Pub Theology: MLK Edition

This week our Pub Theology Group met and discussed the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jan Pub Theology.jpg

It was an absolutely wonderful gathering filled with great insights and engaging conversation.  We started our gathering by reading some quotes from MLK’s speeches, sermons, and letters later in his career, wondering together–how are MLK’s words still relevant, challenging, difficult, and inspiring?  What do we most need to hear?  I am thankful to this group who gathered and dared to name the difficult realities of our past and present, who sat with one another as we wondered about connections between MLK’s legacy and Black Lives Matter, racism and sexism, economic inequality and the call for the church to be a place where difficult and honest conversation is not only safe but encouraged, because we cannot be transformed by one another if we cannot speak our truth.

If you are interested in the discussion prompts, there are listed here (the images of MLK’s quotes were created by artist Daniel Rarela)

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“Although the Church has been called to combat social evils, it has often remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows… How often the Church has been an echo rather than a voice, a tail-light behind the Supreme Court and other secular agencies, rather than a headlight guiding men and women progressively and decisively to higher levels of understanding.”

—Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to the Fifth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, 1965.

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“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” –Martin Luther King Jr, 1967.

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“Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr., March 31, 1968.

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.”

 

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Change is Coming

 Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Luke 1:47-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47       and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48  for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49  for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50  His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51  He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53  he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54  He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55  according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

the-change-up-180.jpgA special assembly, they called it. Just for girls. They kicked the boys out of our fourth grade classroom and out onto the playground for extended PE and rolled a large television cart into our classroom. A visitor joined us in the classroom, and before we knew what was happening, we were talking about “the change.”

Now let’s be clear. I was 10. I had no idea what she was talking about. All I cared about was the little pink and purple “pencil case” covered in quotes by famous women that she gave to each of us, at least, I thought it was a pencil case. It was full of strange objects that I had only glimpsed in my mother’s bathroom cabinets.

That woman in my classroom—neither her nor my teacher Mrs. Datlow ever really said plainly what she was there to talk about. Or maybe she did, but we didn’t really know how to understand what she was saying. All we were certain of by the end of our special assembly was that something was coming, that it would make us different, and that when it happened, we would need these bags. And Abstinence. That too.

So I kept that bag in my backpack (for years I kept it!), waiting for that moment when I would need it. Waiting for the day when I would finally understand what it all meant.

At home, I would pull out that little pencil bag and read the quotes printed on the outside. I remember the one by Eleanor Roosevelt the best: “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I loved that quote. Later I would learn that Ms. Roosevelt had a lot to say about women—she was once quoted as saying that “women are like teabags. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.”


It occurs to me that this certainly could describe our Gospel lesson today—for this morning we are introduced-reintroduced, really-to a woman whose story starts out with her in hot water, a woman whose encounter with God teaches her just how strong she will have to become. The only problem is that she isn’t really a woman yet—Mary is, by today’s standards, a child. Many scholars think that she might have been anywhere between ten and fourteen years old when the angel first arrived at her door.

Which, these days, would make a fifth-7th grader.

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It turns out that Mary wasn’t all that different than I was when I sat in that classroom what seems like a lifetime ago, pondering a messenger’s confusing words.

And I don’t know about you, but knowing that—knowing that Mary was a child, really—changes the story for me. To be reminded that Mary wasn’t a woman—she wasn’t fully grown, wasn’t fully anything yet—she was still a little girl when the angel brought the news to her that she would bear the savior of the world.

I wonder: Did she understand what that meant? Could she possibly? Can any of us imagine what that must have been like for her?

And maybe it is just my age, but these days I find myself wondering what it must have been like to be Mary’s parents in the days after this glorious news. For us, this news is glorious—for them, it must have been terrifying. In a culture where virtue is everything, this news has the power to destroy Mary, to destroy her reputation, to ruin her life before it even begins. Should we be surprised, then, that her first act after the angel’s visit is to run away to a distant cousin’s home? Back then, I wonder whether it was really possible to see this child for the blessing that He was?

