Whether it be the child who is bullied, the heroin addict, the immigrant, the refugee, the elderly, the cancer survivor, the newborn, the mentally ill, the learning disabled, the different . . . who will you say, can be excluded from the promise of Liberty?

When did it become acceptable to be people of a message which does not match our credo?    I have heard that question proffered more in recent days than in all recent years.   While I would love to point to a political movement, or even one particular human, upon whom blame for this should rest.  However, sadly as we cast our eyes over our shoulder into the past, we soon discover that humankind, has oft been guided by those who boast of one thing, while their actions are rent with the profane obscenity of narcissistic self-serving actions.  

My dear friends, the actions of our government are not a new wave of disregard for the freedoms of citizens, met with the hard-hearted disregard for the very freedom we espouse.  No, do not be deceived, it is just that the true heart of the church has been so preoccupied for so long with the art of discussing and debating the virtue of being holy unto ourselves, that we have ceded the very oversight of virtue entrusted to us by the very blood of the martyrs who have gone on before.   It is just now, because we have allowed Pandora’s box to be fully opened with crime and corruption, fear and hatred, self-loathing and persecution, writhing like venomous snakes devouring the innocent the world seems hell bent on destruction, and nothing seems safe and even less sacred.

When the message of those who claim faith in Christ, is a message in which even one person is seen to be beyond the love of God, then the message is not of Christ, but of the very evil clothed with the whorish robes of the profiteers which persists in destroying lives, claiming the greater good as the justification.   When the people who bear the marks of Christ, claim the cross they bear is not for the salvation of others, instead claiming the very existence of those people is instead the burden claimed to be the cross, those who claim the cross could just as easily claim the rod of Pharaoh, which looked like Moses’s staff but was not of God.   

Take time and be very careful you who claim Christ, that what you desire matches with what Christ desires, and not what you are told He desires.   Read the Scriptures, and allow the Grace that found you as a decrepit depraved sinner wont for salvation, and reconciled you to Almighty God, to restore you once again to the heart you had when you first believed.   If your faith has you applauding the hell-bent destruction of others, you have lost the very essence of Christ in your life, and are standing precariously on the precipice of destruction yourself.

Question yourself, what if your birth had been different?   What if you were of a different color, or different circumstance?  What if rather than being in whatever place you are safely reading this short passage, you are cowering behind a bomb strewn wall yearning to live, yet you have no-one in safety to give you shelter?  What if you are watching your neighbors fall prey to drug lords, and the cesspool of depravation which consumes so much of the world?   Would your stance be to bar the door, or would you cast a light in the window, hoping some weary traveler would find their way to safety?

Throughout my life, an old hymn has served to remind me of how I have been rescued from the pathway of destruction whereby evil would consume me like the swirling tide.   “Let the Lower Lights be Burning” is a hymn which calls upon those who are safely on shore to cast the lower lights, not just relying on the great beacon from atop a lighthouse, but the lower lights, for many are in the peril of drowning.   How can we Christians stand idly by, and even join our voices in the chorus of hatred, which calls out from shore “You are not welcome!  You are not worthy to even live!  We are better off if you are dead!”  Whether it be the child who is bullied, the heroin addict, the immigrant, the refugee, the elderly, the cancer survivor, the newborn, the mentally ill, the learning disabled, the different . . . who will you say, can be excluded from the promise of Liberty?   May God have mercy upon each of our souls, may God forgive our transgressions, our silence, and our inaction! 

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Burning down the house because a room needs new paint.

The current Legislative Branch, seems hell bent to repair the nation as they see it as badly broken.  They are not alone, millions agree that we are on the wrong footing, yet the way the repairs are being implemented are no different that burning down a house because a room needs repainted.   When our solutions of problems are to eradicate entire programs, and then hope to address the problem at some future date, we are no less perverse than parents who have locked their emaciated children in a closet until they are found dead.  Our hearts break at the learning of such tragedies, and yet we applaud when funding is removed from programs that will fund food for children, continuing care for cancer survivors, and the assurance of a dignified life for our seniors.   Are we so naïve that we think that slashing and eradicating programs without responsible answers and solutions, is the correct way to go with our country and our own lives?   Are we so desperate for a modicum of tax relief that we are willing to sacrifice the very fabric of our country for the betterment of the profiteers and politicians?

