Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Samaritan In The Nursing Home

She stopped by my office to tell me
that she had cried her way through my sermon.

I thought it had been a good sermon
hitting all the right spots for a Thanksgiving week
coming of Advent proclamation:
We lean into the Hope of Advent,
thankful for what we have
but
brutally honest about the realities that surround us.
That hopeful leaning
calls us to honestly address
and diligently work for
justice and mercy
in the living of our daily lives.

What had caused her tears?

"I can no longer stay silent about
the problems on my job."
The ignoring of patient care needs,
the understaffing that caused
wounds to go uncared for
and patients to be ignored
she lined out for me in detail.
"Help me find out who to report this to."

She,
a doctor in her home country,
turning patients and carrying bedpans
in her adopted home,
recognized much
that one less experienced might not see.

Putting livelihood on the line
she came to me.
I would find the numbers she needed to call.

Driving in to work
Jesus asked me,
"Which of these was more faithful to the Gospel,
the one who preached?
Or the one who lived in justice and mercy?"

"The one who lived the Gospel," I replied.

"Go thou and do likewise."

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Canticle

The White Witch wanted
all Narnia to believe
that it would always be winter
but never Christmas

Rome bet that it would
always be Good Friday
Silent Saturday
but never Easter

Tortured for wearing
a t-shirt that read
"A World Without Torture,"
He walked with a crutch and a limp
But says
he'd do it all again. For
"A world without torture
is a beautiful thing."

Over a million strong
they march and strike
for climate change.
Demanding a chance
at a future
where water and air are pure.

Clad in traditional red and white
The women demonstrate
outside the UN
Peace flowers and placards
calling for an end
to genocide in Cameroon.
Far from home
The bring home's plight
to those who are supposed to care.

If a tree falls in the forest...
If a protest goes ignored...
"If the poor cry out I will hear from heaven."
"I have heard the cry of my people,
and come down to rescue them."
There is a river
that flows through the middle
of the city
And on either side are planted
the tree of life
whose leaves
are for the healing of the nations

The Arc of eternity is long
But it bends in the direction
Of Justice and Mercy
and walking Humbly
with our God.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Til They Have Faces

I have been (admittedly in a sporadic fashion) utilizing the 40-Day Journey With Howard Thurman as a devotional guide.

Today's reading utilized a quote from Thurman: "The slave was a tool, a thing, a utility, a commodity, but he was not a person. He was faced constantly with the imminent threat of death..."  As I read it, I could not help but compare this situation to that of so many today:  immigrants with deadly illnesses fearing deportation; separated children and unaccompanied minors; marginalized persons in inner cities; those from the Bahamas seeking refuge after Dorian; those caught in sex trafficking; and on...
These are the ones that Thurman refers to as "having their backs against the wall."

The scripture that was used with this quote was from Philemon, Paul's letter on behalf of a runaway slave who had been converted to Christianity: "so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother..."

My title for this particular blog is a take off on C.S. Lewis's Til We Have Faces, in which his main character speaks of the importance of relating to God in vulnerability (having a face) that lets us be truly seen.

I am concerned that much of the discussion currently regarding immigration and poverty; healthcare and homelessness sees the individuals involved as commodities, as "things" rather than people with faces and stories.

The strength, and task, of the Christian faith is to see them as brothers and sisters to care for not as commodities to be used.  The problem with political approaches to these issues is that they too often see these persons as political commodities, timing their concern and willingness to work with the opposing party to match their greatest benefit to their side.

Our task as Christians, it seems to me, is to ensure that these people have faces.  That first of all, we see them as brothers and sisters...because we have engaged in relationship with them.  This means that our first task is to discover who near us "has their backs against the wall" and get to know them as persons.  When they matter to us as family, as persons, as brothers and sisters, our advocacy becomes personal.  As they become beloved brothers and sisters we move forward and meet the Risen Christ in our relationship with them.  Our relationship becomes worship.  This is truly Kingdom work.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

You Don't Have To Go To The Border

You don't have to go to the border...this Administration will bring the border to you.

Here in Maryland we are faced with the attempt the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to contract with Maryland based Dynamic Services Solutions to operate a shelter in D.C. for undocumented and unaccompanied immigrant children ages 12 to 17.  This is an effort to handle the influx of immigrants along the southern border.

In an irony which is apparently lost on the government, this detention center would be housed in the building that once housed the Washington Theological Union.  D.C. officials say that the cities Zoning Board of Adjustment would have to approve this move.

