My Latest Book–The Revolutionary Power of the Lord’s Prayer

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Along with being one of the most powerful nations in the world, the United States is a highly Christian country. A 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center showed that the U.S. had more Christians than any country in the world, over 246 million. The number has dropped over the years, yet the United States continues to have a majority of Christian citizens—slightly more than 70 percent of U.S. Americans identified themselves as Christian in 2014.

Have you ever wondered why, when we have so many Christians in our beloved country, it is still plagued with deep societal problems that seem impenetrable to all efforts to resolve them? Problems like the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world; a growing, staggering gap between the rich and the poor; entrenched poverty and all of the ills that come with it; an increase in both labor and sex trafficking, which includes children; a proliferation of gun violence; and racial animosity that continually shows up in racism, racial profiling, racial disparities, and racial discord.

Many Christians think they should not concern themselves with these type issues, other than maybe through prayer. They may believe these are governmental concerns, not connected to their faith beliefs. Lots of folks misinterpret the legal expression “separation of church and state” to mean “separation of my faith from our country’s problems.” If you believe that the welfare of people in your country is not connected to who you are as a follower of Christ, you should pay closer attention to what Jesus did and taught while on earth.

In his first sermon, Jesus said he was anointed to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:16-21). Jesus’ ministry was not just about saving spiritual souls, it was about helping people who faced earthly troubles. When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus whether he was the Messiah, Jesus responded by describing what he had accomplished: the blind received sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cured, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the good news was being preached to the poor (Luke 7:18-23).  And Jesus clearly expects us to do likewise: He taught that those who will be received into heaven are those who feed the hungry, provide drink for the thirsty, invite the stranger in, clothe those who are in need, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners. Whatever we do for “the least of these,” we do for Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46). Could Jesus have been more clear about what he expects from those who claim to be his followers?

The Gospel of Luke tells us that after the disciples had been with Jesus for some time, one of them asked him to teach them to pray. At this point in their journey with Jesus, the disciples, both men and women, had given up their livelihoods, their families, their security, and their comfort to follow him. They had not only witnessed much, they had also done amazing things in Jesus’ name. They were not new in the faith when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray!

Jesus knew what the disciples would need to do the work he had planned for them. He also knew the great struggles they would face. Jesus’ response to their request to teach them to pray was clearly designed to help them focus on praying for what was most important to enable them to do his will. He gave them the precise words they should pray to become the best disciples they could be. Jesus’ response to the simple request of his disciples was short and straightforward, but as are so many of his teachings, it is packed with amazing depth and power.

This potent prayer is for all of us who claim the name “Christian.” I believe that when Christians think seriously about why Jesus taught us the precise words of this prayer, and when we pray the prayer with a sincere, deeply felt desire to be the best disciples we can be for Jesus, the true power of the Lord’s Prayer will pour out to change the Christian faith. Not only will Christianity be revolutionized, but Christians themselves will become empowered to revolutionize our communities, our country and the world. This is how we begin to solve the systemic problems we face in our nation, and it is what Jesus has always expected us to do—work together to help make our nation a place where God’s will is done on earth, as it is in heaven.

So we’ve titled my book “The Revolutionary Power of the Lord’s Prayer.” It’s a study for individuals and groups, including relevant life stories, “deepening” information and study questions. I hope you will read it, find it empowering, and share it with others. It will soon be released by Judson Press. You can go to their website to pre-order.

To my American Baptist family, I will be presenting the book at the 2017 Biennial Mission Summit in Portland, Oregon. I hope you will join me. It’s the learning opportunity on Saturday, July 1, at 3:45 pm, called “On Earth as in Heaven: Discipleship in Action.”  Preregistration is requested.

There is power in the name of Jesus! To wield this power, we must be brave enough to live our faith out loud and loving enough to care for others even more than we do for ourselves. Isn’t that just like Jesus!

Patriots or Demagogues?

RIP U.S. democracy. You’ve been made a mockery. You’ve been knocked out by people who know better–those who are and who will be leaders of our country.

The precious right you, democracy, gave to U.S. citizens to choose their President by “one man, one vote” was summarily dismissed when several states enacted procedures intentionally designed to obstruct voting by African Americans. We don’t know how many citizens’ votes were eliminated, but we do know that it worked.

The questionable validity of razor-thin vote counts in just enough key states to tip the electoral balance was a “one-two” punch against you, democracy. Lleaders in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania challenged the right to hold recounts and proposed laws to make recounts more difficult. Michigan simply declared it could not recount because of improper handling of ballot boxes in highly-populated Detroit. The state leaders simply denigrated you, democracy, rendering you useless.

The Russian cyber hacking designed to influence our election to benefit their chosen one, and the fact that we don’t know whether it was successful, was a death blow to you, democracy. While we haven’t determined whether their hacking made a difference, we do know the Russians are happy about the outcome.