Have we slid so far into the abyss of ignorance and hard heartedness, that we can rest well with turning out our neighbors and family members from the very things they need.  When will we stop embracing a convoluted standard of conduct, and be the country we can potentially be?   

To the handful of you who will read this, my words are not meant to be taken as an indication of my problems with a party or certain politicians.   My despair, if born equally by all parties, as well as the electors who willingly surrender the future to the hands of greed and corruption. 

On a cold and bitter night . . .

 

It’s a cold and windy night, not only here along the creek, but most of the eastern portion of the country is held in the icy grips of polar temps.   If you are warm and reading this, thank God for the warmth.   Have you considered the people near you that might not be warm?  Are they the same people who were cold this same time last year, and the year before that?   Are the people who are hungering, still the same people who were hungry last year?

For so many who travel down a lonely and hard road, it seems that no one cares, because the traveler’s situation does not change.   Oh yes, we try to feed and clothe the needy, and our ventures into these acts of love are necessary.    However, when will the day come in our lives when we are willing to say enough of this!   Enough of the suffering, enough of the oppression, enough of the stories of hungry children, enough of the stories of elderly trading dignity for survival, enough of homeless veterans!!!  When will be the day we take stock of our lives, of our churches, and be snapped into the full realization that it is our responsibility and God given trust to make the lives better for our fellow humans, and all of creation?   

Please understand, this is not a plea for moneys for programs that will feed the hungry, although money will help.  This short commentary is more about not going the distance and creating real change.   We seem awash in acceptable excuses for our limited attempts to bridge the gap in all the above stated cases.   And in the over wash, we find that keeping our heads above water, is considered our crowning achievement.   How can we rest upon the laurels we’ve awarded ourselves for surviving the tragedy of our own making?  Why would be call these circumstances tragedies of our own making?  Because simply, the end result is because we have allowed the decay to occur while we have been attending to other things.  

In conversation, earlier this week, I was reminded of a short list of churches who have the blessing of rather substantial endowment packages.    One voice at the table, was heard to say, “we use a small percentage each year, and of that draw off the interest, we give 3% to the food pantry” Another voice, stated “Our congregation would never do that!  The money is a trust, and we will keep it secure for our grandchildren and the next generations” From another table in the restaurant, a voice from a side table said plaintively “What if they are not here?” indicating the televised funeral procession of a young trooper.   Stated softly, and with the slight embarrassed tone of an eaves dropper who was pained by what they were watching unfold on the screen, against the backdrop of conversation about church finance.  Yet those soft words cry out in a great collective shriek of agony joined with a chorus of the many voices of suicide victims, over-dose fatalities, and those who struggle to keep their loneliness, anger and inner demons in check.    “What if ‘they’ are not here?”

“What if ‘they’ are not here?”  While we busy ourselves conducting our weekly assemblies, and we worry about diminishing interest and shrinking attendance, all around us the numbers of people whose lives are in free fall are in rising at an alarming rate.   Almost daily we read of another person claimed by heroin or another substance.   Tales of domestic situations gone horribly wrong, are as common as those which express the failures of our systems to provide help for mental health problems that contribute to horrid hellish lives.  And then there are the stories we do not hear, but we can see the story unfold before us, the child who will not eat a nutritious meal today, or the senior who stands at the pharmacy counter playing a game of ‘juggle the meds so I can afford to pay the electric bill’    The hard-fast reality is that as we are responsible for the decay around us.

So, what do we do about it?  Let’s take a collective step of faith and change the world!   Let’s take our great coffers and split them open, rely upon God to refill them, and use that wealth to create the jobs and the clinics, and the ways specially to feed those who are hungry and cold.   Let’s begin to take the risk and perhaps actually trust God, and not the FDIC to secure our future. 

If we do not act soon, there will be so many fewer of our next generation left to enjoy the benefits of these huge stockpiles, and truly what good is money to replace stained glass windows, and an organ, if the church yard is being continually beset with new tombstones as witnesses to our unwillingness to go the full distance of love?      

Let’s try this again, shall we…

 

One of my hopes in this new year is to write more, and perhaps this journal/blog may be the best place to begin. I apologize if there are times I come across as ‘grumpy old preacher’ or as too much ‘Pollyanna’, for those of you who know me, they are very real versions of my person, and sometimes cannot be contained.

