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.

How I Came to Understand the Bible on Homosexuality

I wrote much of what follows in 2005, in some email conversations that took place when our denomination was struggling with whether to accept homosexuals in leadership roles. By writing it, I convinced myself where I stood on this issue–and stand by it even more strongly now. I’ve edited and updated it to share with you today. It’s long. In case you don’t get all the way to the end, here’s the bottom line for me: If I make a mistake, I’d rather the mistake be based on the fact that I tried my best to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus.

Some issues are best discussed in deep, heartfelt one-on-one discussions, by people who know and trust each other. So this will be a long blog post because I can’t give you my opinion without letting you know more about me and some things that I believe first.

I love the Bible.  It is my source of knowledge about God, the book that instructs my life, the place I go when I need guidance, strength, wisdom, nurture, etc. It is the authority for my life, therefore I do not read it lightly and I do not think that any part of it has more authority than any other. I continually pray and seek to understand it in depth and with high respect.

I love to teach Bible study.  An important focus of my ministry has been to teach others to understand the Bible deeply, to explore the rich depths of unconditional love and amazing grace that shines through the written Word. One of my favorite thoughts to share in Bible study is that God’s grace is more amazing than we can understand or acknowledge.

I honor and respect the historical Baptist tradition that emphasizes the freedom of each person to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” I respect each person’s “soul freedom” to believe in God as it seems right to them, as well as each church’s independence to determine its own governing theological understandings and principles.

My personal walk with Christ leads and guides my theological perspective. My greatest desire is to walk closer and closer with Christ, to do God’s will on earth, and to do and say things that are pleasing in God’s sight.

I have absolutely no doubt that God called me into ordained ministry. My call to pastoral ministry has been confirmed for me by the members of the three congregations I’ve served, the numerous churches and groups where I’ve spoken and taught, and many family and friends who seemed to know even before I did that this was the call for my life.

God called me into ministry later in life, as a divorced female. I now believe that that was quite intentional on God’s part. According to some traditional biblical interpretations, I would have had three biblical strikes against me that would have stopped me from answering my call.

The first strike against me would have been because I am an African American.  At one point in our country’s history I would not have been considered a complete human being, but something less than human, a slave.  At one time in our country many good, Bible-believing Christians knew with all their hearts that the Bible supported and possibly required that there be slaves who were second-class citizens.  Since that time, God has enlightened most of our society that slavery is wrong, and that the Bible shouldn’t be interpreted to support slavery.

And as a divorced person, many good, Bible believing Christians feel very strongly that I should not hold a leadership role or office in the church.  The Biblical passages that tradition has used against divorced persons must be read with an understanding of their cultural background.  Jesus refused to support the divorce that Jewish tradition allowed because the simplicity of the procedure was being used by the males to oppress the females in that society.  The way I understand those passages is that Jesus’ pronouncements on the issue were for the purpose of helping the oppressed females of that culture, and that while divorce is not to be encouraged, what is more important is to ensure that people are not oppressed.

As a female, many good, Bible following Christians still believe that God would not call me to serve as ordained clergy, and certainly not to be pastor of a church.  I might not be overstating it to say that probably most Christians still believe that, considering the Catholic take on this issue. I was raised in an A.M.E. Church, which is one of the denominations that was ordaining women when I was a child.  I joined a baptist church as an adult, but it was one that was more progressive than many other baptist churches on this issue.  It never occurred to me when I finally answered God’s call on my life that anyone would have the right to tell me that God wouldn’t do that. I’m among the many who have explored the Bible more fully on the issue of women’s leadership, and I read the many Biblical passages that are supportive of women’s leadership as being just as authoritative as those passages that have been taken out of context to deny women’s leadership.  But there are still too many who ignore the support for women’s leadership shown in the Bible because they’ve been taught that only those oppressive-sounding passages (i.e. “Women shall keep silent in the churches…”) are “what the Bible says” on this issue. (See my “writings” page for a link to more of what I’ve written about this.)

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So when I discovered how the Bible was being used to oppress women, when I read what Jesus said about divorce, and when I paid attention to how the Bible had been used to support slavery, I knew that I needed to understand the Bible better.  I learned to study the Bible deeply and not to simply accept what many otherwise good church leaders have been teaching.  I now read the Bible for understanding in a deeper and more meaningful way, which involves knowing more about the historical background and the cultural, social and literal contexts in which the writings took place, as well as paying attention to our modern day predilections as we read through our own limited social locations.

