Charlottesville Prayer

Posted: August 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

A prayer offered by Rev. Nick Larson, a colleague who serves with me at Broadway Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri:

“O Gracious God,

I come before your throne with a heavy heart, looking for words to share, because I am afraid. I’m afraid of what has happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. Violence, hate, bigotry was on full display, as some gathered to ‘unite the right.’ They brought shields, clubs, polo shirts, tiki-torches and blood-curdling menace in their hearts. And it brought fear. Terror was spread, white supremacy was channeled into overt interpersonal violence.

O Spirit of Comfort we need your presence in that place and in this place.

As we turn this to you, I admit, I am struggling; I am struggling because I see such evil on full display. I am struggling because those people gathered for hate were people of my generation, they looked like our co-workers, our colleagues, our brothers, our cousins. People I know and love, who also have white skin and wear polo shirts.

They are people who, like I was, were raised being taught the evil done by generations before…taught about gas chambers, of burning crosses, and of hanging trees. And yet their thought was not of the tragedy or horror… but…saw those perpetrating those evils and thought they had some interesting ideas. They want to see all that hate of generations past return. And they didn’t even bother to wear hoods.

And yet, even in the midst of the stream of images that filled our screens. I saw ones that stood against it. I saw a powerful image of a black officer, standing at a barricade protecting the very men that want his rights taken away. This, O God must be a drop of your tears washing away this hate.

And yet, even in the midst of this perversion of humanity, some tried to stop it. Local business owners; city officials; the university; thinking people; compassionate people; decent humans and citizens. They tried to stop, or at least change the venue for this disturbing display of hatred and racism that marched through their streets. This, O God must be a drop of your tears washing away this evil.

And yet, even in the face of silence, some spoke out. My screen was filled with everyone from neighbors to preachers to most politicians denouncing these supremacists. Calling for healing, uniting against hate, people calling out to you, lamenting this tragedy. This, O God must be drops of your tears washing away out divisions.

For if I know anything, I know you are weeping. For you are not racist, you declare us all your children. For you do not condone hate, you lay down your life in front of it. For you do not rank us, you call the first to be last. For indeed, you call us not to wield power over others, but instead to exercise restraint.

So may your Spirit and tears rain down upon Charlottesville, and all the dark corners of our world where hatred resides, may it come like a rushing river to wash away that which hides each person’s divine beauty. May it transform the hearts of protesters, for without it I fear they will be lost to hatred forever.

And May we, here, gathered far away from that place, choose you, so that we do not allow this evil to take root. May we each find the voice to call out in lament to you and lift this before you. And so this morning we pray.

For every pastor, rabbi, imam, chaplain of all stripes and any other caregiver who will have to pick up the pieces in Charlottesville tomorrow and going forward…

For every professor at UVA who will have to make sense of these last few days while teaching biochemistry, physics, humanities, and all other manner of classes…

For those wounded in the violence and for their healers; for the witnesses; the warriors; the perpetrators…

For the families of those who have died…particularly the family of Heather Heyer who was savagely ripped from this world by a mad man…

For clergy and students gathered, standing against hatred and racism, we thank you for their courage and passion…

For everyone who still lives there and will have to face the threats in coming days…

And for this nation that we may once and for all confess, repent, and tell the truth about this sin that threatens to destroy us all…

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

I am reminded of the words of your prophet Isaiah which calls us to see the new things you are doing…and yet, My God, after events like this, I have a hard time seeing how you are going to make a way through this desert, how will you bring a river in this wilderness, how will you transform hate and terrorism like this and make it new?

So we do, what we do, we turn to you, so that you might be the one to lead us to new life. We confess that in this darkness it is hard to see the goodness of your world; when all we see is hardship; all we feel is despair; all we face seems hopeless. We confess that without you, we only seem to bury that goodness. Without you, we too despise and reject what is different, what seems useless, what doesn’t help us in our immediate need.

