Arc Benders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Friend of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Look of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Angels vs. Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God’s will be done.

 

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.

 

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.

Disturb Us, O Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on the March on Washington 50th Anniversary

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

Most Moving

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

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

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

Most Inspirational

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

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

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

Most Fun

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

Most thought-provoking

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

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

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

Most Uplifting

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

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

Most Inspirational (part 2)

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

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

Amen.

The God of Hope

I woke up yesterday convinced that I should write about what some call the racial divide in our country.  I see it as more than a divide–more of a racial cleansing.  I was going to write about the confluence of the War on Drugs, which is sending so many of our black children to prison, the growing privatized prison industry gaining profit from from keeping more inmates than any other civilized country in this world, and using the inmates as slave labor to make even more profit.  I was going to write about  states reducing funding for public school systems, the “stand your ground laws” that allow someone to stalk and kill a black person and be deemed innocent upon claiming to be afraid, states stripping the right to vote from those who have prison records, states stripping away voting rights of people of color– and the Supreme Court clearing the way for that to happen.  I was going to talk about the effort of many states to purge themselves of Hispanic immigrants, the constant efforts to water down Affirmative Action, and how a majority in the House of Representatives want to do nothing more than to defeat any proposal from our first African American President, with the support of their constituents to do that.

These things, along with the Washington Post’s survey showing a deep racial, ideological and religious divide over the result of Trayvon Martin’s killer’s trial, all lead me to believe that there is a mindset held by a large percentage of the population in this country that must be similar to the mindset in Germany when the Nazis demonized and justified killing millions of Jewish people–and the German Christian church mostly going along with that. I believe that many of those who claim to be conservative will also claim to not be racists, but yet they support all those things that are killing off our people, which, to their way of thinking, is not their fault, but ours.  Is it a conscious and concerted effort led by some of the power brokers, like the Koch brothers, who put so much of their billions into defeating Obamacare,  pretty much anyone who’s running for office who is not a conservative, and anything that is designed to help the poor and raise the middle class? Probably so.

But I decided today that I’d rather write about the God of hope. The biblical record lets us know that when it seems like all is lost, that’s when the God of hope steps in:  Joseph redeeming his family after the brothers thought they had killed him; little David defeating the giant Goliath; Queen Esther  (of the “if I perish, I perish” fame) saving her people from slaughter,  and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to name a few examples in the Old Testament. Plus of course, Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of being crucified, dead and buried before he arose and was exalted by God, and who now sits on the Throne, with all power given to him.

This God of Hope still exists, as evidenced through history in the American Revolution, the defeat of slavery through the American Civil War, the defeat of segregation through the Civil Rights effort and the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, to name a few.  These examples tell us that larger, more powerful foes can be defeated and overcome by those who seem weaker and more vulnerable–those who, by the state of their being weak, know that they must not rely on their own power and strength, but on God.  As I heard Jacqueline Thompson, one of my favorite young female preachers say, “One plus God is enough!”

The thing is that the God of hope doesn’t work alone.  Our God works through people who are committed to do God’s will– those who are willing to tackle giants who want to slaughter their people, those who are willing to go before the kings, even though they know they may perish, those who are willing to stand up for righteousness and justice in the face of powerful foes, and those who are willing to die to save others.

God needs people like that.  God needs more people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who did not back down from challenging the Nazi regime.  He died an honorable death, the death of a person who really knows how to be a friend, according to Jesus:  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)  Jesus is that kind of friend.  Jesus wants us to be friends like that for each other.

I trust in this God, therefore I have hope. I have hope in God and hope in so many wonderful people I know who are willing to stand up for what is right.  Just writing this brings back my joy that even this mean, crazy and mixed-up world can’t completely take away, and my peace, that this world just doesn’t get.

Next week, I plan to share information on some ways we can become involved.

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 therefore be filled with peace, joy, and hope.