And of course, I wonder what it must have been like to be Mary herself. I can’t speak for others, but for me being a preteen was often quite painful. I was growing so fast that my brain couldn’t keep up. I was trying to figure out who I was and what that meant. I always felt awkward. I still liked playing my little ponies, but I also was starting to think that boys were kind of cute too. I wanted so badly to be cool, but every time recess came around, I found that being cool and playing games, ie running around the yard pretending to be a horse, or a mermaid, or a princess, or a monster, were often mutually exclusive. And I wanted adults to take me seriously, but I struggled to understand what they wanted from me. When I was a tween, I was slipping notes under the door to my parents proclaiming that I was almost a grown up, and that they needed to start treating me like one and letting me stay up until 10pm if I wanted to. I wanted so badly to be grown up, but I didn’t know how.

And I think of this when I imagine Mary these days. Classic art often depicts Mary as this beautiful, peaceful, utterly calm and still young woman. How many 10 year olds does that describe for you?

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If we were to imagine this story today, perhaps it might be more accurate to picture Mary curled up under the covers collecting cats on her iphone, wearing her favorite flannel pajamas covered in cartoon foxes. Perhaps we should imagine this fiercely independent child clutching her beloved stuffed animal, even though she would never be seen outside the house with it. Her hair mussed on one side, her teeth wrapped in braces, the first signs of acne on her forehead.

e81b495f2f1fddd112b40e781a633ce2.jpgAnd here is what is amazing to me—when the angel of the Lord speaks his promise into Mary’s life—when he asks this child of God to bear the savior, Immanuel, God-with-us, into the world…. she is not afraid.

Perhaps she is too young to be fearful. Maybe her parent raised her to be respectful to other adults. Perhaps the excitement of being chosen, being set apart, overcomes any reservation. But Mary chooses to embrace God’s promise of hope. “Let it be according to your Word,” she replies. In a world that is dark, and fearful, she imagines freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, hope for the hopeless. She is faithful to the God of promise who guides her.

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Does she know the desert she is about to enter? I wonder. But just as God promised a way through the desert for the Exiled people of Israel in Isaiah 35, so God will provide a way forward for this brave little girl who has embraced a very big task. A task that she will only come to appreciate as she grows in wisdom and knowledge. God will be with her when her child is born in the darkness of a stable rude. God will be with her at 24, when her child disappears in the city of Jerusalem and she cannot find him for days. God will be with her at 45, when her baby is executed by the state for proclaiming a kingdom not of this world, for suggesting that the way to make Israel great again is not through strength, not through force, not through violence, but rather by seeking out and saving the lost and the broken.

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I wonder what might it mean for us, at this midway point in Advent, to remember that God’s Good News for the world can come in the most unexpected packages—for our God has a fondness for surprises like preteen girls and homeless prophets. That in fact, God rarely chooses the most dignified and deserving of us for the biggest tasks—the Good News, more often, comes to us from lowly, forgotten, humble places. The corners of the world from which we tend to hide our eyes.
Might it change the way that we pay attention to the world around us? The way we listen to our own children, our own neighbors? I wonder, would we be willing to accept a God whose salvation is found in the desert places of this world, places where all hope seems lost, where life has given up the ghost? Would we be willing to listen to a God who speaks justice out of the mouths of today’s preteens, today’s homeless, today’s oppressed people?

Because that is the God we worship, friends. A God who shows greatness in the least expected places. A God who strengthens weak hands, makes firm feeble knees, breathes strength to the fearful heart, and grants sight to the blind, movement to the lame, words to the speechless, sound to the deaf, and water to the parched places. Can we imagine?

GUEST POST: Disciples Take Their Faith Public

This past Sunday my congregation was honored to welcome a guest, the Rev. Gloria Yi, into our pulpit to preach.  She was and is a gift to our church, and her powerful words, proclaimed in the aftermath of an incredibly emotional week for so many folks, were well-needed.  As a pastor, I give thanks for voices like Gloria, for she was able to preach a truth that I sincerely needed to hear at a time when I felt ill-equipped to speak myself.  Her words are printed, along with the lectionary for that day, with her permission, below:

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Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

The Gospel According to Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Today is described as an ordinary Sunday in our Christian calendar, the 33rd proper ordinary Sunday according to the lectionary… but for us in this nation that has elected our new President, it is anything but ordinary or proper… for some of us, today, marks the first Sunday of a new heaven and new earth. And for other of us, today marks the first Sunday in which nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. So you are either super excited and hopeful for what the future holds, or you are utterly shocked and fearful for the imminent doom.