Through this kind of in-depth reading, the beauty, majesty, authority and love of God comes shining through the Bible for me, and I have grown to love it even more and more. This is one of the reasons biblical interpretation is so important to me….not just for justifying my own position, but because deep bible study helps us to understand so very much more about just who is our God. I will not give up my beloved Bible to traditionalists and fundamentalists to have the final say on what the Bible says. And because of where I came into ministry, I will always question Biblical interpretations that support discrimination and oppression.

So yes, there are Biblical passages that seem to denounce homosexuality.  But my brother John and the gay people I have met in my life force me to think about this issue more carefully, to study the Bible more deeply and to reconcile what my heart and my head tell me who God is with the teaching that people who are born homosexuals are not to be allowed to live out the life that is natural for them.

In order to find guidance on issues such as this, I find myself leaning on what the Bible tells us about Jesus, His words and His actions. Jesus came to help the Jewish leaders understand more deeply the sacred texts and commandments, because they had interpreted them in a way that was oppressive, emphasizing complex rules and regulations that governed who would and would not inherit the Kingdom of God.  He helped the people delve deeper into the purpose of the commandments, teaching people to “turn the other cheek,” go the extra mile, give the extra coat, etc.  He sums up his discussion with a key phrase for me, and that is that all of the laws are for the purpose of helping us to love each other better—to treat each other the way we each want to be treated.

Jesus says to us that all the law and the prophets—all that God has taught God’s people—hang on the two highest commandments, which are to love God and to love each other.  I know there are many people who believe that love includes forcing people into acceptable molds, but from experience I can tell you that it doesn’t feel like love to be told that, because of who you were born to be, you are not good enough–especially when God is telling you something else!

Jesus’ grace is truly amazing.  His grace is so amazing that He angered the synagogue when He told the people that the widow of Zaraphath and the Syrian leper received the blessings of God versus the religious leaders who thought had a right to inherit the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing because He was willing to anger the Pharisees by sitting and eating with sinners and the hated tax collectors, people they knew were condemned to hell.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing because He used a hated and condemned Samaritan to show how much more important love is than holding positions of authority, and He allowed unclean women to touch Him and to engage in the priestly function of anointing Him before His death.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing that most of His disciples did not understand it, at least before His death.  We need to continue to allow Jesus to amaze us with His grace, and not try to limit it according to our limited understandings.

I need to understand that as soon as I believe I see a speck of sawdust in someone’s eye and think I need to correct them, I have a plank in my own eye.  It is not my right to judge, that’s God’s right.  It’s not my right to draw the lines on who’s in or who’s out, that’s to be left up to God. I always need to be reminded that I can never fully know God’s plan for salvation.

While I have not done a full-scale in-depth study of the passages that are used to condemn homosexuals, I have read some interpretations that made me think.  Here are some of the thoughts I’ve read on the subject:  The sin of Sodom was not just because the men wanted to have intercourse with men, but had to do with the sexual abuses of rape and sexual excess, and there were other abuses in that city as well.  Leviticus 18:22 sentences to death men who would lie with other men as with women, but Leviticus also had laws that sentenced to death people who committed adultery, children who curse their parents, and incest. There are a lot of rules that made sense to the people of that time that no longer make sense for us today.  These were rules that were designed to keep the children of Israel together and set them apart from the other nations around them.  Many of these nations were engaged in temple prostitution and sexual excesses, including sexually abusing and sacrificing male and female children.  This sexual worship formed much of what is the basis for Paul’s corrections to the churches, which had more to do with keeping the idol-based sexual excesses out of the church than with homosexual behavior.  Jesus had nothing to say about homosexual behavior, and neither did the 10 commandments.

Finally, I need to remember that I do not have the final authority on how to interpret God’s Word—no human does.  We all see through our glasses darkly. As soon as I think that I have the final and only interpretative take on the Bible, and that everyone who does not agree with me is wrong, I’m substituting my wisdom for God’s wisdom, and that makes me arrogant.  Jesus and the prophets had a lot more to say against arrogance than they did about homosexuality.

I know this way of looking at things does not provide hard and fast rules like many people like to have, and that’s part of the problem.  I truly believe we hurt the congregations we serve by laying on them hard and fast rules that are easy for us to pronounce, without teaching them to search for the deeper understandings that we must gain in order to see more clearly what God’s Word has to say to us today.  It’s a lot easier to lay down rules than it is to teach people to care enough to wrestle with how to love each other better.

