Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Courageous #MeToo Voice

Posted: February 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

Today Pastor Terry Overfelt strode to the pulpit with a big message. She brought it with courage, faith and grace. No one should miss this.  Click here.

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As we pause on the edge of another Lenten season we dare to redefine the dark, not as only the opposite of light, the dreaded negative where everything sinister that can be is. We dare to recover the dark and its gifts for us. “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places” says Isaiah (45:3).

The inspiration for this season of dark rescue is Barbara Brown Taylor and her beautiful book Learning to Walk in the Dark. She test drove these twilight insights for several years and many public outings before they took up permanent residence between two covers.

For those of us who embrace non-dual thinking her writing is a cool drink of water. Even so, as long as we read scripture, sing hymns or speak a language shaped over centuries, the dualism of light and dark is embedded there. Our thinking contains a heavy overlay of dualism and the definition of darkness is part of that legacy. It even shows up in our culture in the many ways we describe the relative merits of race, with light being better than dark.

Granted, without the nurture of the sun, light that sprays the planet with everything that is required, and as long as night provides cover for predators to do what they do best to the unsuspecting, our fears will make journey difficult: beware of the dark. It is hard to remain open and fearful at the same time.

For now I am turning off some lights. Not only to save energy, though that is good. I am turning them off in order to see what is there without them. It’s hard to see the Milky Way any more, unless you free yourself from the omnipresent ambient light, that is. The glare keeps the dark from sharing what it can. I am ready to receive.

When the alarm begins to sound

Posted: January 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

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Last spring during a portion of my sabbatical leave at an abbey in the midlands of England I spent a week in the hermitage of the abbey, a solitary cabin that was located in a grove of trees perhaps a quarter of a mile from the mother house. It was lovely and simple: a sitting area with a desk, a kitchenette and bathroom, a bedroom with enough room for just that, a bed. And of course the extension of the hermitage was its porch and the porch out to the woods and fields.

One night, perhaps the first night I was there, in the midst of deep sleep, a horrendous siren sounded. It was the blaring of an alarm horn, deafening in its shrieking. It worked; I jumped up and took stock through bleary eyes. Was there a fire? Gas leak? Scone and tea stores running low? What?

Not identifying any threat whatsoever I cranked open the windows and propped open the door. I stood on the front porch looking and listening to the spectacle. But nothing. After five minutes of this thunderous display I moved to the next phase, the “how do I disarm this thing?” I started searching for fuse boxes and panels. I explored the horn mechanism itself and tried to figure out how to detach it. Anything.

Then suddenly, silence. It stopped and left nothing but an echo in its wake. Was that it? Would it explode on the scene again? After battening down the hatches and locking the door I crawled back into bed with no little suspicion. Would this ghost spring forth again just as I dosed off? But no, nothing more.

The next morning I walked to the abbey for some breakfast and prayers and the talk among others who were staying in one of the larger guest houses was all about the middle of the night alarm. Could they hear my blaring alarm all the way from the hermitage? No, it seems that the alarm went off in their guesthouse, too. And so the mystery was revealed – the false alarm went off everywhere and my alarm system, even in my remote location, was wired to theirs.  I was not as detached as I assumed, at least in that regard.

Since we are fairly individualistic people we always assume that the alarm that is blaring has its source with us, with our life, with our ordinariness. But the truth is that most of the time that the canary in the mine shaft expires it is because the whole mine is vulnerable. And so it is when whole groups become ill, families unwell, and even whole nations dysfunctional. We hear the siren in our hermitage but the alarm is sounding everywhere for reasons that seem unrelated to me.

Like the person who tries to waterproof their own basement only to discover that the whole neighborhood is flooded, the answers are often collective ones; the problems, challenges, inequities, and suffering that we face are rooted in systems that affect us all. Moral people who have a sense of justice, the good and right, know that there will never be peace for one unless there is peace for all. And the illusion that we are perfectly self-reliant and removed from the struggles of the many is often shattered when we least expect it, in the middle of the night when we were sleeping safe and sound and the alarm began to sound.

This year has been “tracing your lineage through DNA year”. I know we gifted some family members with the simple self-test kits that would reveal their world ancestry. People are usually surprised with the results, but not always.

Many people know some of their ancestry by simply tracing names up the family tree. That little exercise generally takes them to continents and countries of origin. But what often dumbfounds people are the “minority reports” – the unexpected results from lesser known connections. They didn’t know about those American Indian, French, Siberian, Jewish or Greek aspects.