Children have not escaped the divisive rhetoric and some modeled this divisiveness at bus stops, inside the bus, and at schools. And we adults have certainly not helped them mend this divide. The best that we came up with was, when they go low, you go high. And even in trying to bring civility back to rhetoric we created another set of labels: low class and high class. And nodded our heads in accord saying, that it’s just words, and both sides spewed out words that has torn our nation in half.

So I am going to read you this poem that went viral on the internet about two years ago. It’s included in your bulletins: Chanie Gorkin wrote this poem when she was in 11th grade, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. I’m not reading the last line, because she wrote this when she was in 11th grade and I think it is much better without the last line.

Worst Day Ever?

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in every day

Because, when you take a closer look,

This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be attained

Only if one’s surroundings are good

It’s not true that good exists

I’m sure you can agree that

The reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control

And you’ll never in a million years hear me say

Today was a very good day

 

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,

[You’ll see how I really feel.]

The genius of this poem becomes evident only if you read it top to bottom and then bottom to top. If you read it only from top to bottom, then today is the worst day ever. If you read it only from bottom to top, then today is a very good day. But if you read it both top to bottom and then bottom to top, then the Christian calendar is correct… today is just an ordinary Sunday, not the beginning of a new heaven and new earth nor the beginning of Armageddon. Today is the day of Lord. And the biblical passages that we read today declares that indeed, whether described as utopia or an apocalypse, everyday is the day of the Lord.

So it is no wonder that Isaiah’s description of utopia in chapter 65 finds wolves and lambs feeding together and the promise that ferocious and poisonous animals will not hurt or destroy us, but it is surprising to see that utopia also requires labor: building of houses, planting of vineyards, and literal labor of giving birth. In Luke’s description of the apocalypse we find the expected famine, earthquake and plagues but then surprisingly we also discover the promise that not a hair in your head will perish despite of all the persecution you will endure. And the biblical text insists and persists in declaring that no matter how we label our day, no matter what happens in each day, each day belongs to our Lord. For both in utopia and in Armageddon God is in control. And in both types of days we are asked to continue doing our part, continue working hard, enduring hardship, and trusting and witnessing the fulfillment of the outrageous promises that God makes… we will not be hurt or destroyed to the point that even if all hell breaks loose, not a hair in our head will perish, sorry, George, if you already lost your hair I guess this promise doesn’t apply to you, which actually means that you are never going to experience Armageddon.

And so I can make you laugh a little from this pulpit on this ordinary Sunday, but I was not laughing this whole week since Tuesday night. Fear entered my personal space as I felt that I woke up in a foreign land, in a land that might echo the childhood chant that I heard one too many times, “why don’t you go back to where you came from.” And it would be a lie to say that in this fear I didn’t fostered anger, because I did, particularly anger against white men. And so I sat with my grief, fears and anger. I cried out to God and as I sat there, I remembered a Mr. Roger’s song, “What do you do with the mad that you Feel?”  and the lyrics go on… I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this. And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside. That helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a woman. And a boy can be someday a man. And so I stopped and searched youtube for everything related to Mr. Rogers, an old white man who taught me and convinced me through the television screen that he liked me, I would hear him again, “It’s you I like, every part of you, your skin, your eyes, your feelings, whether old or new, I hope you’ll remember, even when you feel blue, it’s you I like, it’s you I like.” And this old white Presbyterian minister who has gone to heaven ahead of us still ministered to me, and reminded me that today is an ordinary, beautiful day in the neighborhood of the United States of America.

