something about the place where the vast and fluid ocean meets, caresses, rhythmically slaps against the solid and steady earth that speaks to my spirit.  Especially in the early morning dawn.  I wanted to share with you a video I made of dawn over the beach at Ocean Park, so you can hear the sound of the waves and the birds, and through the whole scene, to hear God speaking.  But the file was too large to incorporate into this blog, and I don’t know another way to do it.  So I’m sharing this picture and asking you to use your imagination.

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It truly is peaceful and beautiful.  Just like God.

I felt the beauty of God’s creation like that most poignantly when I was in Ghana, high on a cliff looking out on the Atlantic, thousands of miles from here, from the other direction.  The view was wondrously beautiful. I was in a large castle-like building.  In the massive building was a torture chamber where slaves were chained, beaten, held in brutal captivity, then sent out in ships from the door in that place, which the slaves knew as “the door of no return.”

Can you imagine so much heart wrenching, evil horror taking place amid such beauty, the beauty that God created  for us out of God’s great love? I couldn’t help but cry at the thought of the agony my ancestors went through at the hands of horribly brutal people, many who claimed to believe in the God of creation.

I felt that same paradox here in Ocean Park Maine, as I was trying to deal with my broken heart over the injustice of the decision that set free as “innocent” the man who shot Trayvon Martin.  It still hurts.  And it was all done under the rubric of the legal system, which is designed by humans to implement justice. What a mockery. What a mockery of the God of justice.

I think those jurors, if they were being honest, would have come to a different conclusion without the 29 pages of jury instructions and the convoluted efforts of the defense to make what seems right into something much more complicated.  Without the complications of the law, they would have seen Trayvon as an innocent, unarmed young person, going on his way, minding his own business.  They would have seen Zimmerman as the aggressor, armed with a dangerous weapon, the one who disobeyed police orders not to follow. They would have recognized that if Zimmerman had not followed Trayvon, Trayvon would be alive.  They would have had enough common sense to understand that if Zimmerman had not gotten out of his vehicle and come up from behind close enough to Trayvon to make Trayvon feel threatened, there would have been no altercation.  The jury would have seen that Trayvon is dead, slaughtered at the hands of a man who went against the authorities, whether or not it was was Zimmerman’s initial intention to kill him, and whether or not Zimmerman may have feared for his own life. I thought they would at least have had the common sense to conclude that Zimmeran did in fact initiate the acts that resulted in him killing an innocent and unarmed man–manslaughter.

They were confused, at best. And I’m sure, as are most folks in this world who know anything about how this nation works, that if Trayvon had been white and Zimmerman black, Zimmerman would have been arrested immediately and thrown under the jail.  Isn’t that what happened in the case of the black woman in Florida who was sentenced to prison after trying to use the same law to justify her shooting into the air and not killing anybody? The jury had to be confused, unless they were bribed, because the decision doesn’t make any sense.  And I can’t rule bribery out, either, because there was money behind Zimmerman that I can’t figure out. Maybe some of you know more about the money that financed this man’s defense than I do.

My heart was crying when I talked to God at dawn that beautiful morning, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. Crying over the injustice of it all.  Crying over such horror committed amid such beauty.  Crying over such evil that exists in the hearts of people, who wrap the evil up and try to hide it with good words like justice, law and order, patriotism, and yes, even sometimes Christianity.  I felt like I could see all the way across to Ghana, and realized that the horror has not really ended for us.

God’s justice will not be mocked.

As a Black woman, the result of this fiasco of a trial has taken me across a tipping point. This is the fourth slap in my face. The first slap I felt was from the efforts of state officials in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia,Texas and others to wrench away the votes of mostly Black and Hispanic people during the last two Presidential elections. Ouch!  The second was the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which has refueled those efforts to take away our votes. Ouch! The third is the continued effort by white people to do away with affirmative action, claiming that they, the ones with all of the power on their side, are being discriminated against by laws that were designed to help ameliorate the hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, and injustice that our people have faced and still face. Ouch! Four slaps ought to wake us up.  (I wish Clarence Thomas could feel these slaps. I’m convinced that he’s numbed by his own sense of self-accomplishment.  Maybe he doesn’t realize that it is his numbness (antagonism?) to his people that made him the right choice to be maneuvered into place by those who want that numbness in high places–or maybe he does realize that, I don’t know.)