Behind all those distinctions is even greater connection. In his book The Seven Daughters of Eve (Norton, 2001) Bryan Sykes introduces us to the fascinating world of human mitochondrial genetics. In short, modern humans can be backtracked via historic world-wide migrations through DNA. The end of the journey takes us to seven pre-historic progenitor women who stand at the roots of the tree. We are much, much more connected than we suppose, especially as we move behind modern tribal affiliations. Our genetic code is wildly more similar than dissimilar. And that is also the case as we compare our DNA profile with that of other species.

As I move from genetics to theology, from science across the aisle to faith, it is easy for me to make the leap to a common ancestry on the global level. We are creatures of the same creator. We all belong to the same manifestation of the same divine mind, however diverse is that manifestation. And, yes, we are all connected to and a part of the same infinite cosmos.

We need to keep talking about this. It is the antidote to the spirit of division, fear, greed and hatred in our time. We are truly one though we don’t always know it or act it. Which is why we need to keep saying it – in a thousand different ways: We are one.

I believe I will make this my New Year’s resolution. Just sharing the affirmation is deliciously subversive. By simply naming the truth the endless stream of lies are revealed for what they are.

Who am I? I am part of the human race, one part of the cosmic family in this corner of the universe. And where did we come from? Well, from the mind of God, of course.

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school. The carnage included young children and their teachers. The aftermath included the suffering of survivors and family members. Not since Columbine have we been so shocked. And then there was Las Vegas. And then there was the church in Texas. It never ends.

Every time the next mass shooting takes place, and it’s always the next one, politicians immediately do several things. First they say this is no time to talk about gun violence; that would show disrespect to the families who are grieving in such a time as that. And then some elected official shows up with police to the left and right and asks for a moment of silence or says that we are sending our thoughts and prayers their way.

The next part of the dance is that a spokesperson for the NRA has a press release that expresses regret for the loss of life and that it is really about mental illness and not having enough guns to protect ourselves. Arm the teachers, the theater managers, the deacons in the church, the mall employees, everybody. More guns everywhere. We don’t have a gun problem so don’t even hint that we need to do something about that. Deny that has anything to do with it.

Of course, the politicians are owned by the powerful gun lobby. And absolutely nothing happens. Ever. And then the next shooting occurs. And we go through the same repeating ritual again. Even though an overwhelming majority of American citizens want something done, those same politicians are not accountable to their constituents. They pander only to their funders and those who can get them un-elected or primaried.

We have an epidemic of gun violence in our country. We are immobilized by powerful special interests. The 2nd Amendment is used as a kind of magic totem to ward off any action whatsoever. And more and more people are gunned down. We are sick, very, very sick. We are addicted to the very thing that harms us. And those who have the power to do something about it are either cowardly or morally compromised.

Oh, and you’ll be heartened to know this, after the slaughter at the Las Vegas corral, our Congress did not outlaw bump stocks, but they did authorize concealed carry across state lines.

I am sorry to report to you this morning: Sandy Hook will happen again. It will be repeated by virtue of a decision to do nothing. You can count on it. Tragically, you can count on it.

 

(The following meditation was shared at the Bluegrass Christmas service in Rocheport, Missouri on Saturday, December 2, 2017)

I have some good news and some bad news
Timothy L. Carson      Luke 1:46-55

Tonight we teeter on the edge of Advent, the First Sunday in Advent being tomorrow. Advent is the rich season of expectation, longing and hope for the coming of Christ into our midst. Of course, Christ is already here, but in terms of re-experiencing the Christian story this is the early chapter in which we prepare for the arrival of Christ into the world and our hearts. What better way to do that than to focus on the song of Mary, the Magnificat?

Once upon a time there was a peasant girl who lived in the corner of nowhere, an unremarkable Palestinian village where the citizens lived hand-to-mouth under the boot of a foreign occupation. In fact, an Imperial city was not too far from their town, a city that displayed elaborate public buildings and ostentatious wealth. That only reinforced just how unimportant her village was in the scheme of things. And how relatively unimportant she was.

As you can imagine, she attracted another peasant to whom she would be betrothed, a man who worked with his hands. He didn’t have any land so he was lower on the social ladder. But he had a trade as a craftsman. Somewhere in the middle of their engagement she had a mysterious visitor in the midst of – what could you call it – a dream, a vision, an apparition? And the voice said she was to carry a most special child in her womb. What would she make of this?

Just recently I was invited to conduct devotional services at the St. Francis House in Columbia, a residential house for the homeless.

There were about ten of us gathered in the living room of this modest older house, some guests and some volunteers. I asked them to imagine what I am asking you to imagine, a young peasant girl living in a small and very simple Palestinian village. And then I asked them to imagine what it would be like for that nobody from the sticks to be informed that she would carry the Messiah, the savior for the world.