I remembered his most moving Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award acceptance speech, I remembered his interview with Charlie Rose in which the self-proclaimed pundit and beloved newscaster slowed down and had moments of confession and reflection on national television as Mr. Rogers answered Charlie’s questions. As Mr. Rogers highlighted the importance of influence that television has and the essential need to capture wonder rather than information, create room for silence in a world filled with noise. Mr. Rogers told Charlie that he had a plaque in his office with the phrase, “What’s essential is invisible to the eye”, an ironical phrase to be found for someone in the business of utilizing a camera lens, and so Charlie Rose asked Mr. Rogers, “What can’t we see about you that is essential?” And Mr. Rogers answered, you can’t see my spiritual life unless you ask me about it, you can’t see my family life, and he went on to tell Charlie, the things that are center stage are rarely the things that are most important.” And then, Mr. Rogers asked Charlie, “What’s essential to you, Charlie?” To have a satisfying life that has a connection to something larger than you and to know I made a difference. Mr. Rogers is the most pastoral person, and he asked, “Have you known anybody who was satisfied and did not make a difference?” And Charlie answered, “They want to be recognized and want something larger than life, and benefit their world, neighborhood, and their world.” And without condemnation but just sheer modeling, Mr. Rogers taught a lesson worth relearning today: He took Charlie’s definition of the essential as satisfaction from doing the most good that benefits others and compared it with his definition of the essential. By Mr. Roger’s definition, the essential is getting a hug from a down syndrome child at the end of a long work day.   And Mr. Rogers unwrapped that by explaining: I want to be the best receiver, graceful receiving is one of the most wonderful gifts we can give anybody.

So what are the essentials that disciples do to make their faith public? They become graceful receivers who eat together. If you are a democrat, you need to gracefully receive a republican neighbor (yes, the one with the Trump/Pence sign still on their lawn) over for dinner, lunch, or at least a cup of coffee—don’t offer them tea, it’s not a tea party! If you are a republican, you need to gracefully receive that democrat co-worker, (yes, the one who openly made fun of Trump and is enraged and in tears, who will wear yoga pants every single day of her life as a protest against men) and take her out to lunch. Let her fume. She’s not so much grieving the loss of Hilary Clinton, but the loss of a possible history making moment of having a woman president (if this doesn’t make sense to you, just keep on chewing your food slowly and be quiet and gracefully receive her venting). When the donkey and the elephant feed together, we gracefully receive one another, we don’t pass up the opportunity to testify that this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. For everyday is the day that the Lord has made. Let’s us learn to receive each day graciously, for our Lord tells us that each of us whites and colored, democrats and republicans are a delight to our Maker, so much so that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die for us, so that in Christ, we may be united on this ordinary day and everyday. Amen.


Gloria Yi is an Associate Pastor at Woodside Presbyterian Church in Yardley, PA. Gloria Yi came to Woodside in 2004 to work with the children and youth with her late husband, Steve Yi. God blessed them with Emmanuella Yi (Ella), and allowed them to shine God’s light in joy and sorrow. Gloria’s favorite group to work with is the junior high age group, believing that critical spiritual decisions can be made by the age of 12, as Jesus was found at the temple discussing with the teachers. She enjoys having the youth group over to her house, going to the beach, having heart-to-heart discussions, and trying any new cuisine.

Owning my Racism

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It was a chilly winter evening in December back in 2005 when my college boyfriend and I headed out together to attend a friend’s ugly Christmas Sweater party off campus.  I was a senior at the University of Southern California, right in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. I love my college experience–as a super-involved, type-A achiever, I had managed to amass a ton of friends and connections.  I never walked across campus without running into at least half a dozen people I knew well.

But off campus was a different story.  Most of the off-campus housing for students was north of the university, but my friends throwing the party lived west of campus.  They lived amongst the Angelenos, folks who, in the low-income neighborhood surrounding USC, were largely minorities, many of whom had never been to college themselves.  I can’t tell you how many stories I heard from friends whose bikes were stolen, cars broken into, apartments robbed, presumably by the locals.  And then there was the fact that our university regularly reminded us to always be “alert” when we were walking at night–to avoid wearing earbuds or being distracted in case someone might be tempted to rob us.  It was never said, but I can admit that it was always implied who those “someones” were.