And yet, with you, we know hope. With you, we know that we are not alone. With you, we know that your goodness and mercy will be with us all the days of our lives, including this one, leading us into eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

 

 

 

“Moral Inversion” is the way that evil deflects truth-telling so that it will not be exposed.  It does so by claiming that up is down, white is black, true is untrue and untrue is true. Most often evil distracts by blaming others.  Recently in events and language surrounding Charlottesville evil deflected attention from the cancer of the KKK, Nazis and White Supremists by charging that the crowd protesting that evil was really the problem. “Poor, poor white supremists – how persecuted they are!” Moral inversion is also accomplished by creating false equivalencies: “There are really two sides to this issue, good and bad are on both sides. You’ve got Hitler and his truth and Ghandi and his. It’s all a matter of how you view it.”

The corrective to attempts at moral inversion is direct truth telling by trusted eye witnesses. In Charlottesville clergy gathered to provide flesh and blood presence and witness, a faithful opposition to the subculture of hate and racism in our society. One of our Disciples of Christ ministers, Jeff Moore of Webster Groves Christian Church in St. Louis, was there and one of those witnesses. I share his eye witness, first person account at the fateful rally:

“Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, By now you have heard news and seen images of the chaos in Charlottesville as white supremacists brought their hatred and violence to threaten the people there. I was present, along with many interfaith clergy, students, and concerned citizens, and saw first hand the ways in which armed neo nazis and neo fascists attempted to intimidate people of color, lgbtqi people, and the entire city.

The good news is that the people of Charlottesville were not intimidated, and, as we clergy sang and chanted as we protected people and held the street – “love has already won.” We clergy were present to provide a prayerful witness against this hatred and to speak and demonstrate God’s love for all. We were also on hand to aid first responders and help calm and move the crowd as more than a dozen people were injured and one woman died as the result of a hate-filled hit and run into a crowd. Two people also lost their lives in a helicopter crash late Saturday afternoon.

I saw hundreds of people stand for love and peace – offering food, water, medical care, and supportive presence. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to call out and resist injustice, and to love courageously and compassionately because God infinitely loves us and all people. We must continue to speak and act for the dignity and liberation of all those who have been targeted by racist, homophobic, fear-filled evil. What happens in Charlottesville, and in all places, matters to us as people of faith because, as Martin Luther King, Jr. has said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Please continue to keep the people of Charlottesville in your thoughts and prayers as they care for one another and continue to actively resist those who would spread hate and violence.”

Jesus and White Supremacy

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

It’s Sunday, and of the remaining practicing Christians, a rapidly diminishing company, many will be in their houses of worship this morning, praying, singing, preaching, communing. On the surface of these many different traditions within the Christian household, even with the differences, you see much of the same thing going on. On the surface.

When it comes to how these many stripes of Christians relate the faith to personal lives and our social situations there are large culverts that separate them. They may all love Jesus but the Jesus they love is portrayed in surprisingly different ways. And the derived moral sense from this portrayal of Jesus is also very different.

So if you happen to be a Christian this is a conversation for you. If you’re not maybe you can tune in to understand why it is that people who supposedly bear the same name – Christian – look and act so radically different.

Let’s go for the low-hanging fruit first. Many just use the faith label while not seriously considering the content of the faith. They have a worldview to which they are already disposed and find religious sounding mottos to endorse it. This has created some of the worst behavior throughout history. We see it today among the Christian identity movements like the KKK and Neo-Nazis. They have nothing to do with Chrisitanity. They delude themselves.

But those are the easy ones. No one outside of their recycling echo chamber of hate buys it. The hard ones are the least observable. You will know them by their fruit and how they address recent events in Virginia and elsewhere shows their true colors. You will discover it in worship. Will they ignore the hatred and bigotry? Will they somehow rationalize the behavior and make excuses? Will they denounce such speech and actions on the one hand but continue to practice it in a thousand other ways at the same time?  And the big one: Do they endorse and support political figures, legislation and policies that continue systematic discrimination?

My Christian friends of many kinds:

Jesus was not a white supremacist.  He was not even white. And he was not Christian. He was a Jewish peasant living in the midst of a brutal occupation. He found and proclaimed God in the midst of all that. He was killed for denouncing religious hypocrisy and governmental oppression. We love him for it. And we fear what following him will require of us.

What it requires of us today is clearly opposing all that which is not the way of love, everything that is unjust and fueled by hatred. What it requires is putting our lives – our security, reputations and comfort – on the line. This of course means that we have to draw a distinction between the way of Jesus and the cultural values that we breath in like the air around us. The distortion of our hearts and minds – what we Christians have called sin – keeps us from reflecting the divine life and speaking of it. Today and every day we will either take a stand for the radical way of Jesus or not.