For me, the answer to the question of whether God would want us to condemn and demonize homosexuals is that that doesn’t sound like the God of my experience.  I do know this: that I can recognize the people who are called by God because of their love for God and their love for others; and I know who are the people of faith because they try to do their best to usher in God’s Kingdom on this earth.  My experience is that some of those people happen to be homosexuals.

I don’t know why God has inclined some persons to homosexuality, but that’s not my knowledge to have.  I do know that when I don’t fully understand, all I can do is lean towards love and remember Jesus’ amazing grace.

My bottom line is this:  If I make a mistake, I’d rather the mistake be based on the fact that I tried my best to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus.

I’m not alone in my thoughts on this; many progressive Christian leaders agree with me.  Here are a couple of links that I’ve seen recently: A blog post by Rachel Held Evans:  “The Bible was ‘Clear…” and an interesting view by Roger Wolsey: 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.  Here are some books that also can help: Struggling with Scripture, Walter Brueggeman (2002), Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers (2006), The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, by Peter J. Gomes (1996).

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 New Look of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Dinner and a Movie?

I made the mistake of saying to a group of younger folks that I could remember when it cost 25 cents to get in the movies.  It’s true.  When I was under 12, which was not much more than 50 years ago, I could get in the movies for 25 cents.  All of the kids would try to pass for under 12, because if you were 12 and over, you had to pay 75 cents. In those days, theaters were locally owned and operated, not like the mega corporations that run them now.  One of the 30-somethings who was in the group said something like “I remember $6.50.” Next time I’ll be more careful about who I share this bit of history with, so I won’t feel so ancient.

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The conversation took place when I was sharing how shocked I was when I took my grandchildren and their cousins to a movie here in the DC area, and we all got the “discount price” (they were all under 12 and I am a senior) of $9.50 each.  Dinner and a movie now is for many people a major celebration event.  For others, it doesn’t happen at all. Do you have any idea how much it costs to go bowling nowadays? 

Contrast the rise in costs for simple things like restaurants, movies and bowling with what’s happening with salaries and jobs.  Hundreds of people showed up at Wal-Mart’s employment office last week for jobs in the new stores that are being built here in DC–even though they were told that they had to apply online and were sent away. Wal-Mart had refused to open stores in the city if the City Council’s bill requiring a minimum salary of $12.50 an hour was not vetoed by the mayor.  The mayor vetoed, Wal-Mart will open those stores, and a lot of people who really need jobs will go to work there.  I don’t blame the mayor, though, because I’d rather see the people who need jobs get them.  I’m hoping they will unionize to get the wages they deserve.

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But they won’t make enough money with those jobs to live in this city, which is booming. Apartment buildings and condo’s and upscale businesses are going up all over the place.  There are four large new apartment buildings in my neighborhood.  The Safeway down the block was demolished and is being rebuilt with several stories of apartments on top of it. More and more often I’m hearing stories of people being shoved out of their affordable apartment buildings, which are being sold and renovated into luxury condominiums.  You can’t afford a two bedroom condominium in DC for your family of three on $10.00 an hour.

Nowhere is the income inequality pattern–rising costs and diminishing ability to buy– more obvious than in our nation’s capitol. A September 20, 2013 Huffington Post article by Jason LInkins says it all:  “Gilded American City Gets Much Richer And Much Poorer Simultaneously.”  Rising income inequality in our nation has prevented the middle class from growing, another way of saying that poverty is being kept in place by creating a class of working poor.

I recommend for your viewing a new documentary entitled “Inequality for All” by Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.  To see the trailer of the documentary and a discussion about the film with Bill Moyers, click here.  It’s opening at theaters this weekend.  I hope you can afford to go see it.

The thing is this, though–all that really needs to happen to prevent the train wreck that income inequality is creating is for government to enact policies that will protect and grow the middle class. I shared earlier this week on Facebook a link to an article by Mat Bruening on the American Prospect Website  entitled “How much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty in America?” which describes some of those policies.

It’s not good enough just to complain about rising costs and low wages.  We need to participate in government processes that will put and keep in place policies that work for the betterment of all.  Robert Reich’s documentary or either of the documents highlighted above are educational tools that can get conversations going in your church social action group about how to deal with the seemingly inevitable future of deepening income inequality.  You don’t have a church social action group?  Make one happen!

If you’d like to comment to 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.

 

Making Noise About Gun Control

I’m doing the “action” part of my faith today, heading up to Capitol Hill to rally in support of controlling the proliferation of guns that are built and designed for mass murders.  That such a massacre–that’s what these shootings are– could happen in the heart of our nation’s capitol ought to help us realize that we really do have a problem.  That we have a “do-nothing but stop Obama” Congress, with too many members who serve as puppets to the NRA, is a sin and a shame, and the people who expect more of them need to step forward and MAKE SOME NOISE.