It was into this context that my Navy ROTC boyfriend and I stepped out into the darkness.  We had barely left campus and were about to cross Vermont Ave when my boyfriend suddenly grabbed my arm. “We have to cross the street,” he whispered urgently.  And so we ran across the street, jaywalking across multiple lines of traffic to get to the other side.

Why?

There was a young black man walking towards us in the dark.

I often find myself returning to that moment.  Because the truth is that I was incredibly embarrassed that we ran across the street that night, but not for the reasons you may think.  I was embarrassed because of how relieved I felt when we we found ourselves on the other side.  And I was ashamed to admit that I felt that way.  Ashamed to feel, in my own body, the evidence that all of my intellectual and conscious efforts to combat racism and to overcome bias were in direct conflict with my own body. Ashamed to admit that I had allowed skin tone to color my assumptions about the character of stranger as he shared the sidewalk with me.

It wasn’t the first time that I was faced with my own racism, and it probably won’t be the last. Because the truth is that racism isn’t just about the words we use (or don’t).  It isn’t even always a conscious decision.  The truth that I was confronted with on that street is that racism is within me, even as I fight my hardest to combat it.

Years later, I am still confronting the truth of my implicit biases that favor my european american brothers and sisters over my african ones.  Because despite my best efforts, despite nearly a decade in which I have regularly confronted my bias and owned my own racism and wrestled with it, I know that I still have a ton of work to do. Because it is in me.  It is down there so deep that I cannot always predict how it will show itself.  Because it is always finding new ways to reveal itself.

These days, when I think about that moment in the dark, I find myself wondering about that young man.  About what it felt like to see two young, blonde white kids running across traffic to avoid sharing the sidewalk with him. In what ways did we wound him by our actions, or confirm his experience of “less than” in the company of white folk?  Or were we just one more example piled up on top of a mountain of discrimination?

As a Christian, my faith affirms that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And I want so badly to live in a world that honors this truth.  But it will not happen until I look inward, wrestle with my own demons and get to know them firsthand.  It will not happen until I stand before my God and own my own complicity, my own sinfulness, my own part in the structures of racism that underpin our culture.  It will not happen until I start listening to those to whom I must repent. It will not happen until I seek forgiveness from those who have borne the weight of my bias, my black and brown brothers and sisters who have walked this lonesome valley before me, and who pray to the same God I worship for justice, peace, and righteousness.

This is the work of a lifetime. Its been over 10 years since that moment at USC, and the work is far from done. But I take heart in the words of my colleague the Rev. Diane Kenaston, who writes,

Racism, sexism, ableism, and all the other -isms are the powers and principalities of our age. We are part of patriarchal, white supremacist structures whether we choose to or not. As my favorite academic dean is fond of saying, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

 


Even our best efforts at “doing good” are going to in some way fail because we are trapped in this body of death, in this creation that groans and aches for redemption. Yes, Jesus has already won and the kingdom of God has begun — but the full working out of Christ’s reign and the ultimate reconciliation of the world to himself are still ongoing.

And as part of that ongoing reconciliation, I confess my own sin. I’m led to repentance. And that’s what we need. We need a whole nation of white Christians willing to look honestly at ourselves in the mirror and say, “Yes, that’s me.”

Lord, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy, indeed.

 

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

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Late last week I was waiting at the bus stop for my daughter.  The bus stopped on the corner and the neighborhood kids streamed down the steps of the bus and into the afternoon light.  One of the students, a young girl who goes to my church, started talking about something that had happened in her family earlier that week–her mother and her grandfather had gotten into a heated argument about the election.  She recounted how her mother had discovered that grandpa was going to vote for Trump, and how she lit into him.  “I can’t believe my grandpa is that stupid,” she said.  “How could he vote for that man?”

Now, I have my own personal politics, but I was stunned.  I couldn’t believe I was hearing this young girl speaking this way about her own grandfather, a person she adores, whom I see her snuggle up to in church every week, because she knows that he cares deeply for her.  “Come on, now,” I said to her.  “Your grandpa isn’t stupid. He just disagrees with your mother.  We can’t go around calling everyone who disagrees with us names.  We need to find ways to talk to one another.”