The great majority of voters chose for their leader the one who lost the election, making a farce of you, democracy. Why? Because the electoral system twists you from “one man, one vote,” to some other peculiar kind of thing. It’s an oddity, created by the scourge of race-based slavery and it’s progeny, racism, which our country has not yet overcome: “There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.” (Records of the Federal Convention, p. 57 (Thursday July 19, 1787))

But here’s the thing, democracy— it wasn’t the obstruction of black voters, the validity of the counts, the Russian meddling or the faulty electoral system that took you down. What finally broke you is the seeming inability of some of our leaders and the clear unwillingness of other leaders to do anything about all of the above. Some leaders who are unhappy with this tragic election seem to feel their hands are tied and their mouths are bound because there is no protocol to address such an anomaly. Shame on them!  Real leaders should never feel helpless or hopeless.

And even more shame on those others who call themselves leaders, who don’t want to repair the damage to you, democracy, because they feel your death is to their advantage. Their desire to have their own way is more important to them than your existence. And they have the nerve to call themselves patriots, to claim to speak for the “American people.” Double shame on them! They are in no way patriots. They are demagogues. Because of their desire for power, salted through with greed, you, U.S. American democracy, have been fatally compromised. That compromise is so deep, so unparalleled in our history, so devastating to who we are as a people, that it raises the question whether our country can ever fully recover.
And isn’t that just what the Russians want?
Our forefathers are turning over in their graves.

You see, democracy, real patriots would protect you, because you are the one thing that truly made this country great. The one bright, shining thing that gave dignity and hope to those without money or influence, to those of us with only the power to vote, who love our country and who deeply treasure you. You made the United States the light of the world. You were the bright exemplar shining the way to a better way of governing for all. You were created by people who fought against tyrants for your existence–people who believed that you were worth dying for.

A new group of tyrants, false patriots, have taken you out, democracy. Can you be resuscitated? I believe you can, and I believe you will, because there are multitudes who, like me, also believe you are to die for. Yes, you can, because we can make it happen.

So on Inauguration Day, when the person who I cannot and will not accept as the winner will be sworn into the office of President of the United States, I’m hanging a black cloth across my front porch in respect of your death, democracy. And I will leave it there until he’s gone from that position. I hope and pray that other real patriots will do the same.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

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!

Believers, Get Out of Church!

It’s the Christian thing to do.

You came to church in the first place because something led you there.  You came

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because someone invited you, and your heart was gladdened by the experience so you came back. You came because life had become difficult and you knew you needed help, and you came back because you felt healing and peace there. You came because something that you can’t explain nudged you, and you stayed because you found a new kind of joy, new friends, a new way of life and you loved learning to walk deeper with Christ.

So you stayed. Now you participate in church activities, attend Bible Study, contribute regularly and help out with the children or on leadership boards. You may be in the choir

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or on the usher board or even a deacon or deaconess.  You try to get there most Sundays, and every once in a while you might even give up an “Amen!” or a “Hallelujah.” Your life has changed for the better and you’re trying to be a better person because of your church involvement. You’re trying to be a good Christian, you are a true believer, and it’s all good.

But now it’s time to get out of church.

You see, Christ didn’t nudge you into the church just so you could feel better; He needs you to be your best self so that He can use you.  Jesus didn’t heal your broken heart, cure your illness, give you that new job, bring love into your life just so you could have a better life, He did it also because He needs you to be a witness for him. Jesus didn’t intend for you to keep that new joy, that new hope, that new peace all to yourself. He didn’t call you to become a church member. Jesus called you to follow Him.  And the way to follow Jesus is to allow Him to lead you to the places he wants you to go.

Once you’ve been healed, once you’ve begun to understand, once you’ve begun to deepen your walk with Him, then it’s time to go.

Jesus sends you out from the comfort of the pews to be His presence in the world, to go to the difficult places and sit with sinners and scoffers, because that’s where God’s message of good news needs to be heard. Christ sends you away from the church to places of pain and sorrow so you can bring healing and hope. He intends for you to get out of the church and raise your prophetic voice so people in power will hear “thus says the Lord” and lead this world to become a better place for all. Christ wants you to help the world to understand that “the kingdom of God has come near” because of your presence.

It’s your time.  It’s your turn. The world is still broken. Why are you still sitting?

After you’ve gone out with nothing but your faith to lead you, telling and showing the world that the kingdom of God has come near by your healing activities, your joy, your peace,

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your love and the word of God, then you can return to church.  That’s when Jesus will meet you there, praising God with you because you’ve been able to trample on snakes and scorpions in the name of Jesus. Jesus will join in praising God with you–not just because you’ve caused Satan to fall from the sky, but because your name is written in heaven. Jesus will meet you there and celebrate with you, laughing and singing and praising because God has revealed to you what you can do in the name of Jesus!

Luke 10: 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN.  WHEN WILL YOU BEGIN TO WIELD THAT POWER? 

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.

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???

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.