Here are some of the significant difficulties, in my mind, of putting this detention center here:

  1.  The idea of housing children away from their parents.  "Undocumented immigrant children" is a smooth way of talking about children snatched away from their parents at the border.  Don't be fooled by snake oil language.
  2.  What does "Unaccompanied" mean?  Does it mean the High School senior who has been here for 4 years and has been working nights in a resturant while sharing an apartment with 7 others while he tries to make it in the "land of opportunity?"
  3.  How far away from the parents they were taken from are these children going to be held?  What is the system for tracking this and getting parents and children back together?  We've already seen what a horror show this has been so far.
  4.  This "contract for services" that Dynamic Services Solutions is being offered...what qualifies them to get it?  Their web site describes themselves as being "established to provide exceptional engineering, and staffing services to support critical operations and support innovative technology."  This doesn't sound like the language of a company providing high caliber human services.  It sounds like the definition of a company created to find the best place to drink from the government contracting trough and stick in a straw.  Good news for the company, lousy news for the kids.
  5.  Once a company like this becomes part of the local economic picture, it becomes harder to fight it.  It's claws are sunk deep into the job market and so folks are reluctant to call it out for problem behaviors.
  6.  There is enough distance between the Administration, the HHS, and the contractors that when something DOES go wrong (and trust me, something will) everyone can stand at that safe distance and point the finger at the other...while the victims, the children in this case, never get the benefit of anyone having to take responsibility; much less have any kind of ongoing transparency or accountability.
Our nation's history is replete with this kind of mistake, this kind of national sin.  We don't need to be repeating it again.

Maryland is certainly not the only place where HHS will be looking to put such detention centers.  So I say it again...You Don't Have To Go To The Border, This Administration Will Bring The Border To You


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Of Trump And Rattlesnakes

I am spending this week at Chautauqua Institute. I am the Chaplain at the Baptist House for the week. The theme for this week is Exploring Race And Culture In America.  

Among the performers here this week are Gina Chavez (if you don't know about her, she's worth looking up) and Wynton Marsalis.

Most intriguing to me is the Chaplain of the Week for the Institute.  Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre is an ethicist and a prolific writer in Latinx thought and Liberation Theology.  I am finding him challenging and painful to listen to as he preaches each morning.  Prophetic preaching is always challenging and painful for those who listen for the Word of the Lord in it.  I will be exploring more of my responses in later posts; but in this one I just want to put forward a single thought that I have had this morning.

I am grateful for Donald Trump.  I am grateful for him in the same way that I am grateful that when I go hiking in the mountains, in places where rattlesnakes are plentiful, that rattlesnakes have rattles.
Donald Trump is the rattle on the snake of racism and white nationalism.  The snake has always been there, but the rattle has woken us up to it's presence in a way our generation has not had to address before.  For this I am grateful.

The difference is, that while I can step around the rattlesnake when I hear it, and avoid the danger of being bitten...we cannot step around the serpent that is the ongoing presence of racism in our country.  Our nation has already been bitten.  Trump, however, signals us to the danger of a bite that we, all too often, ignore.  We need to suck the poison from the lifeblood of our nation or we will die.  The dream of what we can be will die.

In small, and larger, groups this week we are struggling with what it means to address the rattle that we have heard.  Does it force us to be more aware of what is actually happening?  What has been happening, literally for centuries? Or in our anger at the knowledge that we are being given, sometimes unwillingly, will we deny that we have been bitten?  Will we make our way down the path of history and collapse in agony as the poison continues to course through our veins.

This is not an overly dramatic image.  We are at a point in history that will shape us for years to come.  The shape of this nation will live or die based on our response to this moment,  just as nations have been shaped by their response to similar questions throughout history.

The challenge to me, as a Christian, is to read scripture through the lens of this moment, to hear what the Gospel of Jesus is calling me to.  Because the Christian Church in America is also at a crossroads.  We have heard the echoing rattles of other snakes...Falwell, Graham, Jeffress.  They have joined the den of the vipers of hatred and exclusion.  They have poisoned the Gospel of Jesus with their false teaching and their political time serving.

We are here at this moment.  The snakes are rattling all around us.  Will we address the issues or die in our denial?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Ending Gun Violence; Time To Stop Talking And Act

I want to see if it is possible for me to let my anger at the recent shootings drop from "flame" to "coals" for a bit and see if something helpful can't "cook" there.  I have to be honest and say that I do not like the places that my mind goes when I am angry.  It has taken me a long time to get to the place where I can use the energy of my anger for positive purposes...and I do not want to give that power away to the purveyors of racism and hatred.  So this particular writing is an attempt to address the issues at hand with some passion, but to temper my speech a bit.

There seem to be three basic responses as to what the areas are that need to be addressed.  Not that anyone addresses these areas, they are used most often as a focus to draw attention away from the other areas for political reasons.  But I can't help wonder what might happen if we took all three areas seriously and sought to address them together.  These areas are: Radicalized Racism; Mental Health; Gun Laws.

My suggestion is that by addressing all three together, we can create a "3 legged stool" on which the increased safety of our communities can sit.

Radicalized Racism There has been some notable success combating both ISIS type extremism as well as White Nationalism by going to the dark web and tackling the arguments made for hate there at the source.  This and other efforts to not let the racist, fear mongering that goes with White Nationalism deserve some support and financial backing.  Yes, we need to remove hate speech that calls for the killing of people of color or whoever is being targeted.  But what would happen if we spent some time, instead of getting caught up in free speech debates, utilizing that same free speech to challenge the validity of the ideas where they rise?  Aren't we more apt to be successful in this way than we are in trying to shut down the speech and getting caught up in the arguments about whether or not this is okay?
I realize that such conversations are draining and take a great deal of energy.  But might they not produce great dividends in the end?