So today, I’m referring you to a wonderfully informative article posted by an American Baptist colleague, Dr. Douglas R. Sharp, Managing Partner at SharpPartners, Consultants in Leadership and Congregational Development, and Dean of the Academy at Protestants for the Common Good. Dr. Sharp’s article, “Too Much of Guns” is a must-read for all who desire to think more thoroughly about gun violence in our nation.

If you can’t be at the rally with me, please spend some time reading this article, think about where you stand on this issue, and email/call/write to your local, state and national representatives to MAKE SOME NOISE! Then organize your church social action group to gather with other church groups to take some actions, i.e., draft a letter for church members to sign to send to your representatives, rally at your state capitol, etc.  You don’t have a church social action group???? Then make one happen!

If you’d like to comment to 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.

 

When the Dollar is the Bottom Line

Some news items, all from this past week:

(1) Richest 1 percent of Americans are collecting biggest share of household income since the ‘20s

“In 2012, the incomes of the top 1 percent rose nearly 20 percent compared with a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent….. Economists point to several reasons for widening income inequality. In some industries, U.S. workers now compete with low-wage labor in China and other developing countries. Clerical and call-center jobs have been outsourced to countries such as India and the Philippines. Increasingly, technology is replacing workers in performing routine tasks. And union power has dwindled. The percentage of American workers represented by unions has dropped from 23.3 percent in 1983 to 12.5 percent last year, according to the Labor Department.”

(2) Left With Nothing 

“On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill. …..

As the housing market soared, the investors scooped up liens in every corner of the city, then started charging homeowners thousands in legal fees and other costs that far exceeded their original tax bills, with rates for attorneys reaching $450 an hour….. One 65-year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes — $1,025 — and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer. A 95-year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.”

(3) The Cost of Cash, for the Rich and the Poor

“It’s easy to forget that cash is costly to access, until you’re paying an A.T.M. fee or spending time riding a bus to a check-cashing window when you could have been working. Now, a study published on Monday morning has quantified the cost of cash, and who gets hit the hardest. The unsurprising answer: low-income people. …. The reason for the difference is that wealthier people and lower-income people tend to access cash differently. Wealthier people are more likely to have bank accounts, which means that they can visit an A.T.M. run by their bank without paying a fee; the same goes for cashing checks. Lower-income people, meanwhile, disproportionately use check-cashing services, which are known for their high add-on charges. Plus, employers have started compensating low-paid, hourly workers with prepaid cards that come with huge fees.”

(4) GE, IBM Ending Retiree Health Plans in Historic ShiftThis is who we are becoming as a nation. 

“America’s biggest employers, from GE to IBM, are increasingly moving retirees to insurance exchanges where they select their own health plans, an historic shift that could push more costs onto U.S. taxpayers.”

All of the above ought to make us think about what kind of country we’re becoming and where all of this is going to take us in the future.  Luke 16:13 puts God’s challenge to us this way: 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

When we value $ over people, then we value $ over God’s commandments.  All of these news stories should make us wonder whether this is becoming the case here.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are lots of people who have good hearts and who do care for and help others.  But when the “money worshipper mindset” becomes too acceptable, the whole society is at risk, because that’s when the $ can too easily become the bottom line in defining our values. That’s when the $ becomes the ultimate result of what we’re all about, when the $ becomes the main theme of how we live our lives. It doesn’t happen all at once, but the mindset just kind of seeps into our everyday lives, through the constant barrage of advertisements, telling us we need things that we certainly don’t, through shows continually suggesting that we really do need more and more stuff, like I always feel after watching HGTV, through the constant parading of the “rich and famous” as smart people who we should admire and emulate, and the constant portrayal of poverty as the fault of the poor, and so on and so on.

The news items above make me think that our country is becoming the Ferengi of the world.  For those of you who are not Star Trek fans, the Ferengi are a race of unscrupulous people who will do anything for $, described as “greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls.”

I once threatened to write a book about how our values become twisted when the $ is the bottom line. Here’s a start:  When the $ is the bottom line, pharmaceuticals and health care, good schools and healthy food– necessities for people to live whole and healthy lives–are abundantly available to those with abundant $,  and difficult to attain for those with little $– and no wrong is seen in this.

Maybe you’d like to share some examples of what you see happening when the $ is the bottom line.

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.