The words had barely escaped my lips when another young girl, whom I don’t know as well, started yelling at the top of her lungs, “I hate Hillary! I hate Hillary!” Why?  “Because she’s a liar!  She lies and lies and lies!”

I have been thinking about this moment at the bus stop ever since.  These girls were on my mind as I voted on Tuesday, and as I watched the results come in.  As people expressed fear, doubt, joy, and every other emotion on social media, as newspapers have covered the post-election climate, I find myself returning to this moment.  Pondering these young ladies in my heart.

I find myself wondering what exactly our children are learning from this election.  That people with whom we disagree are losers?  Bigots? That people we don’t like are liars? Criminals? Sexual predators?  I’m not trying to diminish the harsh realities of this election, but I can’t help but think that our children are paying far more attention to us than we might realize.  These two young girls at the bus stop have internalized the polarization of this climate in a way that surprised me.  They sounded just like a lot of adults I happen to know and love.  People who are struggling to speak compassionately to those with whom they disagree right now.

I recently spent some time in the company of other pastors, resting and reflecting on our call to ministry. One of the pastors told a story about a dark time in his ministry, when he was going through a divorce.  He shared that he preached some very angry sermons in those days, and not a lot of grace.  And he shared how there was this one church lady named Lois who always dressed in her Sunday best, with her hat cocked just right.  And how she always told it to you straight.  One day, after one of those angry sermons, she walked right up to this pastor, looked him dead in the eye, and asked him, “Who went and licked the red off your candy?”

I can’t help but think that this country has had its fill of angry sermons this year.  For so much of our public discourse has been rooted in anger, in fear, in distrust of those with whom we disagree.  We have lost sight of grace, lost sight of the fundamental humanity of our neighbors, and in the process we have created a culture in which there can only be winners and losers.  We have made it near impossible for those whose party lost the election to see the light. And that is a tragedy.

I’m not trying to say everything is going to be okay.  The truth is that any government is a profoundly human institution.  Some of them will be better than others, some will be kinder and more compassionate than others, but all of them fall short of the Kingdom of God. And there is no President, Senator or Congressperson who can live up to the standards set by our Lord and Savior Christ.

But here is some truth that I do think bears remembering: the overwhelming majority of people in this country want to make America a better place for all of us.  As a Democrat, that means I must acknowledge that my Republican neighbors are doing what they think is best for all of us, even when I disagree with them (and I often do). I would hope that they believe the same of me.

And as a Christian, I must remember that my identity in Christ is not tied to my political affiliation. My identity in Christ is rooted in something deeper, some far more important than which party is listed on my registration.  And when my party fails to live up to its own ideals (because it will), I must be willing to confront those failures in love, too.  I must be willing to work to make that system become more just, peaceful, and loving. Because nothing will get better until we demand it.

Finally, I take heart that the Gospel is always calling us forward, out of the various camps that divide us, and into the light of Christ.  And today I especially find encouragement in the words of Rev. Steve Holmes, who reminds us that our discipleship requires a different kind of witness to a world that sorely needs hope:

“Do not be afraid to live among people who love the sword, who speak with iron hearts. You have been sent to make gentle this wounded world, to live in peace among those who are afraid, to bear healing to those who are captive to the spirit of pride and violence. Do not despair because of the oppressors, those who judge and despise, who will not listen, who do not know how to join with neighbors. Rejoice, for you have been given to them, to shine light into the darkness of their world. The Holy Spirit sustains you, so that you may dwell as healers among fearful men.

Bear your outrage lightly; do not cling to it. Let it lead you toward compassion, not anger. Pray that you may not be defeated by vengefulness, eaten by the appetite for power, destroyed by the spirit of destructiveness. Anger is not your weapon; it is your enemy.

The spirit of violence seeps into the world. But you radiate Good News, you breathe gentleness into the air that all others breath, you establish trust on the earth. Be broken hearted. And through the cracks let light shine…the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

After Election Day…

I had the honor of writing this letter, which was signed by nearly 45 area clergy.  It represents our hope and prayer for our country in the days following the election on November 8th.