[I would also note that the FBI and other agencies have spent countless hours monitoring chat rooms where pedophiles and child molesters gathered for the purpose of intervening before they could engage in criminal behavior, utilizing these same skills to intervene in the criminal actions of White Nationalists might be worth a look.]

Mental Health  Though the truth (supported by data) is that mentally ill persons are more likely to hurt themselves than they are to hurt others; there is a certain subset of mentally ill individuals who engage in violence, including gun violence, toward others.  This, combined with the fact that most of the mass shootings are committed by young white males raises some suggestive points.  One is the need for additional mental health personnel in our high schools and colleges who can spot the mental health issues that are most likely to lead to gun violence and/or suicide (remember, these folks are more likely to hurt themselves than others).  Such professionals need to be trained in "trauma informed" approaches to dealing with those whose behavior signals the presence of violence risk (since we know that trauma is very often linked these issues of mental health).
All too often, those who are strong proponents of  "gun rights" will begin waving the "mental health flag" when a gun violence tragedy takes place.  Waving that flag without following it up with real steps and legislation to tackle the mental health issues they claim are the problem is a sign that they really do not care about gun violence or mental health; they just want a rock to hid under til the storm passes.  It is time to "put up or shut up" about mental health.

Reasonable Gun Laws  We don't let everyone drive a car.  We don't let everyone perform surgery. We don't even let everyone run a barbershop or beauty salon.  And, if someone who can drive a car wants to drive a bus or a semi, we make them get a special license to do so. You don't get to drive a car if you have a history of drunk driving.  Why should you get to own a gun if you have a history of violence?  And if you, for some strange reason, desire to own a semi-automatic with a 100 round capacity, shouldn't we utilize the same wisdom that we use if someone wants to drive a semi?  We don't let the driver who wants to drive a semi go to a truck show and avoid the license requirement.  Why should someone be able to go to a gun show or a private exchange and avoid a background check?
Background checks and "Red Flag" limits seem to me to be basic level for gun ownership.

A Modest Proposal  I know that there are those who will read portions of what I have written above and begin to scream that their 2nd Amendment Rights would be violated.  While I strongly disagree; nothing in what I have written violates the right of a citizen to own a gun if they can do so safely; I would propose the following:
Let us take the 2nd Amendment seriously and in whole...not just in part.  The 2nd Amendment states that, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms , shall not be infringed."
The ownership and keeping of combat style weapons with large capacity magazines should be limited to those engaged in the purposes of "a well regulated Militia."  Individuals desiring to own such weapons should be automatically enlisted in their State National Guard and required to attend drill on a monthly basis with their weapon.  They will be required to demonstrate proficiency with said weapon to maintain their membership in this military branch.

I do not think my "Modest Proposal" has a snowball's chance.  But I do believe that the recommendations for the other three areas meet the threshold for thoughtful solutions to the gun violence issue.  One area by itself will not be enough.  We must address all three.  We must do more than talk.  We must have legislation and action.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you wish....especially legislators who need motivation to do more than talk about "thoughts and prayers."  We have reached a time where prayers without action are an abomination, they are "taking the Lord's Name in vain."

Let's put some real pressure on those who make our laws.  Let's end the deaths.  It's time.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

At The Table Of The Empire

Daniel sat at the table of King Nebuchadnezzar
an exile
at the table of the Empire.
A table spread with rich food for one who could go hungry
and dark, strong wine
for one who might want
to numb himself to the new life forced upon him.
"But Daniel resolved
that he would not defile himself
with the royal rations of food and wine."
Daniel was determined
to keep his identity as a Jew
and the dietary laws were how he would do it.
The Temple was gone
he was in exile
Daniel would cling to his identity through what he ate
and what he didn't.

You and I
are citizens of the Kingdom of God
baptized into the Family of Jesus
living in the Empire.
Look at the table the Empire spreads before us.
It is heavy with richness
often at the expense of others.
There are bowls of thick sauce to pour onto the meat of the Empire
Racism
Greed
Violence
These are the main course foods of Empire
Lust and debauchery
Economic gluttony
The constant use of others as a means
a thing to be exploited
Excused by a Theology of Exceptionalism
These are the wines to dull our conscience
to close our ears to the pain of others.

Will we defile ourselves
with the Empire's rations of food and wine?
Or will we
like Daniel
refuse to do so?
Will we cling to our identity
as members of the Family of Jesus
citizens of the Kingdom of God?

It must have been easy
for some exiles to chose
the dark wines and rich meats of the Empire.
After all
Empire was in charge
you have to go along to get along
make yourself at home
look out for number one.

The promises of God
look a long way off
for exiles
and sometimes for us.
Vegetables and water
must have gotten boring.
Will we grow bored
with loving our neighbor
clothing the naked
feeding the hungry
and welcoming the stranger?

Will we defile ourselves
at the table of the Empire?