So instead of hearing peace in the gentle, rhythmic slapping of the waves on the shore this week, I heard a call to action.  I heard God proclaiming that God will not be mocked, that God’s justice should flow down like a river and God’s righteousness should be like a mighty stream. Justice should not be tripped up by pages and pages of jury instructions or political shenanigans that try to make right seem wrong and wrong seem right.

It’s time to wake up and get busy.  It’s time to unite and stand up and fight back.  It’s time to renew our commitment to and membership in the NAACP.  It’s time to again march on Washington, this time united with people of all colors and faiths who know true justice when they see it.  It’s time to organize and participate in organizations that will speak, with the power of the people behind them, to those in  powerful positions. It’s time to change laws and lawmaking, time to shore up the voting rights act, time to reclaim the need for Affirmative Action more than ever.   Are you with me?

 

 

Puzzling

I like it when puzzle pieces come together.  I’m one of those people who will sit up through the night trying to get the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to gather in completion.  When the pieces come together, the picture becomes clear, and being able to see the puzzle’s hidden picture provides a great deal of satisfaction.

Steven Hawkins, the  executive vice president and chief program officer of the NAACP (who just yesterday was announced as having been selected to become the next executive director of Amnesty International) wrote a December 2010 article for an online magazine, The American Prospect entitled “Education vs. Incarceration.”  [Just in case you need to know, you can click on the green print to reach to the sites mentioned.] Mr. Hawkins provided some important information in that article to support some of the things I’ve been saying (or rather ranting about) in this blog about the importance of providing more financial support to educate the poorest of our children.

He provides information to document that most states are increasing spending for prisons and decreasing spending for schools. His premise is stated here: “Since 1980, the U.S. prison population has grown exponentially, expanding from approximately 500,000 to 2.3 million people in just three decades. … We spend almost $70 billion annually to place adults in prison and jails, to confine youth in detention centers, and to supervise 7.3 million individuals on probation and parole. Indeed, confinement costs have claimed an increasing share of state and local government spending. This trend has starved essential social programs — most notably education.” He reports:  “In 33 of 50 states, corrections-related costs made up a larger proportion of the general fund than in the previous fiscal year, while spending on K-12 and higher education decreased.”

That’s one piece of the puzzle.  Another piece into which it fits is the connection between the increased spending for prisons and the failure of schools in poorer neighborhoods:  “NAACP research shows that …the lowest-performing schools tend to be in the areas where incarceration rates are the highest.” He then predicts: “When future budget years arrive… and states and counties try to balance their books without the assistance of the federal stimulus, young people will experience more of the same: school closings, teacher layoffs, diminished after-school programs, and rising tuition at colleges and universities. All of this will happen while prison spending grows.”

Isn’t that what we’re seeing now, in the recent reports of battles over school closings in Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Chicago? Isn’t that the picture we’re seeing as we look at skyrocketing costs of higher education? Dr. Hawkins concludes from putting these pieces of the puzzle together:  “If states were to properly invest in reopening schools, keeping quality teachers, maintaining sensible classroom sizes, and sustaining the affordability of higher education, it’s quite possible — particularly for economic crimes like low-level drug dealing — we would not need to imprison so many people and could stop sinking our valuable taxpayer dollars into an investment that has demonstrated scant return.”

Is the picture of this puzzle becoming clearer for you now?  I hope so.  In order to help those who need it the most, children from poor and low-income families (i.e., “the least of these” according to Jesus in Matthew 25), we must provide them with strong education, beginning with pre-school, and affordable higher education.  Yet, instead of doing that, they’re closing down the schools in the neighborhoods where most of the least of these live and, through the sequestration, cutting back on services to help them.  We see the picture of that puzzle described by Mr. Hawkins coming together, right now.

So the question for us Christians is who will help the least of these? The least of these are those who need a hand up so they can make it in today’s system, but the political climate instead approaches them with a fist.  The least of these are children who are able to do better if they are helped, but those who have the ability to help them continue to engage in practices that instead make them fodder for the prison system. If we do nothing, we are the ones who help keep together this puzzle that shows a clear disregard for serving the least of these, who, in case you didn’t read the passage, are Jesus.