As we begin this year, many of my thoughts and much of my time, in the late night and early hours of each day, have been focused on those who would take advantage of others for their own satisfaction and gratification. These many years in ministry and in business have brought me to a place where I am not surprised by the cavalier nature people have toward others, nor by how deftly they can use and abuse another person without remorse, or a fleeting second thought.

I have grown nearly numb to the stories, and yet I still am at a loss to explain this attitude and the actions that accompany such mechanical use of others. Science tells us that such actions can fuel ego, or provide a chemical release that sates the drive within the perpetrator. The wounded people who lie in the wake of such cavalier disregard for the lives of others, know only that their trust has been broken and betrayal rules the day. Whether it is the act of a predator who claims to be a friend, and then lures an unsuspecting and trusting individual into a compromising and detrimental situation, or the person who simply ‘uses’ another to achieve their goals or finances, the unjust nature of the relationship is nothing short of criminal. In the criminality of it all, we find an acceptance and an avoidance by those who witness the grievous state of affairs. Have we become so calloused and hardened of heart, that we can cast off people like a pair of socks, or tread upon them like cobblestones, considering only where we ultimately desire to be, and not that upon which we tread.

At what cost is another person’s wellbeing worthy of being cast aside in favor of your own? What amount of entertainment value, or personal capital gain, tips the scales so far off center, that fair and decent treatment of others is readily abandoned without remorse? Is it proper treatment of a fellow human to lead them on to believe there is a deeper relationship afoot, only to cast them aside when they no longer are needed? Is it acceptable to know how deeply a person desires to be part of something grander than themselves, or to be included in a clique of people, and then capitalize upon that desire as a means of macabre entertainment, never with the intent of inclusion, except for the present convenient time?

Our society has become so outraged by the slightest offence, in part because our mutual respect has been thwarted and consideration of another person above ourselves is something we talk about but really do not put into practice. This is not something found only on the streets and in secular society, but deeply rooted in our congregations and houses of faith.

We have comforted ourselves by allowing the ends to justify the means, by allowing convenience to dictate the parameters of our acceptance of others, and the justice by which we honor them. Examples range from the pillar to the pulpit. From the congregation who will overlook that their chief musician is a gay man, because they love his gifts of music in worship, yet will turn other LGBTQ people away from their doors and take a stand against all tangible issues. To the church who will scold others for purchasing from the big box stores because of hiring practices and the like, and then send the same company requests for donations. And there is always the people we implore to be part of our congregations, and then for the next twenty years treat them as the ‘new people’ and preclude them from being part of the inner circle sitting at the welcome table.

We have allowed ourselves to imagine, and then to practice using a person for entertainment value or exemplary work ethic, within a social group, and then never allow them to be part of the special gatherings of the group. Or much worse, we will entrap a person against their will, and use them for our own folly, and enjoyment.
We have allowed ourselves to be couched with the belief that somehow there are people who because they are kind and gentle souls, can be taken full advantage of in so many ways, and then disavow all responsibility for such blatant disregard with a simple “I will do better next time”

So how do we change this whole bucket of worms into something much better? Simply starting with truly respecting and valuing the people around you as true equals is a grand place to start. If each of us, would just strive to see every other person as being worthy of being our equal, then we could perhaps be more just in our treatment of one another. Perhaps if we started to see each other as equals, then we could understand that the other person had the right to their own opinions, to their own desires, and yes to their own claim on liberty. Perhaps if we strived to see each other as equals we would care much less about appearances and truly begin to see the value in someone who loves us for who we are, more than a fascination with our image of perfection. Perhaps if we treated each other as equals, and did not strive to classify and to separate, then the true state of shalom would pervade our homes and communities, and the great and vast multitude of devastated and wounded, mistreated and maligned people could rise and find renewed hope, and ultimately find their own joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refugees in an Unwelcome Land

As I have read the many venomous and vitriolic proclamations decrying the dangers associated with allowing refugees to come to our shore, I have cringed, and have become saddened because so much of this outcry is being generated by Christ’s own.   My intention tonight as I returned to a blog that has languished unattended since July, was to point out the multitude of other dangers that may befall us, and the precarious state of our claim to speak for Christ, when we say we represent the One who is Love, and then set about selecting only those who are worthy of its receipt.