Taking this stand means being very clear about what is and is not the way of Jesus. Our voice is important. And faithful teaching and preaching and shepherding will help people know what is and is not the path. This will take lots of courage. We will need to encourage and pray for one another. We can’t do it alone and yet each one must do it alone, make the moral decision alone.

Where do we stand? I hope our answer will be that we stand with the one who made our lives oh so much better but also more dangerous.

Can you imagine Jesus participating in anything like the hatred we witnessed in Virginia yesterday?  Or in hatred and violence of the centuries? Of course not.

Denounce it, good Christians. Don’t participate in it yourselves.  Dare to pronounce a reign and kingdom of God that includes an entirely different vision. If we will we will not end up a part of the popular masses of Christians who make Jesus into an icon but don’t follow him. Refuse to do that. If we will our reward will be found in a conscience and heart at rest. Remember that after the cross comes resurrection. And it may take a cross.

 

If you mean it, Mr. President

Posted: August 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

if you mean what you say about bigotry, hate and violence in Virgina, Mr. President, then dismiss Steve Bannon immediately. He and others like him represent and create the source of these problems.

While you are at it declare that racism is not welcome in our country in any form. Denounce it. Especially among elected leaders.

Do not court global leaders who exemplify those same vices.

And then cease referring to violation taking place “on many sides.” There is only one side of the evil underbelly of our nation. Denounce it. Do not reinforce it. And do not welcome them into your camp.

That is, Mr. President, if you mean what you say.

Moved not Disappeared

Posted: August 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

imageMesa Verde in southwestern Colorado is a world treasure, one of the mother ships of the great Pueblo network of the Southwestern United States. The ancestors of the present-day Pueblo Indians were hunter-gatherers who migrated from the far north long before the time of Jesus. The earliest settlements were simple encampments as they remained fairly nomadic, following the seasons. In time, by 500 CE, permanent pit homes were located near verdant agricultural lands. Many of these dwellings were located in what became large centers of tribal life in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. They thrived with an intricate and balanced social system of life and eventually transitioned from living on top of the mesas to living below in cliff/cave arrangements with greater shelter and protection. What we see today as the ruins of the cliff dwellers in places like Puye Cliffs in New Mexico is the very latest chapter of their long development.

Sometime during the 1200s the inhabitants of these great cliff-dwelling societies vanished from their centuries-old homes. Unlike the parallel civilizations in Mezo-America and the peoples of the Andes in Latin America, the Pueblos were not marked by any conflagration, violence or conquests by invaders. They left because they could no longer live there and survive. But they didn’t disappear from the face of the earth; they migrated. They moved southward and formed or joined what are now the great pueblos which are scattered the length of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The story of the great migration from Mesa Verde is carried in the stories and dances of those present-day Pueblo cultures. That is why they hold Mesa Verda and Chaco as the figurative “mother ships” of their cultures, the first ancestors.

Any student of world history knows the rising and falling of civilizations for a variety of reasons. Warfare, conquest, and internal strife play obvious and important parts. A lesser cited but equally important cause is changes in the natural environment. From the end of the dinosaurs to ghost towns that were abandoned because the mines played out, civilizations are either wiped out or relocated.

In the case of Mesa Verde the best guess is that a deep drought that lasted as much as two decades decimated the crops and precipitated far-reaching famine. Like the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers leaving Israel for Egypt in the time of drought, so the ancestors of the Pueblos packed up and left their homes in the cliffs forever behind.

If there is a cautionary tale for us today it comes in several layers.

The first and obvious truth is that nothing lasts forever. Civilizations rise and fall, some enjoying much longer and more resilient dynasties than others. But they all end or at least change form.

The ones that do  experience continuity are the ones that adapt with the changing circumstances. This often means transferring from one physical location to another. It can mean adapting the place we already are. We may face that in the future. It is possible that like the cliff-dwellers we look back from the future and tell stories of where and how we used to live.

A changing environment and climate is a definitive game changer. People have flocked to the South and Southwest of the United States thanks to air conditioning. But what happens when water sources dry up or our desertscapes become even more uninhabitable? They may actually be migrating back north. Please don’t build a wall, Canada.