Some in our group said that she would have been shocked. “Maybe you have the wrong house. Maybe you called the wrong number.”

Others noted the sense of humility that God would be working through someone like her, the weak and powerless, the marginalized, the underclass.

But then we took time to read Mary’s song, the Magnificat, a song of praise modeled after the song of another woman who lived centuries before her whose story is told in First Samuel: Hannah, the barren woman who prayed for the blessing of a child and promised God that she would give him to the temple if she was so blessed. Hannah sang a song that sounds very much like Mary’s, which is more or less a parallel of it:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has toppled the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

(Luke 1:46-55)

This is the dramatic prophesy of God’s downward mobility and the divine trickle-up economy, a whole different kind of repeal and replace. Here is the advent of God’s upside-down kingdom, where the playing field is leveled, the rich and powerful are swept down from their thrones and the poor and powerless are given justice.

I will never forget the look of astonishment on the face of a heavily tatted young man as he listened to Mary’s song and heard that this is how and where God’s work begins, at the margins. I think his attentive expression was some cross between disbelief and hope.

We closed our evening slowly reading these astounding words of Mary, words that turn this world upside down, liberating words that are good news for some and not so good for others.

One thing we know for sure and that is this: Mary’s song does not often show up on Hallmark Christmas cards. You don’t often see a little nativity scene and under it, “He has toppled the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Not too often do you see that.

Why then, at a moment like that, does Mary sound like a revolutionary? Let me set the stage for you and maybe that will help.

In first century Palestine the Jewish population was predominantly the peasant class, and they were far and away very poor. They were also in an occupied land and Roman oligarchs and military built elaborate Imperial cities and lived lavish lives. There really was no middle class to speak of, the merchant class being the closest to that. And the people were double taxed – by their Jewish ruling elites and also by the Romans.

So the situation of the ordinary working family – and they were all working families – is that their taxes supported their own leaders and the Roman Imperial machine – its elite ruling class, the public works projects and the military. All of the wealth was generated by the workers, trickling up to support everything else. All of this was rewarded with more taxes and more restriction.

This is the way that power and wealth works; it seldom trickles down, and rather trickles up and pools at the top.

Those peasants in Palestine never saw anything for their work and taxes; it was all consumed by those up the ladder. They were in effect supporting the machine that kept them oppressed. The language from the Temple cult and its high paid priests was that God loved them for supporting the temple. The language from the Roman government was that Caesar would be pleased with their loyalty and devotion; when the Empire wins everybody wins.

And so, here is Mary, a peasant girl with nothing, engaged to a man who had little to nothing, surrounded by power structures beyond their control, and she sings a song: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has toppled the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

If God can work through me, the humblest delivery system imaginable, then God can reform and transform the whole world from the bottom up. This upside down kingdom of God will see the tyrants fall from their proud thrones and justice will roll down like mighty waters.

It’s not a new theme that Mary’s song contains. We hear it all through the prophets who preceded her. Take Isaiah 10:1-4, for example:

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

Again, not the popular choice for a Hallmark card or a Christmas carol, but it carries the tone of Mary’s song: God is awesome and wondrous; God’s using even me; if God can do that, heads will roll and justice will come. Maybe we’ve simply mischaracterized Mary, created her into someone and something she wasn’t, the mild and meek Mary.

After all, the nut didn’t fall from that tree; Jesus sounds a lot like his mother. It was with those peasants that he spent most of his time – preaching, healing, teaching, having meal fellowship with the outcasts, gathering a no-star cast of disciples to follow him.

It wasn’t until he made his way to the halls of power in Jerusalem, the city that stones the prophets, and challenged the temple elites and Roman elites that he was nailed to the tree.

Mary brought forth a son such as that. And we love her and him for it. In the story of God’s big reversal Mary’s song is just a preview of coming attractions.

Since the St. Francis house is run by the Catholic Worker community, some of them were in the room during my meditation. And as I was preparing to leave one of them spoke up and he said, “I’m amazed that a Protestant minister would come to us and actually talk about Mary!”

Hey, Mary belongs to all of us. Granted, I’m not praying through Mary. But she is our lady. Don’t you know that when her son came off the cross and she bathed his wounds with her tears she knew the real cost of God’s work in the world.

Cracks of Hope

Posted: November 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
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For you, my friends, I pass on to you this free electronic travel journal of Michael McCray entitled Cracks of Hope: Stories and Snapshots from Divided Lands. His semester long journey took him to the people and places of Israel, Northern Ireland and South Africa. It is a journey worth taking with him.