Rather, I want to begin with a story.  A story that is in a large part my own, yet one in which I cannot claim personal offence, nor damage.   It is the story of my family.   In 1842, the Niederauer family, and Oexner family journeyed to America.  They were refugees in every sense of the word.  Escaping the region of Germania now known as the Czech Republic, they were fleeing for their lives, because they were Roman Catholics, who’s generational home was now claimed by the Protestants, who proclaimed them to be evil and better off dead.   They left all they had and fled to a place of safety with the hope of starting anew.

Prince Galitzin was gathering refugees, these Catholic vermin who were better off dead, were being gathered into the hills of Pennsylvania.  They did not come to an area as hostile as that which they were fleeing, but an area that was suspicious of them nonetheless, and one in which there new start was not automatically guaranteed.   Within their first 10 years, they would move twice, each time eking out a portion of wilderness, and living among their own.  There they would finally settle in and around Johnstown, and in time would thrive!

Now here, some 170 years hence, their offspring have become an integral part of society and the communities in which they live.  A family that had their entry into this land of Freedom and Unlimited Aspiration, as refugees fleeing for their lives.

Yes, the world is a dangerous place, and the threats are all around us, yet somehow, when I consider the past, and hold it against the Gospel, I am compelled to look to the Land of the Free, and hope she is still a safe harbour for those who need rest from fleeing.

Celebrating Independence Day!

The Fourth of July!  In all its soggy splendor it is a day to celebrate, as we mark the 239th year of the experiment with freedom.

In my formative years, I was taught by family and educators alike that freedom, something so prized and rare, was shared by everyone, because after all, it was guaranteed by the sacrifices and high ideals of our founders.   As the years passed, I quickly realized that the ideal of freedom, while worthy of praise and protection, was still not the standard from ‘sea to shining sea’.  Understanding my great fortune was to be born into such a life as the one I am living, has become deeper with each passing year, not because the bank account has grown, but because I have encountered multitudes within our country who are not enjoying the same freedoms.

I remember quite clearly, as a young student at university, the lessons in freedom that my first african-american friend taught me.  In my naiveté, I assumed each of us had been afforded much the same freedom.  Arriving at the university and throughout my first year, my greatest fear was appearing to be a country bumpkin (which of course I was), while his greatest fears were generated by his skin color.   While I could change my appearance through speech, and decorum, Theo was unable to change in any way, the very basis of his fears — the color of his skin.

Both of us came from hard-working families, that embraced the importance of Faith and Family, in fact we both had grown up in the same Christian denomination, and even shared similar tastes in our viewing preferences on television.  Yet, I only had to worry about people calling me ‘hillbilly or redneck’, or making the assumption of a low IQ because of my speech and attire.  Theo on the other hand, would be required to justify his presence in the classroom, and in nearly all other places not because of his dialect, size, or candor, but because of his skin color.  We became friends, in spite of the boundaries placed by society, and because of our friendship, my eyes were opened to a larger segment of our society who were allowed in the house, but not at the table.

One evening, Theo looked at me and said, “Someday, I want to be just a guy.  Not the black kid in the tv room; not the black man in class; not the african in the choir; I just want to be me without the descriptors”  Some three decades later, I would hear similar words uttered by a dear friend, who was not afforded full guarantee of our freedoms, not because of skin color, but because of something just as difficult to change, his sexuality.

The full expression of freedom is far from the norm, and for many within our borders, it is even something beyond dreaming about.  Those who would labor to continue to restrict freedom to a gentrified population, do so driven by the fear that somehow full freedom and equality would spell disaster.   Sorrowfully, I have even heard people of faith being more concerned with keeping the boat from rocking, than making sure no child would not know the full breadth and width of liberty.  Scripture is cited (as it has been for centuries when it was used to justify slavery) as justification for the subjugation of women, and the disenfranchisement of any segment of society deemed beyond the norm.  All the while ignoring the statements of Christ, in which the standard words are so radically inclusive, and extravagantly welcoming to all people and all of creation.

On one hand, I am excited that we are moving rapidly toward breaking the shackles which prevent the full realization of freedom and equality for so many.  Yet on the other hand, I am ashamed that here we are nearly 250 years into the grand experiment, and there is still a  cacophony of voices crying for the acceptance of revoking of rights  guaranteed to every man, woman and child, regardless of creed, race, gender, etc.  And sadly many of those voices, claim to be the very mouthpiece of Christ Jesus.