The way that we are different than the cliff-dwellers is that we do not only experience the change of our environment in passive ways, simply living with or dying with what the natural world deals.  The cliff-dwellers’ whole way of life may have been changed by cyclical climate change, but they didn’t contribute to it. We now have the terrible power to do just that. Through vast environmental degradation, the destruction of water, land and air, we can create an unsustainable environment. We can hasten the end of our civilization as we know it. And our reach is so deep and far that the impact is not only local, but global. Damage our atmosphere by continuing to belch out carbon emissions and you do it to everyone. That is exactly why the Paris accords are so important; we are only as strong as the weakest national link.

One more thing the Puebo cliff-dwellers did not have at their disposal was atomic weapons. People are under the impression that the outcome of a nuclear conflagration would only be lots of dead people all at once. That would surely happen, but what’s more is the irreparable damage to the environments that support life. When the destruction is that vast there is nowhere to which you can migrate to create a future. That is why principled and informed people are so very concerned when nations posture, rattle swords and threaten the worst.

People of faith carry certain convictions about stewarding the world that we pass through but do not own. We have convictions about living as bountifully and peacefully as possible with one another. We have convictions about the goodness of nature and the goodness of humanity that, at its best, is created in the image of its creator.

At the same time we also know that everything is passing, even us, even the planets that orbit a star that may eventually obliterate them. Some things abide and some things pass away. The sound of the wind blowing through the now vacant kivas and pueblos of Mesa Verde remind us that what we see now is not forever even as we sense that the creating and sustaining power of the universe is.

 

Be determined, have a plan, expect the best, enter the wonder.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0yHljE-Ej21WjZKOHlzT1o3N0U

The United States has been moving toward universal health care coverage for all its citizens for almost fifty years now. It has occurred in stops and starts with different kinds of initiatives, but it has been on the way. Who could draw a contrast more sharply between a President Richard Nixon and First Lady Hillary Clinton? Yet in their time on the political stage they both advocated for some form of universal coverage. In the case of Clinton, her failed initiatives were resisted by Republicans who labeled such efforts as “socialized medicine.” Their alternative vision in the 1990s was something along what we have today, a hybrid of public/private coverage.

While the most progressive edge of the Democratic Party always supported a central payer option – “Medicare for All” – Republicans balanced that with insurance industry led private solutions. A hybrid plan of public/private coverage is in fact what then Governor Mitt Romney designed for his state of Massacusetts. It was so successful that Romney’s plan became one of the major templates for the Affordable Care Act, what Republicans quickly attached to the President’s name – Obamacare.

During the development/hearing phase of the Affordable Care Act, the Romney plan provided a most helpful template. In addition, Republicans added well over a hundred adopted amendments to the plan, leaning it toward the private sector.  And yet when the vote was taken not one Republican voted for it. Their hybrid model had come into being, but for the sake of political statement, they had to oppose it – and spend seven years attempting to repeal it, all the while attempting to undermine and sabotage it so it would fail. But opposition is not the same as governing.

With the Republican ascendancy to control the Administration and both houses of Congress they found themselves in a very peculiar situation. The plan they were politically charged to dismantle was the very thing they would have presented as their own plan, the Romney solution.  So when it came to actually presenting an alternative to Obamacare they had none, that is, none that would be acceptable.  With vast ideological divisions in their own party they could not settle on a plan that was acceptable to their leadership, much less an American public that has warmed to the idea that all citizens should have real, not fake access to health care.  Republican Governors and Senators heard from their constituencies. Medicaid expansion was wildly popular. The Republican plan was doomed to failure.

Ironically, Obamacare was always seen as a compromise plan for many Democrats who still held to a vision of central-payer, universal coverage, a la Canada or the United Kingdom. That position is actually gaining strength again. Ironically, Obamacare – the Romney template – was something like what the Republican Party would have developed itself.

With the failure of the Republican effort to repeal and replace comes a moment when the GOP and DEMs could collaborate on strengthening our system.  Because of the need to win and prevail it is unlikely to happen. But one thing has already happened, directly and indirectly, beyond party and ideology: Americans have already come to believe that access to quality health care is a right of citizenship, not  something to be enjoyed by the privileged who can afford it. That change – more significant than any bill in congress – will most likely tell the future story of real access to health care in our country, whatever form it takes.