On November 9th, we awake to the results of an election that has bitterly divided our nation.  It is tempting to proclaim winners and losers and to treat this election cycle like a sporting match where one party has emerged victorious at the expense of the other.

But to do so would be a grave mistake. In the aftermath of such an election season we will all need to work diligently to repair the damage done. Those who founded this country believed that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. The candidates who celebrate victory on election night must rise in the morning prepared to govern for the good of all people, including those who voted against them.  To forget this is to forget the history of this great nation, to forget the ideals and the hope of government of the people, by the people, for the people.

We are leaders of faith communities that, for centuries, have had many disagreements.  And yet, we believe that what is more important than those things that divide us are those things that bring us together.  In that spirit, our prayer for our community and for our nation is that we might set aside the rancor and bitterness of the campaign season in order to remember that we are Americans together. Together, we pray for the wisdom to remember the challenge of Isaiah: that our life together depends upon our ability to turn the swords and spears of hostility and division into the plowshares and pruning hooks of peace and unity.

May God be with us all, and the wisdom of the Divine guide those who lead the people, this day and every day. Amen.

 

Rev. Bruce Ballantine Morrisville Presbyterian Church

Rev. Wendy Bellis Morrisville United Methodist Church

Rev. Kyle Benoit Greater Grace Community Church

Rev. Josh Blakesley Warminster United Church of Christ

Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy Congregation Kol Emet

Rev. Catherine Bowers St. Andrews United Methodist Church

Rev. Luky Cotto Casa del Pueblo Latino Ministry of Lehman Memorial UMC

Rev. Dr. Nancy Dilliplane Trinity Buckingham Episcopal Church

Rev. Chris Edwards Northampton Presbyterian Church

Rev. Susan Fall Forest Grove Presbyterian Church

Rev. Laura Ferguson Newtown Presbyterian Church

Rev. Joshua D. Gill Doylestown Presbyterian Church

Rev. Bailey Heckman Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church

Rev. Debbie Heffernan Morrisville Presbyterian Church

Rev. Doug Hoglund Woodside Presbyterian Church

Mary Dyer Hubbard Pastoral Counselor

Rev. Lynn Hade Church of the Advent

Rev. Keith Ingram Bucks County Seventh Day Adventist Church

Rev. Stacey Jones-Anderson First United Methodist Church Bristol 

Rev. Catherine D. Kerr Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Rev. Nathan Krause Redeemer Lutheran Church

Rev. Bill Lentz Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church

Rev. Nancy Ludwig Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church

Rev. Joe Martin Fallsington United Methodist Church

Rev. Sam Massengill Newtown Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. Kari McClellan First Presbyterian of Levittown

Rev. Mary McCullough Trinity Episcopal Church Ambler

Rev. Dorry Newcomer Newtown United Methodist Church

Rev. Jake Presley Bux-Mont Baptist Church

Rev. Eric Reimer St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church

Rev. Keith Roberts Doylestown Presbyterian Church

Rev. Michael Ruk, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, New Hope

Rev. Janet L. Saddel St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Warrington

Rev. Michael Saunders Crossway Community Church

Chaplain Susan Sciarratta Counselor, Insight Christian Counseling

Rev. Barbara Seekford Chalfont United Methodist Church

Rev. Stuart H. Spencer Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church

Rev. Doug Stratton Hatboro Baptist Church

Rev. Mark Studer Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church

Rev. Jim Sutton New Britain Baptist Church

Rev. Bill Teague Langhorne Presbyterian Church

Rev. Lorelei K. Toombs Willow Grove United Methodist Church

Rev. Sarah Weisiger Ivyland Presbyterian Church

Rev. John Willingham Doylestown Presbyterian Church

 

The Lord Indeed is God

1 Kings 18:20-39

So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.  When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”

 

The city was in ruins.

Nearly deserted by the people, its houses sat empty and its streets laid bare, littered with the debris of a war that had raged through the country until it had destroyed nearly everything of value.

It seemed, quite literally, a city of the dead.

And as history tells it, it was on a Monday morning that spring, amongst the ruins of war, that nearly 10,000 slaves marched their way onto the old Washington Race Course, a horse racing venue turned prison camp, where hundreds of union soldiers had died.