My heart will still swell with pride, at the playing of the anthem, and my eyes fill with tears, and I will celebrate this grand day!  Yet, I will acknowledge that for many, it is a day of pain, for in their plight, they are not free, and adding to their pain, are those who should be unlocking the shackles, who instead insist of adding more.

May God be merciful, and may the day be soon, when freedom will ring for all people!

j

 

In Days of Unsettled Seas

Praying,   We’ve been offering prayers of remorse and prayers of petition for hope and calm seas for quite some time now. As a people of faith, faith born of unconditional, extravagant and enduring love, we have been crying out in alarm, as the waves of hatred and the violent seas of evil seem destined to swallow us whole! Much like the disciples in the boat with Jesus when the raging sea threatened to consume them, we cry out “Aren’t You going to do something?”

My spirit has struggled to comprehend the scope of evil that can justify taking an innocent person’s life, in the name of justice, or some convoluted perception of the same. Whether it is the officer of the law who pumps 15 rounds into a young man, or a 21 year old, shooting the defenseless, there is not a reason or excuse that can shoulder the blame, with one glaring exception.

That exception is the modern church.

In far too many of our congregations, we justify our actions against others through the arterial flow emanating from hardened hearts and spirits of exclusion cloaked in fear.   We have reduced the “life giving flow” of the love of Christ, to something akin to an IV drip, that is meted out to the deserving and to those who share our same ideals. We readily embrace the notion that somehow the tragedies around us, are neither our fault nor our concern, and we merrily focus on our own comfort whilst the world around us is craving and yearning for the wondrous love that we keep safely behind closed doors and stained glass windows.

We allow voices other than that of God to guide us, and to shape our response to the world around us! Whether they be the ever present obnoxious and vitriolic voices of the media, that swirl around us taunting us to provoke one another in anger, rather than provoking each other in love,  or the long held traditions of mistrust and fear that justify our inactions and hardened hearts, we allow those voices to sooth us into responding in a deep sleep of ignorance and inaction, broken only by the snoring sounds of our excuses.

The people of Mother Emmanuel AME church are leading us onward, in prayer, even though as they grieve, they are providing an example to us, for trusting Jesus to calm the storm. For they realize, that rather than needing to cry out “Aren’t You going to do something?”, they need to be the open arms of love! For they realize, that He already has taken care of the storm and has given each of us the ability to calm the storm ravaged seas.   We each have the Spirit within us that makes each of us fully capable of calming the seas, not for our own comfort, but for the building up of the Kingdom of God.

How have you responded to the shootings and other atrocities that are plaguing our land these days, like hailstones in a peach orchard?   Are you joining the mighty chorus of head shakers who are thankful that the tragedies have not occurred in your own community? Or are you among the voices that are diverting the conversation to a place of discard through finger-pointing to any number of society’s ills, and inadequacies, thereby justifying maintaining the status quo? Or are you numbered among those who think something should be done, by someone, as long as it isn’t you?

As those who believe, by faith, in an Amazing and Wonderful Grace that is beyond even our wildest understanding, we must respond in a far different way.   We must respond with the very love and tenderness shown to us by our master. We must arise from our slumber and calm the seas!

We the church, need to lead the overthrow of evil from our midst.   We need to love our communities into the place of safe harbor.   We must be on the forefront as soldiers of compassion, grace and mercy, realizing the value of every person, and trusting in God for the energy and inspiration to carry us through.   We must start by being involved in the healing that follows the tragedies that are so abundant – first by praying, then by responding in love.   We must submit to God and allow him to calm the storms and the voices in our own lives, so that we can feel so secure in our love of God, that we can calm the storms and settle the whirlwinds that are threatening to capsize so many lives.

All things are possible through God, as long as we change our perspective and our stance from waiting for someone else to be the conduit of God’s love, and we ourselves realize that our very purpose here is to be the source of love for a sin-sick world. The responsibility does not lie with the government, the liberals, the conservatives, the older generation, the new generation, nor does it fall to any race, creed or gender. The responsibility for changing, and loving this world to peace in the name of God, falls squarely onto each of us.

May God be merciful, amen.