For two weeks, they worked to bury the soldiers, 257 graves for men who died of exposure and malnourishment. And as they dug, children sang hymns—John Brown’s Body, the Star Spangled Banner, America—while their pastors preached and the people strewed the ground with flowers.

Long before Memorial Day, these men and women laid flowers on graves to honor the dead. To remember their fight. To give thanks for their sacrifice, a civil war fought in part so that they might be free.May28NYTimes_MemorialDay_Fin.jpeg

It is easy to forget the lessons of a holiday whose cost is distant to modern eyes. Easy to forget that a holiday like Memorial Day has to be because so many young lives are not. Happens because so many wars continue to be fought, not just on our soil, but in distant lands we may never see and can too easily forget

And as I reflect on this weekend, when many will lay flowers on graves, join in parades, or disappear to the beaches, I am struck by the recognition that it is only by remembering days such as Memorial Day, that we can begin to imagine a world that is otherwise.

And I am reminded of this fact today by no other than the remarkable prophet Elijah.

In the Scripture for today, you see, the nation of Israel is at a crossroads. As long as there have been kings, these powerful men have been synonymous with the voice of God. David, Solomon—they have, more often than not, led the people closer to God, and the people have followed gratefully.

But the Israel of Elijah’s time is a shadow of its former self. Infighting and politics have fractured the kingdom. They are a people divided–a north and a south, two kings who bicker and fight and then make up again, until the next time.  The people of Jerusalem now follow King Ahab, whose moral relativism has led them farther and farther from God. Scripture tells us that his wife Jezebel, a Sidonian (and therefore an outsider to the people of God) has not only encouraged the worship of foreign gods; she has murdered the priests of the Lord when they have spoken against Ahab.  For this and more Scripture tells us that the people have suffered under a punishing drought, and their desperate cries have reached to the heavens.

And it is into this vulnerable moment that Elijah comes. Out of the desert, seemingly out of nowhere, he arrives on the scene to call the people back to God. Back to faithfulness. Back to their story.

1 Kings is such a rich story, and there is so much that could be said about what happens in these moments, but for now, I think what is important for us to hear is this: that Elijah’s actions on Mount Carmel remember the people to themselves.elijah.gif

To a people who have forgotten who and whose they are, Elijah offers them the opportunity to remember the God of Israel. To remember the promise of the covenant. To remember, in other words, that there is another way than the path that they have tread up to this moment.

To illustrate what is at stake, Elijah arranges a contest between the Gods.  On one side stands Elijah.  Against him are hundreds of priests of Baal, whose job it will be to call the god down from his sleep.  And they take this job quite seriously.  As they cut them selves, as they cry out and limp around their altar, as they beg and plead and cry, I am reminded of how often I fall into the trap of depending on my own actions, my own perceived “faithfulness” to make a way in this world. How often do we tell myself that our success is dependent on how good I am? How often do I blame myself when I cannot force my life or my world to conform to my vision for it? How often do I blame leaders–in the church, in this country, in this world–when they fail to single-handedly implement their high-minded rhetoric?

And then I contrast this tendency towards self-sufficiency with Elijah, who, drawing the people closer to him, takes his time as he carefully repairs the altar of God. Twelve stones, for twelve tribes. Remember the covenant, he whispers. So calm, so assured, I almost hold my breath reading it now.

And when all is ready, the table set, the story–our story–remembered, the people close to God’s altar, Elijah prays. Not for victory. Not for power. But for God to be present, “so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” And the fire consumes. And the people remember. And they cannot forget again.


This memorial day, as politicians and elected officials cry out for peace even as they sanction the machine of war, we would do well to remember who deserves our trust. We would do well to remember that they are not God. That we are not God.

We would do well to remember that the God we worship is the God who called us not to war, but to service. Not to victory, but to faithfulness. Not to power, but to the Kingdom of God, where there is no war, no tears, and where death has no sting.

Let us not forget this, as we mourn those whose lives have been lost in service to the powers of this world, and let us pray to God for the Kingdom, even as we labor for peace in this peaceless world.28a78d3b4a5cd3f2c00b539184793858.jpg